Chapter 6: A Gotham Welcome
Ha-Hacienda Three was quiet, save for the occasional pulsing giggle from one of the hyenas. Harley Quinn lay draped over the passion pit, spread out on the pillows, dressed in a ridiculously short goth-loli dress with smiley-face pom-poms hanging from her pigtails, a huge pink ribbon tied around her chest, and a red-lipped pout on her painted face.
He wasn’t home yet!
Where was Puddin’? He escaped hours ago, just like they planned! That stupid goober Driscoll was spending probably his last hours on earth hysterically cackling at the Arkham infirmary ceiling, all the incriminating evidence Mistah J had left on the floor had led to Fatty Bob being fired and under investigation by the cops for his involvement - the Joke had played out perfectly, and she was waiting for her reward, because she helped, she really did, he couldn’t have dunnit without her, and Mistah J damn well owed her a wild night of rubber-chicken-honkin’ love and a nice cuddle afterwards and maybe a movie and some flowers and -
And Harley was still lying here alone all trussed up in a pink bow bored outta her brain and MISTAH J WASN’T HOME!
It had to be Batman, or the cops. He was caught up, giving them the slip, he’d be home any minute. It couldn't be that he'd found something more entertaining to do than be with her. It couldn't possibly.
HAAA HA HA HA!!!!
The sound broke through her thoughts. The doorbell. Finally.
“Come in, Puddin’…” She purred in her very best Marilyn Monroe - much less squeaky and much more breathy than her regular voice. “I’ve been a real naughty girl and I’m just waitin’ for ya to fetch the rubber mallet and give me a good hard spa-”
The door clicked open and a very different form staggered across the threshold, sending Harley hopping up, eyes wide, Marilyn dissolving into the harlequin squeak in an instant.
Ivy pulled herself into the Hacienda, eyes red-rimmed, looking downright atrocious. Her skin really was alabaster now, but she didn’t look to be in any mood to enjoy it. She didn’t even register Harley’s embarrassing attire, she just took a few swaying steps into the room and collapsed into the passion pit with a most un-Goddess-like grunt. Harley’s carefully-cultivated environmental aroma of cotton-candy incense and bubblegum was dissolved within moments by a very heavy whiff of Lemon Pledge.
“Red - what’s wrong? Red? Are you okay? Hey RED! Wake up, huh?” Harley shook her friend’s shoulders, hopping about her body like a puppy upset to find its human companion in a bad way.
“He bit me.” Pamela snuffled, rubbing her face into the pillows. “He bit me.”
“Who? What? Harvey? Your new Ivan? Batman?!”
“The goddamn bastard. I’ll kill him.” She snarled suddenly, sitting up, slamming her delicate fists into the pillows. “He did something to me. How is that even possible? There’s no poison that can harm me! NONE! But I feel….” The exertion of her outraged outburst dimmed her eyes, and Harley watched her angry face melt into glazed dizziness. “I feel…”
Ivy slumped into the pillows again.
“Who? Who did this to you? Red?” Now Harley was really starting to fret. She could see Ivy was in a bad way; she wasn’t bruised or roughed up, and Harley couldn’t imagine anyone ever managing to overpower Poison Ivy and have their way with her - and anyway, they’d die. But something was terribly wrong with Red, something seemed to have taken the life out of her.
That’s right about when Harley spotted that her skin wasn’t alabaster all over; there were two little red holes in Ivy’s throat, right over the jugular. They seemed sealed over, they weren’t leaking blood, but they were angry and red and very fresh.
“He said he’d come -” Finally, Pamela dissolved into sobs, scrunching Mistah J’s favorite pillow furiously in her hands - “-come back for me - hic - bastard – ‘three kisses’ he said - I’ll kill him…”
Harley’s eyes dropped and she settled in the pillows beside Ivy, tugging her friend’s head into her lap and stroking her hair. A hard, cold look came over her face that very few people ever saw on Harley Quinn. Those few people had found it terrifying.
“Dun you worry, Red. He comes here, I’ll kill him first.”
Professor Jonathan Crane had been given a personal laboratory at Danesti and privacy ensured by Mr Volkoslak, ostensibly his Ukrainian uncle. Ostensibly his extensive knowledge of the chemistry and biology of the fear emotion would help research into a way to splice a certain gene into Danesti-brand wheat that would trigger chemical reactions in rodent brains and literally scare the vermin away from any grain stores they started to infest. None of the company employees, of course, thought that letting The Scarecrow and his fear chemicals anywhere near anything intended to be eaten by human beings in the future was anything short of utterly insane.
