Two Unstoppable Forces Meet

The Clown Prince of Crime narrowed his eyes at the imposter, and reached for the green loon's outstretched hand.

Harleen's eyes flicked to the Joker's own gloved hand, and she wondered, Hang on - has he got the joy buzzer?

As she watched, fingers threaded with no incident, and the Mask lifted the Joker to his feet.

Camera flashes erupted across the club as reporters madly jotted down notes and captured money shots. Civilians across the club reacted as might be expected. Those who had tumbled to the floor from the force of the Mask's whirlwind picked bits of champagne glass out of their hair and evening garb, and gingerly climbed to their feet. Several left in a huff. Most, though, found their eyes glued to the unfolding spectacle and ordered more hors-d'oeuvres from any dazed waiters that stumbled past their tables.

Some stout, rich men loudly editorialized the shoddy service their hard-earned money had bought, stood indignantly, and squeezed the creamy shoulders of their paramours. While the older women piously departed with their husbands, the younger set yanked their husbands' ties, anchoring them to their seats in order to watch the developing scene.

Most of the club musicians cowered behind their instruments. Tina crouched behind a large, artificial palm tree, and sighed heavily. Stanley, what are you doing? This had better be worth it...

The Mask stood a few inches taller than the Joker, even without the snazzy yellow fedora, and the Joker was none too happy about this. He regarded the impertinent fake with a hooded, suspicious gaze. He adjusted the man's black-and-white Pop Art tie, and flicked away an imaginary piece of lint.

"Darling," the Joker drawled. "On the night of your junior prom, didn't your mother tell you that it isn't polite to copy the King's style?"

Harleen noted that while any other man would have hot-bloodedly swatted away the Joker's invasive hands, the Mask only stood with arms akimbo, brought a lit cigar out of nowhere, and jammed it between his teeth. It flapped as he replied, "Well, ya know what they say, Sonny Jim, about imitation and flattery..."

With a flick of his wrist, he was suddenly proffering the Joker a second cigar.

The Joker corrected him, with a tight little laugh: "Joker, if you please. And yes, I do."

He glanced at the second cigar, and brushed away the gift. "No, I'm afraid you and I aren't there yet. Besides, my lungs are critical for my work."

The Mask shrugged, and tossed away the cigar; it vanished. Like a revolver, he righted his own cigar and blew out the tip before disposing of it as well. "Shame, Clown Man," he admonished. With the voice of a 1930s Hollywood gangster, he added, "I don't pull any punches with the sacred cigar."

The Joker hmmmpphed. "Well, I would," he muttered. "It seems you have some ways to go before you perfect your imitation of me."

"Is that so?" the Mask challenged, his gaze both shrewd and amused.

It was then that the Joker lifted his jutting chin, and his gaze became distant and reflective. His voice made a discomfiting transition to a lilt.

"But perhaps I also have much to learn from you..." he conceded, in a tone that was very far from genuine humility.

The corner of Harleen's mouth turned up. She settled herself back into her chair, folded her arms, ready to watch whatever this turned into.

The Mask arched an articulate eyebrow at this admission from the obviously untrustworthy man in front of him.

"So, in the interest of perfecting my own imitation of you," the Joker continued, his voice moving theatrically. "Why don't you show me what else you can do? What sorts of things you can..." - he let out a low, sinister laugh - "...withstand."

The Mask folded his arms, and took a wider stance. He considered the Joker's request. A miniature Mask, no larger than a Barbie doll, appeared on his broad yellow shoulder.

"Whaddya think, Mini-Me?" he asked the homunculus. "Can the Clown Man deal with my awesome?"

"He can't handle the truth!" the little figure shouted, before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

The Joker's mouth fell open as he realized how beautifully he had fallen into that one-liner. He stared with pure indignance at the place where the little man had sat moments before.

Harleen burst into a fit of giggles, and the Joker snapped, "Har-ley!"

The Mask smiled serenely, and let out an inane giggle. "Well, that's one opinion!"

"But tell ya what," he added. "I'm feeling generous."

Not to mention I've got nothin' better to do until the B-Man shows up, he thought. "...So, I'll let you have a good ol' look-see at the tricks up my sleeve."

With that, the Mask rolled his yellow sleeves up to his elbows, and replaced his flesh-toned hands at his hips.

"I only have one question for you, sadistic clown man," he said. "Have you got a giant mallet?"

The Joker blinked in surprise. "You mean you don't have one?" He was immediately smug. "Look, if you're gonna be me, Toots, then that's an embarrassingly basic oversight-"

"Oh, I have one," the Mask assured him, grinning. He reached into his trousers pocket, and heaved out the mallet with both hands, resting the cartoonish implement against his shoulder. "I just figured you'd wanna use your own," he explained.

He dropped into his gangster voice again, somehow artificially simulating the effect of a cigar jammed in his jaw. "Ya know, in case I pulled any funny business..."

The Joker allowed himself a smile of noblesse oblige. "Well put, my odd green man." He flung out a gloved hand.  "Harley, the mallet."

Harleen reached under the table and retrieved the comical instrument. "Here ya go, Boss!"

The Mask gave himself a cloud of mussed gray hair, a huge nose, some horn-rimmed glasses, and a white lab coat. "Now, ze scientifik experts vould call me 'fffysikly impervious'," he lectured, in a bad German accent. "Do you know vot zat means?"

"Yes, I bloody well know what it means," the Joker hissed, as he widened his stance and prepared his swing.

"Zenn haff at me," replied the Mask, his scientist garb evaporating. He spread his arms and legs wide, and stared at the ceiling, as though he expected any moment to be raptured. Hurry up, Dark Knight, he thought. This is gonna be a real drag...

In her hiding place crouching behind the palm tree, Tina stared in horror at the masked Stanley. What are you doing? Why are you just letting the creep do whatever he wants? She had a sudden thought, and her passion cooled. Don't tell me this is a bid for sympathy, Stanley...

The Joker tilted his neck left and right, working out the kinks. "With pleasure, Big Head."

The End

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