La Mort Rit En Dernier

(Death Laughs Last)

by Harley Quinn

Chapter One

GOTHAM CITY, 1999 
Joker grinned a wicked and wide grin and stared with luminous purple eyes at the slender strip of leather in his hands, a glowing silver-colored ball attached to one end, a metal panel marked with strange symbols at the other.
"This is it, Harley Girl!!!!" he shouted with triumphant glee to his red-and-black-clad girlfriend who stood at his elbow. "Imagine it, with this belt I can go where I want, when I want!!!!! Isn't it delightful? Ain't it a scream?"
Harley incredulously raised an eyebrow. "Eh, Mistah J? That's this belt what's gonna take us through time? How's that little thing gonna do that?"
Joker's smile disappeared for just a fraction of a second, and Harley very quickly moved out of his reach as he turned to face her, his purple and green form towering above her petite frame. With the light behind him, Harley couldn't see his face clearly, just an impression of white and black, heavy and thick like oil paint lavishly strewn on canvas. But she knew her lover well enough to know by the slope of his shoulders, the quiver of his fingers, that he was in a dangerously over-excited mood, and it would probably be better to be quiet for a few minutes and avoid a nasty cuff, whether in love or anger.
"Pumpkin Pie, we all have our purposes on this earth, and mine wasn't to answer its deep dark mysteries! Suffice to say, this" - he thrust the arm clutching the belt out - "is the device that's gonna change History and make me a Star!!!!"
She couldn't resist answering that with a loving grin. "Aw, Puddin', yer already a Star!! 'Most feared mass-murderer of our time', remember?"
Joker rounded on her again, and with one step reached her side. With his mirthless grin he swooped down, and encircled her waist with his free arm, lifting her up and swirling her around as she gave a delighted whoop and flung her arms around his neck. "Ah Harley, Harley, Harley, Daddy's little cupcake! My fame in this century is assured! I have entries in the World Book Encyclopedias! Television Shows have been made about my capers!! Books have been written!! Why then, wonders you, do I want to use this little belt to travel through time and leave my mark there??"
Harley nodded slowly, gazing devotedly into eyes that for a change were level with her own.
Abruptly Joker dropped her. "BECAUSE, YOU HALF-WITTED EXCUSE FOR A WOMAN, THERE ARE CONSIDERABLY MORE BOOKS, SHOWS AND HISTORY ENTRIES ABOUT OTHERS!!"
Harley gazed up at him fearfully from her place on the floor, too scared to move and incite further wrath. Above her Joker fumed, waving his gloved fists in the air. "Napoleon!!! NAPOLEON! What has he done that I haven't??? He was short!!" He leaned in confidentially to Harley, who cringed. "And I heard he had a baaaad problem with body odour!! HITLER!!!!! Of all the nerve! The man wore a caterpillar as a moustache! Genghis Khan, Rasputin, Claude Frollo - second stringers, the lot of them!!!! The outrage that those feeble minds, limited to the confines of the ordinary world, should be better known than I, JOKER Supreme!! Supreme...hmm...I'm hungry. Harley, dial for pizza!"
Thankful his attention was diverted, Harley scampered to her feet and rushed away to follow her love's orders. As quickly as his temper had flamed it blew out again, and Joker ran a hand through thick long green hair and smiled at Harley's shapely retreating backside. "Besides," he whispered to himself, "I can just imagine ole Batsy's face when he reads the revised edition of Caesar's Reign!! Heh heh heh!!!"
Harley re-entered the room, phone tucked on her shoulder. "Yeah OK, so we want a large thick crust with ham, cheese, pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, sardines, jellybeans, marshmallows, pineapple, Chinese noodles, barbequed chicken, cookie dough - and oh yeah - extra anchovies. Got all that? Great, see ya in 30!" She hung up the phone and grinned at her beloved. "It's cool Puddin, I ordered yer fave!!"
Joker was standing, chuckling to himself, rubbing his hands together gleefully. Harley stared at him for a moment then leaned blissfully against the door frame and gazed at the man she loved. Joker was well over six foot in height, almost painfully thin, but those who'd seen him naked (and Harley certainly had) knew his body rippled with muscle. Naturally, he wasn't an immensely strong man, or much of a threat in physical conflict - unless he should be in the mood. It was as though his insanity gave him a supernatural strength. He always dressed well, and he always dressed loudly. At present he was clad in a perfectly-fitted suit of his favourite shade of purple. His silk shirt was orange and his cufflinks were miniature gold comedy and tragedy masks, a present from Harley on their anniversary that only she ever remembered. He wore a purple tie covered with green smiley faces, and Italian black shoes, shined enough so that Harley could see her face in them, covered with soft, white spats.
But perhaps the most distinctive thing about him was his skin pallor. It was as though someone had got a huge chunk of bone and bleached it in the sun, then carved Joker from it. His hair was a deep forest green, amazingly lush and soft, and he kept it very clean and combed. His finely chiselled face, had Joker been a different person, was handsome, despite its angularity. Even the wide red slash of the grin he invariably wore did not hide his potential good looks. What marred it was the palatable aura that wafted off him. The gleam in his brilliant purple eyes, the nature of his grin - wickedness, insanity. The Joker's presence had a tangibility that affected anyone near him. Harley thought of it as charisma. The general population thought of it as madness. Not that Joker couldn't be charismatic when he wanted to be. He had a neat turn of phrase, and an almost old-fashioned sense of charm at times, but Joker generally thought it more fun and certainly more funny to terrify people. His violent mood swings helped him along in this.
