by Martin Maenza
Three men, all rugged and well-built muscle for hire, sat around a small table in a garishly decorated room. “So, where do you think he is?” the brown-haired man known as Blue Eyes asked as he drummed his fingers impatiently on the table’s surface. It was white formica with the four suits of a card deck stenciled throughout in red and black.
“Just gotta give him some time,” said the man with long blonde hair next to him. He picked up the darts sitting on the table and tossed them at a portrait on the wall. One hit the picture of Batman dead center in the chest, while the other nailed the hero in the brow. Southpaw was rather pleased with his throws.
“That’s right,” said Tooth, the only black man in the room. “He’s the man, after all! Anytime he wants out of that asylum, all’s he got to do is snap his fingers!” To emphasize his point, Tooth did indeed snap twice.
“Ha-ha-ha-ha! So right you are!” said a cackling voice. A figure stepped out from the small elevator that opened to the room. The man was tall and lanky, dressed in a purple suit with a green shirt and orange vest. His face had a long, pointed chin with skin as white as paste. His hair was as green as seaweed, and his crimson lips were forever molded into a wicked smile.
The Joker strode into the room, taking the familiar dwelling in. His evil visage was present in every direction he looked. From pictures on the walls, to busts on the counters, to the specially designed drapery, to the shape of the fireplace, everything in the room pointed to the master villain whose ego was as big as his insanity. “Ah, it’s good to be back home in my little Ha-Hacienda!” he exclaimed.
“Good to have you back,” Southpaw said, standing to offer up the seat at the head of the table. “I called the gang together just as you requested, boss.”
“Ah, good old Southpaw,” the Joker said, spinning the chair around so its back faced the table. “If a guy can’t count on his left-hand man, who can he count on? Ha-ha-ha!” Stepping over the chair with an exaggerated gesture, the master criminal plopped down in the turned chair. He propped his arms up on the back, resting his chin upon his folded hands. “So, are you boys dying to find out what I’ve got in mind?”
They had all worked with the man often enough to not answer the question as it was worded. If they did, they just might find themselves on the receiving end of an explosive cigar that would blow their heads off. “Knowing you, boss,” Blue Eyes finally said, “it’s bound to be a wild ride.”
“Wild ride, indeed!” the Joker squawked. “You been peeking into my head, Blue-Blue? I don’t think that’s wise, though. The shrinks at that cursed Arkham keep trying to, but it’s me who ends up messing with their heads, instead! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
The Joker grasped the end of the chair back and vaulted himself up onto the table top. He kicked at soft drink cups the gang members had been nursing, sending them flying through the air. “No time for dilly-dallying, my faithful followers! Time to gas up the mobile Ho-Home and pack yourselves a change of underwear! We’re going on a road trip! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
The three men rose from their seats — when the Joker asked you to move, you moved. Knowing their boss, though, they could only imagine where they’d end up this time and what the caper might entail. With the Joker, every trip was like a spin on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and about ten times as deadly.
About fourteen hours later on Interstate 70, the garish green motorhome barreled down the highway. Southpaw and Blue Eyes were sound asleep in the back; Tooth was behind the wheel of the big rig, while his boss sat amusing himself with a joke book in the passenger seat.
“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Wooden leg named Smith! Ha-ha-ha-ha! An oldie but a goodie!” Every now and again, the Joker would burst out laughing in his usual insane laughter.
How the guys in the back remained asleep was beyond Tooth. They had to be using earplugs or something, he surmised. He noticed a billboard sign whiz past in the vehicle’s headlights. What he read concerned him slightly. “A hundred miles to Central City,” Tooth said, repeating what the billboard had said. “That’s the home of the Flash! Don’t tell me we’re heading there!”
“OK,” Joker chuckled. “I won’t tell you! Ha-ha-ha-ha!” The clown prince of crime noticed the expression on his driver’s face change. “Oh, relax, Tooth! Don’t go all pale on me! We ain’t going all the way to the Flasheroo’s hometown. Just keep your eyes on the road, and I’ll tell you where we’re turning off!” The Joker then went back to his joke book.
