La Mort Rit En Dernier

Chapter Seven

Harley was having fun. No, check that, Harley was having a LOT of fun! Back when Harley was at GCU, her favorite reading material had not been the fat, heavy psychological study texts she needed to know by heart to pass her exams; no it had the even fatter, yet considerably lighter, Harlequin romances that Harley thumbed again and again and daydreamed about during the three-hour long exams.
The pure beauty of the lush descriptions had set Harley's heart all a-flutter and made her wish for the day when she'd have a barrel-chested, suave and sophisticated, cosmopolitan kind of guy, with thick hair and a winning smile and a marvellous sense of fun. She supposed it was them what had helped develop her taste for Mistah J, he was just like the heroes from the books. She always imagined herself as the beautiful heroine, with soft creamy skin, flowing curly locks and big wet eyes, petulant yet charming, going through all kinds of trials and tribulations before finally being reunited with her one true love at the end. She supposed her relationship with Mistah J was just like that.
Harley always dreamed of living in a world just like those chicks too. Cobblestones and carriages, and full-skirted dresses with low, laced up necklines. Now here she was, in just such a dress, in medieval PARIS, the most romantic city in the world, going through torment to find her way back to her man, she even had the "other" love interest to momentarily distract her!!!!
Oh yeah, Harley was having fun!
In keeping with her "gypsy" disguise, Harley danced gracefully along the streets, heedless of how hard and sharp the cobblestones were, ignoring the glares of Parisians, completely caught up in her role. She swished her skirts and winked at a few of the men, then gave Columbine a confused look when she laid a hand on her shoulder and told her to be careful. Careful of what? This was awesome. 
Harley sighed happily and clutched her hands beneath her chin, blinking at everything around her. It was the middle of the day, and the sun was lovely and warm, and the trees were brown and golden, and a lovely breeze would gently lift a shower of autumn leaves onto the people milling the streets every now and then.
Harley and Columbine had made their way into the more upmarket side of Paris, and Harley was rapidly forgetting the slums she had come through, preferring this more idealised picture. The houses were larger here, and cleaner, and although they were still an odd higgledy-piggledy in the style of Medieval homes - winding streets, and frequent twists and turns and little stairs leading up and down to small doors and funny little tunnels, the general atmosphere was one of a more comfortable way of life. Mothers held their fat children by the hands as they flounced from store to store, and men stopped to greet one another formally and discuss business. Harley thought it was all just too *too* terribly romantic.
Columbine, on the other hand, was not feeling so wonderful. Paris, even medieval Paris, brought back some discomforting memories for her, and she did not like the attitude towards young, shabbily dressed women, at all. Especially if those women sang out loud or danced, like Harley.
Apart from anything else, Columbine couldn't get the image of the large purple bruise decorating Harley's back out of her mind. Even now she could see her little friend moved stiffly.
It made her utterly, totally furious.
Perhaps what irked her more than anything else is that she really couldn't do anything to teach Joker a lesson for it, apart from stopping his plans against the city, and maybe giving him a punch or two when Harley's back was turned. Columbine had seen how Harley reacted on previous occasions when the Joker was thought to be dead, and it wasn't pretty. More than once she'd been on a continual diet of tranquillisers and straitjackets for weeks in order to stop her hysteria and from killing herself, until Joker chose to re-emerge. And if Harley would ever find out that Columbine had killed Joker - well, Columbine didn't like to think about it. Better to get Joker where it *really* hurt than lose Harley.
Harley had decided she want to help the handsome Gypsy King, and the way she described him running his hands through her hair and gazing into her eyes made Columbine's blood boil!!! What was it with Harley and her choice of men? Trouillefou was obviously a ladies' man, and very experienced in tricking women into doing what he wanted. She hoped Harley wouldn't fall too hard for him. It would be one instance where she would welcome Joker reappearing. Still, if Harley had decided she wanted to help, than Columbine would stick by her of course.