Harley, on the other hand, despite being quite, quite insane, exerted a more benevolent air. She was small, curvy and athletic. When she worked alongside the man she loved she frequently wore a red and black Harlequin costume, but right then she was dressed comfortably in cut-off black denim shorts and a red crop top. Her bleached blonde hair was caught up in the usual style of two ponytails on either side of her head, and her wide blue eyes gazed out about her with an open friendliness, and love for her obsession, Joker.
It wouldn't do to be fooled by it though. For Harley was thoroughly obsessed with Joker, she was also insane, and had been either blessed or cursed with an overt sense of loyalty to those she loved. At any instant that dimpled smile could turn into one of gleeful malice as she set about causing trouble for those she'd felt wronged her man. Harley's nature was one of almost self-destruction - she stood by Joker through thick and thin, although he beat her and left her behind and terrified the wits out of her. But at the same time, something in her which clung to her formerly independent nature, could likewise cause her to turn on him if she felt he'd finally taken one step too far. The only problem with that was he only had to say he was sorry for her to be back in his arms. And even when she cursed his name, her heart bled for she could never fully stop loving him.
As she watched him now, contemplating his latest scheme, she felt that old familiar tightness in her chest. Harley enjoyed working with Joker, truly she did. He was a barrel of laughs, even when she was tremblin' scared. But Harley had a dream. Harley loved that scene in "The Little Shop of Horrors" where the character Audrey sings "Somewhere that's Green", a beautiful love song where Audrey envisaged her perfect home with her perfect husband. That was Harley's dream. In cold nights at Arkham Asylum when the sleeping medication had made her wet her pants, when her hair matted and the strait jacket made her arms go numb, Harley's vision blurred and her body trembled with pleasure as she imagined a Temple and a white wedding dress and Mistah J so handsome in a tuxedo and a big lovin' smile all for her and no thoughts of Batman on his mind. Harley imagined lying in a hospital bed, panting and sweating as she cradled the newborn white-skinned green-haired bundle of joy she'd just birthed, as Mistah J handed out exploding cigars for all. And finally, Harley in her perfect home, with everything gleaming and purple and green, just the way Puddin' liked it, and sending off little J-Junior to school and making Mistah J's dinner for him, after he came home from a long day of terrorizing. Unfortunately, then Harley would wake up, and her legs would be sticky, her arms would be sore and she'd have a chunk of hair in her mouth. Worse still, the space beside her would be empty, Puddin' would be lying in his cell in the Men's Ward, alone and awake. He never slept in the Asylum. Harley sighed from where she leaned against the door frame, and started with surprise at the tear which rolled down her round cheek. She wiped it away hastily. Mistah J didn't like tears or frowns. Harley plastered a big smile on her face and tip toed over to her boyfriend, praying she wouldn't disturb him into a whacking mood.
He snapped out of his reverie as she drew close, and hoisted her into his arms, kissing her neck vigorously. Her eyes squeezed shut in blissful relief as he again swung her around, and this time put her gently down. "Ahhh, Harley, but we're gonna have a ball!!"
"Yer gonna let me come, Puddin?" she said, hardly daring to believe it. He feigned insult, placing one hand dramatically upon his chest.
"But of course, my Harley Machine!! Where would I go without my itty bitty widdle preshy weshy??" He punctuated the last five words by taking one of her cheeks in either hand and squeezing, smiling down at her as though she were a toy. It hurt. A lot. But Harley smiled. Puddin was in a loving mood and there was no way she'd be taking that for granted while it lasted.
She snuggled up close to him and rubbed her hips against his. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, as he always did when he was reminded she was a woman and not a pet. He tugged on her ponytails as she gazed up at him submissively, and after a moment's thought, he bent his head, neck and shoulders down to her level and kissed her. The best thing about Joker was he always put everything he had into his kisses, Harley thought as she returned in kind. Joker wrapped long arms around her and squeezed her tight, the belt rubbing against her back as he did so.
Suddenly, Joker's eyes burst open. He let go of Harley, who couldn't hide the disappointment on her face, and again held aloft the belt. "A-HA!! The Belt! We haven't a moment to lose, Harley Girl! Go get dressed, we have to go!!"
Harley gazed up at him sadly. Damn! Nonetheless, she tried to distract him again. "But Puddin, what about yer pizza?"
He clapped a hand to his face. "Oh yeah!!! Leave a note Harley, and some money for the delivery boy!" With a sigh and a shrug Harley turned to make her way to their bedroom and get changed into her costume. Had they been there when the pizza boy arrived, Joker would probably have shot him. But if he wanted to leave out some money, then she wasn't going to question it. She was rather a little too busy thinking about the opportunity she'd just missed. Meanwhile, Joker cackled as he looked happily at his belt.

