La Mort Rit En Dernier

Chapter Four

Joker was thrilled to pieces as he, Frollo, and the Minister's delicious-looking piece of flesh left the dungeons to go back up into the Palace. *Everything* was going just as he wanted it to go, and so far the Minister suspected nothing! If things continued as they were, Joker was bound to have the best time of his life! He rubbed his hands together and chuckled gleefully, as his two haughty companions looked askance at him from the corners of their eyes and then exchanged small looks. They had just reached the bottom of the marble staircase when they heard a scraping noise behind them, followed quickly by an enormous CRASH! and splintering of porcelain.
The Minister and the Vicomtesse whirled around in alarm. Joker, who guessed the villain behind the crash, sighed and his shoulders sagged forward resignedly. His gleeful smile pulled itself down into a furious frown and he slowly turned around to join his new partners in crime as they stared in dismay down at a shattered vase.
"That was a priceless gift from the King!" the Minister said in a distraught tone, before straightening his head and glaring into the shadows. "Who is responsible for this?"
Joker sighed again. "Come on out, Harls."
She stepped forward sheepishly, looking ashamedly out from big blue eyes, a little crooked smile on her face. The Vicomtesse's first thoughts were that the girl's deathly pallor was natural, like the Joker's, but a closer look through her sharp black eyes, revealed it was greasepaint. As the young female appeared into the light, both the Minister and the Vicomtesse gaped in amazement at her dress. Her body was entirely covered, no flesh except her face on show, but the red-and-black jester costume she wore was absolutely skin tight, and emphasized every bump and curve of her shapely figure. In curiosity, Ginevra shot a sidewards glance at Frollo, to see how he would react to such audacity.
To her relief Frollo was glaring at the girl, nostrils flaring, his face turning a dull brick red as he faced the outrageous sight. His eyes were contemptuous as the girl seemed to almost brazenly throw back her shoulders, as though to invite one to look at her. He was unfooled by the timid look on her face, he saw this girl immediately for what she was, a temptress and a sinner.
And this - Joker - clearly knew her. He rounded on the tall thin man angrily. "What is the meaning of this? Why we were not made aware of this - girl's - presence earlier? Do you seek to keep something from me? What do you mean by allowing her to dress like that and parade in front of mortal men?"
Joker listened to the onslaught disinterestedly, his eyes not even seeing the Minister. The toothy grin was fixed on his face with a stillness that chilled Harley's heart. She knew very well what that fixed smile, in combination with the faraway look in his eyes, meant, and she cowered.
The Vicomtesse was irritated by the sight of that tremble and snapped at Harley. "Come out into the light more, girl! Do not hide in the shadows!! Explain yourself to the Minister immediately."
Harley looked at her fearfully, and with uncertainty. She was reluctant to do anything Joker himself had not instructed her to do in this situation, but Joker just kept staring ahead, with that glowering smile, as the Minister and the Vicomtesse glared at Harley with folded arms and baleful eyes.
The Vicomtesse narrowed her beautiful eyes at Harley when the girl refused to respond. "I said 'step into the light', girl!" she said heavily and sharply. Harley knew that tone of voice, and took a tiny step forward, her hands crossed protectively over her chest. All of a sudden, Joker snapped out of his reverie and laughed in a brittle tone, striding forward and whipping one arm around Harley's small shoulder.
"Now now, kids, let's not get all up into arms!" he said jovially. "This here, why this is my own little Harley Quinn, my very special lady, and assistant in all my capers and adventures. Wave hello, Harley!!!"
Harley withdrew one hand from her bosom and waved it obediently. The Vicomtesse and the Minister continued to glare.
Joker chuckled again. "Now don't be so suspicious, Frolly-boy! I'm here to help ya out remember???? No, Harley's been lurking in the shadows, because as she's just proven, she can be something of an... embarrassment." He thrust his lean face into Harley's. "Right, Harley girl?"
Harley gulped. "Uh-huh," she said softly.
The Vicomtesse was growing increasingly agitated. The girl reminded her of nothing more than the rest of Claude's lady friends. It was subservience she couldn't bear to see, it made her nauseous in fact. She would have been delighted in having every one of the silly fools whipped, if only to knock some sense into them. Provided no-one became aware of the nature of her relationship with Claude, Ginevra could come and go as she pleased, say what she felt to the Minister, and assist him in his plans. She stared coldly at Harley who looked out at her helplessly.
