With each vicious swing, Tina winced and the masked Stanley accordioned further, until he was just a yellow-and-green ball with a streak of black-and-white. The Joker swung the mallet like a golf club, and sent the Mask-ball ricocheting around the Coco Bongo.
The dynamo hit tables, upturning them completely and sending up shrieks from the occupying patrons. Musicians scattered, gathering their instruments and fleeing the club. Glasses shattered every which way. The Mask-ball spectacularly smashed through a crystal swan on the mayor's table, leaving the portly man and his nubile young consort sparkling with ice flecks and apoplectic with horror. The ball collided with a waiter, who went tumbling as his tray went spinning. Cheesecakes, chocolate tortes, and raspberry tarts landed in women's hair and veiled hats, in men's jowly faces and belly-stretched dinner jackets.
Harleen managed to catch an airborne tart before the Joker snatched her hand and pulled her under the table.
"Well, Puddin'," she said, licking the raspberry preserve and munching into the pastry. "You definitely ain't gonna copy acrobatics like that..."
"You're right, Harl, " he agreed, lifting the table cloth in order to monitor the action. "I mean, frankly, you've got a better chance at copying that than I do."
Harleen beamed, her cheeks full of the dessert. She swallowed and made a small squeak of delight. "Ya mean that, Mistah J? I didn't think you noticed my gymnastics skills..."
The Joker smiled indulgently on his assistant. "Of course I do, Harley," he purred. "That ball is you on one of my bad nights."
Harleen stared at him, dumbly. She looked away, and swallowed a lump in her throat that threatened to gag her.
She murmured, "You can be a real heartless jerk, ya know that, Mistah J?"
With a short laugh, the Joker chided, "Me? Have a heart? Oh Pumpkin, you know it's only a whoopie cushion in there..."
He withdrew the joy buzzer from his coat and applied it to his hand. "What've I told you about getting your hopes up?"
Harleen said nothing, and the Joker clambered out from under the table. Without thinking much about it, as per usual, she followed him.
The Mask-ball rolled to a stop in front of the Joker, before popping out back into man-shape. The Mask panted dramatically, and actual five-pointed golden stars circled his head.
The Joker slowly applauded. "Well. That was a decent start. So, the bumps and bruises aren't such a big deal for you, eh? I guess you were one of the kids where sticks and stones actually didn't break your bones... never mind what the school marms said."
The Mask straightened, fists again at this hips. "Satisfied?" he flung out, irritably.
"Not in the slightest!" disagreed the Joker. "Now I wanna see how your nerves function. Whaddya say, pal? Put 'er there!" He thrust out his gloved hand.
The Mask eyed the Joker suspiciously. As he accepted the clown's hand, Harleen swore that the expression the green man wore was positively knowing.
As they clasped hands, the Mask lit up with blue electricity. He shrieked and convulsed into different silhouettes. Even his skeleton flashed a few times.
"Wo-ho-hoah!" yelled the Joker. "Harley! He shocks like Wiley Coyote! I love it!"
Harleen folded her arms impatiently, and rolled her eyes.
At this point, several more incidental spectators had collected their wallets and purses and marched out of the club, righteously offended. Tina, still hiding in the shadow of the palm tree, gazed at the masked Stanley and was at a loss. What are you doing, Stanley? This won't earn you sympathy; this is just stupid.
It occurred to her that the police may have put him up to this, whatever this was.
Bastards. Those enabling bastards. That does it.
Quietly, Tina stood from her crouch and slunk off to the lobby to make a stern phone call.
The Mask's unearthly screech and frenetic convulsing abruptly ended as the Joker withdrew his gloved hand. The yellow-and-green man dropped to the floor. Almost immediately, he sat up and vaulted back onto his feet. "Sssssmmmmmoooooookinnnnnn!" he exclaimed.
The Joker stood with his fist at his hip. He admired the freak of nature before him. He inhaled sharply, flaring his white nostrils.
"Actually, you aren't," he marveled. "That's brilliant! Harley, isn't that brilliant?"
"You called it, Boss," came Harleen's bored reply.
The Joker again reached within his violet coat. "Let's see how you handle this, shall we?"
With a flourish, he leaped into the air and flung a deck of razor-tipped playing cards in the Mask's direction.
Immediately, the yellow-and-green man bent his knees and flexed his arms. Huge yellow, black, pink, and green licorice allsorts ringed his limbs. A metallic red barrel encased his chest. A protective helmet formed around his head, from a puckered blue licorice lozenge. The cards bounced off the metal and lodged harmlessly in the squishy candy armor.
The Joker regarded the display curiously, and scratched his head. "Very good..." he mused. "But I fear I'm missing a reference?"
The Mask tugged off his licorice helmet and avidly explained, "I'm a character from an old British science fiction television show which they really, really should bring back..."
He promptly acquired a thick black moustache and his fedora morphed into a little black derby. "Top notch stuff that show was, wot wot!"
"Oh, I see," replied the Joker, as the Mask plucked the cards out of his squishy abdomen and placed them in the Joker's gloved hands. "Well, I'm afraid I'm as American as green-apple pie, my friend!"
The Joker passed the cards to Harleen, who perked up with interest. "Harley, here," he said. "You clean these off."
"Sure thing, Boss!" she said, and began licking the sugar off the stiff cards.
The Mask waggled his eyebrows at the Joker. "Had enough yet?" he taunted. "Because I could do this alll daaaayyyyy... In fact, I do have allll daaaayyyy..."
"Oh, you ain't seen nothin' yet, Big Head," said the Joker, with a confident smile. He smooth his hair back, conceitedly. "You must understand: aside from the sneezing powder and the black eye telescopes, despite the guffaws and the lockjaws, and underneath this frankly fabulous face, I'm a scientist."
"Oh?" commented the Mask.
"That's right," said the Joker. He touched a few petals of the flower on his lapel. Demonically, he grinned up at the yellow-and-green man.
"And I never get tired when I'm experimenting."
The clown lunged forward, pinching the flower's stem.