La Mort Rit En Dernier

Chapter Ten

Clopin placed the little gadje girl down by the steps which went down into the Court, and placed his cloak around her. She was just beginning to show signs of life again, putting her thumb in her mouth and shivering from the cold of her wet clothes. Cautiously then, the two psychopaths and the three gypsies crept down the stairs, their surprised ears pricking up at the sound of laughter.
The sight that met them caused only Harley to sigh in happiness. Irea, Mirage and Clopin just gaped in astonishment. The children were dancing playfully around Joker with various strange toys and other objects. One Romany boy was yanking on a series of colored handkerchiefs that protruded from Joker's pocket. Above them Joker was cackling joyously, letting them play. Irea and Mirage's astonishment was quickly replaced with terror as they saw the familiar sight of the supersoaker in Joker's hands, and they turned and hissed to Clopin. 
"It's what made the people laugh on the streets, what he's holding!" Mirage whispered. "Clopin, what can we do? It's powerful magik!" 
Clopin turned slowly to Harley who blinked at him and grinned. "Harely, go out and distract your lover from his deeds." 
Harley grimaced, secretly nervous about Joker's reaction to her reappearance. "Aw, come on, he's just being paternal."
Columbine laid a cool hand on Harley's wrist. "Do you want him to kill all those children, Harley? They're not Gotham's children, they don't belong to him."
Columbine was very familiar with the way Harley thought. Harley looked at Columbine for a moment,then stared into her lap and sighed. "Awright!!" she said resignedly, and hopping up she back-flipped her way into the court square, before doing a neat somersault and landing on her feet, she struck a pose with one hip out and grinned at Joker who gazed at her with some astonishment. "Hi Puddin', didja miss me?" she said coyly. 
A slow smile spread over Joker's face. "Haaaaarley!!! Well, I'll be! I thought you were at the bottom of the river by now!" 
Harley shook her blonde head "Nu-uh! Oh they tried to get me, but I was too quick for them! I beat em to the ground and laughed! Ya shoulda seen it!" 
Joker held out his arms. "That's my girl! Come here, pumpkin pie!"
With a delighted whoop Harley leapt over the heads of the gypsy children and into Joker's arms where she cuddled happily. Behind the two, Mirage raced quickly to her tent. Joker put Harley back on the ground and tousled her hair, pinching her cheeks. "You're just in time for all the fun, Harley Girl! I'm about to wreak vengeance on the Gypsy King AND have a good time doing it! Wanna join in?"
Harley looked at the children milling around her feet and chewed her lower lip. "I dunno, Puddin'. I mean, these are just kids. Wouldn't it be more fun to get the grownups?" 
Joker's smile instantly faded. "NO it WOULDN'T! That what's everyone else would do! Am I everyone else? NO I'm NOT! That man ruined my hat, and there could very well be a few of his brats running around amongst these little cretins. Shut up and let the master do his work!" 
Harley cringed, and the children had been shocked into silence and were staring up at Joker with fearful expressions. With a glowering frown fixed on Harley, Joker pumped his supersoaker and turned back to the children.
Suddenly a sweet, wailing cry rose up through the Court, then danced into a pretty, joyous melody as Joker, Harley and the children turned to face the sound. It's a violin, Joker realised, playing pretty warbly little tunes. How droll. The children were smiling again as they recognised the sound, and one by one they were beginning to move away from The Joker and Harley Quinn, dancing to the beauty of the song. "Mirage! It's Mirage playing for us!" they cried and ran closer as the Romani girl approached them, playing skillfully on her precious violin, her frightened eyes watching Joker above her frozen smile. 
Joker was really glowering. It wasn't fair!!! If it wasn't Batman then it was a gypsy girl who thought she was a cowboy!!!!! No matter where he went there was always someone who wanted to blow the punchline!!! Well not this time! Joker raised his supersoaker again as Irea stepped out from the passage way with a fierce and grim expression.
