Heads You Win
Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Bust" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 3 February 2010.
The big cheeses of Gotham posed for the cameras, their expensive smiles matching their expensive suits and expensively maintained wrinkle-free complexions. As the flashbulbs popped the shine from a dozen highly polished grins was blinding, but slumped in front of the flickering television light the owner of the city's most famous smile was certainly not joining them.
"Toadying ingrates," Joker grunted, flicking a razor-edged playing card towards the set with precisely enough twist of the wrist to miss the screen by an inch.
The focus of this latest gathering of Gotham's Great and Good shifted uncomfortably in the spotlight. Commissioner James Gordon had been carefully positioned by the police press liaison to stand at the centre of the group, and to the Joker's narrowed eyes he wore the expression of a sheepdog reluctantly penned in by a flock of particularly fat and stupid looking sheep. Briefly pondering whether enough sheep working together could successfully maul a dog, or perhaps a Bat, Joker flicked another card towards the television, carefully missing by an inch in the opposite direction.
"…so many years of serving this city with dedication…great sacrifices…example to us all…all hope for many more equally successful years to come…"
Mayor Hamilton Hill's speech honouring the man who was now Gotham's longest-serving police commissioner turned out to be as predictable as it was dull. He seemed to be skipping all the really fun parts about the bodily injuries and mental torment inflicted on dear ol' Jimmy and his family by certain green-haired white-skinned handsome devils who had no need of long-winded introductions from blowhards like Mayor Hill. Joker tuned most of it out as he shuffled the remaining cards with one hand, propping his chin on the other as he leant against the sagging arm of the couch.
He stilled in his shuffling as The Ham finally drew to a close, Gordon taking a few steps forward and starting to speak. It was more of the same clichéd platitudes, just phrased in a nauseatingly modest and self-effacing way.
"…clearly don't deserve yadda yadda…honour for the entire department blah blah…absent friends and those no longer with us…yawn"
The crowd interrupted several times to applaud and the camera panned across the stuffed-shirts that stood with Gordon on the podium, lingering on a slightly-worse-for-wear looking Bruce Wayne who at least livened things up by giving a piercing two-fingered whistle when the commissioner mentioned the invaluable support of his wife.
Gordon waved a hand for quiet and continued through an Oscar-worthy list of thanks that took in everyone from his daughter to his first sergeant and probably the nursery school teacher who once wiped his nose. Joker had dawning moment of horror when he though the idiot was going to personally mention and thank every Gotham cop who'd ever consumed a donut in anger, but finally the drawn-out proceedings came to a conclusion as the commissioner promised to "continue the unending fight against crime in our fine city" and turned to the velvet-draped column just off of the podium.
The publicity-hungry crowd around him all shuffled for position as the flashbulbs popped anew and Gordon tugged on the velvet cord to unveil the new statue erected in his honour outside the central police headquarters. It was a life-size bronze bust on a marble column with the corny motto "justice never sleeps" engraved beneath in golden copperplate text, and Joker swore the artist must have been working from the picture on a bargain bucket of fried chicken because it looked a hell of a lot more like a well-known fast food chain logo than the commissioner. Plus the expression was that of someone who clearly didn't have enough roughage in their diet and was undergoing a painful internal struggle. And the eyes were lopsided.
All in all it was laughable! Who would want such a ridiculous and crass object d'art erected by the city in their honour anyway?
On the screen the audience were clapping politely and a tipsy Bruce Wayne was half-draped over a red-faced Gordon giving him a boozy congratulatory hug. Joker's dissatisfaction spilt over with a growl of frustration and he flung one of the remaining razor-cards in the direction of the off switch. With a thunk the picture shrunk to a tiny dot as the card quivered where it was now embedded in the plastic casing of the set. As he did so, there was a sudden squeal of protest from somewhere on the floor next to the couch and Harley's head suddenly bobbed into view from where she'd ducked in panic.
"Hey! I'm sittin' down here Puddin'!" She gingerly patted at her blonde pigtails as she sat up on the threadbare rug clutching the magazine she'd been reading. "I don't need any split ends trimmin'."
Joker frowned down at her in mild confusion. "How long have you been down there? Haven't you got something more useful to be doing?"
"A while ago I asked if you wanted me to do anythin' like make you a sandwich or fetch you a drink and you threw one of those cards at my head and said to go and play in traffic or just amuse myself quietly for a change, so I did." She waved the magazine she was holding. "D'ya want me to read you your horoscope Puddin'? Just for fun?"
"Only if it involves tall, dark strangers with pointy ears getting hit by a truck. Or ridiculous police commissioners meeting a very timely demise." Joker snorted dismissively as he waved a hand at the playing card-impaled television. "Were you paying attention to any of that nonsense down at the police headquarters? It's a disgrace! This good city's taxpayers funding a shoddy statue to honour a second-rate gumshoe."
Harley wrinkled her nose in confusion as she glanced back at the now-dark screen. "What, that was s'posed to be Commissioner Gordon? I thought it was Colonel Whats-his-face – the chicken guy. Honouring his many years of contributin' to the hardening arteries and expandin' waistlines of Gotham city."
"What's ole Gordo done for this fair city that I haven't?" Joker continued, showing no sign of waiting for a response from Harley as he leapt to his feet and began pacing back and forth. "I entertain the populous, delighting young and old. And all without claiming a penny from the public purse! I bet the good commissioner has a hefty expense account and well-feathered pension as well as his taxpayer-funded salary. And now he gets statues as well." Joker shook his head with a mournful grimace. "No-one ever said life was fair."