But Columbine was also feeling a little confused by Harley. As ga-ga as she was over Clopin, Harley had played the fool during their planning. Columbine knew Harley very well; Harley was absent minded and full of strange ideas which made total sense to her and nobody else, but she'd been just a tad *over*-vacant and silly with Clopin. Had Joker planned something far worse than what Harley had said, or was Harley just petulant about working against Joker? Columbine was unsure as yet, and kept an eye out.
She saw the Rom working where Harley didn't, and she was impressed. They were more skilled than she'd given them credit for, as they slowly tracked down Joker's gas bombs and removed them. They loped like shadows along the pavement and over the roofs, the Romani holding the suspicious Parisians' attention like huge, dramatically colored birds as they sang and danced through the middle of the streets.
And what was she and Harley going to do?
Well, that was entirely up to whatever took Harley's fancy. Columbine, not really caring about the fate of these people, was content to let Harley act when she felt like it. Harley caught Columbine's hand up in hers and swinged it joyously as the two women trotted down the streets of Paris, the one dark and the other fair, like the heroines of the old faerie tales.
Harley gave Columbine's hand a squeeze and winked up at her. "Can I tell ya something, Columbs?"
"Harley, you know you can tell me anything."
"I know! I just wanted to check." She grinned at Columbine disarmingly before continuing. "I think Mistah J is kinda going a little far this time, ya know? That's the big main reason I wanna stop him. I just woulda preferred to do it on my own, and not dob him in to those guys. I mean - I coulda just crushed the remote control or something. There doesn't need to be this big cavalry thing on the streets."
Columbine frowned. "Joker brings it on himself."
Harley squirmed agitatedly and hmmmd. They walked for a short while in silence, still holding hands, before Harley spoke up again.
"Also, I'm kinda mad at him for kicking me."
Columbine stopped and threw her hands into the air. "HALLELUJAH! Praise Buddha!!!" she swept the giggling Harley up into an embrace before letting go and continuing to trot down the streets, her heart considerably lighter, a smile on her blue lips. 
Harley shrugged a little and grimaced in a cheerful way. She was mad at Mistah J, it was true. She wouldn't of minded the kicking bit if only he hadn't kicked her OUT. She coulda taken a whuppin and dealt with it. But abandoning her on the streets - well, it made life like a romance novel, but didn't the heroines get cranky when that happened? Yup!
Still, she couldn't wait to be back in his arms again. Should she kiss Clopin before then? This question had been preying on Harley's mind. For the last five years no man had known her but Joker. She was reluctant to let even that handsome Gypsy with those burning dark eyes and soft soft hands and gentle voice kiss the lips she thought of as belonging to Mistah J. But whenever Harley thought how Clopin *hadn't* hit her, she sighed and wondered what his mouth tasted like.
They had wandered into a part of town that was virtually deserted, all private homes where the owners were either at the markets, or locked safely within having their midday meal.Harley fell silent for once, and they enjoyed the quiet and the coolness of the breeze as Harley thought and Columbine waited.
Harley suddenly stopped in mid-stride and sniffed the air vigorously. 
Columbine looked at her curiously. "Whats wrong, sweetie?"
Harley's nose was quivering and her eyes were bright with joy. "Mistah J's aftershave!! It's on the wind!! O he's nearby, come on let's find him!!"
Groaning inwardly, Columbine let her hand be snatched and herself pulled down to the end of the street and around the corner.
What met them as they did so caused even those hardened lunatics to stop and stare.
Corpses littered the pavement of Parisian and Rom alike, perhaps ten. All with enormous stretched smiles on their faces. They had not been dead very long, Columbine observed, perhaps ten minutes. It was a very short street, mainly small shops. She couldn't see anyone else. Columbine was willing to bet that most of the street's residents were lying dead on the cobblestones.
Harley's face was working in an agitated manner. She couldn't decide whether to be happy her Puddin' was nearby and working his magik, or upset over the loss of innocent lives.