"We'll see how funny you are without your toys, Clown!" she snapped to herself, and began to mutter under her breath, her hands flipping gracefully as she chanted her spell. Joker's furious grin changed to one of surprise as his supersoaker began to glow, then floated out of his hands. He groped at it, his mouth gaping, but it moved quickly out of his reach, over to Irea who leapt on it and clutched it close to her, snarling at Joker as she ran away.
Joker was livid!!! This was the pits! Reaching inside his breast pocket he fumbled for his gun. It wasn't there! Joker's expression turned to one of alarm as he checked his other pockets frantically. No it wasn't there either! What the hell? His gun, where was it! Then, with an angry cry he remembered he had let the snotty-nosed brat take it, in hopes he would release the safety and randomly shoot at his little friends. Tearing at his hair in frustration, he rounded on the terrified Harley and walloped her soundly across the face. 
It was all the incentive Columbine needed. Leaping out she kicked Joker across the face who fell back,then rose up in front of him with her fists clenched. Sitting up, Joker glared at her.
"Well well well, if it ain't the LapDog!" he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "I should've known you'd have a hand in this somehow."
Columbine sneered at him and prepared for another crushing blow when Harley's weak voice called out behind her. "C-c-coolumbiiiiiiine..." she moaned, and Columbine was instantly by her side, lifting the bloody-mouthed Harley up who clutched at her friend's bodice. "Do-onn't huurrt mmy Puuddddinn..." she managed to stammer out as Joker rose to his feet behind them and brought both fists down heavily on Columbine's head. 
She slumped forward, stunned, on top of Harley who was slammed to the floor again and moaned weakly. Joker then turned towards Irea. Her again! The little brat had evidently gotten free. Well, he'd take care of her first, then her fiddle-playing friend. Mirage had meanwhile ceased playing and hurried the Gypsy children towards the back of the cavern, wanting to get them as far away from The Joker as possible. Irea threw the supersoaker as far away from her as she could as Joker stormed towards her. Readying her hands for more magik, she stood her ground as the Laughing Demon got closer and closer.
Reaching out with one hand he made as though to punch her, and when she spun to duck out of his way, his other hand gripped firmly about her neck, cutting off her air. She gasped and kicked at him, scratching his white flesh with her fingernails, as Joker slowly and steadily lifted her into the air, tightening his grip on her throat, grinning at her mockingly, with dead eyes. Mirage had returned and shouted with fear to see her friend being strangled in this way, but it was the moment Clopin had been waiting for. Leaping out of the shadows, he knocked Joker to the floor, who released Irea in his surprise. Irea rolled along the ground, gasping for air, then leapt to her feet and hurried over to Mirage who hugged her friend in relief. 
Clopin kicked Joker in the face, then punched him hard in the stomach. With gritted teeth and gleaming eyes, Clopin moved forward again, incensed only further by the fact Joker was greeting his attack with gasping laughter. In the background, Columbine had recovered, lifting herself hastily off Harley, and helping the stunned girl to her feet who grinned dazedly at Columbine before giving a shout of horror to see Clopin pounding on her boyfriend. She tried to dart forward, but was wrenched forcibly back by Columbine, who hoped her wish for Joker's death would be granted. 
"Joker can hold his own, Harley, you know that" she whispered to placate her friend. And when he doesn't, she thought grimly, I can butcher the Gypsy King for Harley's vengeance! Frightened and nervous, Mirage and Irea clung to each other watching their beloved friend beat on their enemy. They were certain Joker would be no match for their King, but readied themselves for assistance should he need it. Joker had quickly recovered, and as Clopin's fist swung around for another punch he ducked neatly out of the way, then whipped an ankle around Clopin's tripping him up. 
Columbine's eyes narrowed. What game is he playing? she wondered. He's only defending, not attacking. Joker further confirmed this when Clopin leapt to his feet, Joker continued to simply duck and dodge the Gypsy King's fists and feet, mockingly waving scarves in Clopin's face, as the two moved into the center of the square. Clopin paused as Joker grinned slyly at him, and took a deep breath. Getting furious with the lunatic would be of no use. The four women watched, enthralled, as their men sized each other up, one with a mocking waggle of his eyebrows and a finger placed thoughtfully on his chin, the other with an intense and furious expression, fists clutched by his side. 