Joker moved away from Harley to place a friendly hand on the stone still Minister, who stood looking directly ahead, immovable, with narrowed eyes. "Claudie, my man, I'm real sorry about that pretty spittoon of yours there. Unfortunately, Harley's just a woman, and she simply doesn't have the spine flower to deal with things like this."
Harley was stung, more so than usual. "Hey!" she said in a weak protest. Joker silenced her with a glare.
"Harley, Harley, Harley," he tsked, walking over to her again, with his hands behind in his back in an attitude of resignation. "You've shamed me, cupcake. You know what that means?"
Harley did. "Uh-huh," she said softly, tears starting in her eyes. Joker stopped to her side, leering down at her. With a shake of his head he gestured to the massive double doors that were the main entrance to the Palace.
"Come on then."
Meekly, Harley began to walk forward, then stopped. "Aw, Puddin' PLEASE, it was an accident, I'll pay for the vase, really!"
Joker sighed, then grasped her nose with one hand, pulling her towards the door. The Minister and the Vicomtesse drew aside and watched the proceedings with no small interest. Joker wrenched the large doors open, the same doors that he'd kicked open a little under an hour ago, positioned Harley in front of them then walked around behind her. Harley was whimpering softly, but otherwise not protesting. Joker drew back one long leg and brought it savagely forward, connecting viciously with Harley's back and sending her flying head first out the door.
Harley landed heavily on the hard cobblestones of the street, and lay there, stunned. A few seconds later her duffel bag, minus a few things, came flying out to land on her head. In total blackness now, Harley lay miserably with her cheek in the dirt as she heard the Palace's doors slam shut.
Inside, Joker turned to the once again slack-jawed Vicomtesse and Minister, and rubbed his hands together happily.
"Well that was fun. Let's get back to business, shall we?"

Outside, Harley miserably dragged herself to her feet, wiping gravel from her face, and sniffling piteously to herself. Why did this ALWAYS have to happen? It was so unfair!! It was a complete and total accident!!!!! And now here she was, in this crazy whacky world, all on her own, and Mistah J didn't even CARE! He didn't even WORRY!!! The tears ran down Harley's cheeks faster, and she wiped them away crossly.
Well, she would show him!! She would!!!! She'd go and do something TOTALLY amazing to this stupid place, and then Mistah J would BEG her to come back!! He'd plead with her! "Harley Machine, come back to me!" he'd say, "I need you, you glorious thing!"
Yeah! And maybe she WOULDN'T go back! Maybe she'd just stay here and be totally amazing by herself!!!!! Maybe she'd just stick around and knock everyone out!!! Harley grinned to herself. Just imagine Mistah J's face THEN!!!
Harley did. She did imagine that beautiful face full of wonderment and admiration. Abruptly her shoulders sagged forward and her tears sprung up again.
She missed him already.

Columbine and Clopin sat back and observed one another carefully. After much thought and discussion, Clopin believed her story, and sincerely hoped he would not become a fool because of it. Columbine on the other hand, was mulling over the information Clopin had given her. Clearly, if Joker was going to contact anyone in Paris in 1472, it would be the Minister of Justice, Claude Frollo. The King would be nothing to him, no other nobleman was of any importance, and Frollo was the only one who did things Joker would - like. Should she go to the Palace of Justice straight away? Joker's reaction to her showing up would be - bad. There was no love lost between Columbine and Joker. But Columbine's chest was beginning to tighten every time she thought of Harley. She had to be with her soon. She had to make sure that Joker wasn't doing anything to hurt her.
Clopin watched the beautiful oriental woman planning her next mode of action, and sighed to himself, rubbing his eyes tiredly with gloved hands. If it didn't rain, it poured. At least he enjoyed dancing in the rain.
Mirage and Irea had sat by his side as Columbine had told her tale, and their eyes had grown larger and larger. Irea was quicker to believe it than the others, coming from a Realm where such "dimension hopping" was frequent and not unusual at all. Her rapid explanations of such things helped Mirage and Clopin to follow suit in belief, and the first suspicions of this strange, determined woman had faded. But if Columbine's description of this bizarre "Joker" character were to be taken literally, then Paris might become a very dangerous place to be while he stayed there.