Columbine waited for her obsession to win, as it always did, but Harley's face remained confused. The Gypsy King has a greater hold on her than I thought, Columbine mused to herself. I think Harley really would like to help him save his people. And if she does, so do I.

Knowing better than to linger too long near the scene of a crime and be around when other people would walk past, the two girls swiftly moved on, Harley chewing her lower lip thoughtfully. Columbine frowned a little. True, she didn't care about these people - but it was a shame. Joker was always interfering with things he had no right to.
Harley, in the meanwhile, didn't know what to think. Normally, she was thrilled to pieces when Joker did his work, but here it seemed - wrong somehow. At least in Gotham it was Mistah J's city and he could do what he liked with it. But those people back there weren't Puddin's. They didn't support no Batman. And Harley could hear Clopin's warm soft voice against her cheek again.
Aawww.....they *were* gonna haveta stop Mistah J. There wasn't anything else to it! But they'd have to do it in secret. Harley didn't want Joker to know she was plotting against him.

The Vicomtesse's servants had been unsuccessful in tracking Harley down. With a baleful look to let them know they'd be punished for failing, she'd instructed her coachman to drive around the city.
She couldn't believe the young female would be clever enough to hide somewhere until night, instead of wondering in broad daylight in that ridiculous costume. Certain of success she peered coldly out at every passing face. But the Vicomtesse was unsuccessful too.
Furious, she wrenched at the rings on her fingers and gritted her teeth. This was unacceptable! The fool had to be here somewhere. Sighing in irritation to herself, she leant back against the plush velvet of her carriage cushions,a small line breaking the smoothness of her forehead. Her carriage ambled through the town square, and then lurched violently. Tossed to the side, the Vicomtesse's shoulder was whacked, and her large velvet hat slipped. Rearranging it furiously she pounded on the small window between herself and the coachman.
"What is happening out there, Erik?" she snapped. He turned around hastily to apologise, but it was interupted by a splendid singing voice, telling a bewitching tale about a water nymph who fell in love with a mortal men and drowned him to keep him forever with her. Even the Vicomtesse's icy heart was affected by the beauty of the song and the way it was sung, and she leaned out of her carriage window to see who the performer was.
Once she did however, the effect wore off, and her brow was once again creased with that one line. A dark skinned man, dressed in a hideous outfit of motley colors. A Gypsy jongleur. It was he who had dangerously cartwheeled in front of the coach, she became aware of Erik hastily explaining, and caused the horses to skitter. Her pale lips curling in disgust she motioned violently for Erik to drive on. 
As they left the town square, a flash of red and black caught her eyes, and she once again leapt forward to look out the window. No - it was just a young girl, with very blonde hair, dressed in a red dress. A taller, darker one was with her, in blue. Peasant girls. The Vicomtesse felt more annoyed than ever, and grinded her teeth delicately. This was becoming intolerable. As the carriage continued to amble on, she gave a start and peered more closely at the two girls. Their style of dress was very definitely of the Rom, but they obviously were not.
As the small blonde one turned her way, The Vicomtesse caught a glimpse of her wide smile, and maniacal eyes and let out a hiss through her teeth, her eyes wide and gleaming triumphantly. That was the girl she sought. She was sure of it.
Rapping imperiously on the small window again, she instructed Erik to follow the two girls and to not let them out of his sight. With a polite tip of his hat, and a grimace when he turned away again, Erik clicked to his horses to follow Harley and Columbine.

Clopin had gone out to perform as usual, but not in his puppet cart. Puppet was safely hidden away in the folds of his costume,but for the most part Clopin wondered the streets singing, juggling, telling stories and doing whatever other tricks came to mind. A thoughtful observer would have found it very curious Clopin did not once throw down his hat to collect coins. 
