Chapter 11:

"Who shall we visit next?" The Joker mused aloud, reaching his hand out, expecting Harley to hand him the list of names he had compiled. But after several seconds of feeling no object in his hand, he turned to her.

"The list Harley. Give me the list."

"Uh, Mistah J, I was thinkin', ya know. Maybe we shouldn't just run off and do another one, ya know. I mean, we could…" Her voice was small and she looked intimidated and unsure.

The Joker looked at her with a questioning expression.

"I just mean… uh, ya know…" Harley stammered, trying to recover herself.

The Joker snapped his fingers suddenly.

"Oh yes! That's it! The camera." He exclaimed. "We forgot the camera! Thank you for reminding me dear. First we'll go to gather it and then be on to our next victim." And he twirled his cane like a baton, beginning to walk away, towards their car, hidden in a back alley, only 2 blocks from where they stood.

"Uh, t-that's not exactly what I meant Puddin'." Harley halted him. "I meant, uh…"

The Joker spun around, glaring down at her, his eyes intense and unblinking.

"I kinda, sorta meant, ya know, maybe we could take a break. Relax maybe. Get somthin' to eat."

She giggled nervously as he continued to pin her with his stare, his expression serious, his mouth twisted in to a frown. And they remained like that for what seemed minutes, though it was only seconds. And suddenly he threw his head back, laughing loudly.

"Oh Harley, you do crack me up!" He said. "Such a kidder! So, the camera, and then… well, let me have the list so we can see who will next host us."

She frowned. "No, I'm serious Puddin'. Can't we do somethin' else for a while, just for a little bit?"

The Joker leaned back, folding his arms over his chest, starring at her with an incredulous expression.

"I mean, just for a little while." Harley finished meekly.

"Are you not… enjoying yourself Harley?"

"No! Of course I am Puddin', I just thought, ya know, after so much work, we could take a load off for a while, kick back a little, maybe do somethin' a little less… intense? Maybe somethin' more lighthearted and fun?"

He smiled at her, but the smile was unkind, the kind he wore when harboring malicious intent.

"But I can think of no activity more lighthearted and fun then the one in which we only just were engaged… darling." He said lowly, taking a step towards her. "Why would I want to bother with something so mundane as I'm certain the pursuits you would endeavor to immerse yourself in will be?"

"Uh…" Harley took a step back. "It's just… it was kinda gross Puddin', and I thought…"

"Gross?" The Joker's brow shot up. "Gross?" He repeated, his tone perplexed. "I fail to see any aspect of what we just did as… gross." He leaned back slightly. "All things must die. Whether by means of violent attack or something less notable, something dreary, a "natural" death as they like to call it, the result remains the same. And in any event, all death is natural. If you cut in to a person's jugular, they naturally will lose large quantities of blood, and thus naturally will die. And so how is this different from, say, one's liver failing them from years of wear? It isn't. To differentiate between causes in such a way really holds no relevance, as death always is unavoidable. No matter how you meet it, you will meet it. No amount of pretending it to be non-existent or ignoring its approach will change that fact. Death is not gross, Harley. It is beautiful. As beautiful a thing as this world has to offer. Just as there is no emotion expressed in the human face as beautiful as the emotion of fear. These things are unadulterated, free of any sort of ridiculous intellectualization or rationalization, without compromise or pretense. If you want to see who a person truly is, Harley, if you want to cut away all of the exterior and protective barriers they put in place, you scare them dear, create in them genuine fright. And you accomplish this by forcing them to face death, the one thing they go throughout their lives trying desperately to avoid. You show them that it is real and that they will not escape it. There is no impurity left then. And it is impurity which is gross Harley. The hypocrisy of people, their attempts to deny what they are. Much as you did, my sweet. That is what is disgusting."

Harley starred at him wide eyed for a long moment, not certain of how to react. She knew if she said the wrong thing, he might fly off the handle. She thought maybe she shouldn't say anything at all. But the prospect of having to go through what they just had, twice in one night, seemed to her incredibly unappealing.

