Clown to the Left of Me

June 09, 2018:

Harley Quinn reaches out to Jessica Jones on the matter of the missing Owen Mercer.

Gotham Arms, Gotham City

More like the gangrenous Gotham Arms. Yikes.

Characters

NPCs:

Mentions: Owen Mercer, Joker, Danny Rand, Emery Papsworth, Claire Temple, Tim Drake

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The worst part of Gotham City is especially creepy at night, and it's not where one would expect an operation like Trask Industries to own much of anything. And indeed, on paper, it doesn't. The building is a subsidiary of a subsidiary with some incestuous revolving door board member Tomfoolery, with some shipments running in and out that make one Jessica Jones think it might be of interest.

Not the main event, not the facility she thinks might hand her a smoking gun of illegal and dangerous weapons work ready to come live to a Suburb Near You that she can shove at the media for fun and profit, but something related enough that she thinks she might find another nail for the coffin people are trying to build for this place just inside.

It sure has better security than your average crappy building in the crappy part of Gotham.

Jessica Jones has never learned how to pick a lock or defeat an electronics security system. Usually she doesn't have to. Usually she just breaks the door. Simple. Effective. It lets people know someone has broken in, but it's quick. Today it's not an option. She's on to her fourth and final door, a mag-lock sealed metal thing that exerts force several tonnes heavier than her considerable strength allows for. Someone planned this facility with meta-humans in mind.

Which, great. Fantastic, faboo, it means there's probably something in there, but how's she going to get to it? The woman's mouth twists in an expression of annoyance as she yanks futiley up on the handle once more, then blows out her cheeks. Where there's a will there's a way, so the saying goes, but it's clear this ain't her way.

[Enter Harley Quinn, stage right.]

Well.

It’s less of an entrance than a ringing in Jessica’s pocket.

A hundred years ago - or last month, it’s hard to remember okay - Quinn received a card. A card for a private investigator. The blonde had left it in her coat pocket for weeks before she remembered it was there and threw it in a drawer. It took her a few days after getting home to remember it, and to remember where she’d put it.

She remembered eventually.

Poor Jessica.

The cheap burner phone in the clown’s hand rings, feeling like it’s vibrating at its own frequency in the universe. Out of time and space, painfully slow.

“C’mon,” she mutters, her voice hoarse. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.”

And if it goes to voicemail, she’ll hang up and call again. Over and over and over until it takes.

"Shit!"

Jessica leaps a good half block from the building and slams into a dumpster. Garbage flies over her.

"Augh! God damn it!"

Such a smooth break-in, this.

She should have turned off her phone.

"Jones!" she barks into the phone, almost like she's addressing herself instead of answering the phone. "I mean this is. Jones. Hello. Alias. Investigations. How can I help?"

She's not getting this client, she bets.

She’d lose that bet, and Quinn would happily relieve her of the proceeds. Particularly after losing all her drinking game money nearly a week prior.

But there is nothing that Jessica can say really that will deter the petite blonde, although she is lacking much of her usual luster.

“Oh, good!” She croaks the words, but one might assume they’re content about this current turn of events. “If ya’ were serious about findin’ things when we met up,” she begins, not introducing herself at all. “I need ya’ to find a body. Like, a living body. Not a corpse. Not that I suppose it’s impossible could be a corpse at this point, but I’m kinda hopin’ he’s not because that would make for a really lousy week. And since last week was really lousy already, I was kinda hoping you could spare me two lousy weeks in a row.” All of this is said in a voice that makes her sound like a two pack a day gal, with all of the coughing in between that could support such a theory.

“I mean, it’s not, like, extra if it turns out to be a corpse, right? Because that wouldn’t be my fault, and it seems really unfair to gouge a gal who really didn’t want a corpse in the first place and got one anyway.”

"Uh."

True facts. Jess meets a lot of people.

But also true facts. This isn't really the first phone call she's gotten that's gone kind of like this.

"Alright, slow down," Jess says at last. She leaps, and now she's having this conversation on top of a building she wasn't trying to rob. She pulls out her earbud, shoves it in her ear, switches to that mode, grabs notebook and paper.

"We've got a missing person's case," she prompts. "What's your name, and who's missing? I'm sure we talked before, but I can't identify you from your voice or the number."

Patient professionalism takes back over, despite the inauspicious opening.

“Uh.”