Clopin was not in his puppet cart because he wanted to keep an eye on the streets. He was excedingly nervous about the dangerous tasks his people were undertaking, not only because of Joker, but because of the consequences should any of them be caught. So he cavorted playfully, knocking the hats of Parisian men, flirting shamelessly with their daughters before darting away to avoid their father's wrath, and cleverly "vanishing" parisian women's goods before returning them with a playful wink. Not a person could tell from his dexterous tricks and lively air that he was watching everything that was going on with canny eyes. Nothing went past him.
He was a popular performer on the streets, and groups of people stopped regularly to watch him with smiles on his faces. Several of the children even followed him about, giggling gleefully, and tugging on his tunic for him to play a funny trick on them. He noticed that a few young girls did too, hanging shyly back trying not to be noticed, not so young he couldn't perhaps go and have a word with them afterwards... Ah Clopin, you lascivious rascal. They *were* too young, really.
Anyway, Clopin's stomach gave a lurch when he thought of it,and he felt headachy. He didn't know why, but it had been that way since the morning. It wasn't the most important thing on his mind anyway, Clopin had sharp eyes and noticed all that went on abouts, and noticing the unusual was what he looked for now. Mirage and Irea would be an added bonus. Clopin was very worried about his little lady friends. None of the Rom he'd spoken to had caught sight of either girl in recent hours.
Why did he worry so much? Those girls were more than capable of taking care of themselves as they'd proven time and time again. It couldn't just be because of this Joker demon that was wondering the streets. Clopin mused thoughtfully as he cartwheeled and poked fun at a drunk man, mimicking his lurching. He never thought of Irea and Mirage without the other immediately springing to mind, that was the way things were. And now when he thought of them, he felt odd. Why?
Clopin sang, juggling fruit, and continued to think, his attention well and truly distracted from the streets. He wasn't being honest with himself. He didn't feel odd, he felt the way he felt whenever he met a new woman who captured more than just his interest. It was stronger too, this feeling. But it had to be impossible. Irea and Mirage were his friends nothing more. And he certainly couldn't feel this way about both of them - not without some serious perverse thoughts running to his head. Perverse thoughts he couldn't help but smile at. Still, if he wasn't just overly confused because he was doing too many things at once, Clopin had to admit he was attracted to at least of his young lady friends. Now what the hell was he going to do about that, besides worry himself sick until they reappeared? Clopin sighed and moved on through the streets, once more focusing on the people around him.
A voice rose in conflict with his own, a voice with a strange accent. An accent very like Columbine's. The voice was a man's. Not ceasing for an instant, Clopin continued to sing and dance, a mocking song about the purity of noblewomen, and what they actually got up to with their pageboys, perhaps a little risque for this time of day, but this voice made Clopin more nervous. It was the one thing that betrayed him as being unsettled, for outwards Clopin was the consummate performer, smiling and lighthearted, not putting a step wrong. But one by one, the people's attention around him was being distracted. They were turning their heads to look in amazmement at something that was approaching to Clopin's far left. Feeling as much annoyance at this stealing of his audience as he did trepidation of the coming foreigner, Clopin dared to turn around, still singing, and had his first glimpse of The Joker.
Not even the elaborate description given him by Columbine and Harley had prepared him for the actual sight of the man, tall and rail-thin, white as bone and that chilling smile. Clopin's eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead, and he looked carefully around to make sure his people were moving safely away, as he'd instructed them to do should the man approach, but he kept on performing.
The Joker was clearly intrigued by Clopin's performance, and stopped his long stride, folding his arms and adopting a critical attitude as he looked Clopin up and down thoughtfully. He was only a couple of inches taller than Clopin, and thinner. Clopin in turn watched him carefully, and suddenly there was an instant where the two's eyes met and locked, and Clopin's heart beat fiercely in his chest as he thought about what this man wanted to do to Paris. Finishing his song, Clopin leapt to Joker's side, and addressed the rest of the audience.
"Well, what have we here, dressed so motley and painted so strangely? A Clown perhaps, my friends?"
