First Time Out

Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "In Too Deep" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 6 December 2009.

With a wheezing groan the engine spluttered into life, only to cut out with an ominous clunk several seconds later.

"C'mon you stupid thing…" Harley muttered under her breath, fumbling with the jumble of wires that dangled from under the steering column.

"You know it's traditional to actually drive away from the bank you've just robbed rather than sit outside and wait to be arrested."

The Joker addressed his harried henchwench from the backseat of the stationary car; the rattiest beater they'd been able to find in a discount supermarket parking lot the day before, "borrowed" solely for the purpose of being a drab and easy-to-ignore getaway vehicle. He glanced through the window towards the corner they'd just darted around, but any pursuers seemed to be either slow or sensibly cautious (given the outbursts of extreme violence that often struck hapless security personnel in Gotham) and were yet to be within range.

Tapping impatiently at the still-warm barrel of his revolver, Joker affected a dangerously nonchalant smile that seemed to fill the rear view mirror as Harley peeked up from the steering column. Seeing the smile she wordlessly ducked her head and returned to fumbling with the wires.

Joker instantly switched the smile to a frown. "How much longer are we just going to sit here?" he asked, pointedly checking his watch. The empty watch face was confusing for a few moments until he remembered he'd removed the hands a month ago to use as parts for a toxin-filled Joker cuckoo clock. Deciding to ignore this minor inconvenience Joker went with his gut feeling: Harley was probably making them late.

"Well Harl, will we be leaving shortly or should I call Arkham and have them turn down the beds and put some of those delightful little mints on our pillows?"

"I'm tryin' Puddin'!" Harley protested, frustration creeping into her voice as she pushed her dangling liliripes out of her eyes seemingly for the millionth time in the last few minutes. "But this rust bucket musta had its last oil change when I was still in grade school."

She touched the fraying wires together once more, but the engine gave only a pitiful series of coughs and resolutely refused to roar into life and transport them off into the sunset.

"Sorry Mistah J but I think this hunk of junk is toast. I knew we shoulda boosted that swanky yellow convertible instead..."

"Canary yellow with this suit?" Joker interrupted with an incredulous snort of derision. "Don't be ridiculous."

"But it was cute! And at least it mighta managed the 'getaway' bit of 'getaway car'!" Harley grumbled, kicking the only part of the car she could reach from the driver's seat and stubbing her toe on the accelerator pedal as a result.

"Just quit jabbering and let me think for a minute," Joker snapped, shoving the revolver back into one of the multitude of pockets concealed throughout his coat and shifting across the backseat to open the rear door.

Unfolding his tall frame from the cramped vehicle, Joker stepped out and slammed the door closed behind him with slightly more force than necessary. Harley followed suit and dragged a large holdall of cash from the passengers seat, dropping it heavily on the sidewalk as she waited to hear Plan B. She didn't doubt for a second that it would be a stroke of genius. Giving her Puddin' a soppy grin she wondered, as she so often did, just how his giant brain could always be overflowing with such brilliant ideas.

As he looked around for inspiration, Joker was confronted by an expectant grease-painted face gazing up at him as though waiting for a holy proclamation. Well, he conceded, the kid did at least know an intellectual marvel when she saw it…This caused a particularly dazzling thought to strike him like a lightbulb-filled pie to the face.

"I tell you what Harl – how about you stay here and cause a nice, lengthy distraction while I make a break for it with the loot in this direction? If…er, I mean when you get away from the cops then we can meet up back at the warehouse later. I'll get us both milkshakes, and if by some unlucky chance you're halfway to Arkham by that point then I'll just drink yours as well. It'll be win-win." He gave her one of his more charming smiles, with only the teensiest edge of his second inspirational idea (your sudden and extensive blood loss would probably make an equally good distraction) seeping through. "What d'you say Harley-girl?"

"But-but-" Harley stammered; torn between agreeing without hesitation and diving into harm's way to protect her man, or snapping and whacking the pasty-faced creep in the gut with the bag of cash for trying to double cross her yet again.

The petite jester chewed on her lip as conflicting emotions played pinball inside her brain. She was always telling Red she wasn't a doormat, but if she agreed to stay behind and wait for the cops she might as well write 'welcome' on her forehead in magic marker. But then again Mistah J had actually asked her this time, rather than just shoving her off a ledge for the Bat to catch or leaving her snoring in bed while he took a shortcut out of the window ten seconds before the Gotham PD kicked the door in. She figured that had to be progress, right?

The object of her deliberations was feeling less and less inclined to wait patiently for a decision; hand twitching towards the pocket he'd stuffed his revolver in a few minutes earlier. Harley remained oblivious as she planned out what could turn out to be a masterpiece of henchwench… henchery.