Clopin was still unsure if he entirely believed the tale of a thin white god-like creature he made people die laughing, and who wished for nothing more than to destroy lives in any way he could. This sounded to Clopin exactly like Shaitan, but Clopin was not a religious man. Was it truly possible for such evil to exist in this world? Then he remembered that Joker wasn't from this world. Irea and Mirage leaned heavily on either shoulder, and Columbine stared out at him from under lowered lids. There were too many damn women around him right now. Pushing his lady friends aside, he stood up and stretched.
"I'm going for a walk," he told them.
"You mean to the tavern," Mirage said wickedly.
He ignored her. "You might want to find our friend Columbine here some more appropriate clothes," he said to the girls. "She can't wander around like that, men all over Paris will be killed tripping over their tongues."
Mirage and Irea giggled at that, and Columbine almost laughed. She watched Clopin still from liquid, calm eyes, and the thought struck him that the entire world was going crazy and trying to take him with it.
He wandered through the catacombs quickly, trying to get his head around everything he'd been told. Time-travelling? It couldn't be true, despite what Irea claimed. A man who'd killed thousands of people by himself, with no army behind him? It was impossible. If these people existed, what the hell would they want with Paris? Columbine hadn't said as much, but the way in which she referred to his, Clopin's, time, gave him the distinct impression she thought little of their mental capabilities. 
That annoyed him. Wasn't he Clopin Trouillefou, the most popular and quick-witted Romany in all of Paris? Of course he was. Murderers sent to lunatic asylums instead of being hung, women who could fight better than men and were not thought of as whores in short skirts, a world where they had boxes with numbers and information on them, and books could be printed in a matter of seconds. Ridiculous.
He pushed open the lid of the sarcophagus with a grunt, and leapt quickly out, pushing it back in place. He leaned back and breathed the cool night air deeply, letting his lungs fill, throwing out his arms and delighting in the wind rushing around his hot body, steamed from the humidity in the Court.
Then he set off. He probably would end up in the tavern, he thought with a grimace, damn that Mirage, she knew him far too well. Clopin sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Things were either going to get very exciting, or very dangerous. Or perhaps a mixture of both. He couldn't say he exactly minded. Life had been very slow of late, and he was at the stage where he would welcome any disturbance of it, even his lovely red-haired jester coming up to him and saying "By the way Clopin, how would you feel about being a father?...."
Afterwards he always thought it was funny he was thinking of his then-favourite, lost in a reverie when he was usually so careful about being aware of his surroundings, at the exact instant the small red-and-black creature pummelled into him at top speed, knocking them both to the ground with a mutual "oof". Blame it on the beer and the shock of that Columbine's long, long legs.
Only momentarily dazed, Clopin was very quickly to his feet and prepared to fight, when he realised the huddled figure on the ground was staying there. In the dim light of the Parisian streets, all he could see was a mass of red-and-black with a diamond pattern, and in his stunned condition, his red-haired lover leapt to mind.
"Herl-" he began to say when abruptly the little creature sat up, eyes wide and terrified, her sweet round face a mess of streaked white greasepaint and black. "YIKES!" she cried. Then "Ouch!" and began rubbing her back with one hand, gazing up at Clopin through bleary eyes.
Harley looked at the apparition in front of her. He was a man. He was dark skinned. He had a big hat. He had a nice voice. He wore an earring.
He was gorgeous.
A silly grin slowly began to spread across Harley's face as she gazed up at Clopin's delicous black eyes while he peered at her uncertainly.
Seeing her more clearly, Clopin began to realise who she was. She fit the description Columbine had given him exactly, though the strangely blank look in her eyes was unsettling.
"Harley?" he said hesitatingly.
The girl's mouth literally fell open and her eyes bugged. She stumbled to her feet, and although Columbine's amazing story was being backed up every second, he couldn't help but take the opportunity to admire the girl's figure. Such a shame he didn't live in the twentieth century. Ah, but then, where would the mystery be? Clopin very much liked guessing what was beneath a girls' scarves and skirts and petticoats.