The audience tittered a little,looking forward to the approaching show, and Joker's smile grew larger and more sharky.
"Not a Clown, Jester, but a Joker," he replied. His voice growled like fingernails scraping on wood, but Clopin pushed it aside, and waggled a playful finger at The Joker, while his eyes looked fierecely into his purple ones, letting The Joker know what he really thought.
"Not a Jester, mon fou, but a jongleur! The finest in all France, n'est-ce pas?"
The audience gave a cheering agreement, and Clopin readied himself. Though he had gazed unflinchingly into Joker's eyes, what he saw there chilled him to the bone.
With a quick movement of his hand, Clopin whipped Joker's strange hat off his head, and begin twirling it over one finger. As he guessed, Joker immediately frowned. The man is full of conceit, Clopin thought to himself. Find a weakness in his vanity.
Smiling again, Joker stepped forward as Clopin ducked and darted out of the way. He began a dumb show with the hat, making pretence it was stuck to his hand, the audience roaring as he struggled to get it off, slipping, rolling around on the ground, soiling the hat in the process, and "smashing" his fist against the wall, bending the brim.
Joker was positively glowering now, frozen in anger, gazing at Clopin fiercely, but Clopin kept on, until finally his fist burst through the top of the hat, tearing the fabric. The audience laughed and laughed, as Clopin pretended dismay, and apologetically plonked the hat back on Joker's head. Joker wrenched it off with a snarl and threw it to the ground, then reached inside his coat pocket.
Before he could get whatever he was looking for, however, Clopin plucked the flower from Joker's lapel, sniffing it, then sneezing vigorously. Tearing the flower up, he let it drop, using the quickest sleight-of-hand he could reached inside one of his costumes hidden pockets, the action going unnoticed by everyone. Then he pulled Joker's silk handkerchief from his breast pocket, and vigorously blew his nose. Joker was livid, and had pulled out whatever it was from inside his coat. It was a strange black object, shiny and somehow ugly-looking.
But just as Joker lifted the object to point it directly as Clopin's head, Clopin gave a last terrific sneeze, blowing the multicolored powder he had pulled from his costume out of the handkerchief and directly into Joker's face, who gasped in astonishment, and rubbed at his eyes where the powder stung them. The audience were rolling around on the stone floor at the show, but Clopin stopped only for a hasty bow before darting speedily out of the square before Joker's sight cleared. Something was telling him to move away and fast. 
Clopin had no idea how close he had just come to death. The black shiny object was a gun. Even as Clopin darted through the laneways at top speed, several loud bangs from the town square reached his ears, sending birds flying startled into the sky, and shocking several of the Parisians around him, making them jump. Confused and disturbed, Clopin paused and looked back towards the square with a bewildered frown, before resuming his movement. 

Joker contented himself with blowing the heads off a few of the audience members, as the others panicked and ran away. That Jester, whoever he was, had made him, The Great Joker, look a fool!! Joker hated nothing more.
Well - except maybe Batman. But Batman was irrelevant right now!! Joker stepped casually over the massive form of a former baker, his blood and brains running down his dead face, and thought over the jongleur who'd just made himself a very bad enemy. The man's face had been too dark for a Parisian, his accent too wild and guttural, the gold earring dropping from his ear and the wildness with which he conducted himself all pointing to the fool as being one of the Rom. A Gypsy.
Joker rapidly left the town square, his smile once again running like blood over his smooth face. A Gypsy, eh? Well, maybe it was time to have a little talk with his pretty Gypsy captive.

Columbine became aware of the carriage following them as they crossed one of the bridges leading over the river. Not exactly subtle, she thought scornfully, but did not say anything to Harley. The opulence of the carriage signalled that it belonged to one of the upperclass - perhaps a minion of Frollo's? Harley had filled Columbine in on everything that had happened the previous night. 