Harley tutted in sympathy from her position sat cross-legged on the floor, gazing up at the Joker's towering, brooding figure as he strode back and forth. "They just don't appreciate your genius like they should, Puddin'. Philistines, they are."
Joker paused in his pacing, struck by a sudden thought. "We'll be passing near the police headquarters on the way to Ozzie's blackjack night at the Iceberg Lounge tonight, won't we?"
"Oooh that's tonight? I forgot!" Harley clapped with delight. "I can't wait to get glammed-up and drink margaritas with my man while he cleans up at the card table." She gave a dreamy sigh and Joker rolled his eyes.
"You could still end up hyena-sitting here if you don't focus for five seconds. I can't just sit back and leave that monstrosity out there, presenting the lopsided face of unsleeping justice to the populace." He set his jaw and nodded sternly. "A message must be sent."
"I know, I know!" Harley declared, darting across to rummage under the couch and withdrawing an oversized wooden mallet. "How's about we knock Bronzey off his pedestal, and then we knock the block off the real one as well and switch 'em around!" She took a few practice swings at the air, grinning in a hopeful fashion.
Joker nodded slowly, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "That's not an entirely dismissal idea, which is quite an improvement on the usual standard of your suggestions. It's nice to think that some of my brilliance might yet rub off on you and leave you semi-competent as an assistant."
Ignoring Harley's joyful bouncing on the sagging couch at this rarest of praise, Joker turned back to his desk.
"In my experience headswitching isn't a two minute job though – not if you want to keep the head recognisable. And I'm not missing the game tonight. I've got a couple of marked decks here with all the twos removed that says ol' Harvey is in for a bad night with the cards."
"Aww, so that means no block-knockin'?" Harley stopped her earlier gleeful bouncing and let the mallet drop to the floor.
"Not if you want Harv to be the one who funds that hot-tub you were begging to have installed on the roof. Plan A will have to sit on the back-burner until tomorrow." Joker tapped on his rigged packs of cards thoughtfully. "But we could still have a little fun with the dorky statute tonight as we pass through. Bring your makeup bag, and go see if the mooks downstairs have any green paint leftover from sprucing up the cars they borrowed from the impound lot this morning..."
The next day Commissioner Gordon was disturbed from the deep brain-fug that could only be induced by particularly dull paperwork with a heavy knock on the frame of his open office door.
"Mornin' Commish, you seen those pictures on the news?" Detective Harvey Bullock was leaning in the doorway, paper cup of coffee in hand.
Gordon removed his glasses to rub at the bridge of his nose. "Any pictures in particular? I'm up to my eyeballs in ballistics reports for the Salazar trial that were all supposed to have been filed yesterday, if I hadn't been otherwise occupied with that embarrassing media circus."
"Yeah, unveilin' that fancy statue that looks like the guy who carved it was workin' from a dodgy photofit of you? Funny you should mention that…"
Bullock produced a poor-quality printout from a local news website, handing it across to the curious Gordon. The photo was badly pixelated but appeared to show a mockup of the bust that already barely resembled him, now with the addition of clown makeup and green hair. The writing below had also been altered, and now read "justice never sleeps with a guy on the first date, unless he's paying".
Red, white and green. Gordon chuckled and shook his head. "Silly computer-generated jokes are news these days? I suppose I should be glad – crime must really be down if they don't have anything more important to print."
"Nah Commish, that's a photo of the real thing – some prankster decorated it last night. Makes a change from tp-ing the place like they did in the old days, doncha think?" Bullock gave a sardonic smile. "The kids are getting more creative."
"Hmm," Gordon frowned and looked more closely at the picture. "It does look a little familiar though, doesn't it? The Joker's on one of his little breaks from Arkham at the moment. Has there been any other trouble, or recent sightings lately?"
"Nah, that grinning freak'll be well laid up in some cosy rat-hole." Bullock shook his head firmly and took a gulp of coffee. "This is kids work. Prob'ly from that fancy private college based not far from here – they're always trashin' statues on campus and havin' drunken parties that get outta hand. Don't take it personal."
Gordon sighed and added the printout to the towering stack of paper that was his in-tray. "I won't, don't you worry – I've got plenty of bigger fish to fry at the moment, and it'll be me for the frying pan award or no award if these reports aren't ready for the judge by this afternoon."
"I'll leave you to it boss. And they should have that shiny beacon o' hope and justice out there cleaned up by lunchtime too."
"I can't wait." Gordon chuckled again as Bullock turned to leave. "It really does look nothing like me though, does it? And my wife said the eyes were lopsided."
"Probably s'posed to add realism or somethin'." Bullock offered. "I think if you went heavy enough on the fake tan you'd match okay. You be careful if you head out fer lunch that people don't get the two of you mixed up – you might get pigeons landin' on your head."
Gordon gave him a wry smile. "Sound advice, thank you detective."
Meanwhile, in a Ha-Hacidenia not so very far away, the Joker was whistling happily to himself as he counted out stacks of twenty dollar bills that had until recently been in the possession of a disgruntled and psychotic former district attorney, and Harley was working on more 'batting practice' with the aid of watermelons balanced on top of tailors' dummies.
It was just another typical day in Gotham.
Author's Note: Joker's childish vandalism is brought to you by the continuing post-TDK trend to "Jokerize" just about everyone in the world.