"Ho-ho-how did you know my name?" she stammered fearfully, looking at him through confused eyes.
He reached out a hand towards her and she skittered away nervously, not taking her eyes off him once. Speaking gently, he said to her softly, "I have a friend of yours back in my home. She's been looking for you. Are you all right?"
Harley's eyes were no longer weirdly blank. They were blazing with joy and love. "She? COLUMBINE?? Yay oh yay my Columbine, she's come to visit me!!"
All of Harley's suspicions and fears instantly vanished and she grasped Clopin's hand eagerly, looking at him shyly from below lowered lashes. Clopin thought it was no wonder she was always finding trouble if she was so trusting.
"So you gonna take me to see her, or what?" Harley said coyly, and the strange thought entered his head that the madwoman was flirting with him. He coughed and blinked at her.
"By the way, my name is Clopin," he said pointedly. Her eyes were blank for another few seconds before switching into focus again. "OK! My name's Harley," she said cheerfully. 
Clopin was unsettled. Columbine's obvious infatuation with Harley had signalled her to be a lunatic also, but at least her eyes remained focused. This girl was on the edge. As he began to lead Harley back towards the graveyard, he couldn't help but feel that he was getting involved with something he shouldn't.

Joker skipped down the wide stone steps of the Palace, dancing on into the streets gleefully, a large sack flung over his shoulder, filled with the things he'd emptied from Harley's duffel bag before tossing it out to her again.
Above him, The Minister watched him narrowly from a tall, leaded window, his steepled hands and thoughtful gaze signalling the first niggling of doubt. The Vicomtesse paced the room, her luscious plum dress swishing around her ankles as she thought furiously to herself. She didn't like the situation at all, but she dared say nothing while Frollo thought.
Finally he turned away from the window, when Joker's skinny maniacally prancing form had disappeared around the corner and looked at Ginevra with inscrutable eyes. She returned the glare, holding her chin up straight and raising her eyebrows questioningly.
After a long moment he spoke. "What do you think of all this, Belladonna?"
She sniffed quietly. "What would you prefer, Claude? That I lie to please you, as your minions would, or that I tell you bluntly what I think?"
He smiled sardonically. "Bluntness has always suited you best, my dear."
She narrowed her eyes in preparation of what she was about to say. "Very well. I think you're playing the fool, Claude. The man is insane, and he has a very powerful weapon in his hands. It would be foolish to trust him."
Looking at her condescendingly, he glided swiftly over to his chair, and alighted gently upon it. "Belladonna, did I ever say that I trusted him?" he asked slyly. "You have to look at it from my view, my dear." 
He gestured to her chair, and after examining it carefully and snootily dusting off a purple thread that had come loose from the lunatic's suit, she gracefully acquiesced. "And what would be your view, Claude?" she asked dryly, turning her head a little at the arched eyebrow he gave her, and the strange flicker in his eye at her tone of voice.
But he let it go for the moment, and continued. "The Romany are vermin. They ruin this city, corrupt it, turn the people towards their heathen ways. This man has a most effective means of ridding me of them for good. If I let him do this - as he more than likely would if I gave him my permission or not - then I rid myself of a devil that feeds itself on this city's good people. The Joker is insane. I am not responsible for his actions. One demon will be taking care of another, that is all. Besides, my dear," his voice was very sly and very smug, "What's to stop me from arresting him once he has taken action, hmmm?"
A smile finally graced the Vicomtesse's white lips.
"What indeed?" she quietly agreed, and the two smiled at each other.

Columbine had allowed herself to be dressed in an electric blue dress with a vivid purple bodice, but she would not remove the makeup from her face. She was vaguely annoyed by Mirage and Irea's leaping and dancing around her. They pinched one another, made terrible jokes and laughed a lot. They had the same vivaciousness Harley did, but to Columbine - none of Harley's charm. Harley will probably like them, she thought, and so she made an effort to smile and be friendly towards the gypsy girls.
Finally they stopped touching her, and Columbine breathed a sigh of relief, as they beckoned for her to come out and sit with them. They were friendly girls. She shouldn't be so cold. But it was something she could not always help. Columbine sighed a little, and rubbed her aching temples, thinking of Harley and how much she missed her.