Tooth turned back to the road and clenched the wheel more firmly. He knew his boss was insane, but to go up against someone like the Flash was crazy even for him. He sincerely hoped that the clown had something else in mind.
In a rather large factory on the edge of a town called Bookerton, two men dressed in gray uniforms made another circuit of the darkened warehouse. “I’m so glad you scored us this job, Benny,” said the shorter, stockier of the two men. He had reddish-blonde hair. “After that last one at the museum, I didn’t think we should stick to doing security.”
“Nonsense, Marv,” said the taller, brown-haired man. “It wasn’t our fault that he happened to show up to make our lives miserable again. I’m sure it’s all been coincidence.”
“Coincidence?” Marvin Fargo asked. “Yeah, right. More like a cosmic joke. He’d rather like that, wouldn’t he?”
“Ah, you’re just talking crazy,” Benny Khiss said.
“He’d like that, too!” The two men continued their patrol, shining their flashlights ahead of them along the darkened shelves. “You know, he’s been to blame for us losing our last couple jobs. I’d hate for that to happen again.”
“Not likely,” Benny said. “This is a temporary gig at best. Old man Galighar’s closing up this place in another week or so. Word is that the place’s fallen on hard times, causing him to file for bankruptcy. The whole company’s gonna have to liquidate all of its assets in order to pay off its debtors.”
“Oh, great!” Marvin exclaimed. “So we’ll be out of work again.”
“Yeah,” Benny agreed. “But it’s a paycheck until then. Plus, it adds to our resumes.” His light beam continued to bounce around. “Not like we’ll be able to blame — the Joker!” His light had stopped on a large inflatable punching bag with red hair, a red nose, and a huge grin.
Marvin jumped slightly. Then he realized his friend was laughing. “Oh, really funny, Benny!”
Khiss stopped chuckling. “It was! You’re so skittish about the Joker! Thought you could use a little scare.” He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I mean, really, what would bring the Joker halfway across the country to a little place like this?”
Marvin’s eye grew wide as he was looking past his friend. His mouth dropped, and his lower lip quivered. No words were coming from his mouth, though.
“Marv, what is it?” Benny asked. “You having some kind of attack or something?” The shorter man shook his head violently no and thrust his finger outward to point. Benny spun around, his flashlight beam darting out ahead of him. His beam joined Marv’s shaky one to settle upon a shocking sight.
There stood the Joker, in his full glory, right in the middle of the Galighar warehouse.
“Benny! Marvin! What a wondrous surprise!” the Joker cackled with delight. “How’s about a hug for old times’ sake, hmmm?” The villain spread his arms wide as he stepped toward the two guards. From his palms were barely visible two short, pointed items.
With his free hand, Benny reached for the holster at his side, drawing forth a pistol. “Freeze, Joker!” the ex-Arkham guard warned.
“Ooh, I’m so scared,” the Joker said mockingly. “I know when I’m not wanted. Catch me if you can, boys! Ha-ha-ha-ha!” He started to prance off into the darkness, his maniacal laughter trailing in the air.
Benny Khiss took after the man, leaving Marvin in the dust.
The brown-haired guard spun around the corner, hearing the Joker up ahead of him. He shined the light upon the man who stood next to one of the many shelving units in the warehouse. “Give it up, Joker!” Benny said.
“You’ll have to shoot me, Benny,” the Joker dared, “that is, if you’ve got the guts! Though if you hit me, I guess you’ll have my guts, too! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
Benny realized he had no options here. The Joker was a wanted man, surely escaped from Arkham again. The villain had murdered and stolen more than anyone else in Gotham City. Benny would be a real hero if he took the creep out. He smiled at the idea, took aim, and fired.
