We really couldn’t believe our luck.
we were, sitting on a beach—in Florida, no less—and
(this was the clincher) it was Hell Month, and we were miles from Gotham.
For the first time in living memory, the
big old coin in the sky had landed in our favor. We sighed happily,
lying back, basking in the sunshine. Apparently, this was quite cold
for The Keys. It was heavenly for us.
You might think it odd that a wanted criminal with characteristics such as ours could lie on a crowded beach in the sun without fear of arrest or deportation. It is easily explained, however.
Key West is an island. It is a small island. As one local put it: “Honey, (she called us Honey), there ain’t nowhere to go to get away from folks, so you better learn to live with them.” We believe this whole Live and Let Live attitude results from a great mixing of cultures. Spanish, Cubans, pirates, all living in close proximity with no choice but to tolerate the other guy’s food, music, attire, or propensity to wreck ships, claim their cargo as salvage, and auction the booty in the local square. A similar attitude pervades the dank old corridors of Arkham, but it was nice to find it somewhere other than an asylum for the criminally insane.
That history of piracy and wrecking may also explain a certain rebel spirit that looks askance at authority and views what some call criminals with a more liberal eye. Indeed, Eddie claims that, on his first visit, the landlady at his bed and breakfast knew her guest was the notorious Riddler, but didn’t care. His worst characteristic, in her view, was that he was “a Yankee,” and that regrettable character flaw can be overlooked so long as you hand over your Gold Card at regular intervals.
Naturally, however, as we lay on the beach, none of that mattered. As ashamed as we are to admit it, Sly had been temporarily forgotten. We felt our limbs, aching from hours in the stolen BMW, begin to warm and loosen. We sighed again, listening as the waves softly crashed into the shore.
Our happiness was broken by snickering. In fact, no, this was less of a snicker and more of an outright giggle. Instinctively, and without opening our eyes, we reached to our left and punched Jack hard in the side.
“What wazzat for?” he whined. “Has Eddie discovered I switched his suntan lotion for cooking oil or something?”
We opened our eyes, ready to give Jack yet another lecture. In front of us stood two impossibly muscular blonde haired lifeguards, each trying to stifle a laugh behind well-toned hands.
There was an awkward pause as we tried to ignore this blatant rudeness. The men continued staring at the three of us.
“Can we help you gentlemen?” we asked, becoming increasingly exasperated.
“L’Anglais en vacances,” said muscle-bound moron number one to muscle-bound moron number two. Two, for his part, gave up any attempt at stifling his chuckling, throwing back his head and laughing. He was joined shortly by his friend. We were outraged.
“Gentlemen! We’re not English!” we said, hoping that the tiny amount of French we knew hadn’t failed us. The two laughed even more as they walked away.
We looked over ourselves, Jack, and Eddie. We were wearing swimming shorts. One half was white, made of figure hugging spandex. The other half was black, made of coarse feeling nylon and was much baggier. Eddie wore a body length green swimming costume dotted with little black question marks. He still wore his eye mask. It wasn’t actually a swimming costume—he had simply managed to shrink his regular costume in the wash whilst on Iceberg hiatus. Joker wore outlandishly large goggles with a snorkel attached to the side, flippers, armbands and extremely small purple speedos with a tiny yellow smiley face on. His skin, white as marble, looked satirically out of place in the surroundings.
We had absolutely no idea what the David Hasselhoff fan club had meant.
We resolved to not let it trouble us, reasoning that we were on holiday and should enjoy that fact.
“OK. I’m gonna go swim with the fishies. Just like so many of my victims before me. Heh. Tanning ain’t really my thing,” Joker said, waddling theatrically toward the sea in his black flippers with a slapping sound as the plastic met the sand beneath. We couldn’t help but think of Oswald. “Don’t you boys do anything I wouldn’t whilst I’m gone. So, that means writing ‘ass’ in sun tan lotion on some sleeping loser’s back and pissing in the shallow end are most definitely good to go! HAHAHAHA!”
Eddie growled as he watched him go.
“I always did wonder who did that to me at Penguin’s last pool party. Hugo told me it was Ubu, but I was far too keen on my life to ask.”