All of a sudden, a familiar perfume filled her nostrils and a second later a red arm and a black arm were around her neck, and a red leg and a black leg was around her waist and Harley was kissing Columbine's cheek rapturously.
"COLUMBINE! You came to find me!!" Harley cried joyously, and Columbine hugged Harley tight, and smiled easily now, the smile filling her face, her eyes squeezed shut in happiness.
"Harley!! I've been so worried!!!!! Thank goodness I found you."
Harley sat up in Columbine's arms and grinned at her friend, who smiled happily back. Irea and Mirage, their faces once again suspicious and uncertain, scooted up to Clopin.
"What is happening, Clopin?" Mirage asked him softly. "Who are these women really?"
Clopin shrugged. "I know as much as you, darling Mira. The new one is completely insane, but harmless otherwise."
Mirage stared at him intensely. "Do you really know what you're doing, allowing them in here like this?"
Clopin glared at her. "Let me handle this, Mira."
"That dark one is frightening," Irea piped up. "Her skin grew cold every time we touched her."
Clopin put an arm each around his lady friends. "Let Big Brother Clopin look after you," he said soothingly. "You trust me, no? I won't let them hurt you."
As he expected, the comment had his favourite girls acting themselves again.
"We don't *need* your protection!" Mirage said contemptuously.
"We're big girls now!" Irea snapped in, and Clopin gave her a wolfy smile.
"I can see that, beautiful Irea," he said to her softly, and to his surprise, she blushed. Not knowing what to think of that, he looked over at Harley and Columbine who were gazing happily into each other's eyes. The seeming nature of their relationship truly unsettled him, but he decided to let it pass.
"Ladies?" he said questioningly, and as though surprised they still had company, the strange guests looked over to him. Harley gave a sheepish grin as she dropped out of Columbine's arms, and Columbine's mouth was once again a straight line.
"I believe I found what you were looking for, Columbine," Clopin said, placing a hand on his chest and bowing slightly.
Columbine smiled at him, a little easier than she had before. "Thank you, Clopin. I'm very grateful."
"Yeah me too!" Harley giggled, as she danced in one spot. Columbine grabbed her wrist to stop her from jiggling so much.
"What? What is it Columbs?" Harley asked her friend in bewilderment.
"You can't jump around in that costume, Harls. Not here." Columbine said gently.
Harley looked down at her bosom then up again at Clopin, Irea and Mirage, and the three could almost see her cheeks go red beneath her white greasepaint. "Heh heh. Whoops."
Irea and Mirage noticed the way Clopin was staring at the newcomer, more unusual looking even than Columbine was. It was a strange mix of interest and wariness, and accordingly they looked at her the same way.
Columbine had a definite aura of the bizarre, of danger, but Harley's aura was far more unusual, as was her costume and face. The clownish way she moved, although she was clearly in pain, added to this effect, and Irea and Mirage each slipped a hand into Clopin's and stared cautiously at Harley.
She was of no small interest to the other Romany, either, who generally had no idea exactly what was going on. They gazed at her and Columbine curiously, and whispered furiously to each other as they made excuses to pass by the fireplace and gawk at them, though if Clopin should notice their stares he would motion for them to go away.
He invited the two women to take a seat now, as he did himself. Harley cheerfully bounced over, Columbine following reluctantly, protectively with a hand on Harley's back. She glared at the passing Romany if their eyes stopped for two long on the little harlequin creature, and Clopin could see her temper was rapidly rising.
"I found Harley whilst wandering along the streets this evening," Clopin explained to Columbine, before smiling benevolently at Harley. "You could say we ran into each other!"
Harley giggled again. "Yeah! Clopie rescued me! Didnoo, Clopie?" she beamed adoringly up at the Gypsy King who seemed uncertain how to take this strange string of events.
Irea's heart gave a lurch. "From what?" she snapped, folding her arms.
"Well," Clopin said hastily, "I didn't really rescue her from anything, although the streets of Paris at night can be dangerous for a woman."
Columbine's face, meanwhile, was steadily growing stonier. She recognised the look in Harley's eyes as she gazed up at Clopin, and she was beginning to feel she did not like Clopin at *all*. Grabbing Harley's face she turned it forcibly towards her.
"Tell me, Harley, where is Joker?" she questioned gently but firmly.