Well, for a gal who is actually pretty darned good at creating a plan when she sets her mind to it, Harley didn’t actually think this one through. Id’s been doing the driving, and this seemed like a decent enough place to start.

Until right now. In this moment.

“If I say Harley Quinn, are you gonna hang up on me? Because, seriously, I wouldn’t recommend hanging up on me.”

A pause as the clown on the other end bites her lower lip and then curls her knees up a little tighter where she’s denned up.

“Really, please, don’t hang up on me.”

Another pause.

“I mean, cause I’m not interrupting, right?” Not that Harley cares.

"Q. I remember you. No, I'm not gonna hang up on you," Jessica says, and her tone gentles just a little bit. Maybe it's the last bit, where Harley begs her not to hang up. Maybe it's something else again.

"Who you looking for?" she asks.

Granted, if Harley says Joker Jess might hang up. Or she might not, it's hard to say, depending on what the actual circumstances are.

Whatever the case, Harley has her attention now.

And a certain measure of relief paints her tone as she’d not only identified. Well, let’s just call it relief for lack of a nearer approximation.

“It’s this guy I’m sorta seein’,” Quinn explains in her raspy voice, although there is something in her voice that’s not exactly comfortable. “He kinda up and disappeared on me, which whatever. But it’s a really… uh, bad time to do that kinda thing.”

“I mean, I don’t care that he disappeared. Seriously! I ain’t…” Does it matter? Why does she care what this other chick thinks? She doesn’t! She doesn’t. “Look. It’s just one of those ‘it’s complicated’ sitches where I need someone to put eyeballs on the guy. He’s been off-grid for somethin’ like a month. It could be nothin’. It could be somethin’. I jes’ need t’know he’s not rottin’ somewhere, and get him to keep his guard up.”

There’s a pause, and then she adds helpfully: “I solemnly swear to not kill him myself! Clown’s honor. Well, er, uh. I promise, anyway.”

She starts laughing, but then it just resolves into a long cough and a small bit of wheezing. “That was meant to be a joke. Of course, I’m not going to kill him.” Beating the hell out of him for making her resort to this is not off the table, however. “Probably.” Also, that.

“I got a Bat kid ‘seein’ what he can do’, but I still ain’t heard from Mercer, so…”

“Mercer?” Jess asks, startled. “As in Owen?”

Quinn’s the mysterious girlfriend. Jess takes a moment to picture that romance. Actually, no, it kinda works.

“Alright, well, he’s a friend of mine too. A month you say?” Jesus, has it really been that long since she saw him last? Then again Jess’ caseload can make it hard to keep track of people.

“When’s the last time you saw him? And you got an address for the place he’s crashing these days? He’s not always squatting over at Rand’s, right?”

“Who?” The cluelessness that comes through the phone sounds remarkably genuine.

Take it easy on your throat, the doctor had warned Quinn upon release from her clinic, tucking the admonishment between a hundred other instructions. The banged up blonde was never going to be able to comply.

What follows is an example of why, as Harley rasps her way along a monologue that invites reply but never actually makes room for it. “I mean, yes, Owen Mercer… (You know him? How do you know him?) But who’s Rand? Is that, like, his girlfriend’s house or somethin'? Oh my gawd, that’s not a wife, is it? I know, I know! Different last name. But a perhaps surprising number of women are choosing to keep their own last names after their nuptials and I, fer one, feel it’s important to empower these women with whatever the hell they want to feel that they have preserved their autonomy and power in a society that is most certainly not engineered fer their benefit.” That’s rich, really, coming from her. “But, really. Wife? Not that it would matter, because… well, I mean, I’m not exactly in the ‘fit to judge’ category about what one does in their off time and then there’s the fact that I mean, really, is monogamy the best fit for everyone? There are plenty of people who do just fine—”

Down the rabbit trail she goes, not even bothering to try to stay on topic.

“Um. No. Rand is a dude and I think Owen is straight. So just a friend. He just has a big place.”

Jessica Jones sits, bemused at the freight train that is Harley Quinn, and tells her the same thing she once told Owen when he freaked out about finding her card in his girlfriend’s stuff.

“I meet an awful lot of people in my line of work. Look, do you want to meet in person? I need to ask you a few questions. I need to look through Owen’s shit. You seem like you could use a friend right now.”

Maybe having Jess there in person will calm her down and keep her a little focused? Or not, but she needs to look through Owen’s shit, regardless.

