Man, I always hated Gotham. It's foggy, so you need to struggle to see anything anywhere. It rains, so when I'm stuck on a rooftop, waiting for hours on end, all I hear is the rhythmic water torture of droplets on my mask.
But I'll tell you what, I love Gothamites. The people who live in Gotham City are an ever present reminder of what it takes to push someone over the edge. In a city filled with psychos, weirdoes and degenerates, it's easy to forget that a lot of normal, everyday-type folks live and work here. And it's even easier to forget how thin the divide is between those two types of people.
Take Hiram Watts, for example. Nice guy, works hard in an office somewhere and makes a decent wage. Lives in a nice, safe area and locks his doors at night. Gives his daughter fifty bucks one day and lets her go and pick out a nice dress for herself. Five hours later, he's going down the morgue to identify her body.
Turns out The Joker thought it'd be a gag to kill Mall Cops, rather than actual cops, for an afternoon. Not his best punchline. So he causes a little hell with his freaky lapdog, Harley Quinn, to get 'em to come running. Quinn sprays automatic fire into a crowd. Six injured, one old lady has a heart attack, and little miss Watts is shot in the hip.
Good shot, right? Non-lethal? Horse crap. The bullet strikes her in the hip bone and ricochets up, tears through half of her vital organs before it pops out her jugular. She's dead in seconds. But seconds is a long time.
So now a moderately wealthy man is sitting around his home with a hefty college fund and no kid to blow it on. So what does he do? What they all do. Something stupid. He pays me a cool million dollars to pop Quinn, with express instructions to make it dirty, and make it personal.
What's life without a little risk? So I start asking around the dive bars in the Narrows, and quickly find that every faceless goon in Gotham knows where the Joker bases. Whether it's because he takes on anyone who asks, or so they can stay as far away from him as possible, I don't care.
I camp out on the abandoned warehouse opposite his, and start scoping the tiny windows for a while. It's hard to separate fact from myth with Joker. When he's not chasing the Bat's tail or shacking up in Arkham, nobody really knows what he does. People say he just sits there and plots, others say he eats little kids, and others say he doesn't eat at all, all the junk in his blood just keeps him going.
The junk in his blood is a big problem. Normally, I'd just kill anybody around the target, but Joker's big. A year or two down the line; I could make a billion dollars for plugging him. You gotta think in long-term investments. Can't poison him or drug him, either, because none of that works with his screwed-up blood. So I've decided to go for good ol' rubber bullets. Classic.
By the third hour, I'm thinking about Quinn. It's rarely advisable to think of targets as people, but Harley and I go back. Not so far back that I won't kill her, but far enough that I'll give her a stray thought before I do it. We both served in Waller's Squad a couple years ago, even knocked boots once or twice. She wasn't bad. A complete loon, a homicidal psychopath, but who am I to judge?
I've seen her get attached to people, I've seen how she reacts to people she considers friends. She trusts folks too easy, and she'll kill for the people she trusts. God knows how she fell back in with Joker, probably the same way I fell back into my business. Old habits.
Four hours, thirty-seven minutes, and one of those big, dumb-looking goons gets blown out the window by a firework. The window is a few feet too small, so he gets squeezed out like toothpaste and loses a few limbs while he's at it. The firework blows and red-stained confetti drifts down slow. I ignore the distractions, the noise, the light, the maniacal laughter that chirps out the window, and I watch for the skinny freak in the purple suit that I know will come to inspect his handy work.
He grips the window sill, broken glass hardly felt in his palms, and starts cackling as soon as he sees the corpse. I imagine it must be hilarious if he's laughing like that. God damn, I hate the Joker's laugh. He's got a big nose, and it makes a great target. The bullet strikes right where it should, and he does a perfect pirouette as he falls. Moe would be proud.
"Whassappened to the baws?" one of the slack-jawed idiots asks from inside.
I'm over on the roof of their base, spying inside with thermal scopes. Ten goons, two hyenas, and one target. It's almost too easy, is something I never let myself think. I plant a minor thermite charge, and when it sparks up, it gives off enough heat to sear through corrugated steel like butter. There's shouting from inside as molten metal rains down on them.
"It's Batman!" they shout.
Batman. They should be so lucky.
I get a running start and dive in, don't even touch the flaming edge. I've left my rifle on the roof, my wrist-mounted ammo is all lethal. I'm not playing around today. The first two goons get it in the chest and go down easy. New guys. You can always tell them because they come charging at you, they think they got something to prove.
The smart ones go for weapons, a shotgun blast splits the ground beside me, and I return fire, but I've got much better aim. While I've got my back turned, some uppity thug thinks it's funny to hit me in the skull with a baseball bat. I lose focus for a second, and then something hits me in the ribs hard enough to launch me into a wall.