She would boldly volunteer to hold off the fuzz for her darling Mistah J, letting him safely carry off the fruits of their felony. With a bit of fancy footwork she should be able to escape a few donut-munching cops in broad daylight: there'd be no nocturnal Bat-clan lurking on the rooftops to slow her down. She'd carry it off and might even make it back to the warehouse before Mistah J did. That'd show him she could handle herself, and then maybe she'd able to persuade her Puddin' to demonstrate his appreciation with more than just a milkshake…

Just as the Joker's itchy trigger finger had almost reached the revolver in his pocket and derailed this train of thought, a quavering shout broke the silence:

"Ho-ho-hold it right there!"

Joker and Harley turned simultaneously to discover that one of the bank rent-a-cops had finally caught up with them.

The kid looked like he'd walked straight out of high school and into the cheap polyester security firm uniform just last week, while the gun he held was wobbling almost as much as his knees were. He stood alone on the otherwise empty street corner with a distinct lack of wailing sirens or immediate backup, and Joker felt a delighted grin creep across his face as he processed this pathetic scene.

"Why Harl, when did banks start hiring boy scouts as security personnel?"

Harley rubbed her chin as she pretended to think for a moment. Softening up victims with seemingly casual chitchat now came as second nature to her and she knew her role in this game, even if this poor pipsqueak didn't know what his was yet. She gave the kid an encouraging wink before turning to the Joker with wide, innocent eyes.

"I don't know Puddin' – maybe he was guardin' all that money as one of his daily good turns?"

"D'you think so? Well isn't that marvellous!" Joker waved expansively, causing the guard to jerk backwards and almost drop his gun in fright. "It's so rare for the youth of today to think of others. Why I bet this little rapscallion here even helps old ladies cross the road and makes cookies for the scout hut bake sale."

As the teenaged guard began to fully process the position he'd put himself in by confronting the pair without police support (cursing Gotham PD's legendarily slow response speed) his protruding Adam's apple bobbed visibly, but from somewhere he found the ability to speak again.

"I-I'm authorised by SecureCore Limited to, ah, to insist that you remain here until the police arrive. T-t-they're on their way right now."

"But of course!" Joker replied, voice dripping with sincerity. "We wouldn't dream of contravening the authority vested in you by the good people of SecureCore Limited." Harley joined in by vigorously shaking her head, denying that any such thought would ever cross her mind with a jaunty jingling sound from the bells on her costume.

"Um… really?" The guard faltered, evidently confused by having the most famously unpredictable and dangerous criminal in all of Gotham seem to cooperate with his instructions. "Uh, that's good, that's good…"

Joker sidled a foot or two closer to where the guard was standing and adopted a conversational tone. "Look, what's your name kid?"

"Name?" this question seemed to flummox the guard, who was now wearing an expression that suggested he was hoping to wake up any second to his mother shouting that he was late for school.

"Yes, your name." Restraining himself from rolling his eyes too obviously, Joker reminded himself that striking dumb terror into the more sheep-like of the populace was the price he paid for enlightening the precious pointy-eared few who could appreciate his brilliance. It just meant that he had to help the sheep along a bit sometimes if he wanted to bring them in on a joke. "If you're not sure then it might be written on the label of your underwear. Or possibly on the nametag clipped to your shirt; that might be a little easier to reach unless you want to take your pants off in the middle of the street."

The guard shook his head, still confused. "Uh, Brandon - my name's Brandon."

"Brandon, eh? I had a Brandon work for me once. He wasn't entirely incompetent; at least not before that nasty incident where he forgot the extra order of special fried rice I'd specifically asked for." Joker tutted at the memory, remembering how he'd had to take poor luckless Brandon to one side over his reckless disregard for takeout orders. "Even with all the fancy-schmancy plastic surgery techniques they have these days you just don't get full usage back, do you Harl?"

"You did tell him to put it on ice, Puddin' – if he was too busy screamin' and bleedin' to follow basic instructions that's his look-out."

"That is true," he agreed before turning back to the matter at hand. "Anyway – Brandon, my dear boy, I sense that you may be new to this so please don't be offended, but I thought you could possibly do with a few pointers as to the basic etiquette to follow in these situations. You did an excellent job of following us from the bank and stopping our escape, but now's your chance to really seize control of the situation before the police arrive and you get sidelined by those glory-hogs."

"But I shouldn't – I can't," Brandon protested. "My instructions are just to wait for the police to take over…" he looked around clearly hoping that the cruisers would be pulling around the corner as he spoke.

Joker let his smile droop to a crestfallen frown. "Aww, but don't you think you'd at least better search us for weapons? I'm sure Harley here will be most disappointed if she doesn't get a pat-down."