Instantly, Harley's face fell and her lower lip quivered. She sniffled and Columbine's eyes grew wide with alarm.
"Oh no," she muttered softly. A second later Harley burst into very loud tears and flung herself over Columbine's lap, sobbing piteously. "HE THREW ME OUT!!!" she wailed.
"Again?" Columbine asked unsympathetically.
Harley sat up, nodding and sniffling. "Yah, he literally KICKED me out, Columbs! Me, his own dear girlfriend who only ever wants the best for him!!"
Columbine's eyes were blazing. "He kicked you?"
Harley nodded again. "Uh-huh. In my back! Look!!!" She stood up and displayed her back to her friend, completely unaware Columbine could see nothing through the fabric of her costume. "I landed in the dirt! Then I started running all over the place, but I got lost and I didn't know where I was and then WHAMMO! I run into Clopin here, and he rescues me and brings me to you!"
She grinned blissfully at Clopin again who smiled at her indulgently, and then seated herself with a plonk beside him.
Columbine was fuming. "That bastard," she said between gritted teeth, clenching her fists, trying desperately to control herself. Harley peered anxiously at her.
"Hey, Columbs, you're not angry 'bout something are ya?" With a supreme effort of will, Columbine got hold of herself, and let her anger out in a long hiss. She smiled at Harley and patted her knee. "Nope, sweetie. I'm not mad about anything at all! But if we're going to get you back to Joker, we'll have to get you prepped for life in the fifteenth century! This," - with a sweeping hand she indicated the two gypsy girls - "is Mirage and Irea. They're old friends of Clopin, and Clopin's agreed to help us out while we're here in Paris."
"Aw!" Harley said and grinned again at Clopin. Columbine ignored it. "But if we're going to work here, we have to look like we belong here. Ladies, have you anything Harley could wear?"
Mirage and Irea looked at each other for a long second before coming to a silent agreement. Mirage stood up, finally smiling and nodding. Irea followed suit.
"We should have something," Mirage said in a more or less friendly way. "Come on - Harley, is it? Come on, Harley, let's get you looking normal again."
Harley grinned in a benevolently confused fashion. "But I do look normal!" she said cheerfully as Columbine and Mirage pushed her towards the tents, Irea walking reluctantly behind.
Clopin followed them with his eyes thoughtfully. Despite their obvious lack of sanity, Harley Quinn and Columbine had good hearts, that much he could feel from them. But having them here was dangerous, that he felt also. Was alleviation of boredom worth this? Should he put the entire court at risk because he wanted an adventure? He watched Harley's round backside as the four girls retreated to Mirage's tent, and rubbed his nose musingly. She was weird, but she was also very pretty, lively, and obviously had a thing for him. It might be nice to get to know her better. Once Mirage had realised he had accepted her, she had responded in kind, but Irea's attitude confused him. He could think of no reason why his little friend should be so clearly resentful of Harley's presence. But Irea had grown up in an immortal realm. Perhaps her senses were sharpened. He would have to keep a very close eye on things from now on.

Outside in the rapidly lightening darkness, Joker leapt down from the thatched roof he had just been on, whistling softly to himself. He couldn't *believe* Frollo had fallen for it! No wonder he gets thrown over a few years from now, he thought jovially to himself. If I'm going to outshine someone's career, like I'm going to focus on one race! Joker scoffed silently. The French - the Gypsies - they were all the same thing when they died laughing. And the laughter was all the same sweet music to his ears.
Joker wandered a few blocks further, still whistling, jauntily clacking his Cuban heels on the cobblestones, then hoisted himself silently up onto another roof. Once there, he snaked up to the chimney, and opened his large hessian sack. Inside there were at least twenty gas bombs left, each filled with Joker's patented laughing gas. Each, upon exploding, would spread their contents for a two-mile radius.
Joker chuckled to himself as he wedged one of the small bombs in next to the chimney, then leapt carefully down from the rood. Mustn't get too extravagant, he reminded himself. We still have the Court of Miracles to do. 
Joker did a little tap dance on the street as the sun slowly began to rise in the distance, bathing the cobblestones in a soft yellow glow. 
Just twenty-four hours to go.

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

On to Chapter 5!
 

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