His flashlight fell at the first shot, bouncing onto the floor. Still, he kept on firing. How could he miss at this range? The laughter stopped. Then there was a hissing sound, followed by the sound of exploding cans. From the darkness, Benny was hit by something. It splattered about his body and face. The surprise knocked him to the ground.
The laughter started again and drew closer. A purple-shoed foot kicked away his gun, sending it skittering underneath some shelving units. A purple-gloved hand grabbed the flashlight and raised it up. “Poor Benny!” the Joker laughed as he turned the light downward. The guard was covered in white sticky material that held him down to the floor. “All tied up, I see! But what can you expect, eh?” The Joker turned the light back to the shelving unit where he’d been standing before Benny shot at him. There were dozens of punctured cans, while a few remained on the shelf. “Silly string’ll do that to you! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
The Joker swung the large flashlight back down, clocking the man on his skull. That laughter would still be ringing in his head when he woke up hours later.
The clown prince of crime whistled Put on a Happy Face as he strolled back through the warehouse. He soon came upon a trio of men very familiar to him. “Well, boys, did you take care of my old friend, Marvin?” he asked.
“Sure did, boss,” Southpaw said. He gestured toward a large cardboard box where two legs, unmoving, were hanging out from the top.
The Joker sauntered over to the crate, reading the label. A bigger smile crossed his face. “I see you’ve got him making whoopee with those cushions! Too bad there’s not a beautiful woman for him to be with. Ha-ha-ha-ha!” The men laughed, even though it was one of their employer’s lesser attempts at humor. When you worked for the Joker, he decided what was funny. It wasn’t wise to disagree with him.
“Well, as much being around all these novelties has been fun,” the Joker said, “it’s time to locate old Galighar’s office. That’s where we’ll find what we’re after!” The trio of thugs fell into line behind their boss.
Meanwhile, already up in said office, a figure moved around in the shadowy darkness. The lack of light, however, did little to impede his progress as he worked upon the safe in the wall. These infrared goggles work like a dream, the man thought. I wonder if they make the x-ray variety as well. He continued to carefully manipulate the tumblers until the last one clicked into place. Bingo! He popped open the safe and began to unload the contents into a sack.
Just then, he heard the sound of laughter coming from down the hall outside the office. It sounded like a sick hyena. Not good, thought the man. He continued to empty the safe quickly, just in case.
Suddenly, the office door blew wide open with an explosive blast. The man ducked behind the desk in enough time to avoid being hit by splintering wood. Light flooded into the room, making it difficult to see with the infrared goggles. He discarded them quickly, trying to allow his eyes to adjust to the light in the room.
He glanced up and saw a shadowy outline in the doorframe. It was rather distinctive. Tying it to the laughter he heard before, the man knew who it was standing there. The Joker! he thought.
Suddenly, the lights flew on in the office.
The clown prince of crime looked about at the setting. The painting that had covered the wall safe was propped up on the floor near the desk. The safe itself was open and nearly completely empty. “Well, well, well, boys,” he said rather dejectedly as he entered the room. “Looks like someone’s beaten us to the punchline!”
With his sharp vision, the Joker noticed a bit of blue material on the floor trailing behind the desk. He took a couple of long steps toward it, all the while saying, “I guess we might as well take off before we’re–” He stomped his foot down hard upon the cape and whirled around the desk. “–discovered!”
The Joker started to laugh upon seeing who the cape was attached to. It was a blond man in a blue domino-styled mask. The cape was attached to an orange-and-blue-striped tunic with puffy, yellow-striped sleeves. The tights he wore on his legs were orange-striped, and his blue shoes were like those of the kind that elves might wear. “Well, bust my buttons! Look who we have here! It’s the Stinkster! Ha-ha-ha!”
The costumed villain tugged on his cape, pulling it out from the underneath the Joker’s shoe. The Trickster rose to his feet. “Hey, isn’t this a little far off the beaten path from Gotham?” the rogue asked. “Don’t tell me that Batman’s driven you into the heartland, green hair!” He slowly started to reach with one foot for his sack, which had fallen near the leg of the desk.