When my vision clears, I see what hit me. And it's wearing a jester costume. Dang, she has great legs.
Keep it together, Floyd.
"Deadshot." She barks. She can be very commanding when she wants to be. "Long time no see."
"Yeah, Harley. Thought we should catch up. Talk about old times."
"You here on Waller's orders?" One of her eyebrows arches beneath the domino mask.
The goon hands her his baseball bat, and I can see it's wrapped in barbed wire.
"'Fraid not, babe." I start to stand, and everybody in the room takes a step forward, "You killed a girl in that mall job you pulled a while back. Her daddy's asked me to do you."
"You already did-"
"Not like that."
"Oh. Well then I'm gonna have to turn you down, Floyd. I got an allergy to bullets."
"I find most people do."
I aim and fire in one fluid motion, but dammit if Harley Quinn isn't fast. She catches the bullet in the head of the bat, does a cartwheel in the air, and kicks my hand away before I've even registered I've missed. In a second, she's on me. She jabs my chest with the splintered end of the wood, and puts me on the defensive. She swings and I block with my gauntlet, but while I'm focused on her, one of her big goons bodyslams me into the frigging wall.
I get groggy, and in the time, she swings for my face again and breaks the bat in two on my jaw. I lose balance for a second, and the big guy grabs me by the scruff. Before I know it, I'm thrown into the centre of the warehouse. Somebody's gathered up Joker's limp body, and the six henchmen in the room form a ring around me, blocking my way with guns and machetes and crowbars.
Harley gathers two snapping, snarling hyenas at the end of their chains, and starts calling "Yah! Yah!", stirring them into action. The ring breaks and the two hyenas are set free, racing right for me. Their maws are frothing as they pick up on my adrenaline rush. Their muscles pulse and spring in a perfect symphony of murderous intent. Their jaws open, preparing to snap on whatever part of me they can get. At the same time, they leap, and I put one hand behind me, sink down into a crouch, and fire.
The big guy, standing at my back in case I escape, gets a hail of bullets in the leg, and he collapses. I roll quick under the dogs, and when they land, they're so distracted by the smell of fresh blood they couldn't give a damn about me. The biggest, toughest guy in the room wails like a little girl as Bud and Lou start tearing chunks out of him. The rest of the gang are scared now, and none of them even think to come at me. I look from one to the other. Then I look at Harley.
Harley doesn't scare easy.
She gives off a scream, not a girlish shriek like big boy, but a roar to rally her troops, and she charges at me with nothing but a Bowie knife in her hands. You have to admire tenacity.
I'd have shot her right then, but one of the thugs swung a machete at me, and I instinctively dodged when I saw the movement in my peripheral. I kicked at his leg as he went past, and Harley collided with me, driving the knife into my shoulder, hard. I can't get my guns in position or she'd be leaking her guts right now.
I try to manoeuvre her so I can get a grip, but she twists herself and the knife at once, spinning over my head and wrapping her legs around my neck. My air supply cuts off and I get brought down to the floor. She's wearing heavy boots today, I learn as she strikes with a kick to my face as quick and as painful as a snakebite.
Another ass thinks he'll look tough if he gets a sneaky shot to my ribs, and I'm driven back into the centre of the rapidly-dissipating ring. The rest of them move in quick, none of them try to shoot because they'll never get a clear shot in all this. Kicks and minor stabs come raining down on me, and I can't catch my bearings.
I'm a man who likes things clean, I like clean shots, straight booze, simple stuff. But I can get dirty when the world gets dirty at me. When I'm there, and six gang members are working me over on a dirty warehouse floor, I don't think tactical, I think wild. I fire blind, and I hear a guy scream as he falls.
He blocks someone's path and gives me a second to wrench that damn knife out of my arm, then I can stab it into some idiots foot while he's gawking at me. He leaves half his foot on the floor as I tackle him, firing behind me without looking. I don't think I get any good shots in, maybe just a couple of flesh wounds.
I finish him with a shot to the head and turn back to the crowd as they rush me. Harley pulls a rifle out of someone's hand and starts firing on us. I keep my attention on her, instinct blocking the strikes from her cronies. When she pulls the trigger, I grip some skinny guys wrist as his knuckles are an inch from my head and I pull him into the path of her bullets. The next guy comes at me with an axe and I shoot him in the elbow. His weapon is too heavy, then, and everything below the wound falls off in one clean motion. He goes into shock immediately.
Three guys left, a gaunt little junkie, and two guys who look like professionals. These are the sort of guys you get through the henchman's union. Smart guys. I plug one of them in the face as we stare each other down, and the other two come at me quick.
I block with my bad arm, and instantly realize my mistake as the pro breaks through the block like it's nothing. He rings my brain like a bell, then drives his knees into my guts over and over, winding me. His final uppercut sends me to the ground, and I swear this is the last damn time I'm going down here. I'm losing blood fast and he's just given me an opening, so screw this derring-do crap. I put up my hands, even though it hurts like hell to do so, and I shoot those bastards down fast.