Jonathan Crane did not care.
Batman would come. The bait was all there. Batman would come and Batman would find him engaged in legitimate research. Batman would find nothing illegal whatsoever about his employment or his experiments. And Batman would be stymied, just in time for Halloween.
Crane spied a cockroach crawling doggedly across his spotless workbench. Without a second thought, he snatched it up and stuffed it in his mouth. *Crunch*.
What the fool did not realize was of course that the real modifications to Danesti’s wheat products had already been on the market for two years before Scarecrow’s ‘employment’ at the company began.
That was what he liked - *crunch* - about his new Maste-*squish*- his new employer. He thought big, and he was patient in a way no Gotham rogue had ever been. He had the time to set traps years or even decades in advance. He never told the enemy what he was doing until it was already irreversibly done. No riddles, no clues. In fact he preferred never to speak to the enemy at all. He preferred to remain unseen, a shadow, a rumour, always just out of reach. Just like the other Bat, only on the side of Bad. It promised to be, no, it had already been, a most fruitful - mm - *crunch* - servitude. Partnership, partnership…
The modifications on their own were untraceable and harmless. However, they were designed to trigger a reaction in a certain other pathogen, when the person came into contact with -
A ruffle at the window told him the Master was home. Crane turned to watch that mass of chittering shadows and gleaming red eyes pour through the open space, condensing out of a multitudinous host into a single tall, white-faced man clad in a simple, if old-fashioned, all-black suit.
He cut an impressive figure, less due to his appearance than to the sheer presence he radiated when he was like this. Waves of predatory hunger and ancient wickedness poured off him in every direction even before the last bat had dissolved into part of his overcoat.
Just like that other Bat, only on our side.
Dracula smoothed his lapel with a hand that seemed more spidery for its long, sharp nails. Crane noticed that his previously white hair was now iron-grey, streaked with black.
“Professor Crane.” The Count said pleasantly. “You have a most unsightly leg sticking out of your mouth.”
Crane glanced down, wiggled his lips, and sucked the cockroach’s last foot between his teeth. Crunch. “Sorry about that, Master. Please forgive the poor wretch who, in seeking to emulate your magnificence, has deigned to take the life of only the meanest of things -”
Crane shook his head. Why was he talking like this, spewing all this servile rubbish? He sounded like one of those fawning DEMON losers. But he couldn’t help it. It just slipped out of his lips like a stray cockroach leg, every time the Count was looking at him.
And he was looking now, watching him with an amused half-smile.
“It is of no consequence, my dear friend.” Dracula turned and stalked in that wolf-like way of his into the centre of the room, sweeping his gaze about it - “You have yet to be visited by the Bat-Man it seems.”
“How do you know?”
“I do not smell him,” replied the vampire, “but be patient, and he will come. It is likely he is occupied to-night with the pursuit of the Jester-”
The Count seemed only mildly annoyed at the interruption. “-the Joker, whose coincidental escape has proved so timely for us. It is fortuitous.” He folded his hands. “And it gives me time.”
Scarecrow felt a surge of strange excitement. “Did you get her? Was she surprised? Was she frightened?”
“A gentleman does not tell, Professor Crane.” Dracula chuckled, “But as the term hardly applies to me, I shall tell you then that yes, your Poison Ivy has fed my veins.” He lifted one finger and pressed it to the point of his long canine. “Although her unique physiology certainly lent a novelty to the encounter.”
“You mean she tasted like vegetable juice?” Scarecrow chortled, downright tickled. “No, no. Sour lemonade, I bet. Or is it a different fruit when she’s afraid?” The mere thought of that uppity tramp trembling in terror in the grip of a real monster gave Scarecrow tremors of his own. “Oh, how I’d love to find out.”
He snatched up a spider without looking and bit off its head before it could sink its fangs into his tongue in defense.
“I have come to ask you, my dear friend,” the Count continued over the crunching of hairy arachnid legs without skipping a beat, “if your Bat-Man’s pursuit of the carnival fiend will keep both of them away from said knave’s residence to-night.”