"G-gee Mistah J…" She began, "I just thought…"

She stopped abruptly and flinched when she saw The Joker rear his hand back, clearly ready to strike her. And he was about to do just that when he himself was stopped from it, distracted by a sudden, loud ruckus behind them, the voices of several young people, laughing and hollering, obviously intoxicated. And in the next instant, the two of them were surrounded by a throng of what appeared to be college students.

"Hey, hey! Look at this guy!" One boy, taller then the rest, slurred loudly before taking hold of The Joker's arm roughly.

Harley looked absolutely horrified, and The Joker looked down at the boy with a flash of disgust in his eyes.

"Yeah, nice outfit man." Another one interjected, a girl. "Looks real and everything." She went on, getting within an inch of the madman, coming only up to his chest, starring at that point on him for several, long seconds, as if trying to discern some pattern in the waste coat he wore.

The other three of the group, two young men and a girl the same age, joined in on the examination, crowding around The Joker, touching him with curiosity and taking hold of his arms and hands.

"Yeah, we seen some Joker outfits man. But this ones the best. Look at that make-up job!" Another boy exclaimed, reaching up and touching The Joker's face. The other four all looked up in wonder at the lunatic's visage, also boldly touching it.

"And the hair! Haha! Look at the hair dude!" Another among them pointed out.

The troupe ooed and ahhed at the observation.

"But yo, dude, you're like, WAY tall!" The first boy spoke, reaching up to hold his hand over The Joker's head. "I hear the real Joker's, like, a total shrimp."

"Yeah, that's what I heard too!" The second girl joined in. "What's he s'poused to weigh anyway? Like, 140 lb. or somethin'?"

"Yeah! I bet he ain't even that tough. I don't know why everyone's so scared a'him. I bet Robby here would beat that ass easy." Another boy added.

"Yeah, that psycho's lucky he's never met my man!" The first girl clung to Robby's arm, making obvious they were an item. "He better hope he never does neither." And she looked up at him with admiration in her eyes.

"Yeah." Robby laughed. "If I ever ran in to that clown, I'd kick his ass so hard, I'd make em' wish he'd never been born."

Harley looked to The Joker, who held an expression she had come to know all too well. The kind that told her she better leave the room that instant or risk never leaving it again. The intruders, however, were simply too buzzed to take note of anything so subtle.

"And hey, who's this s'poused to be!?" One of them turned to Harley, grabbing her by the arm.

"Oh, uh…" The second girl's face twisted in thought. "I know, that's uh… aw shit, I can't remember her name. But that crazy chick who used to be a psychologist or somethin' and The Joker turned her nutso, and now she's like some sorta deranged groupie who follows him around like a lost puppy."

"Is that who your s'poused to be!?" Robby's girl nearly screamed at Harley.

Harley ground her teeth, and now it was her turn to assume a homicidal expression. "Why I oughta'…" She breathed.

But The Joker stopped her, putting his hand up and giving just one shake of the head.

"Are you two really together!?" The third boy asked. "Halloween ain't for another couple months. Why you two dressed up like that anyway?"

Suddenly The Joker smiled a bright smile, any semblance of his previous irritation at once disappearing from his face.

"Oh, you know darlings, just out for a little fun, doubtless the same as you. Only my partner and I enjoy activities of a more… unusual variety. Donning costume and make-up to appear as this city's so called super criminal element is just one of many ways in which we pass the hours. Perhaps a tad bemusing, to creatures of your ilk, but we find it quite titillating."

The group of students looked dumbstruck at The Joker, saying nothing for many seconds.

"Geez mister, you talk funny." One of them at last blurted.

"Bunch a morons." Harley mumbled under her breath.

"Hey! What did you say!?" The second girl spun around, glaring at Harley.

The Joker chuckled softly.

"Oh, you'll forgive my clown-clad counterpart. You see, I do believe you've brought her insult by talking so poorly of Ms. Quinn. That is the young woman you spoke of as being seduced by The Joker."

"Oh!" The girl said dumbly. "Well, whatareya, related to her or somethin'?"

Harley looked on the verge of ringing each of the student's necks, but The Joker again intervened.

"No, no. Nothing so calculable. You see, this little lady and I are great fans of Ms. Quinn and The Joker."

"You mean, you actually like those freaks!?" Robby sounded shocked.

The Joker just smiled.