My head starts swimming and mine is not the sort of mask you want to throw up in, so exhaustion gets me for a second. It only takes that second for Harley to pick a Glock up off the floor and step over to me. She throws one leg over my waist and sinks down. It's like old times, up until she buries the barrel into my throat.
"You ain't killing me today, Floyd." She says. It's that simple for her.
"It…" I struggle a little. Damn that knife cut deep. "It's nothing personal."
"I take it kinda personal. Now, you're cute, but you just put down a couple a' Mr J's best men. So I'm gonna have to blow your brains out for that."
"And yet you sit there and talk."
"You know me," she gives a sweet little smile, "I never know when to shut up."
"That's not it, Harley. You know you did wrong killing the girl. You don't kill kids. You're a cold, vicious bitch, but you don't kill kids." What am I doing? Trying to appeal to her humanity? That's a new trick, Floyd, write it down.
"Yeah, it wasn't right what I did. But I gotta lot of crap I ain't proud of. I just add it to the list."
"You're lying." I growl. If I don't finish this fast, I'm going to pass out, and then she'll give me to the Joker to deal with, "This one's come back to bite you. You're wondering if you're right throwing your lot back in with The Joker."
"I ain't got much time for introspection these days, cowboy." She retorts.
"Yeah? Well let me just clear the issue up for you right now. You're wrong. You're hesitating. You've gotten sloppy. And I bet, I bet he's noticed."
She cuts me off by pistol-whipping me across the face. Then she does it again, then again. It continues for a solid sixty-second beating, and though it bruises me and it makes me bleed through damn near every facial orifice, it wakes me up a little.
"You shut your mouth, you bastard!" She brings the butt of the gun down again, "You don't know nothin' about us! Nothin'!"
"I do my homework on marks, Harley." Either I'm reaching her or I'm losing her, it's hard to tell with Quinn, "I know what you've been up to. You been back with him for damn near a year now, and the only person you've killed has been an accident. Tell me, does that sound like Harley Quinn?"
"Who are you to talk about killin'?!"
"The best." I thought she'd smile at that, instead, she just gets angrier. "I know it's fun to kill, kid. I know it's easy and I know how it makes you feel. And I've seen how you get when you kill, god damn if you don't love it. But doing it for the Joker? You're getting cold feet. It doesn't feel right and you know it, babe."
"Is that why you haven't put me down yet?" She talks through gritted teeth, "Because it wouldn't feel right?"
I paused. Shit. Forgot that there was still a psychiatrist behind that greasepaint. She just diagnosed me. Mother of…
"Ha. Gotcha, Floyd."
She buries the gun further into my chin and her finger dances on the trigger. I can't think of what to say. I can't say anything. This crazy broad is going to kill me!
Then I hear it. I hate that sound. I love that sound. Hell, I'll take it.
The Joker starts laughing.
In the shadows, slumped in his big, ugly clown-shaped throne, Joker gives off a raspy chuckle and Harley perks up like a meerkat.
"Heh heh…Did anyone catch the number of that…?"
I punch Harley in the gut and throw her off me. Then I've got my legs under me and I fire a grappling hook back out the entrance I made. The Joker roars and fires blindly, furiously, after me. But I'm already gone.
It's two hours and forty cigarettes later before I can go to face Watts. He's got a bottle of bourbon on his desk and his computer has got two lines of some business report written on it. He's probably been working on it all day.
He spins in his chair, there's some kind of sick, resigned glee in his eyes when he hears my voice. He's been crying. Man, I hate when they cry.
"Did you…is it done?" he begs.
"I didn't kill her, Watts." I see the anger boil in him, so I salvage what I can. "I did what you said. I made it personal. Harley's been off her game lately, a year ago, I wouldn't have been able to walk into that warehouse without her dropping me. Today I killed ten of The Joker's best men. He's not going to be pleased with her for letting me live. He's going to be the one to do her in. When he does, that'll hurt her so much more."
The glee is still there, but it's the same as it was when he first hired me. Restrained, unrealized, waiting to bloom. He knows this is better, but he's not satisfied. You gotta think long-term investments.
"I'll take five-hundred for the job. Get your daughter a nice bouquet."
I can't describe what he shows next. There's rage, but there's the practised patience of a businessman, the pain of a lost father. The lingering fear of a drunk with problems. Hell, I'm no shrink, this isn't my job.
I take the bottle off his desk and pour myself a glass, and then I take the glass with me when I leave the room. When the door shuts behind me, I can hear him sobbing. I roll my eyes and try to decide if I was lying about what would happen to Harley. I decide it's not my problem.