PARIS, 1472
Vicomtesse Ginevra de Vincennes strode purposefully down the long black corridor in the Palace of Justice. Like all the others it was stone, bare and cold, with intimidating high ceilings and sparse windows. A stranger would be lost amongst the building's labyrinthine twists and turns, but the Vicomtesse was by no means a stranger to the Palace. Elegant and stately, she cut a striking figure in deep plum silk, heavily embroidered with silver thread, her thick black hair coiled around her head. Both the color of her dress and of her hair accentuated the deathly pallor of her skin, and she was faintly luminous in the Palace's bleak half-light. Guards drew hastily aside for her to pass, she showed no hesitation or uncertainty in her stride, and they saluted her respectfully as she swept past them, just a flicker of scorn lighting her large black eyes.
She reached her destination finally, a huge solid oak door, and without bothering to announce herself with a knock, pushed it open and entered in a whirl of purple skirts. "Claude," she greeted the man who graced the tall and elaborately carved chair in front of the fireplace.
The man slowly averted his gaze from his steepled fingers and pulled it finally to focus on the Vicomtesse who stood in front of him in a strange attitude of defiance and respect. "Belladonna," he responded, his voice running silkily over the nickname with just a trace of mockery.
She waited, but he said nothing, a tiny, humorless smile bending his thin lips. Finally she spoke up with almost imperceptible impatience.
"You wanted to see me, I believe."
He did not respond for several moments. As she stood in front of him her face was completely blank, a smooth piece of painted silk, but inside she was aware of the dull thud of her heart. The man's superiority was infuriating, but his magnetism was enthralling for her, and she was alternatively resentful of his dominant nature and glad of the alleviation of boredom he provided her with.
When Claude Frollo finally did respond, he raised himself slowly from the chair in which he sat, his tall, skinny frame betrayed by his palatable strength of will, just as the seeming simplicity of his long black judge's robe was betrayed by the expensive rings which decorated his hands. He glided over to where she stood, staring at him unflinchingly, as one long skeletal hand reached out to lightly brush her cheek. "My dear, your arrival is, as always, exceedingly fortuitous."
She narrowed her large clear eyes at him and said coldly. "Don't play games with me, Claude. You sent a summons for me as soon as my husband left."
He brought his hand back to him, clasping it with his other, turning and gliding away from her. "Oh? And what makes you so certain, my dear?"
She bit down the violent retort on her lips. His condescension infuriated her because she knew herself to be his intellectual equal, as he knew it also. This game of aloofness and superiority he played was a deliberate goad, and one she was determined not to give into. Silently taking a deep breath, and allowing a tight smile on her face she responded calmly. "How else would you expect me interpret a jongleur reciting 'La Belladonna' at the gates of my estate? I felt it was rather crude to be honest, my dear Claude."
The tone of sarcasm on the last of her words was not lost on her companion who turned to her again, his face and body lost in the shadows of the room they were in. He stood in such a way that only one of his eyes was visible to her in the light of the fire which did little to warm the room, but she could see this eye remained as calm as she herself had. He raised a fine eyebrow.
"As you wish to believe, my Belladonna" he said smoothly, and she narrowed her eyes at him again. It would be useless to continue this line of conversation; he clearly would admit to nothing, and she had no desire to lose her temper and allow him to get the better of her.
"As I am here now then, Claude, I hope you will do me the courtesy of explaining why my arrival is so fortuitous."
"But of course, my dear." With an elegant flip of his long hand he gestured for her to take the chair which sat nearby his own. She accepted it formally, settling into it carefully so that her dress would not crease. She sat erect and with her chin high, her eyes never leaving her companion who glided sedately over to his own chair, and took it gracefully.
He did not begin talking straight away, instead he slowly filled two silver goblets with red wine from a nearby bottle, and handed one to the Vicomtesse, who took it with a slight nod. Then he sat back, contemplating the contents of his cup, his eyes hardening and his lips curling ever so slightly at his thoughts. "I have in my dungeons, at present my dear, three of the gypsy vermin which plague this fair city. I have no doubt that they are guilty of the crime for which they have been accused, that is theft, but at present have no solid evidence with which to convict them."
He paused for a moment and she spoke up, her voice brittle and cold. "I sincerely hope you are not expecting me to adopt the dress of those heathens and go amongst them as a spy, as you have persuaded some of you other female... friends to do? If that is the case, Claude, I am sure you will understand why I will return to my estate this afternoon."
A small smile escaped his mouth. "Of course not, my dear. Such activity is beneath you. No, what I had in mind should in no way affront your dignity. I was of the mind that perhaps upon seeing my prisoners you would be reminded of three gypsies who passed by your estate last autumn, and took some of your best silver with them."