Clopin spoke up first, his voice low and controlled. "So you would murder innocent children then, you maniac?" 
Joker shrugged. "Clopie, my friend, I would do anything for a joke." 
Anger leapt in Clopin's chest but he controlled it. "The slaughtering of childen you find to be a joke?"
Joker leered. "One of the best kind." 
With a cry Clopin leapt forward, knocking Joker to the ground, and pounding one fist furiously on the madman's face. Joker did nothing, only laughed. Clopin pulled his dagger from his belt. "Will you think it so funny when I slit your throat?" 
Joker smiled at him in an almost affectionate way. "Sure. It'll be hysterical."
Clopin's lip curled. "You'll not find mercy in me this way. You've killed my people, it is only just I should kill you." 
Mirage and Irea watched with wide eyes, Columbine and Harley with crazed ones. Joker raised his eyebrows in surprise. "No, no I mean it! It'll be really funny! I mean, here you are, a Gypsy King, fighting for his people to be accepted in the world, and here I am, low down dirty rotten scoundrel murdering for the sake of it, and you'll kill me though I won't raise a hand to stop you!" 
Clopin paused, with his blade pressed against Joker's windpipe. Joker continued. "I've always said, if you gotta go at least take a good man down with you!" 
"Shut up!" Clopin hissed through gritted teeth.
Joker pursed his lips. "No! I should enjoy the joke before you shuffle me off this mortal coil! I'm not a soldier who arrested your people for singing on the street, I don't hate you because I'm ignorant and you're a Gypsy, I just felt like getting out and doing some damage. Completely indiscriminate, but you'll let me drag you down!! Hee hee! Well, come on then Gypsy King, do the deed!"
Clopin no longer looked at Joker, but above and beyond him, his face frozen, his lips slack. Suddenly, he got off Joker and resheathed his dagger, turning away as Joker sat up angrily. "Hey! Hey!" Joker called. "Come back here!! You goddamned gypsy, you're ruined every single one of my jokes today!!!!! Get back here!!!"
Clopin ignored him. He felt sick to the stomach, but oddly relieved too. He turned back to Joker. "Take your friends" - with a nod to Harley and Columbine - "and go back where you came from. Leave right now. Do not do anything else to this city or you will live to regret it."
Joker's look was scornful, but he saw the Gypsy King was no longer going to be antagonised. The game was over. It *was* time to go home. He stood up and stretched, scratching his sides lazily. "All right, all right, I can tell you're in no mood for fun. Come on Harley, LapDog -" Columbine glowered. "- let's go back to the twentieth, a time of enlightenment where maniacs like us are given comfy padded cells and three meals a day." 
Mirage and Irea walked falteringly over to their friend, who held up a weary hand and leaned on one of the benches in the square. His eye fell on an orange lying there, and his old grin worked its way across his face. Behind him, Harley was clinging to Joker's arm, and Columbine was following with a stony face. Joker's good humor was rapidly returning as he thought of Gotham awaiting him, and Batman, lovely lovely Batman, waiting too...
Joker's eye fell on a pomegranate lying discarded on the floor, and with one swift smooth movement, he swept it up and turned back to Clopin, just as Clopin turned to face him with his. The two pieces of fruit went plummeting through the air to land with resounding smacks on the two men's faces, and amazingly, they both chuckled as they wiped juice out of their eyes. Joker leered at Clopin. "Say now, Clopie, under other circumstances you and I mighta been friends!"
Clopin's look was wryly amused. "I doubt it somehow, Joker."
Joker laughed, and so benevolent did he feel that he wrapped an arm around Harley and Columbine both, the latter wrenching away to stand by Harley, and the three lunatics bounced out of the Court of Miracles and into the darkness of the tunnel above, while the three gypsies silently watched them with cold and aching hearts, standing side by side, as their strange guests disappeared up the stairs and out of their lives. 

