Split Down The Middle
Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Equality" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 25 February 2010.
The Joker casually tipped back his chair to rest his highly polished shoes on the pool table, sighing with the contentment that came from spending a pleasant evening spreading fear, laughter and small calibre bullets direct to the hearts of the Gotham Populace. The heist had gone well, and best of all there was still more fun to be had before this little project was over.
"Hey, Harl, do you remember that heist we pulled off last year down on 32nd Street – the First National Bank?" He chuckled as memories of screaming customers and panicking tellers danced through his brain. "That was a fun little escapade."
"32nd Street, Puddin'?" Harley looked up from her position sprawled upside down in an over-stuffed armchair, admiring some of the shiny new loot that now adorned her fingers. After a moment of confusion she caught the meaning behind the look he was giving her and she returned it with a sly grin. "I thought it was 36th Street – on the corner of Seventh Avenue?"
"No, no," Joker tutted, shaking his head and trying to keep his growing smirk to a minimum. "You're thinking of the Third National Bank down on 35th Street. Or, come to think of it, do I mean the Second Bank on 28th Street…"
An exasperated growl interrupted the debate. "Will you two clowns put a sock in it?"
The dingy light of the former pool hall-cum-sports bar-cum-money lenders left the speaker cast half in shadow, revealing little other than a suited silhouette. But as he leant forward to glare at his troublesome temporary partners the light revealed the twisted scars that marred the disfigured left side of the man's face.
Two-Face consulted the sleek business-like watch he wore on his right wrist and then the contrasting scratched and clunky timepiece on his left. Whatever time or times they showed caused a further frown of dissatisfaction. "We don't have all night to get this counted – some of us have other business to attend to."
He motioned to the twitchy rat-like man they'd hired to independently count and divide out the stolen currency, as was the custom following joint heists conducted by Gotham's criminal fraternity. "Ignore them and just hurry this up, but make sure it's accurate down to the last cent. It's got to be fifty-fifty."
The bean counter started over with the pile of banknotes spread across the fraying pool table as Joker rolled his eyes and sighed melodramatically. "Split right down the middle Harv, we know, we know."
"Which won't happen if you keep jabbering different street numbers every two seconds and muddling up the counting." Two-Face ignored the expression of confusion and mock-innocence Joker immediately adopted at this accusation. "Just can it for fifteen more minutes and then you and us can go our separate ways for a nice, long time – maybe till Hell freezes over."
Joker pouted and turned to look at his jewel-clad henchwench. "Aww, Harley, anyone would think ol' Harv didn't enjoy our little playdate this evening."
"Some people just don't play well with others, Mistah J." She kicked her legs back and forth where they hung over the top of the chair. "He was probably an only child, wrapped up in cotton wool by an overprotective mother and never learnt to share his toys."
"Do we owe you a fee for that insightful professional opinion?" Two-Face scoffed, nimbly passing his coin between fingers with a practiced dexterity.
"The first half hour is free, and after that I give special rates for Arkham alumni," she replied with a wink.
"You can keep your psychobabble. Our 'problem' is we don't like carefully planned operations being sabotaged because someone," he said pointedly, glaring at Joker, "decides that the best way to begin the robbery of a museum is by setting the damn building on fire!"
"Harvey, Harvey, Harvey; you say that like I deliberately set out to spoil your evening!" Joker protested, springing up from his chair to drape a chummy arm around Two-Face's shoulders. "Nothing could be further from the truth! I just saw all those dreadful gutter-sweepings of paintings that some philistine had mislabelled as art in the modern exhibit down by the main hall, that were begging to be doused in kerosene and set alight."
Two-Face shrugged off the encroaching arm. "Those 'gutter-sweepings' were part of a set worth over five hundred thousand dollars! They were supposed to be part of the haul!"
"Well you should have said you were looking for the daubings of a particularly backwards toddler as well as your precious pair of boring landscapes from the main gallery; I would have let you call dibs on a few of the less offensively awful ones before I set them on fire." Joker offered generously.
"Desmarais masterpiece matched landscapes, Night and Day over Charente, were our priority target for this operation," Two-Face admitted, "but there were plenty of other valuable pieces we were going to split the difference on with you; this was supposed to be a major haul. Thanks to your arsonist tendencies now we've only got a few pieces of antique jewellery and the cash from the main office to divide up."
Still upside down on the chair a few feet away Harley removed the rings and bracelets she'd been admiring and tossed them onto the table where they collided with a teetering pile of banknotes, much to the annoyance of the bean counter who gave a resigned sigh and started counting that pile for the third time.
"I call dibs on the amethyst butterfly ring," she chirped, "unless you really, really want it Harvey, but to be brutally honest I'm not sure either one of you are in touch enough with your feminine sides to carry off a butterfly pinkie ring."