She pursed her lips and her black eyes turned sly. "I am missing no silver, Claude."
He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, still gazing at the red liquid in his goblet. "You're not?" His voice abruptly hardened, just a twinge of impatience, just a hint of a man who was not to be toyed with now, Belladonna. "Well, something else then."
Her eyes were again expressionless and she gave a slow nod. "Now that you mention it, I have noticed a few valuable heirlooms are nowhere to be found."
His smile widened in smug satisfaction. "I rather thought you would, Belladonna." 
She raised her glass to him silently, and took a drink. Vicomtesse Ginevra de Vincennes was a highly intelligent and educated woman. She was also cold, calculating and disdainful of the general population. Forced into a marriage because her ruthless tongue had caused embarrassment to her Italian father, she was bored and resentful of a domestic life, and her poetry, once scathingly brilliant, had reflected this. Until she met Claude Frollo, that is. She'd been thrilled to meet someone who scorned the common rabble as she herself did, an educated and ferociously superior man, and, disdainful of social morality, had quite happily entered into an extramarital affair with him. That had been just two short years ago, and they had collaborated together whenever Ginevra's husband was away, which was frequently.
Frollo's main purpose in life - what she secretly called his obsession - was to rid France of the Romany population. He often employed her services to aid him in this, and although she felt his mission was slightly frenzied, she certainly sympathised. The Romany were a blotch on the otherwise pleasant landscape of France, and she could barely hide a sneer whenever one of them passed by her carriage. They were dirty, uncivilised and stupid. But unlike Frollo they did not plague her mind or hold her attention for indefinite amounts of time. She applauded Frollo's efforts, but would not have been active in them had it not been for the relationship between herself and Frollo. He stimulated her mind and her heart, and she would use any excuse to be in his company as opposed to languishing on a chaise-lounge and struggling to write words which had once flown from her pen effortlessly. She supposed that she felt some degree of love for him; no other explanation for bearing his condescension sprang readily to mind. Frollo was a man typical of his generation - disdainful of women's intellect, and whilst he certainly appreciated Ginevra's intelligence as superior to others of her sex, he still saw it as inferior to his own. The reality was that the Minister of Justice, as he was, used the Vicomtesse as it suited him. A reality that, for all her intelligence, the Victomesse could not see, so pleased had she been to find a mind akin to her own.
The Vicomtesse was perhaps not divinely beautiful, but she was, nonetheless, rather good-looking for the period's tastes. Her large dark eyes and hair, and pale skin, made it certain she was always noticed and admired wherever she went, and the challenging, open expression she invariably wore invited one to look again and again. The Minister was a slightly different story. Close to twenty years her senior, he was a man whose life was governed by a strict moral code. It was unfortunate that this moral code was in turn governed by fear, suspicion, prejudice and overbearing self-righteousness. Immensely tall and gaunt, his face would have been handsome had it not been marred by the thin cruelty of his lips, the haughty slant of his eyebrows, the cold and calculating gleam in his eye. His cheeks were sunken and his skin deathly pale from lack of exposure.
A man of slightly lower birth, he had progressed through the Courts until being made Minister in 1461. Since then he had devoted himself wholehearted to ridding France of the Romany population. To be a Gypsy in Paris was worse than being born deformed. Frollo employed guards who shared his ideas, and if they had nothing on you, they would find something. Tales of torture in the dungeons of the ironically named "Palace of Justice" spread through the city like a flood: horror stories Romany mothers fed their dirty-necked, wide-eyed children, to keep them close to their skirts. It was an obsession, and a dangerously violent one. A modern psychologist of the twentieth century would have diagnosed his war on the Romany as a subconscious means of ridding himself of his own temptation, his own base desires. However, he had been graced with a powerful magnetism of person, the same magnetism that held otherwise independent women like the Vicomtesse in his thrall and subsequently his power.
He had regard for the Vicomtesse, but saw her in a light lower than himself - further strengthened by the fact of her willingness to indulge in an adulterous relationship. The nickname he used for her - "Belladonna" - had been taken from a mocking poem written about the Vicomtesse some years earlier, and he was the only one she tolerated calling her by that name. They made an odd, yet somehow well-suited couple, superior, disdainful, intelligent and cruel in ideas they firmly held as right. Working together they could be considerably dangerous to their chosen enemies. It was these two people Joker decided to visit first. 