“Never mind, Eddie. People forgot about it. Eventually.”
Eddie shuddered despite the heat from the sun. Apparently, for the Keys, this is quite cold. We believe that’s something people from Florida say to make us mainlanders feel better about our subarctic climate.
“Anyway, Harv. That’s not important. Have you given our little quest any thought?”
What with the Nightwing problem, we realized, we had actually given Sly surprisingly little thought.
“Yeah, loads,” we answered.
“Let’s hear it then.”
“Oh! Uh… well, we’re... gonna need four ski masks, a really large cotton sack, some kind of baton…”
“Proving once and for all that the old adage ‘Two heads are better than one’ is not applicable to those with two faces.”
We decided not to tell him that Jack had
switched his lotion. He continued:
We had visions of Joker threatening to kill all of Sly’s new clientele with Smilex-laced custard pies unless he came home. It was our turn to shudder.
“We don’t know, Eddie. What if Sly doesn’t want to speak to us? Maybe he finally had his fill of sweeping up shattered glass from the skylight and cleaning blood from tables? Maybe he just wants a normal life—and who are we to try and take that from him?” Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t keep a bitter tang from our words.
Eddie glanced over at us knowingly.
“That’s a lot of questions, Harv. And speaking as someone who is very well-versed in that particular art, I’ll say this: A question needs an answer. If only for piece of mind. If you don’t go and speak to Sly, you will never know what might have happened. You will always curse yourself for not having at least tried. What have you got to lose? Answer—nothing. But you’ve also got everything to gain.”
We sighed. We hated it when Eddie went through this Mahatma Gandhi routine. He had a point, though. And his plan wasn’t too bad, we supposed. We and Sly had always got on well. In many respects, we had been each other’s bastion of sanity in The Arkham Asylum Bar and Grille, otherwise known as The Iceberg Lounge.
Our musings were broken by a commotion coming from the water. We sat up.
Joker, armbands and all, was floundering pitifully in the water.
“Uh, guys… I’ve just remembered—I can’t swim—Heh, heh, heh gurgle splutter.” He broke off as he began sinking underneath the salty foam and his mouth began to fill with water.
We shrugged, and laid back down. Sighing heavily, Eddie dragged us up by the arm until we were both standing.
“What?!” Two-Face asked him incredulously, more than happy to let the little shit drown. He gave us a glare. We looked over at the sinking clown. His hand was the only thing visible now. His fingers were counting down from five as they do in cartoons to signify how much air he had left. We sighed, Harv winning this particular moral battle. “OK. OK.”
With that, we both ran to the water. After a few minutes struggling, we emerged carrying the deranged, and no longer breathing, clown on our shoulders. We threw him down on the sand.
Eddie crouched at his side, pressing an ear to Jack’s chest.
“He’s not breathing!” he pronounced. Eddie’s crowning moment was when he appeared as an extra in E.R.
Within seconds, one of the Hasselhoff brothers had appeared. Attached to his ankle was one of those stupid little red life buoys that all lifeguards seem to carry. Pointless in this case, as Jack was on dry land, but we were not able to point that out as the buoy had skipped on the sand and smacked us in the face.
Ignoring us, the lifeguard dropped to the floor. Taking a moment to do a couple of press-ups (much to the glee of some of the female observers), he looked up at me and Eddie.
“Do any of you know the kiss of life?”
“Hell no!” we said, stepping backward. We do actually know it (when you play games like we and Ivy used to, you need to), but definitely not in this case.
“In that case, I’m going in,” said the lifeguard. We turned away, wincing.
“We never—and The Joker means NEVER—speak of that incident again,” Joker said, sitting on the corner of his hotel bed, a serious expression on his normally cheery features.
We and Eddie nodded. That was more than fine by us. Joker’s shrieking upon waking could easily have been mistaken for whales mating and may have short-circuited the Gulf ecosystem for at least a month.