Harley put on her most flirtatious come-hither smile and nodded. "I think he's kinda cute Mistah J – like a scrawny, underfed puppy." She cocked her head to one side as she pondered his terrified expression. "Maybe with just a touch of mange."

The kid was clearly at a loss how to respond to this, so Joker took the opportunity to move a few more steps closer. He was now close enough to see the sweat beading on the teenager's acne-dotted forehead, and fancied that it marked out an almost perfect bulls-eye.

"Come now; Harley could have all sorts hidden away under that form-fitting costume of hers, couldn't she? Knives? A shotgun? Nunchucks?"

As a combination of teenage hormones and fear that she might actually suddenly produce nunchucks from somewhere drew Brandon's attention towards Harley for just a little longer than necessary, Joker performed the neat magic trick of producing his own revolver from nowhere (aka his pocket) and making Brandon's disappear (from his hand into the same pocket) in the blink of an eye. The fact that his volunteer from the audience almost burst into tears rather than clapping appreciatively was disappointing but not unexpected.

"And now you know why magicians have attractive female assistants in skimpy outfits parading around while they do tricks." He waved the revolver in parody of a magic wand, tapping Brandon on the forehead. "Misdirection!"

From the sidelines Harley giggled and blushed behind her white makeup at the indirect compliment. "Aww, shucks Mistah J."

Ignoring her Joker moved on with the heart-to-heart he was having with Brandon.

"Brandon, Brandy-Brandon…" he reproduced the cheap mass-produced handgun from his pocket with a flourish and twirled it around one finger. "You ever fired this thing except on a firing range with your eyes shut?"

In response he got a gulped sob and a tight shake of the head. Joker nodded thoughtfully and tossed the cheap handgun somewhere in the general direction of Harley, who darted to catch it and stashed in the loot bag.

"Well lemme give you a tip for the future: when you want to shoot someone just hold the gun right up against their head, like this." Joker placed the barrel of his revolver directly on the bulls-eyed spot on Brandon's forehead, the kid flinching at the touch of cold metal but unable to move from the spot he was rooted to.

"You do run the risk of getting a teensy bit of brain matter splashback, but you won't have that problem of your arms wobbling all over the place like wet spaghetti. If you tried to hit someone from more than six feet away like that you'd probably take down a passing endangered condor or something, and then you'd be in trouble. But if you're nice and close, all you have to do is shut your eyes," Joker screwed his eyes tightly closed, "and pull… the… trigger."

As Joker said "trigger" Brandon had instinctively jerked back, tripping over his own feet and falling to the floor with his arms up in a hopeless attempt to deflect the imminently incoming bullet. After a second or two he realised to his surprise that he hadn't heard a loud bang and that he was still alive. He opened his eyes from where he was sat in a heap on the sidewalk and watched as Joker nonchalantly shoved the revolver back into his pocket.

"Anyway kid – like I say, it's a lot easier that way and might save you some bother in the future if you decide to try a career on the other side of the security desk. I've always got positions for Brandons if you can remember a takeout order."

"Y'y'you're not going to kill me?" the kid managed, desperately trying to take in enough air to calm his frantic heart.

"I wasn't going to – why?" He peered down at the boy quizzically. "Do you think I should?"

"N-no! No!" Brandon sobbed, "sorry, I don't know…" He held his head in his hands and just hoped that all this would go away very soon.

"Mistah J!" Harley called, slinging the heavy cash bag over her shoulder. "I think that's some real police sirens headin' in this direction. Are we splitin' now?"

"Fine," Joker grumbled. He noted the bag she was carrying with a frown. "If you stayed here I'd have to carry the loot on foot wouldn't I? So I guess if you can't be the distraction ol' Brandon here will have to fill in."

Brandon, still sat on the floor, was too busy playing back the last minute or so of his life and wondering how it was that he was still alive to really appreciate what was being discussed.

"Hey kid," Joker asked as he reached back into his pocket, "you're not a haemophiliac are you?"

"Uh, no?" Brandon offered, hoping both that this was the right answer and that there weren't going to be too many more questions before he could go and lie down quietly in the back of an ambulance for a while.

"Oh good. You'll probably still live then," Joker reassured him as he shot the unfortunate guard in the leg. "Now you stay here and scream loudly and bleed everywhere – like you're doing, that's good – and keep the cops busy for a while. Thanks a bunch."

With that Joker set off at a brisk clip down the road in the rough direction of the warehouse currently serving as Joker HQ, following closely by Harley lugging the bag of cash. Before they passed a corner out of sight she quickly turned and gave the bleeding, crying figure on the floor another wink and blew him a kiss. "You did great for your first time out, kid! Gimme a call when you've finished going through puberty, kay? Byeee!"

Author's Note: D'aww those crazy kids...