"Oh yes, we quite admire the pair. Why else, as your friend astutely noted, would be dress as them without prompting of occasion to do so?"

Harley stood back now, a smile on her face. She would just let Mistah J handle this, and she felt a tingle of excitement as her mind raced with what he might do.

"That's weird mister. I mean, ain't that Joker dude some kinda crazy serial killer or somethin'?"

"Yes Robby. Yes, he is." The Joker answered, his voice soft and low, a smile spreading over his lips.

Robby shrugged. "Well, I guess everybody got their quirks. If you like them loonies, that's up to you."

"Yes Robby, I suppose it is."

"Say, what happened to your face mister? It looks all beat up and shit." Another of the boys asked.

"Hey, yeah!" One of the girls took notice. "And what's that on your cloths? Looks like blood or somethin'. You been in a fight mister?"

"No, not a fight dear. A struggle would be the more appropriate term."

The girl looked confused and she leaned in close to Robby.

"Hey, Robby…" She whispered. "This guys startin' to give me the creeps. Can we get outta here?"

"Sure sugar. In a minute." He answered.

"So a struggle, huh? What's that s'poused to mean man? Like someone jumped ya but ya got away?"

The Joker shook his head.

"No, rather the opposite my lad. It was I who did the jumping, while the other struggled, and sadly, they were unable to procure their escape."

The boy looked confused, as did his companions.

The Joker stepped nearer to him.

"So you like my make up, do you?" He asked. "It was quite the process applying it. Tortuous, really. Nearly killed me. No joke. Ah he, ah he, ahhehehehe."

He laughed suddenly, madly, his voice raising in pitch, causing the young group to jump slightly. The change from his speaking voice had been abrupt. He had sounded calm before, his voice quiet, soothing even. But his laughter was anything but. It was manic, uninhibited.

"L-let's get outta here Robby." One of the other boys said, and he sounded suddenly frightened.

"Yeah man, let's split." Another agreed.

"Uh, yeah, well, it was nice talkin' to ya mister, but we really gotta be going." Robby said, backing away with the rest of his friends.

"Oh, so soon?" The Joker leered at them. "But we've only just met and I was just beginning to really enjoy your company."

"Y-yeah mister, but we really gotta go. We… uh… we got a party we're s'poused to be at."

"Mmmm. A lie told well is as good as any truth. But a lie told clumsily may well be your last."

"What!? Look, mister, I don't know what your talking about, but we really gotta go."

"But I don't think you do." The Joker kept moving towards them. "In fact, I think you dunderheads have only just now come to sense the threat against your safety and instinctively wish to flee. It wounds me deeply that you seem not to want to familiarize yourselves with me."

"Let's just go dude!" One of the boys nearly yelled.

"Yeah. Okay. We're going mister. Bye."

And the group turned to leave, only to be met with Harley, who hadn't stepped from her spot.

"I'm afraid that option no longer is available." The Joker said. "You understand, yes? You've insulted my girlfriend and worse still, me. As well you've touched my beautiful face without proper consent. The least you can concede is a portion of your time."

"Oh God, Oh Jesus, he's really… he's really T-the Joker man. Oh Jesus Christ." One of the boys began.

"Oh, so you've at last worked that out? You must also realize then that stunning number behind you to be the infamous Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Though she'll answer only to Ms. Harley Quinn these days, isn't that right dearest?"

"Yeah, that's right Mistah J!"

"J-just back off man. S-stay away from us." Robby stuttered.

The Joker grinned.

"No." He said simply.

"W-we got you outnumbered man. J-just back the fuck off and w-we won't hurt you, okay?"

At this The Joker laughed.

"Oh my, so rambunctious. Wasn't it you who said that if ever we met, you would, how did you phrase it again? Oh yes, that you would kick my ass. Isn't that right?"

The boy just starred at him.

"Well, I can hardly fault you for thinking so. The shrimp comment isn't entirely unfounded. As you can no doubt see, I am quite thin." The Joker un-cuffed the right sleeve of his shirt, rolling it up along with his suit jacket to expose a skinny, paper white limb. "Though not quite the emaciated 140 lb. the lovely lassie there thought me to be." He laughed. "I'll tell you what Robby, since I'm a man who believes in everyone deserving their fair shake, here's how it's going to play out. If you can, kick my ass, as you so claim, then I will allow you and your jolly jamboree to go unharmed. If not, well, I cannot vouch for a similar outcome." He chuckled.

