Chapter 6: Ha-Ha-Happy Hour
“Come on now, Blakeypoo, bring that nice fresh cape over here. Uncle Joker’s in the mood to bash some orange and yellow, and there doesn’t seem to be a Robin around.”
“Comrades, DEFEND ME!” Catman wailed, diving for cover.
He dove first behind Mad Hatter, who stepped nimbly aside, then behind Mr. Freeze, who sidestepped just as swiftly. Finally, Catman ran behind F’Nos, seated at the bar. F’Nos swiveled on his barstool to face the man scrunching behind him. Catman turned, F’Nos swiveled, Catman turned again, F’Nos swiveled again, making a complete circle. After a second full revolution, F’Nos decided he didn’t like this game and took out his saber, pointing it at his antagonist’s throat. Catman crawled on all fours to find a barstool with a more cooperative patron to hide behind.
“That’s what we really need around here,” Joker complained loudly to no one in particular. “A supply of Robins to take out our frustrations. Oswald! Oh, Ozzy! Can’t we get some… where is he?”
Joker looked around the room, searching for Oswald, and seemed to notice the cameras for the first time.
“Now what have we here?” He put his eye up to the nearest camera lens. “Helloooo, anybody hooome in there?”
“Ahem,” Sly cleared his throat distinctly, “Mr. Joker, I’m very sorry, sir, but we can’t have this. We cannot have you beating up the other patrons on national television. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Joker paused knocking on the front of the cameras and turned towards the incomprehensible words. There was Sly, looking unhappy. And Giggles right next to him, arms crossed, unhappier still.
“Now look, boys,” Joker began reasonably, “I can take a joke as well as the next guy, I really can. Not nice to be playing jokes when I’ve told you all about pink haciendas and smiling Pete not smiling, but hey, not everybody is as nice as me. Nevertheless…” He swung his weapon viciously, taking out one of the tripods. “…I’ve got a crowbar here and I want to let off some steam—”
F’Nos, seeing Gr’oriBr’di engaged in a showdown, ran forward with his saber drawn, positioning himself between his master and the threat.
“Hey look,” Joker pointed his stick, “One of those Ra’s Aluminum Ghuls. You want a piece of me, Flyboy?”
“Mr. Joker, that isn’t a crowbar, it’s a broken chair, and it’s coming out of the security deposi—”
“You should replace it with the non-wooden kind, like my table,” a cool voice decreed from her recently repaired polymer booth.
Sly looked to the heavens for patience. “Not now, Miss Isley, please. Got a situation here.”
“I must insist,” Ivy declared, “No man can refuse me and it is a perfect time to establish a new policy—” As she spoke, her plants positioned themselves on either side of Sly and Greg. The larger one extended a tendril and took a belligerent poke at the Joker, while the other arranged its leaves to mimic the crossed-arms position with which the two men faced the stupefied clown.
“NOT FUNNY!” Joker screamed. “But I’ll show you what is funny, HAHAHAHAHAAA!”
Killer Croc stepped forward into the middle of the gathering. “No Ha-Ha at Sly. Sly go away, Hugo tend bar. Croc no like Hugo tending bar. Clown no Ha-Ha at Sly.”
Joker looked with hatred from Croc, to Sly, to the plant, to Sly, to Hugo Strange in the back flipping him off, to F’Nos, to the other plant, to Greg, and back to Sly.
“You’ll all be sorry,” he moped to the extent his permanent smile would permit. “You can’t keep a clown down. And you can’t get down off an elephant. You get down off a duck. HAHAHAHA. Down off a duck, I gotta remember that. Anyway, as God as mah witness, I’ll find what’s become of my joybuzzer and rubber chicken, and when I do, as Bob is my witness, I’ll never see Gumby again.”
..:: OraCom Channel 4: Batmobile ::..
:: Boss, I’m still monitoring that video feed like you asked. Joker has left the Iceberg. Repeat, Joker has left the Iceberg. ::
Batman’s foot hit the gas pedal, in frustration more than desire to accelerate the car. Frustration—and guilt. He should have anticipated this. Harley’s notebook had listed every offhand crime idea Joker’s sick mind had spouted over the course of a year. Batman naturally informed the businesses that were potential targets, suggesting strategies wherever he could as to how they might protect themselves.
Why hadn’t he foreseen this? What did he expect to happen? Blocked at every turn, Joker was sure to go off some way or other. Batman should have found a way to track him from the moment he left Arkham.
Again his foot hit the gas and again the surge of the Batmobile’s powerful engine seemed an outlet for Batman’s guilt, rage, and dread.