The interruption brings an uncomfortable silence from the other end.

“Uhhhhh,” the clown offers as her highly intelligent first response, and there’s the sound of something unwrapping on the other side. Then the sound of a cow chewing cud as the harlequin shoves a giant cube of purple gum into her mouth despite the wince that it draws to her features. “…I don’t know that you wanna do that, Jones.”

It’s perhaps one of the most considerate things that Quinn’s been able to offer Jessica in their brief interactions - a formal pretense of concern.
What it is, precisely, that the detective should steer clear of? A little vague. A, B, C, D, or a little bit of E) All of the above.

Meet in person? Or look through Owen’s shit?

Either way, Jessica pinches the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger.

“Look,” she says, tired. “If it’s criminal shit, I probably have less room to talk than you think.” These days the litany of crimes she has committed, is committing, follows her everywhere. Good reasons, bad reasons, dubious reasons, she is slowly starting to condemn herself as a criminal.

A criminal who helps people maybe, but a criminal all the same. Somewhere she lost that sense of being some righteous, heroic detective. Still a detective, but not at all clean.

“If it’s his porn collection I’ve probably seen worse. How was he doing with the drugs? Still clean or did he slip off the wagon?”

Because the disappearance could easily be a drug thing.

“He’s a friend, Q. I want to find him.”

“Hi, bad guy. Really don’t mind draggin’ you into criminal shit. …Because pretty much all of my shit is criminal shit. So, really, I don’t think ‘criminal shit’ is a particularly helpful label! I mean, that could be a whole lot of different shit. It could be libel. It could be deadly assault with a mackerel. Which happens way more often than you’d think in a town you gotta share with the Penguin. It’s more… ‘who is gonna see you here’ reasons.”

Another pause, and then a dark mutter as she does refocus. “And no, I don’t think he is. Was. It’s not like he…” She trails off, only to resurge with a sharp veer in an entirely different direction after a hacking cough.

“Does ‘friend’ come with a discount on services? Because that would save me a lot of wheedlin’ and finding a mutually agreed upon favor that I could do instead. Because, hi! Don’t really get judgy about the work.” And yet another brief pause brings more clarification: “I’m slightly less helpful than I was a week and a half ago, but I’ll be back to normal in no time flat. But free is better! If free works fer ya.”

“I maybe can use a favor, but we will go with free for now,” Jess says gruffly. She needs to make sure this facility has a payoff before sending Harley in there…

Actually, no, there is a bigger one. “There was an evidence heist I was going to ask Owen and another friend on. If you wanna join me on that. But not mandatory. I’ll find him for free. Go ahead and tell me where you are, Harley. A detective has plausible deniability to be anywhere almost.”

Which is true.

“Why were you in XYZ part of town? With Q person? Because I’m asking questions in a goddamn missing persons case. See? Easy.”

Gently: “I’ll be okay. Let’s get him found.”

Besides, some questions are better asked in person. Such as a list of potentially relevant ones about his criminal records.

A call comes through as she speaks. Emery. She lets it go to voicemail for now.

It’s not that easy, and Harley knows it. But, for now, the blonde lets it go. Beggars and choosers and shameless abusers of trust…

Because she is perfectly willing to take someone else’s stupidity as a reason to absolve herself of any responsibility. It’s really more reason than she usually has to absolve herself of anything ever. …because she rarely feels the need to be absolved. Or responsible. It's kinda helpful that way.

“Ya find Mercer in one piece, I can swing a favor,” she allows, however. “We’ll let Dame Fortune figure out who gets the good day.”

Unseen on the other side of the phone conversation, Harley peers out the corner of a window from the apartment she occupies - most decidedly not her own - to the street below. Content, she pulls back.

“Ya know where the Gotham Arms is?”

This is such a bad idea. SUCH a bad idea. So, of course, Harley is growing increasingly committed to it.

—-

"I can find it. I'll be there shortly."

Jessica Jones is herself a past master of bad decisions. She probably ought to take the warning and refuse to go. She probably is digging herself in ever deeper with people she ought not associate with. Of course, there's a reason why she sticks to certain types of problems.

If there's a murder, a kidnapping, a person being heinously abused or controlled against their will, a potentially city-block-to-world-ending crisis? She's on it.

Some petty thievery or drug deal? She's going to keep walking. Her own past as a petty thief all but guarantees it. And now she's mixed up with terrorists, is sort of glossing over that fact with a whole lot of people who are important to her, and isn't sure anymore who she is, only what she has to do.