Robby said nothing, his expression one of clear uncertainty.

"Oh, come along now. I promise a fair fight. And surely, a strapping young lad such as your self won't find this sad, old clown as presenting any real challenge."

"You… you wanna f-fist fight?" Robby stammered.

"Well, whatever you kids these days call it." The Joker waved a dismissive hand. "When I was your age we called it 'Whoever dies last wins', but, more or less, the concept remains the same."

"W-what?!"

"It's a joke son. Thus, the name." The Joker laughed.

Robby looked anything but amused.

"This… this is stupid." He said. "I don't wanna fight you."

"Oh, no? What of your earlier proclamation then?"

"I-I was just…"

"Oh, goodness, don't tell me you were just 'foolin' about', lest I have to answer back… 'I wasn't'."

"I-I I don't, I don't…"

The Joker sighed loudly, rolling his eyes.

"Damn it Foppy, you make this no fun at all." He said, reaching in to his jacket and pulling a pistol from it.

Almost immediately the girls screamed, and the boys could be heard gasping and asking God for help.

"Why must I always force these things?" The Joker continued, seemingly unaware of the sudden consuming fear now gripping the troupe of youngsters. "The game works this way dear. You play by my rules or you don't play at all. So what shall it be? Risk probable though not assured humiliation before your girlfriend and gaggle of fair-weathered friends, or instead watch them all die, one by one, meeting your own end shortly there to follow? Decisions, decisions. I know the choice is a difficult one to make, so do take your time Slobby."

"Jesus Christ man, just fight him!"

"Yeah, we're all gonna die if you don't Robby. Don't be a fuckin' pansy!"

"Oh my God Robby, you see how skinny he is. You play football, remember? You can totally kick his ass. Come on! Don't be scared!"

A literal chorus of voices erupted all at once, urging the boy to accept the challenge.

"Yeah, come on Blobby! I'll even be a good sport about it and give you the first shot free." The Joker clasped his hands together and grinned widely.

"I-I guess I d-don't have a choice." Robby finally said, the color having drained completely from his face.

"That a' boy!" The Joker clapped. "Now, you stand over there, and I'll stand over here, and we'll have at it!" He exclaimed, seeming, suddenly, very excited.

Robby didn't move but only starred ahead, watching as The Joker removed his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves and then began to bounce around on his feet, throwing punches in to the air like a boxer.

Harley, meanwhile, had begun to hoot and holler for him like some kind of personal cheerleader.

"Yeah Mistha J! You get em' good Puddin'!" She yelled out.

"Well, go on Robby!" One of the other boys pushed him forward.

"Yeah man, you got us in to this. You better get us out!" The second girl added.

"God damn it, you better not lose man."

Robby was literally having to be forced towards meeting The Joker, who seemed, while shadowboxing, like the consummate dork out a some Hollywood flick, just asking to have their ass beat. Only The Joker was tall, really tall, and looked, despite his thin frame, incredibly strong, especially after having removed his coat, and the build of his physic was more obvious, long and lean and well proportioned. He had the look of someone who, while not heavily muscled, was nonetheless very coordinated, and could thus hit extremely hard.

Robby was becoming more and more apprehensive.

"Just… get… in there Robby!" His girlfriend gave one last push, which finally brought the boy to within a few feet of where The Joker stood.

"Give me a J! Give me an O! Give me a K! Give me an E! Give me an R! What's that spell!? !" Harley was jumping up and down, her enthusiasm for The Joker seemingly boundless as she cheered him on.

The crowd of students had backed away from her, watching with immense anxiety as The Joker bounced up and down in front of their friend, flicking punches in his face. Robby kept flinching away as each punch came near to him.

Finally the madman ceased and began to speak again.

"Now kiddies, don't try and run off while me and Mr. Macho lacerate each other's faces. My lovely assistant wields a weapon of her own; and I, with great diligence and patience mind you, have lovingly endeavored to school her in the most charming and artful ways in which to use it. And use it she will, without pause, if one or any of you should try to break from the audience and take leave of tonight's entertainment before it reaches what promises to be it's dramatic conclusion."