It was pointless now to continue at top speed to the Iceberg. Joker would be long gone by the time he got there. All that would remain would be to count up the bodies. The denizens of the Iceberg Lounge were criminals; most were his deadliest enemies. But he was not eager to see what Joker had done to them.
:: Here, Boss. ::
:: Um. …Zero. He just… left. ::
:: Affirmative. ::
“Impossible. Joker would never slink away.”
:: Boss, it’s on tape. You can see it. I don’t have sound; I still can’t get past those damn anti-bugging measures Cobblepot uses. But it’s there, plain as day. There was what looked like a standoff with Sly and Brady and the plants. A DEMON op and Croc got involved, and Joker made some kind of a speech, shook his fists and left. ::
“Acknowledged. Batman out.”
Since his indoctrination of the Cult of Ra’s al Ghul, F’Nos had never been guilty of cowardice. He was an Ajax second level of the DEMON’s League of Assassins. He did not flee combat. He did not flee danger of any kind. His life was sworn to the Great One and it would be an honor to lose it in service to his liege or any of the DEMON’s appointed overlords, such as Gr’oriBr’di.
F’Nos would never flee combat or danger.
He did flee FAB!
F’Nos had come to understand, in the course of his evening at the Iceberg Lounge, that the men who surrounded him when he first neared the building were minions of a cult called FAB! just as he himself was of DEMON.
He realized that his behavior at the door must have given great offense, and he watched carefully when two of them came into the bar and sought an opportunity to introduce himself and explain his earlier rudeness. Indeed, he was rehearsing what he would say—
Fellow warriors, I am F’Nos, my saber pledged to Ra’s Al Ghul since
the year of the second Blood Moon. I know not of your calling to
FAB!, but pray that we might commune as brother soldiers until such time
as the aims of our masters might conflict and we meet in glorious battle.
—when the episode with the mad clown compelled him to put such thoughts aside and engage his sword in defense of Gr’oriBr’di.
When the menacing clown had left, F’Nos found himself the center of much attention. Many who saw the event wished to buy him a drink, and Gr’oriBr’di gave him leave to accept their hospitality.
F’Nos was at the bar surrounded by these admirers when saw the cowardly warriors of FAB! creeping out from their hiding place. They had hid themselves! He was outraged and denounced them. But they took his pointing and calling their names to be some kind of invitation and joined the crowded circle at the bar. Here they renewed their interest in his apparel, and even expanded it to include his saber!
While there could be no excuse for cowardice, F’Nos assured himself as he left the building that there was no shame in departing a nightclub. As if the Fates themselves would confirm this view, he was immediately rewarded with an important bit of enemy intelligence. The miscreant clown that threatened his master was still in the area. He was ascending the stairs in the rear of the building, and F’Nos watched suspiciously as he knocked on the door of some apartment over the club and was admitted.
Treachery! The clown was hatching some plot against the Iceberg, and F’Nos drew the saber that the FAB! cultists declared “pointy but practical” and swore on its blade to safeguard his master Gr’oriBr’di’s interests no less than he would Ra’s al Ghul himself!
..:: OraCom Channel 4: Batmobile ::..
:: Yeah, Boss? ::
“Joker’s heading on leaving the Iceberg?”
:: Can’t tell from the vid feeds, it’s all inside cameras. All I could see is he went out the door. ::
“Damnit. Alright, call in Robin, ‘Wing… Batgirl… everybody, get them all. Draw a net around the Iceberg. Monitor each direction for Joker sightings… Do NOT approach. Just let me know if you see or hear anything. It’s Joker and he’s agitated. No telling what he’ll do.”
:: Roger, Boss. All except Nightwing. He’s got a 2-11 at the river. I’ll send him to backup R as soon as he’s clear. ::
“Quack-a-kwa? That’s all you’ve got to say for yourself? Ozzy, I am appalled. I am shocked. I am shocked and appalled. I offer you the greatest honor any villain could hope for, a team up with ME! HAHAHAHAHAAAA. And what do you have to say for yourself?”
Joker was not so insane that he didn’t recognize a stinking drunk when he saw one. And he’d watched enough television to know that the way to deal with stinking drunks is to stick them in a cold shower and make them drink coffee.
A half-hour later, he discovered, to his dismay, that the shower and coffee routine doesn’t sober them up; it wakes them up. Now he had a wide-awake drunk on his hands.
“KWAK-KWAK-KWAK! Outragemush! Abslootly outerrageimous! Couple Evita Perons on my hands. KWAK-KWAK! Taking over my club, All About Eve. KWAK! KWAK! KWAK!!!”