The storm had passed, and the sun had set and the night was quiet and still as nights always are after a storm. The ground was still damp and the air had a pleasant, fresh tang to it. Stars winked from the blue velvet of the cleared sky, and there was no breeze. Once in the graveyard, Columbine was only too eager to hustle Harley home, and the romance of Paris had long since worn off for Harley. She turned to Joker with a pleading expression, and even Columbine blinked at him from her large brown eyes. But Joker stared up at the millions of stars, there seeming to be so many more than there were in the twentieth century, and rubbed his nose. His deep purple eyes blinked at the universe beyond and he grinned suddenly. Harley tugged his coat sleeve.
"Can we go home now, Puddin'?" she asked softly.
Joker turned his head to her slowly, the light of the moon illuminating his long wet green hair, his face dark where the moonlight didn't strike it. He looks like a being made from the moon's light, Columbine thought with something as close to admiration as she would get for the Joker.
"Soon, Harley Girl, soon," Joker said softly. "I just want to pay one last visit to our good friends the Minister and the Vicomtesse."

The next morning the sun burned brightly over Paris once more, though the air was still chill, and pale grey clouds dotted the blue sky. The damp streets rapidly dried as the people ventured cautiously out of their homes to go about their business, their hearts lightened by the dawn of a new day, the plagued bodies having being swiftly burnt. Frollo's guards returned to the Palace to report that no sign of the white-faced madman had been uncovered, to all intents and purposes, he had vanished.
Frollo sat, still and expressionless, in his armchair, gazing into the fireplace before him, strong dissatisfaction filling his chest and rising in his throat. Nothing had gone to plan. The lunatic had vanished, and the rom still plagued the streets of Paris. The Minister had a headache. Why did God test him so? No matter. Frollo was merely God's servant, he would face His challenges as He sent them. The Good Lord was merely testing his faith. He had plenty of years ahead of him to rid Paris of the heathen scum.
The Minister rose slowly from his armchair with a sigh, deciding that the morning was cold enough for a fire to be lit. As he made his way over to the bell pull, he stopped with a lurch and a sinking stomach at the sight of the box on his table, illuminated by the grey light filtering in the windows. Looking about him nervously, Frollo walked forward slowly. 
A deep magenta box, each side was marked with a grinning skull wearing a Jester's cap. The identity of the person who'd left it was obvious, and for that reason Frollo hesitated to touch it, licking his lips, and furrowing his forehead. A note was pinned to the top, the words scrawled childishly in orange crayon.
No hard feelings, Frolly!!
And at that instant the lid burst open. Recoiling in sudden panic, Frollo lifted an arm to shelter his face. Gazing over the black of his sleeve, he felt foolish to see that the box contained nothing but a Jester on a spring, wobbling madly from side to side, holding a banner in its hands that read "BOO". 
Laughing bitterly to himself Frollo strode up to the table again, prepared to throw the box against the wall, but at that second a stream of thick green paint flew from the gaping mouth of the Jester, splashing over Frollo's face and the front of his robes, staining it thickly. Gasping in disgust, Frollo wiped at his face with his sleeve, but only succeeded in spreading the gunk further. Clawing at the air, Frollo wailed. Why did the Lord test him so? 

Several miles away in her wooded estate, the Vicomtesse had risen and dressed in a hideously expensive wine-red velvet gown. Sweeping into her sitting room, she was more than a little unsettled to find a box decorated with jester-capped skulls sitting on her elaborate carved writing desk. 
The paint in the Vicomtesse's box was purple.

Underneath the city of Paris, in the Court of Miracles, the Rom had returned to sweep naughty children into their arms for scoldings and cuddles. The large fires had been lit, the pots once again bubbled with spicy foods, and soft sweet songs and incense filled the air as they chatted together happily and continued on with life.
In his tent, Clopin lay on his bed, a troubled frown on his face. Something had happened to him these last two days, something that had damaged him inside. The madman would have killed all the children, the same children who watched Clopin in his puppet cart everyday, and who laughed and begged him to play tricks on them. If that wasn't enough, his lovely red-haired favourite had left Paris without telling him. Clopin didn't feel like leaving the Court. He didn't feel like leaving his tent. He sighed and passed a hand over his face, trying to ignore his aching heart.
Outside the tent, Mirage played Clopin a song on her violin, singing her love and friendship for Clopin with her bow. It did not comfort him like it usually did. Outside in the square, Irea watched Mirage playing for Clopin with pouty lips. She knew something was hurting Clopin deep inside, and she didn't know what to do to make it better. Running a gentle hand through the blonde hair of the gadje girl who had finally come out of her trance and begun to show some life again, Irea got up and filled a bowl with chicken and a tankard with beer then strolled over to the tent and Mirage. Giving her friend a grin and bringing her song to a gentle end, Mirage gave Irea a wink and turned to walk back to her own tent. Irea lifted the tent flap and walked inside.
Clopin sat up as she came in, smiling at him affectionately, and he couldn't help but return it. "Here, you have to eat something Clopin," she said gently, perching herself on the bed and handing the victuals to the man she loved. 
Clopin took them without letting his eyes leave her once. He looked at her rounded cheeks, her sparkling black eyes and her mischievous grin and felt considerably better. Life wasn't really so bad, you just had to roll with the punches.
"Have you ever been kissed before, Irea?" he asked suddenly, and she blinked at him coyly.

The skyline above Gotham was a hazy red, as it commonly was, and a violent storm was on its way as the sun melted into the horizon. Car horns blared, neon lights flickered, and a luminous yellow light with the symbol of a Bat in its center struck the dark clouds above the city as night hit in Gotham City. 
Columbine and Harley Quinn, in fluffy slippers and gauzy nighties, their faces covered in peeling masks and wads of cotton-wool stuck between their freshly painted toes, rolled around on the bed and laughed and laughed as the Barbie doll melted fiercely beneath the acid on the stake they'd impaled her on. They'd already forgotten fifteenth-century Paris. Suddenly, the orange and green panelled door was kicked open, and The Joker, resplendent in a vivid blue suit with a green shirt and yellow waistcoat leapt into the room with a delighted grin on his face.
"Heads up, Harley Girl and LapDog!" he shouted cheerfully. "The Clown Prince of Crime has a brilliant idea for New Years Eve! It's a killer! It's a classic!! It can't fail! What a way to ring in the New Millennium!" 
Columbine groaned and banged her head against the mattress while Harley rolled off the bed and leapt to her feet. "Come on, Columbs, lets go get dressed!!!! Anything Mistah J's got planned HAS to be fun!"
Joker threw back his head and laughed in delighted triumph as lightning struck the Gotham skyline and a Man dressed as Bat continued a relentless search for him.


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