Harley had taken her gun and aimed it now at the group, and all of them looked absolutely terror struck.

"So, Gobby." The Joker again clasped his hands together and smiled at the boy. "As promised, the first shot is yours to take. Who knows, maybe you'll find yourself lucky and that first blow will rob from me consciousness. You seem like a strong boy. I've taken, in the long history of my madness, some awful brutal beatings, and I fear my chin is not what once it was."

Robby seemed frozen to the spot while The Joker starred pointedly at him, his hands by his side.

"Whenever you're ready handsome!" The lunatic urged him on.

"Jesus Christ Robby, hit him!" His girlfriend screamed.

"Quiet you!" Harley shot back, causing the girl to jump.

The boy looked around him nervously. He clearly wished he could be anywhere but there at that moment, and his apprehension in hitting The Joker was more than apparent.

"We're waiting patsy." The Joker taunted him.

Robby looked at him, sweat having begun to form all along his face, his eyes wide and clear. Any signs of intoxication in him and his companions seemed now to be gone, their sobriety brought on by their fear.

"Y-you're not gonna k-kill me if I-I-I hit you?" He stuttered.

The Joker grinned.

"No, of course not." He answered.

The boy swallowed visibly.

"But make it a good one dear. Give me everything you've got. I'll know if pull your punches and I won't be pleased if you do."

"O-okay. Okay. I'm… I'm gonna hit you. Okay? I'm gonna do it!"

The Joker just continued to leer.

Robby breathed hard, and shakily, he brought his hands to a fighting position.

His friends seemed collectively to hold in their breath and the whole area around them went dead quiet.

Robby felt near of the verge of hyperventilation as he pulled his right arm back, and in that moment, it was, for him, as though time stood still, and what happened next, he wasn't even aware of. He couldn't remember throwing the punch, or feeling his fist connect with the madman's face. All he knew now was that The Joker was lying on the ground in front of him, and he could hear that crazy chick behind him, screaming, "Puddin'! Oh my God, are you alright!?" and his friend's yelling too, shouting 'Yeah's!' and 'Alright's!' and saying things like "Holy shit, you did it!'.

The boy looked back at them, a big smile on his face and relief in his eyes.

"I… I did it?" He asked.

"Fuck yeah man. You knocked that clown right on his ass! Look at that shit man!" One of his buddies hollered.

"I-I guess I did it." Robby laughed, rubbing the back of his neck, almost in embarrassment at his friend's enthusiasm.

"Aw man, wait'll the rest of the crew hears 'bout this!" Another of them laughed.

"Yeah. Yeah man." The rest joined in.

"I knew you could do it Robby. You're such a man!" His girlfriend bounced up and down.

Their layered chattering and exuberance, however, was short lived, coming to an abrupt halt by a sharp cackling. And as they turned to the noise, they saw The Joker wiping the back of his hand along his mouth and nose.

"Great shot Snobby!" The madman continued to laugh, pushing himself to his feet. "Why, I don't think I've been hit that hard since, well, since last week! Of course, it was me doing the hitting, so maybe that doesn't count?"

"Yeah Mistah J! Yeah!" Harley began to cheer again.

"Oh God…" Robby thought, a numbness running suddenly through his entire body. "He got up. Oh God."

"Now…" The Joker began again, dusting the dirt from his pants and waste coat. "Since we've gotten that little exhibition out of the way, let us resume properly." And he stepped towards the again horrified boy, smiling.

"… Hit me." He said quietly.

"W-what?" Robby stammered.

"Hit me." The Joker repeated.

"A-again?"

The Joker nodded.

Robby looked back to his friend's, unsure.

"You put him on his ass with one punch dude!" One of the boys said. "You can totally do it again. Come on man!"

"Y-yeah. You'll probably knock him out if-if you hit him enough man. And then we can get the hell outta here."

"That's right deary." The Joker egged him on. "Whatever are you waiting for?"

The boy swallowed hard, looking back to the madman.

"O-okay clown. Y-you want some more? Well, okay then."

The Joker smiled.

He had him now.