“An old fashioned team-up, Ozzy. That’s what’s called for. Joker and Penguin, together again.”
Oswald squinted at him strangely. “Oh contraire. We were never together. –hic- Unless you count that time it looked like I was killedydead and –hic- somehow half of Gotham got the idea you did it and you–ulgh-hic-gulgh had to clear yrself. That is the closest, -hic- we ever came to working together. –kwak-belch-”
“It’s the SPIRIT OF THE THING, Man!” Joker argued. “The Old Guard reclaiming all that is HAHAHAHAHAAAAA in Gotham from these young whippersnappers with their newfangled ideas about not beating Catman to death on television.”
Roxy Rocket arrived at the Iceberg, still in the throes of an adrenaline high from a thrillingly dangerous Nightwing chase. She approached the bar, face flushed, and laid out a bit of wet fabric torn from the vigilante’s costume.
“Lay my drink on there, Sly,” she called. “Torn from the beast as he jumped onto my rocket from the bridge, if you can believe it. Almost tanked in the river. WOOHOO what a rush!”
“Roxy, my dear,” Riddler said sweetly, “Dragons are known to be very fond of riddles, so answer me this: Who will be impressed by your ripping a bit of cloth from an iguana when we are toasting a bona-fide dragon slayer in our midst?”
Roxy’s flush of excitement glowed redder into a flush of anger.
“Figures,” she huffed, “Like the time I do a record-setting two mile freefall skydive into a ring of fire, and by the time the picture comes out, some glory hound has done 2.5 into a churning lava pit. So what flavor of the month upstaged me this time?”
“Here you go, Roxy. Long Island Iced Tea with extra Coke and triple sec, just like you like it.”
“Him,” Nigma pointed. “TO SLY, everybody!”
“TO SLY!” the room intoned.
“TO SLY!” the crowd repeated.
“Let’s see it again,” Batman ordered.
Oracle’s fingers skimmed over a key and the footage of the Joker-Sly confrontation replayed on the largest monitor of her workstation. Once the situation at the Iceberg had defused on its own, there was no need for Batman to go there. He’d come here to view the vid feed and deduce what he could.
“Tell me again why I couldn’t just send this file to the Batmobile?”
“Bigger screen here,” Batman growled absently, eyes never leaving the monitor, “I need to see detail. Especially without sound… Run it again.”
Barbara sighed and set up the vid-file to loop.
“That should hold you for a while,” she said turning to wheel towards the kitchen.
“Am I keeping you from something?” Batman asked, noting the sigh.
“Yeah,” Barbara joked, “Got a hot date coming by soon. Nice guy, comes in through the window.”
Batman’s lip twitched—not at Barbara’s remark but at the tape: Ivy’s plant poking Joker in the chest. He watched the confrontation twice more before Barbara returned to her place with a fresh cup of tea.
“Actually,” she admitted, “you are sort of keeping me from a project. There are two more sets of vid feeds on this node. One is a van interior and the other is a residential apartment—”
“I know,” Batman interrupted, freezing the frame and enlarging the image of the DEMON agent.
“Oh, you knew.” Barbara deflated. “Well, you only gave me the keycodes for this one and I found the others on my own. I was keeping an eye on them just in case, but then about half an hour ago, I lost the signal from the apartment.”
Batman suppressed the lip-twitch in a grunt.
“Not a surprise. Don’t worry about that.”
Selina, obviously, he surmised. But there was no need to go into that with Oracle. He looked back at the screen. Joker’s mouth was too far from the camera to read his lips effectively, and the sword blocked Sly’s face for much of the confrontation. Whatever went down, there were no clues here as to what it meant or what might happen next.
By now, there were three different accounts of what had happened between Joker and Sly. The groupies and the gawkers all focused on Ivy’s plants, for that was the kind of local color they braved the dangers of the Iceberg in order to see. The henchmen’s stories all centered around F’Nos, the fierce DEMON minion who had raced to Greg Brady’s side “like the fat hobbit running in to save Frodo.” The rogue accounts all dwelt on Joker’s humiliated exit. But the one aspect that intrigued Roxy remained constant through the many versions: Sly. Sly had stood up to Joker; Sly remained and Joker was gone.
She looked around for her hero. The new big bad of Gotham was Sly, her Sly! Her one and only bartender beau. Roxy’s eyes danced with excitement as she scanned the room for the man of her dreams when… they narrowed. Sly, her Sly, the man of her dreams, her bartender beau was sitting in Poison Ivy’s corner booth with the garden slut crawling over him like some kind of vine!