Two-Face ignored her and turned back to the table to keep a close eye on the counting. "We don't know why you wanted to join us anyway," he muttered. "Paintings and museum artefacts aren't usually your style, and neither are team operations. We were expecting Cobblepot to sign up for the second spot."
Joker shrugged as he sat back down on his chair. "Well, y'know, mostly I was bored. We've been laying low since getting out of Arkham last month; Harley's been spring cleaning the Ha-Hacienda and trying to train Bud and Lou to sic anything dressed in tights, I've been catching up with General Hospital re-runs. I thought it was about time I eased back onto the Gotham stage and what better a chap to pull a scheme with than my old bestest buddy… eh, I mean bestest buddies Twofers!"
Two-Face grunted an acknowledgment and checked both his watches again before jabbing a finger at the small man scribbling a note in his jotter. "Look, Twitchy, we have somewhere else to be at 2:22am. If you're not done dividing this up in the next five minutes your cut's gonna be more literal than the type you're used to."
If the bean counter was at all moved by the threat he didn't show it; after years of acting as book-keeper and 'independent financial consultant' to the criminal classes of Gotham little could ruffle him.
"I'm done with the cash Mr Two-Face; it's split evenly like you requested, minus our standard fee. I'll just need to weigh a few of these smaller pieces of jewellery and we should be all finished."
"Good," Two-Face nodded as the little man left for the backroom to weigh the jewellery. Then he turned to the Joker. "Don't even think about pretend sneezing or 'accidentally' knocking the table over, clown," he said warningly. "The cash stays in the equal piles until we both take them and leave. Then you can set fire to your share or throw it out of a car window for all I care; we'll be done."
"Scouts honour I won't touch a dime, Harvey!" Joker promised. "Woe betide that we might taken a penny more or less than you and unbalance the universe – the sun would probably fall out of the sky and Batman would start sticking up little old ladies for their pensions."
"Ha, ha," Two-Face commented dryly. "To someone as unbalanced as you this might be a challenging concept, but you don't have to understand it: just accept it. It all has to be equal."
"Even-stevens, we get it, Harv – split down the middle!" Joker gave him a grin a little wider than usual. "Like those special paintings you were after; they're equal, aren't they?"
"They're a matching pair – the same scene at midday and midnight. They're two parts of the same whole and they equal each other out." He gave a frown of confusion. "Why do you care, anyway?"
"Oh, no reason," Joker deflected. "Hey look – Twitchy's back with his little calculator. Everything even out okay, Twitchy?"
"One of the lesser rings did need to be divided in two to fully balance the shares, but yes, we're done." The bean counter placed the two bags of jewellery on opposite sides of the pool table alongside the stacked piles of bank notes.
"About time," Two-Face grumbled as he reached for a duffle bag to load up his share. "This partnership can't be dissolved soon enough. It was a complete displeasure working with you Joker – not one I'm in a hurry to repeat. Feel free to get picked up by Batman and have a nice long holiday at Arkham well away from me."
You're such a charmer, Harv," Joker replied. He gestured for Harley to load up their share and she rolled backwards off the chair to cartwheel over to the table. "Come along now pumpkin, daddy's got places to be as well. D'you think that donut shop on Eight Street will still be open this late?"
"Should be Mistah J – I want extra, extra sprinkles!"
"Well a few fifty dollar bills should cover all the sprinkles in the shop, and if not then a few bullets might just do instead."
"You crazy kids have a fun night," Two-Face commented with barely-hidden sarcasm as they both went their separate ways, Joker strolling nonchalantly down the alleyway at the rear of the pool-hall while Harley followed with a skip in her step, carrying their two over-stuffed duffle bags with a stolen pool-cue slung across one shoulder.
He shook his head and motioned to the twin henchmen guarding the van outside to open up the back; he wanted to check on the paintings while the money was loaded.
Moving aside the protective decorating cloths he was struck with sudden horror: both paintings had been horribly vandalised; crudely sliced in two down the middle of the canvas and pasted back together to form two contrasting scenes of both night and day. The identity of the culprit wasn't much of a mystery since a note was pinned to one of the frames.
Since you were so insistent on everything being split down the middle I thought you'd enjoy my little adulteration of these boring, humdrum landscapes – much more you, don't you think? If you only want to keep one I'm sure we'd find room for the other somewhere in the Ha-Hacidenda (maybe the second bathroom?).
Thanks for a fun evening – we have to do this again some time!
It took the rest of the night for Harvey to whittle down all the violent ideas he had for dealing with the clown to just two; but as he flipped his coin he was sure that good side or bad, he was going to enjoy his revenge…
Author's Note: I did a bit of research into other fics featuring Two-Face before writing this since I hadn't encountered him much before. Hopefully he didn't come across as too cardboard-cut-out-y!