“I would rather have died than endured that,” Joker continued to rant. “He should have known that. Hence, a suitable revenge has been arranged. Don’t think that you will escape punishment just because I enjoy tormenting you both. If you mention it, ever, to anyone, I’ll carve a smiley face onto your foreheads with a shovel. And that’s just for starters. Suffice it to say that Smilex will be involved in some shape or form.”
We nodded meekly. We are glad that Eddie did not point out at this point that, ever since the 1960’s, Key West has been famous for its free and welcoming attitude towards homosexuals. Indeed, the brochure Eddie had read claimed that the area was ‘a closet with no doors.’ We doubted Jack would have seen the funny side of it. For once.
Suddenly, the door of the room burst open, almost flying off its hinges.
Framed in the doorway was Tom Blake. Catman.
He looked for all the world like a feline version of Norman Bates. His clothes were unkempt, his hair also. His eyes glittered dangerously at us, the psychotic gleam more prevalent than usual. His face was framed in a scowl The Bat would have been proud of. Atop his lip, which had disappeared into a menacing little line, sat his handlebar moustache, curling upward at the edges. This had the most disconcerting effect of reminding us of the horns atop Satan’s enormous forehead, but we quickly dismissed the comparison. Blake was turning far redder than the Dread Lord could probably manage anyway.
He pointed one shaky gloved finger at us. We actually felt a twitch of fear tugging at our chest. We had never seen the little furball this angry, and he was surprisingly intimidating.
“You…” he managed to rasp huskily, still pointing at us, “You accursed deuce… you left us at the side of the road… with a man who goes by the undoubtedly stolen name of ‘Billy Bob Jonah Jim’… For my money, that defies all normal confines of Western society in that he has two first names too many and one last name too few… Anyway—it turns out that not only is Mr. BBJJ an unwitting follower of Fascism and the Neo Nazi movement, he is also…”
Catman shuddered here as if the recollection was painful for him—he continued, swallowing hard as he did so.
“A dog lover. As if that situation were not despicable enough by its own merit, he then proceeded to tell me that whenever the chance came by, he would run over cats in his truck. And seeing as how my friends had taken his truck—how I quarreled at the use of the word ‘friends’ as illustrated by the same brazen act of treachery he took issue with—he would be forced to take out this particular cat with his bare hands. Naturally, I paraphrase and censor the more obscene sentences.”
Catman took another step into the room, still pointing at us accusingly.
“I attempted flight. But for a man of such dubious moral character, he was surprisingly swift. I attempted to blend into a nearby hedge, hoping the potent incantations in my cloak would create a chameleonlike effect. Unfortunately, however, BBJJ appears to be immune to my magic,” said Catman, gesturing to a previously unseen nasty looking bruise above his left eye. “After a long and exhausting run, I realized I had managed to lose him. It was no surprise, of course. I once tracked a lioness for three days as I felt I needed a new rug. This was nothing but a stroll along the asphalt for an athlete such as I. From there, it was only a matter of time before I managed to commandeer the use of a car from a local yob. You were easy enough to track down, of course. Most of the locals were only too happy to tell me where I could find a man with two faces, a man adorned in question marks, and a man dressed like a clown.”
“I knew we should have bought those fake moustaches when we had the chance!” said Jack, slapping his forehead in disgust.
We turned from him to Blake, swallowing nervously. Joker’s gag had only infuriated the mercurial toff more.
“Tom—we’re sorry—it was the coin—we flipped it—you know how things go…” We didn’t get a chance to finish our half-hearted (literally—Two-Face was proud of his part in proceedings) apology as Blake sprang at us with a roar.
We began rolling around on the floor of our hotel room, leveling punches on each other with neither combatant gaining the upper hand. Then Eddie and Jack joined in. It wasn’t clear who they were supporting, but the vase, ornately carved antique wooden chair, and complimentary shampoo bottle they threw into the swirling melee didn’t really help either man.
Moments later, the shotgun-wielding hotel proprietor politely asked us to leave. We did.
This was actually the second hotel we had been asked to leave. The first was La Concha Hotel in the downtown area. You may have heard of it—it was made famous by Tennessee Williams, as it was here that he rewrote ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ into the famous play that we all know and love today. A plaque on the wall in the lobby also claimed that this hotel had seen such famous residents as Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote. It seems to us that everywhere in The Keys has a Hemingway story attached to it.