GOTHAM CITY, 1999
Columbine Mountebank burst into Joker and Harley's "Ha-Hacienda", a garish motley of lavish trappings and old carnival discards, and headed for their bedroom.
An enormous Clown's Head with a demented, wide-open grin for a mouth, graced one corner. It was once the entry to a Circus ride, now it housed the elaborately covered green and purple bed. An enormous desk of black marble, behind which stood Joker's "throne", a huge artefact topped with a head in Joker's image and enormous playing cards, filled another corner. An orange couch was lavishly strewn with plush cushions, and the red and black carpet was five inches thick. Posters of Abbot & Costello, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Rik Mayall & Ade Edmondson (the last two Harley's choice) decorated the walls, and an elaborate chemistry set stood on a small carved black table, something dripping from one of the test-tubes steadily burning a hole through the wood. The large wardrobes and many, many mirrors, were draped alternatively with Joker's expensive and elaborate suits, and Harley's frilly underwear and skimpy shorts and tops. A few other remnants of Harley lay about - her portable CD, nail polish, hair baubles, fluffy slippers and a few magazines, and Columbine's eye graced them all lovingly.
"Harley, get up!" she called to the bed, overshadowed by the Clown's mouth. There was no answer. Sighing, Columbine strode over to the bed. "Come on, sweetie!!! We've got plans to make, remember?" She poked the bed and her dark eyebrows shot up when she realised it was empty. Then she frowned. "That's that bastard Joker making her do things again," she growled to herself. "Just when we have some time together he takes her away from me!"
She whumped the bed with her fists in frustration, knocking the note Harley had written into the air. Columbine leapt on it with a cry of glee, and brought it out into the light, reading what Harley had hastily scrawled.

Columbs BABY!!! Columbine read. Hey, sweetie pop, I'm REAAAAALY sorry we can't go do what we planned, but Mistah J's got planned this whacky (but utterly brilliant) adventure for us to go on SO I gotta go be with him, BUT here's whatcha do if ya wanna come join us (and I'd love that!!) Go find this whacky zany belt. It's brown leather and it has like a big silver ball on one end and a little program console on the other. (I don't know where you get them, sorry!) Then you program the date into the console (we're in Paris, 1472 BTW) and then you put it around you and plug the console into the silver ball and WHAMMO! Bob's yer Uncle!! Hope ya come!! Lots of love,
Your bestest friend in all the world who loves and adores ya,
Harls. xxxxxxx
Columbine frowned as she read it. Trust Joker!!! TRUST JOKER!!!!!!! Columbine's blood boiled and she clenched her fists together tightly and gritted her teeth. She wanted to be with Harley! She wasn't going to let that lunatic take her away from her!!!!!!! 
Columbine read the note over again. She knew about the belts. She also knew where to get one. She *would* go and join up with Harley. 

Copyright © Harley Quinn 1999 (harley_quinn@cheerful.com) May not be reproduced without permission.
 
 

On to Chapter 2!
 

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