“This clown can take his show on the road anytime he wants!” the Joker said, defending himself. All the while, he kept a careful eye on the villain. “So, tell me, Trickler, what brings you to this factory of fun and frivolity? Stocking up on your little wacky weapons? Hmmm?”
The Trickster snagged the bag under his left toes. “I could assume the same thing, now, couldn’t I?” he said. “Tell you what, I didn’t see you, and you didn’t see me! That way we both get what we want, and no one’s the wiser!” He flipped the bag into the air.
The Joker lunged over the desk, snagging the sack in midair just inches before it hit the rogue’s hands. “Say, whatcha got in the bag, bucko?” he asked. He stuck his hands inside to find the sack was full of packets of hundred dollar bills. “Oooh, cold, hard cash! Always a good investment — easy to unload.”
“Give me that!” the Trickster said, grabbing for the bag. Suddenly, he heard three safeties released as the Joker’s gang aimed their guns at him. “On second thought…”
“Oh, lighten up, blondie!” the Joker chuckled, tossing the sack back into his face. “So old man Galighar’s been hoarding some of his cash here! Figured maybe he’d be able to keep some money free and clear before the IRS cracked down on him! Smart thinking! Ha-ha-ha!”
“So you don’t want the money?” the Trickster asked. “What did you come all the way out here for, then?”
The Joker rolled over onto his side, reached over the side of the desk, and grabbed the picture frame. “I came for this, old boy!” Hoisting the two-foot-by-three-foot painting into the air above his head, the Joker laid back on the desk and held the painting up at arm’s length, marveling at it. “Seems old Galighar enjoyed a decent piece of artwork as well as a good laugh. This baby of his is a priceless work of art! It’ll look exquisite when added to my own personal collection!”
The Trickster attached the sack to the blue satchel he had slung over his left shoulder. “Priceless art in the office of a novelties factory,” he said. “Who would’ve guessed?”
“Nobody but me!” the Joker laughed. “Now I don’t have to worry about this little precious piece of canvas and paint ending up over the bed of Ma and Pa Kettle after it’s sold at the auction for a fraction of its true worth.”
“All that way for a painting,” the Trickster said. “That’s crazy!”
“Eh?” the Joker said.
“Yeah, crazy or genius!” the Trickster added. He lunged forward, slapping a pair of handcuffs about the clown’s wrists. “And I’ll take this off your hands!” He then snatched the painting from the surprised criminal.
Joker suddenly felt the cuffs contracting, drawing his two hands tightly together. “Stop him!” he barked as he fumbled with the confining rings.
“I’m gone!” the Trickster yelled as he smashed through the office window and leaped out into the evening sky.
Although the office was three floors up, the rogue didn’t drop to the ground. His signature air-walker shoes kicked in, keeping him aloft as he ran off into the night sky. The Joker’s men continued to fire at him in his wake. “Ta-ta, boys! And, Joker, thanks for the gift!” Tucking the painting under one arm, he reached for something in his bag of tricks, then circled back around. “Here, let me leave you with a little something!” the Trickster said as he chucked an object toward the broken window.
“Duck!” Blue Eyes yelled as they dived back across the room.
The Joker barely had time to roll off the edge of the desk and hit the floor before the wall near the window exploded. Dust from the brick and mortar filled the air.
“Everyone OK?” Southpaw asked. He heard confirming coughs from the others. “Boss?”
The Joker emerged from the floor, having found a way out of the trick cuffs. He tossed them aside in disgust and then walked toward the exploded wall. In the fullness of the evening autumn moon, he could barely make out the silhouette of the man running away in the air. His foot brushed up against something in the rubble. He bent down to pick it up. It was the head and neck of a novelty rubber chicken.
He frowned slightly. “Boys, back to the vehicle — fast!” he said flatly. “We’re going to retrieve what’s rightfully mine!”