As Roxy marched through the bar towards the main dining room, there were murmurs that caused Tom Blake to start from his barstool and look around furtively. When he realized the whispers about a “catfight” had nothing to do with him, he slumped back down in contemplation of his highball.
“‘Scuse me,” she began, tapping not Ivy but Sly on the shoulder as a means to get both their attention. “I realize we’re supposed to make allowances because you’re a plant and all, and you don’t get how this whole thing works with normal men and women getting together, instead of, say, some slime mold from the Malaria islands. But I say ‘Hey, if she’s gonna hang out with humans, then somebody should clue her in. Otherwise she’s just going to keep making an ass of herself, over and over, time after time, man after man—after man.’ So here’s the truth, Pammy, direct from me to you: a healthy red-blooded guy will grab at anything once, particularly if it’s rubbing up and down on him like a three-dollar whore. That’s not true love, it’s not even grooving on your lemon scented beauty. It’s just what they do. Reminds them of—Excuse me—”
A wisteria had come up behind her and Roxy paused to swing it into a headlock.
“—As I was saying, they’re not overcome by your beauty or anything. It just reminds them of all those daydreams they had about the naked gal in the magazines when they were fourteen, locked in the bathroom, beating off to Daddy’s Playboys. It’s got nothing to do with you. To go the distance with—oh, let’s say a guy like Sly here—you gotta have something more than bare skin and a set of knockers going for you. You need to connect with him as a person—which is gonna be real fuckin’ hard to do after I twist your head off and stick it on my tailpipe!”
..:: OraCom Channel 4: Batmobile ::..
:: Oh my dear lord. ::
“Oracle? What kind of report is that?”
:: Um, sorry, Boss. Distraction. What’s your ETA getting back to the Iceberg? ::
“Six minutes. Has he been spotted?”
:: No. There’s– It’s- ::
:: It wouldn’t be a good time for you to show up at the Iceberg, Boss. Something weird’s happening. ::
Batman seethed. Joker on the loose and now Oracle unable to furnish a concise coherent report.
“What exactly is happening?”
:: Without sound, I’d have to say it’s—OH, OUCH! ::
“O! WHAT IS IT?!”
:: That’s gotta hurt… I mean, er, it’s… I’m speculating because there’s still no audio, you understand… ::
“Spit it out, Barbara, what the hell is going on?”
:: Roxy. Ivy. I think the technical term is… a catfight. ::
Tom Blake leaned in the doorway between the bar and dining room with his arms crossed.
“When I scratched up that table, they charged me $1400,” he remarked drolly as Ivy tried digging her nails into her own wood-free table to prevent being pulled off by her hair.
“Stupid herb-rinse bitch,” Roxy wailed as wisteria tendrils clawed at her arms, trying to pull her off Ivy’s hair. “Just getting back at me for Harvey, don’t think I don’t know!”
Sly merely remained at the table, cradling his head in his hands. The better part of valor forbade trying to explain to either woman that he was merely being friendly to Ivy… the better part of hotel-restaurant management forbade running from the fracas like a prudent man. And the better part of Iceberg survival strategy forbade drawing any more attention to himself than could be helped as…
“Not going to back down for a butch fichus tree.”
“AIEEEEE! MY BABIES!”
…as the cause of the current disturbance.
“See, a little jet fuel, a match. No problem.”
Riddler, Ted and Jai from the FAB! cast all joined Catman in the doorway and watched silently for a few moments.
“Can’t put a fire out with alcohol, Pammy,” Riddler called out.
“Ooh, too late,” Ted winced.
“…and those vines better stay outta my face too, because they make damn good rope to tie some uppity bitch to the tailpipe and go for a joyride…”
Riddler, Ted and Jai parted calmly to allow the ignited fichus tree to run through them into the bar, the hallway beyond, and finally the men’s room.
“MY CAPE!” Catman screamed. “That FLAMING THING singed my cape!”
“I resent that,” Jai said coolly.
“Well, it was on fire,” Ted conceded.
Yelling was heard from the men’s room and the door burst open; billows of smoke poured out. Through the haze, Mad Hatter emerged.
“Will you walk a little faster?” he called excitedly, “said a whiting to a snail. There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.”
Riddler, Ted, Jai and Catman all looked at him, then behind him at the thin trail of smoke leading from his tailcoat back to the men’s room.
“Now see, doesn’t that have more style than saying that flaming thing singed me.”
“What’s that smell?” Ted asked, crinkling his nose.
“Lemon pledge,” Blake, Nigma, and Tetch answered in unison.
To be continued...