Suddenly, Robby reared a fist back and threw it with the same force as he had the one before, his eyes closing tight with the motion, expecting this time to feel the connect. But instead, his body stumbled forward and he nearly fell to his face when nothing but air was there to absorb the impact. He turned quickly, hearing The Joker's laughter behind him.

"Oh, surely you can do better then that!?" The Joker teased, his arms crossed over his chest as he stood, facing the boy from the side.

"What… how?"

"He side stepped you dude!" One of his friends called out.

"Much too easy too Robby. I should think a college football player would have better coordination than that." The Joker continued to mock him.

Robby ground his teeth, again lunging at the maniac, throwing a clenched fist. And again The Joker stepped aside, still with his arms crossed.

"You're showing me nothing here meaty." He continued to instigate the college student as he tumbled forward.

"I'll…" The boy began to sound agitated. "I'll show you coordination bozo!" He growled, once more lashing out at The Joker. And again The Joker easily avoided the blow.

This continued on for several minutes, Robby growing more and more fatigued and more and more exasperated with each missed attack. And The Joker continued to heckle and harass him, his insults growing crueler and more brutal by the minute, the worst and most embarrassing moment coming when, after another missed blow, as he leaned back, The Joker stuck out his leg, tripping the boy up so that he fell face first in to the pavement.

The madman laughed uproariously at the sight.

"God damn you, you fuckin' freak!" Robby screamed, finally losing it. I'll kill your ass! I'll fuckin' kill you!" He pushed himself to his feet, turning towards his still laughing tormentor, running at him, his hands outreached like he wanted to choke him.

The Joker just smirked, watching at the boy came closer, and as he finally was upon him, the lunatic leaned back, making some imperceptible motion with his hands.

Robby lurched forward, his hands as his throat.

The Joker watched the boy with a perplexed expression as he continued to stumble forward, a gurgling, chocking sound now coming from him.

"Are… are you alright?" He asked, the sound of genuine concern in his voice. "Whatever is the matter? Tell me Gobbert! What's troubling you so?"

"Robby! Robby, what's wrong!?" His girlfriend called out to him, seeing him stumble once more, and suddenly the boy fell to his knees.

"Robby!"

The Joker walked to him, leaning down and looking in to his face.

He gasped suddenly, loudly, his eyes growing wide.

"Oh my…" He placed a hand over his mouth and then on his cheek. "How dreadful. How terribly dreadful." He said, shaking his head.

"What did… what did you do to him!?" The girlfriend screamed. And as if in answer, blood began to drip on to the pavement, and shortly following, Robby fell to his face, motionless.

"ROBBY! ROBBY!" His girlfriend leapt forward, towards him. The rest of the students were frozen in absolute terror.

"Oh God, oh God! What did you do to him!?" She began to sob desperately as she leaned over the boy's body.

The Joker tapped his lips with a long index finger, as if in contemplation.

"Hmmm." He began, calmly. "It would seem as though our dear Robby's throat made sudden and, apparently, very violent contact with one of my razor edged playing cards." He said, his tone matter of fact, and he then produced the weapon, fingering it, its reflective surface shinning under the street lights, its edge rimmed red with blood. "Most unfortunate." He finished, placing a foot along the now dead Robby's shoulder and pushing him to his back, so that his slashed throat was now exposed for all to see.

Immediately the two girls screamed in horror, the remaining boys gasping, their faces filled with shock, tears filling all their eyes from the fear they felt now ten fold.

"You bastard! You bastard!" The girlfriend cried, wobbling to her feet. "You goddamned monster!" She screamed.

"Oh do shut up you sniveling sow." The Joker rolled his eyes. "Your ceaseless shrieks and whines are giving me a headache!"

"Harley." He said, gesturing her towards him.

She wasted no time.

"The gun." He motioned for her to hand it to him. She did. And immediately he aimed the thing and shot the girl in the head. She slumped to the ground, blood flowing in a pool around her.

The group of now only three erupted in to cries and screams, one boy turning suddenly and running.

He had made it only a few feet before another shot rang out and he fell dead to the ground, also having been shot in the head.

The Joker strode to the remaining two, picking up his suit coat along the way and putting it back on.

