sevens! Go fish!” Joker said,
we’re playing poker,” we said, through gritted teeth.
he said, his grin fading slightly. “Sorry,
Tutu!” he said brightly, an innocent smile on his features.
Eddie smacked our hand away as we reached over to strangle the clown.
Since Oswald was busy interviewing for a new bartender, Eddie
was feeling daring enough to return to the Iceberg, despite Oswald barring
him a mere day before.
“Question. Should we put up a sign or something advertising our little sojourn or did you already have a small group in mind?”
We regarded Eddie evenly, pondering his question before answering. We had always liked Sly. He was a well-needed breath of normality in an otherwise completely abnormal bar. His departure had hurt us, and we were not going to let him swan off to the Florida Keys without a fight. We had resolved to go to the Keys ASAP and ‘bring our boy home.’
Our resolve had been strengthened by the stand-in bartender: Hugo Strange. Admittedly, he would only be bartender until Oswald appointed a replacement, but we had already run through mental scenarios where he became permanent. The thought was too horrible to entertain. We needed Sly.
We answered Eddie’s question after some thought.
“We think it’s probably for the best if we limit it to as few as possible. We’re less likely to get into trouble that way.” Despite trouble being inevitable, we thought ruefully.
“Well, that’s settled then,” piped up Jack with a characteristic grin. “Harv, you’re Murdock. Eddie, you’re Hannibal. I’m Mr. T, cos I’m a bad Mammajamma…”
“Shut up, Jack,” we spat irritably. “As we’ve already discussed, Eddie’s going because he knows the Keys. We’re going because, other than Selina, we probably have the best chance of successfully persuading Sly to come home—” Joker motioned to say something. “—Without resorting to bloodshed,” we said firmly. Joker sat back down. “And you’re going for two reasons. One: when the chips are down, we’re going to need someone to punch to relieve our frustration. And Two: well, frankly, we can’t figure out how to get rid of you,” we said, grinning wickedly.
Jack swallowed hard, laughing nervously. Suddenly, his grin broadened. He was looking over our shoulder.
“I think we may have ourselves a new candidate for punch bag of the trip,” he said, giggling slightly. “And so I said ‘you must get out of that wet magic cloak and into a dry martini!’ HAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh sorry, Catman, old chum, didn’t see you there…”
We turned, a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. Sure enough, Tom Blake was swaggering towards us. We groaned. This wouldn’t end well.
He and we haven’t seen eye to eye since that incident that resulted in him being blackballed from rogue socials. We regarded each other with barely disguised contempt.
“Mister Blake,” we managed to snarl, with a conciliatory nod.
“Messrs. Dent,” he said, with a nod. We snarled in anger. He ignored us and bowed low.
“Gentlemen. One could not help but overhear your animated conversation.”
“And we’re sure you tried so hard not to,” we snarled, bitterly. He continued, ignoring us.
“I understand you good fellows are on something of a hunt. Well, what better man for the task than I? In words men of your obvious intellect might understand, I wish to join you in your attempt to return Sly to the bar he managed so magnificently. What say you?”
“I dunno, Tommy. The Keys are a pretty wild place. You don’t wanna risk spilling anything on that magic cape of yours. It must cost a fortune to dry clean, what with trying to not wash off all the magic and all…”
A collective snigger. Eddie and we exchanged a quick high five. We should explain: Tom Blake is what the ladies, in their gentile manner, call a ‘witless dickhead.’ Our favorite example of this involves his Catman costume. It is made, so he claims, from some mystic fabric taken from a hidden temple in the jungles of wherever he used to shoot things. He says it gives its wearer the nine lives of a cat. We say it makes its wearer look like a witless dickhead. Jack is particularly spirited on the subject, and we shall never forget the time he introduced Blake to Harley. Predictably, he told her the old nine-lives bit within the first minute (witless dickhead that he is), and Joker, who’d been waiting for it, hopped onto a table and sang Coat of Many Colors from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Blake regarded Joker coldly, fiddling with his handlebar moustache irritably.