“Absolutely,” Crane whispered, eyeing the tall man in black, “Joker has a hard-on for harassing this Hollywood crowd filming a Batman movie - ha - in Gotham and he won’t run home until he’s messed with them a little. And you’ve just bitten Ivy, and that means…”
That means Ivy will be headed straight to the arms of her best friend Harley Quinn for consoling, and with no Joker or Batman around to interfere…
“Will you need an invitation, Master?” Scarecrow licked his lips with anticipation. They tasted like spider.
“No,” said Dracula through a grim crimson smile, “I think not.”
The moon, that ghostly eye set within the ebon cheek of the heavens, cast the cobweb pallour of its glow through the window of the Hacienda - and onto the forms of Harleen Quinzel and Pamela Isley, where they lay sleeping, still curled within the passion-pit, as peacefully as children untroubled by the woes of their dark world.
None there were to see the motes of glowing dust drifting upon the rays of moonlight - none there were to watch them filter through the cracks in the dusty window. Only one heard the whispered command - ~Come...~ - though the other may have felt its resonance ripple into her dreams, for she flinched in her sleep, a tiny whimper of disturbance leaving her lips.
She did not feel the weight of Ivy's head leave her lap nor the henna-stained tresses slither away. She did not hear the window open...she did not hear the entranced Ivy murmur with her own lips words of welcome, breaking the geas that bound the undead spirit to remain outside uninvited. Harley slept on, her eyes flickering wildly beneath their closed lids, and she did not stir until the cold breeze tickled her arms, with the breath of nocturnal seduction - the murmur of the Incubus, the call of the Wampyr...
“Mmfff...Puddin', shuthewindows, Slobberpuss'll get out n' eat another cat...”
Harley rolled to one side and broke the image of the dreaming, vulnerable waif by sucking a snorting breath into her nostrils and commencing to very loudly snore.
At the window, a pair of crimson eyes turned from their feast to regard her. They almost blinked.
Harley rolled to the other side, crossing her legs and sucking her thumb. “Mmmmpuddinshouldn't do tha with the cream pie....s'naughty...real naughty...Puddinnnnnnn...”
Very well. Now they blinked.
~ Wake. ~
Sleepily, Harley's eyes fluttered open. She stretched like a matinee idol, though the effect was ruined by the gothloli getup she was still wearing. Slowly, she arched to her feet, as if drawn up by invisible arms. Slowly, her eyes settled and focused on the blur before them...
Pamela Isley floated by the window, her arms outstretched and coiled about a form that was only half-solid; half-formed of those very motes of dust upon the moonlight that had danced with faerie-fire only moments before. Her head was tipped back and tilted to one side, and the thing - a mass of inky shadows, fluttering like leather wings - was wrapped around her body, only an indistinct shape with an awful white face pressed to Ivy's throat.
It had horrible glowing red eyes, wide and staring and wolf-like and set into charcoal sockets set in turn into chalk-white cheeks. The head lifted, like a man's, only sharper and more bestial, its ruby lips peeled back from teeth stained just as red. A trickle of crimson snaked down Ivy's throat. The horror let her body arch gently back against its own, and lifted one hand - just as pale as the face - to beckon Harley closer.
She felt her body stiffen, paralysed. Some tiny part of her brain was still fully conscious, and screamed to run, as fast and as far as she could, but she found herself stumbling closer, lifting her hand toward the white face in the window with its mouth that dripped with her best friend's blood -
~The blood is the life, the life is the blood...open your veins and give yourself to me. My bountiful winepress for a time and then baptised to a life within death.~
“I...” Harley breathed, touching her hand to the white cheek, meeting the terrible red eyes. Her fear froze within her. There was nothing to do but to come closer, closer, to those fangs and their promise -
At that precise moment, the Hacienda door flung open, and the Joker sprang in, arms full of rolls of film and movie props.
“HONEY! You won't BELIEVE what happened on the way to the office today!”
The red haze fled from Harley's brain. She stared from her Puddin', who was fumbling for the light switch, to the white-faced demon sneering only inches away from her.
Harley's face scrunched in outrage, and Dracula narrowed his eyes sharply.
With that, she swung the sledgehammer she'd gone to sleep clutching around in a wide, vicious arc, straight into Dracula's cheek.
Joker dropped his props and gaped at the scene as the rest of the vampire's body was torn out of the aether and flung against the wall by the impact. The Count's face twisted in fury - the sheer demonic hate in those eyes stopped Harley from swinging again and froze her to the spot - but Ivy, no longer held in Dracula's arms, dropped against Harley with a squeak, and bowled both of them off the windowsill and into a tangle of limbs in the passion-pit.