Still, there is no doubt that a musty yet delicious air of history hung over that hotel. Understandably, they didn’t take too well to Jack turning his bed into a trampoline and we were asked to leave.
Consequently, we found ourselves out on our ear for a second time. We and Catman had declared our contest a draw; it was the only conclusion that would not result in more fighting and Blake stubbornly refused to flip for it.
We reached the third hotel, stepped into the lobby, and announced to the assembled rogues that it would really not be suitable. Out of principle, you understand.
We eventually settled for the fourth hotel we came across. It was a little shabbier than the other three, but by this time, we were all so tired that we just didn’t care so long as we could get some shuteye.
We can confirm a rumor: Joker does tell jokes in his sleep. And if you thought the jokes he tells while he is awake are bad, then you haven’t heard anything yet.
Let’s put it like this. Of his dormant repertoire, that one about the octopus and the barman was by far the best one of the evening. We shudder at the thought.
Our merry band walked through the crowded town square enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells that lent this beautiful place its character. It was getting late, having spent the day on the beach again, fortunately this time a lot more uneventfully. For city slickers like us, we cannot begin to explain just how wonderful lounging on a beach is. There is simply nothing like the warm grains between the toes to put us in a good mood.
Being able to wander around or merely hang around in broad daylight was also wonderful. Not having to look over your shoulder every five minutes, not listening intently for the sound of a batarang flying through the air or a siren.
We’re not going to claim we don’t deserve retribution for many of our actions. Half of the time, when I let things slip, we are a ruthless cold-hearted murderer. That’s a terrible burden to live with, but it’s one I face up to on a regular basis. It was nice to take a holiday from that too, I suppose. A break from the violence, hatred and anger was just what I needed.
You’re probably wondering where Darth Duplicity was during this. We had managed to pacify Two-Face with promises of bikinis and tan lines, and he was far from disappointed. We insisted on buying a pair of sunglasses, however, reasoning that if he was going to leer, we didn’t want people to see it and think we were one and the same. It is an easy mistake to make for the uninitiated.
The evening soon dawned. A red sun sank into a dark sea, the night sky orange and immeasurably beautiful. The nightlife in Key West really has to be seen to be believed—we can’t accurately do it justice, so we’ll leave it to your imagination. Suffice it to say: wild is an understatement.
We had reasoned that we would go off and find Sly whilst the rest of the gang would go and entertain themselves elsewhere. Maybe we weren’t thinking straight when we came up with that plan, too busy concentrating on being persuasive to realize the obvious problem with it.
Joker, Riddler and Catman… In a new city? With no-one (i.e. us) to keep them in check? As we would realize later on that evening, the plan had not been one of our better ones.
At that moment, though, we were far too buoyant to be worried. It was a beautiful evening, Batman and his temper tantrums were nowhere in sight, and we would soon be reunited with an old friend.
We asked a local woman for directions. After the initial and expected shock of our appearance, she was most helpful and courteous in explaining to us just where Sly’s bar was. She even offered to draw me a little map. We politely declined, thanked her with a warm smile and a peck on the cheek, and wandered off.
As we walked down the cobbled streets, we marveled at the encounter. We are pleased to report it is typical. Everyone around here is so incredibly nice! We can imagine why Sly likes it here.
It’s like we always say. Nice people plus nice people equals a cacophony of niceness that is simply wondrous to behold. Well, we always say it when we are drunk, anyway.
We reached the bar with little difficulty. We laughed slightly as we saw it. It was very normal on the outside in terms of bars, the only thing to distinguish it was the word ‘Sly’s’ in red lights. We were glad to learn he hadn’t changed that much; he never had been the most inventive of fellows.
We sighed heavily. It was now or never. The whole damn point of our trip rested on our shoulders! Now was, in fact, the moment.
We dusted ourself off, inspected our teeth for
spinach in one of the car’s wing mirrors, dabbed at our hair, took one last long
determined breath, and pushed open the door of Sly’s bar.
To be continued…