In the Coco Bongo club, Harleen Quinzel sat at a cozy table in a skimpy little red-and-black number. In front of her was a glass of champagne and some attractive shrimp fettucine alfredo. In contrast to her, her companion was in his usual violet digs and not eating.
"Ain't you gonna eat yours, Puddin'?" she asked sweetly.
He sighed distractedly. "You have it, Harley. You're a growing kid."
She threw him a disgusted look, puffed out her chest, and took a sip from her glass instead of a bite from her food. She made sure to thrust out her little pinky finger when she did so.
"Besides, I don't trust the shrimp that comes out of this harbor," the Joker added.
"Why...?" she asked suspiciously.
He grinned, and gave a short laugh. "Because they don't have my face on 'em, of course!"
She blushed a bit at the grin that always won her over, but suddenly felt a bit ill. She pushed forward her plate, completely uninterested in the contents.
"Awww, now, somebody's gotta eat it, Harley. I paid for it," he chided.
"They why d'you order your own?"
"Ninety percent of everything is presentation, Pumpkin-Pie. Haven't you learned that with me?"
Harleen said nothing, but arched her brow and drank from her glass to keep herself from sharing her opinion.
She leaned forward over the table, clasping her small hands. She whispered, "So, why we really here? I'm guessin' you ain't just acting out some old Al Capone fantasy or nuthin'..."
She paused, took in his violet trenchcoat and fedora, and her own teased blond hair and tiny, sexy dress. "Oh my God, you are, ain't you?"
"Oh Harley, Harley, honey... I've really gotta get around to helping you appreciate the finer things in life, haven't I?"
"What, like old 3 Stooges flicks and Warner Bros. 'toons?"
"Hey, hey, hey, easy there, Harley.... don't diss the Warner Bros."
Just then, across the club, a leggy blond woman emerged from the leaves of a palm and swaggered down a staircase that pulsed with soft white light. She gripped the mic like a lover, and dragged a smooth hand over her own contours. Liquid strains of guitar and insouciant horns supported her deep, honeyed voice, and - vocally - she made love with the entire crowd.
Harleen took in the woman's curves, and her eyes flicked back to the Joker, to see how he was reacting to the display. He studied the woman for a moment. He waved a pale hand dismissively. "Too subtle."
Harleen gave him a dirty look. "I didn't run off with you just to find out you're snooty about 1940s trash culture!"
The Joker smirked darkly. "When it comes to running off with me, Puddin', you didn't have a choice."
Pouting, Harleen folded her arms together and leaned back in her chair, taking a deep draught from her glass.
"You ran off with me for the danger and the daring and the crime," the Joker explained, swilling his champagne before taking a sip. He puckered with displeasure, leaving a thick red lipstick stain on the rim. "And that's exactly what you got. Now, do you wanna know what we're doing here, or don't you?"
Still annoyed, Harleen arranged herself in an attentive attitude.
"I'm looking for a man," he said in a low voice. "With a very special mask and a penchant for Latin dance numbers."
"A specific one, or d'you just wake up with a cravin', Mistah J?" Harleen asked sweetly.
The Joker looked at her, astounded.
"You take a lot of liberties with me, Harley... hard to believe you're the doormat that fell in love with me."
Harleen buffed her nails on her shoulder. "I try."
"Well, just as long as you get the job done..." he finished, taking a larger swig from his glass.
He pinched his thumb and forefinger and prescribed, "Needs something, hmmmnnnnn... some anchovy innards, yes, yes, I think so. And a nice lemon slice. A funny drink to make up for the unfunny shrimp."
Harleen made a face and set her glass next to her rejected plate. "I think we're gonna need a doggy bag for all this. You know, for later, when we're back in let's-serve-the-inmates-cold-oatmeal-for-breakfast Arkham and my empty stomach helps me forget what my brain remembers of tonight..."
"If we play our cards right," the Joker grinned, letting out a short laugh. "We won't be going back to Arkham tonight. Not with this mask."
He leaned forward and crooked his pale finger, beckoning to Harleen. She never refused that call.
Tina Carlyle slunk around the stage, seducing all present. She glanced from time to time into one dark corner. There, Stanley had sat for hours every evening this week, with a glass of water and his briefcase on the table in front of him. She knew he kept his mask in there. Not a good sign, she thought. As she watched him, she let her eyes do the talking.
Stanley only returned her glances with his own depressed mug. He knew how this all looked: hanging around at Tina's doorstep, looking the very definition of 'sad sack', with his confidence crutch in the briefcase. Oh, if only you knew the truth, Tina, he thought. It isn't about me this time. Guess you'll find that out soon enough.
Stanley took a sip of water from a glass, and he studied a small table across the club, occupied by a nice-looking kid in red-and-black and a... a very interesting companion.
That has to be this Joker guy, Stanley thought. He certainly looks freaky enough. Freaky like me.
Man, how did I ever kid myself that Tina was attracted to me in the mask?
And now I've gotta bring out into the open a creep who looks just like me at my weirdest? Oh, Tina'll like that. Yeah, that'll look really good.
Stanley drained the glass.
Well, I don't have much of a choice, do I?
I really shoulda ordered something stronger.
He snapped open the briefcase. The wooden mask taunted him with that weird sheen of green light. Stanley looked up, and saw Tina finish her song in splendid fashion, as always. The stage lights blazed, embracing her silhouette, before burning low.
"Awwww, I'm gonna regret this," he groaned, as he lifted the mask to his face. "Somebody please stop me."
A person-sized tornado whirled through the dim club, knocking over table lamps and smashing champagne glasses. Silverware and gourmet dishes went flying. Shrieks erupted from those patrons caught in the whirlwind's path.
The Joker stood and declared, "Now this is a show!"
He raised his hands to applaud, but he didn't get a chance to do so before Harleen yanked him by the front of his coat and dragged him under the table with her.
Only Tina was unmoved by the sudden change in atmospheric conditions in the club. She stood on the leeward side of an artificial palm tree, her chin in her hand and her arm curled around herself.
In the middle of the dance floor, the whirlwind slowed to a stop, and out sped a thin, active man in a banana-yellow zoot suit with a strange, sculpted green face capable of projecting all human emotions at several decibels higher than normal.
Gloved fingers lifted a table cloth, and the Joker emerged on his knees, followed closely by Harleen. The yellow-and-green man towered above them, hands on his hips. Harleen raised an eyebrow at the man's choice of attire, but the Joker only stared up at him, wonderstruck.
The Mask tipped his feathered hat, and extended one bare hand to the Clown Prince of Crime.
In the most sinister, most chain-smokingest, most movie trailer announcingest voice he could muster, the Mask then uttered three words that made Harley Quinn glance between the men before her, and do a double-take.
"Pull my finger."