Harley was blissfully unaware of anything untoward. She bought bread and cheese from a stall and munched it happily, taking long draughts of water from the nearby fountain. "This is the life, eh Columbs?" she asked cheerfully, as she sat down in the shade of a tree for a rest.
Columbine watched the carriage pass by slowly. Then she sat next to Harley. "We'll see how you feel after a week of no running water, no toothpaste and no TV, Harls," Columbine said dryly.
The carriage had turned around, and was approaching the two girls. Columbine cocked an eyebrow that all pretence was being given up and watched interestedly. The coach stopped right in front of the two girls, Harley finally noticing and looking up with a gaping mouth. A richly dressed woman leaned out of the window, looking down at them haughtily. She was quite beautiful, in her own way, with very pale skin and gleaming black hair. Her presence demanded attention. An Italian, Columbine thought, though her skin is very fair. She probably doesn't get out much.
"Hey, it's you!" Harley exclaimed, surprised.
A flicker of annoyance crossed the haughty woman's face. "Yes, it is I," she said in carefully modulated tones.
"Well how 'bout that!" Harley didn't know whether to seem pleased or not.
Columbine spoke up. "Forgive my ignorance, but just who might 'you' be?" 
The woman's eyes crossed Columbine scornfully and Columbine felt her hackles rise. She didn't like this woman.
"This - girl - knows, and that is all that is necessary for now."
Harley shrugged at Columbine and got to her feet, wiping her fingers off on her skirts. Columbine followed suit, standing next to Harley protectively and glaring at the woman who wasn't completely unaware of the intensity of Columbine's gaze.
"So whatcha doin slummin' out here, huh? Ya didn't strike me as the type!" Harley asked the woman cheerfully. 
The woman reacted slightly, her eyes glittering. She wasn't sure what to say, but took a deep breath and found something. "Do you wish to be reunited with your lover, child?" she snapped at Harley. 
Harley's eyebrows shot up. "Yeah, howdja know??" she asked blissfully.
"I imagine I'm just more astute than most," the woman said dryly. "I have means by which you can see him."
Harley cocked her head to one side. What was going on here?? The Victemessie just appeared poof! Outta nowhere and now this?? Still - if she could get Harley back to Mistah J.... "Yeah, how ya gonna do that?" Harley questioned, slightly suspicious.
The woman smiled softly. "Come with me and I shall tell you. Your - friend" - this with a snooty sideways look at Columbine - "may join us."
The tone of her voice told Columbine she was dirt, and Columbine immediately made up her mind to ignore the offer. Instead she gave the woman a look which could have etched the glass in the carriage windows. "And where are you taking her?"
"To the Palace of Justice, of course."
Columbine gazed down at her friend. "This woman's about as trustworthy as a doctor with a syringe, Harls," she said quietly.
Harley nodded and shrugged again. "Yah, maybe, but you know I could whup her butt if she tries anything. OK, Columbs, here's what we're gonna do. I'm gonna go off with this chick here and you go back to - " she shot a glance at the haughty woman then spoke in a deep voice, waggling her eyebrows in a significant way - "You know where! If I don't come back in two hours, then raise hell!!!"
Columbine frowned, puckering her beautiful face. "I don't like it sweety. I want to stick with you." Harley shook her head. "Nope, we gotta have all our bases covered for - " again the eyebrow waggle - "you know what! Doncha worry about me, babe, I'm tough!!" 
Giving Columbine a wet kiss, Harley joined the strange woman, and waved to her cheerfully as she opened the carriage door and jumped in. The imperious woman shut the door with a sharp snap, gave Columbine one last glowering look and indicated to her coachman to drive on. Columbine watched them, standing still and quiet, until the carriage turned a street and disappeared from view.
She narrowed her eyes. She didn't like anything that was happening. None of it. At all.

© Harley Quinn, 2000 (harley_quinn@cheerful.com)
May not be reproduced without permission.

On to Chapter Eight!

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