The students shrunk back as he came nearer, their faces stained with tears and mucus.

"Oh Jesus, p-p-please don't k-kill us." The boy cried. The girl was beyond speaking.

"Have a whiff of my flower." The Joker said smoothly, ignoring their tears and pleas. And he squeezed the carnation which sat perched on his lapel, a green gas wafting from it, in to their faces.

Immediately they began to cough, gasping for breath, only moments later falling to the ground as their hacking turned to intense laughter, their faces beginning to spread in to grotesque grins. Within the minute, a red, gelatinous substance had begun to pour from their mouths and nose, their laughter beginning to taper off, and in the seconds following, their bodies stiffened, their movement ceased, and very soon afterwards, they were dead.

The Joker examined them with curiosity, bending down to take a closer look. Harley stood back, saying nothing.

"Hmm." He began, thoughtfully. "I believe our friend's at the local lab will have a splendid time in trying to develop the anti-toxin, don't you think Harl?"

"Sure will Puddin'." She answered.

He nodded, and continued to study the dead bodies for several minutes, just starring at them, before finally standing, taking up his cane from the ground.

"Now then, what was our course of action before being rudely disrupted by those vile intruders?" He asked.

"Uh… I think we were gonna get somethin' to eat, right Mistah J?"

Harley had learned over the course of being with him that The Joker, if distracted in some way, had a tendency to forget what he had been planning or thinking just minutes before, and so she took the opportunity, hoping he wouldn't remember he had wanted to visit another journalist that night.

"Oh, yes!" He smiled. "Well then, your choice dear. Wherever you would like!"

"Really Mistah J!?" She clasped her hands together, a broad smile on her face.

"Of course angel." He said sweetly.

Harley squealed with excitement.

"Oh, thanks Puddin'! I know just the place!" She jumped. "Come on!"

He watched as she skipped forward, and he ambled along behind, reaching in to a vest pocket, pulling a single joker card from it.

"For you darling." He whispered, tossing the card to the ground.

Harley was already several feet ahead, bouncing with energy as she always was.

He made up the distance quickly with his long stride.

"We'll pick up that camera after we've eaten dearest." He said quietly, moving past her.

She halted in her tracks, starring up at him.

He kept walking, and only smiled.

Batman leaned down, over the bodies, the back of his hand held to his lips. He felt sick to his stomach.

This was new. Some sort of new poison.

The vigilante frowned, extracting blood from the still warm corpse of a girl.

He'd only just been there. Maybe 40 minutes past, at most.

Batman stood, his eyes scanning the area, and walking a few feet, he bent down, taking up the playing card. He starred at it for a long minute. He knew The Joker had left it for him.

Everything that sick bastard did was done to instigate him.

He looked behind.

Why had he been here though? Had he just been wondering through the mid-town district and come upon this group of unfortunate youths? Had he followed them here and killed them then?

The bodies lay right outside an apartment complex. Batman starred at the entrance and saw the callbox. He noticed the light on the keypad was out.

"No." He whispered, walking to the door. It pulled open on its own, and immediately, the vigilante's heart sank.

He'd been in here.

Walking in further, he saw the dead watchman almost instantly and moved to examine the body.

"Bullet wound. Joker's been varied tonight." He talked to himself, feeling disgust.

He reached to below the right ear of his cowl.

"Oracle."

"Yeah. I'm here Batman."

"I'm at 18th and Belmont. Address 1678. It's a mid-town apartment complex. Middle of the road. Joker's been here. Why?"

"Hold on." The woman's voice on the other end said.

Only some 30 seconds past before she again spoke.

"One Arnold C. Goldstein lives there. Apartment number 408, floor eighteen. He's a writer for The Gotham Gazette. One of the regulars to report on any news involving Joker. Usually stays pretty neutral in his write-ups."

"That's all I need."

Batman cut the line.

He looked down at his hand, still holding the playing card.

He starred at it for some seconds, his mind racing. He would have to go up to the apartment, see what had happened. He had no doubt in his mind that the reporter was dead. He didn't need to see a body to know that. Not when The Joker was involved.

And then his fingers folded over, crushing the card in his palm, and he moved for the stair well.

"I'm coming Joker."

"I'm coming for you."