Joker flicked on the light, illuminating Count Dracula peeling away from the wall like Shreck from his coffin, casually twisting his shattered jaw back into place with a sickening pop. He cracked his neck once, rolled his jaw from side to side, and smirked. Then he lunged with all the ferocious suddenness of a leaping wolf.
In doing so, however, he set off the chain of death-traps Harley had set up in case Ivy's attacker dropped by.
Down swung the giant bladed pendulum. He darted aside with preternatural grace. Up popped the mechanical sheep with the flamethrower in its mouth. He became a cloud of flapping bats that flew just out of reach of the gushing jet of fire. Out came the hot pink XM134 Minigun that fired the exploding ping-pong balls with smiley faces painted on them. The bats dissolved into mist, through which the projectiles whizzed harmlessly before detonating against the walls of the Hacienda, reducing Joker's favourite Big Mouth Billy Bass with the lipstick and the Elvis wig to a rain of smouldering plastic fish-chunks.
“HAAAR-LEY” Joker howled in fury, stomping his foot. “Who the HELL is that?! AND WHY, IN GOD'S NAME WHY, DID BILLY BASS HAVE TO DIE?!?”
He stopped and choked, suddenly, as the man in question - not a man at all - materialised out of the very air in front of him, clawed fingers wrapped about the Joker's throat, lifting him from his feet to stare into an aquiline face with black hair streaked with white at the temples, a black goatee, and bushy brows meeting in a furious V over smouldering crimson cinders of eyes.
“I am Dracula.” The Count sneered. “Bid me welcome.”
And with that he hurled the Joker across the room, straight into the passion-pit, where now Harley and Ivy were trying to disentangle themselves. Harley rose first, catching 'Puddin' in her lap with a squawk like a startled parikeet.
Dracula brushed off his coat, the calm aura of command returning to him, and he regarded his hosts with malevolent dignity, touching his hand to his brow in a courtly, mocking greeting.
Joker and Harley exchanged a glance, then glared up at their intruder.
“HA HA HA. He looks NOTHING like Christopher Lee.”
Dracula cocked his head, scowling.
“Aww, Puddin', he don't really look much like Gary Oldman either.”
“What!? OLDMAN?!? Come on! Lee was the best!!”
“Oh pff. Gimme Gary any day ...except in that icky old fart suit with the wig that looked like a pair of buttocks... or ...mmmm....Frank Langella..” Harley sighed dreamily. “He could lock me in a cawffin any time he wanted...”
“Ewww, Harley, he's ANCIENT now. Yuck!”
“You ain't gettin' any younger yourself, buddy!” Harley retorted, poking her tongue out at him. “Frank Langella!”
Joker hopped up onto his knees and got in Harley's face, nose to nose, shouting at her. She bunched her cheeks, pressed her forehead to his, and gave as good as she got.
“Christopher Lee!!” “Nuh uh! GARY OLDMAN!” “GRR!! BELA LUGOSI!” “RICHARD ROXBURGH!” “JACK PALANCE!” “GEORGE HAMILTON!” “LESLIE NIELSEN!”
“ENOUGH!” roared Dracula, and his voice cracked like a thunderbolt, shaking the walls of the Hacienda, rattling the deathtraps in their casing and sending the hyenas whimpering, wriggling head-first into their kennels. Every lightbulb in the building burst in a shower of glass, casting the room into a darkness in which Dracula's eyes glowed with blood-red malice. “You will explain! NOW!!”
The two clowns stared in a kind of stunned awe for a moment, before Harley broke the silence - “Hey, buddy, you're totally payin' the electricity bill!”
“How do you know of me?” The Count barked, wondering if perhaps in all of his research - all of the studies he had made of America, of its culture, its language, its history, he had somehow overlooked something vital. Then the rage fled his voice and it became a thing of languid, honeyed venom instead. “I wish to know, my dear friends, and you will tell me, or I will consider the waste of your blood worth the enjoyment of decorating the walls with it.”
Joker glanced at Harley again. But it was Ivy, finally stirring, who spoke, in a raspy, hungover voice.
“You pair of idiots had better tell him before I do.”
Joker and Harley glanced at Ivy, glanced at each other, and then looked at Dracula.
Both of them grinned ear to ear, and simultaneously made a grab for the remote.
To be continued...