“Joker, you, sir, are lucky that the incident of which you speak ended as it did. If the salsa dip you attempted to ply my cape with had indeed made contact, it could have had grievous consequences for the world as we know it. Such is the mystery of the magic of the ancients. Power that should not be mocked by the likes of you.”
We stifled a guffaw. He fixed us with a glare. We batted our eye-lid at him. He shrank backwards in distaste.
“There’s only one way to settle this,” Eddie said, diplomatic to the end. “I propose a vote. If you think Catman should accompany us on our quest, then raise your hand now.”
Catman raised a hand. Eddie looked around, deliberately ignoring him.
“No-one? No takers?”
Catman jumped up and down on the spot, arm waving.
“Damn you, Edward, you damnable deuce! Catman wishes to accompany you!”
“Catman do, huh?” we said, thoughtfully.
“Isn’t that a dance of some kind?” Joker asked, looking up from attempting to tie Eddie’s shoelaces together.
“It’s actually a place in Nepal,” Eddie said, kicking him away.
We laughed. Suddenly, however, the laughter died on our lips as we spied Hugo Strange behind the bar, attempting to pour a Guinness.
Hugo was not concentrating on his task. Magpie was sitting at her customary stool, studying with intent the jeweler catalogue that lay open in front of her on the bar. Always in search of a new look, and most often turning to MTV to find it, she had recently hit upon Britney Spears as the style that would boost her to notoriety. Sadly, she had chosen to wear a particularly low cut top, one that revealed just about all there was to reveal to the bartender as she leant forward. Hugo, for his part, was staring intently at her cleavage, a line of spittle snaking downwards from the corner of his mouth, through the filthy jungle of beard, culminating in one growing blob near the bottom of his chin.
We watched, the whole group mesmerized, feeling time slowing to a crawl, watching the fetid lump of phlegm dangle agonizingly from the dirty beard that may once have been white, but was now a particularly revolting shade of grey. Not yet willing to relinquish its grasp on the matted hair, the saliva hung desperately to one strand.
All eyes were on that one strand, hoping against hope that it would assist its load in defying gravity just long enough. Hugo reached with a grubby hand for the glass, ready to slide it down the bar to KGBeast. We gasped.
The phlegm had begun its fall. The hand inched closer to the glass. The spittle seemed to be gaining in velocity, speeding towards KGBeast’s Guinness with unerring accuracy, the inevitability of it all making our heart ache.
At the same second as Hugo’s fingers gripped the glass, his spittle dropped. It landed with a delicate splash in the frothy head of the pint. We looked from it to KGBeast in perfect horror. The poor sap was pounding away in frustration at a Gotham-themed slot machine. Hugo slid the drink down the polished bar surface with a practiced wrist action. Looking for some kind of liquid consolation for his woes, KGBeast grabbed the pint glass in one huge hand and took a long swig.
We looked away, unable to bear it.
He turned to look at our small group, feeling our incredulous collective gaze, a look of puzzlement on his face. Even Jack had been stunned into silence. We looked from KGBeast’s confused eyes to his drink and back again. His brow furrowed further.
Jack, ever the diplomat, wandered over to him, looking for all the world like a condemned man might on his way to the gallows. He motioned for the beast to come closer. KGBeast lowered his massive head. Conspiratorially, Jack whispered into his ear. KGBeast’s jaw dropped. To conclude, Jack patted him sympathetically on the shoulder. KGBeast didn’t appear to notice. He had not moved since his jaw fell, a look of pure horror on his face.
Jack moved away, not wanting to face the inevitable painful wrath. But it never came.
The same expression of horror on his face, KGBeast walked over to us. The sweat was pouring from our brow. KGBeast’s temper was infamous in these parts.
He clapped a monstrous hand on either of our shoulders. It is for just this situation that we always carry our will on our person. If you are reading this, and we have expired—hopefully heroically—then check our breast pocket.
He looked at us with eyes that spoke of untold sadness, and said in a shaking voice,
“Find Sly. Quickly. Death imminent.”
There was an awkward pause. Unsure of whether he meant his death, Hugo’s or ours (and not willing to find out), we nodded and shooed our motley crew (Tom Blake included) out of the door.
Key West, here we come.
To be continued…