Right now she has to go to the Gotham Arms, because the longer the phone call progressed the more she felt strongly she needed to go in person. So she programs her GPS and takes to the air. Not that she knows what this is. Some sort of hotel?

The Gotham Arms, Jessica will soon find, is a rundown apartment building in one of many bad parts of Gotham. Garbage-filled gutters and grimy windows. A neighborhood filled with other rundown buildings and the sort of people who will absolutely leave you to bleed to death in the former if they see you through the latter.

And downstairs, leaning in the frame of the front door and half hidden in the shadowed interior, a harlequin in an oversized hoodie that hangs off her frame like a blanket with her hood pulled up, a beat up and baggy pair of cotton pajama pants, and bunny slippers.

It might be harder to tell that it’s even Quinn, save the glimpse of a pale chin and her pigtails poking out of the hood to lay in front of her shoulders.

Whoa.

And Jess thought Hell's Kitchen was a mess. She settles gently next to Harley, though, murmuring, "Alright, I'm here. You okay?" She looks even more scared than she sounded to Jess on the phone, or maybe just forlorn, in that hoodie, in these surroundings.

"Do you two live here?" she asks. "Or is this just some place you…"

Words kind of fail her at this point. She maybe expected a bad neighborhood, but this is a level deeper than anything she's necessarily wandered into before, and certainly not the kind of place where she's encountered someone she had shared a conversation with.

Flying. Huh. One eyebrow in a face that looks partly sunburned arches.

“Yeah, it’s home,” Quinn tells her, the nasally quality to her usual tone lost beneath the smoker’s croak. Her head tilts backwards into the space as she slowly pulls herself off of the door frame after a quick once over of the flying detective. “Most of the time.”

“Let’s getcha inside and upstairs before anyone sees ya.” She’s slow as she walks up the stairs, taking her time and holding onto the rail with a bandaged up hand. The other hand, her right, stays plunged in the hoodie’s pocket. “You tell anyone I brought ya here, and I’m gonna deny it.” Over her shoulder, she coughs and then explains. “The neighbors are… Well. Let’s just make sure ya’ don’t meet the neighbors.”

It’s slow going, but after a handful of flights, Quinn ducks out of the cycle of stairs and moves towards a door. “‘m upstairs, but this is B’s place. Been crashin’ here a couple of days.”

She’s picked the lock as she was certainly never given a key, but it doesn’t really matter anyway. The place is mostly empty the other woman will find when Harley opens the door and steps aside to let Jones in first. There’s a whiskey bottle on the counter by the sink. A cheap comforter balled up from where the jester has been nesting on the bed.

The shades are drawn, but for Jessica’s benefit she flicks on the lights.

“He ain’t been here.”

Really, it's a doorway into some level of world Jessica hasn't discovered yet, and even as part of her blanches with concern? The other part of her files it away. This is a place where she could come, break a lock, and find shelter and a place to hide if she needs it. Other places like it exist. Now she knows.

No knowledge is ever wasted. She pulls up her own hoodie as she follows Harley up the stairs, and she looks around her surroundings. "Was he ever here? When is the last time you saw him?" She had asked before, of course, but Harley had been in a state.

She's hoping, here and present and demonstrably on the case, with a notebook and pen in her hand (two things which get produced shortly) she can get the details from Harley she needs to actually do this thing.

Was he ever here? When Harley turns around from closing the door behind them, she pulls back her black hood to reveal the full weight of her suspicion. “Is… Is that, like, a trick question? If it's his apartment, wouldn't he… have… been here?”

Shuffling to the bed, Harley gingerly alights herself back onto it and curls back into her blanket. There are the dark circles under her eyes and a few scabbed over patches of skin, and a pointed refusal to acknowledge any of it. She lies on her side, already winded.

“I mean, it’s not usually this empty,” she continues, “but I always jes’ thought he was wanna one of those spartan types, yanno?”

"I wasn't sure what you meant by he ain't been here."

Jessica stares around. Jesus. He lost his job, so of course he doesn't have much money if he's going straight. Yet this is a genius who can stand in Stark's laboratory and make all kinds of shit. He'd mentioned he was having money problems, but this…

"It's going to be okay," she tells Harley, as she pulls on gloves and starts going carefully through Owen's things. "Where were you the last time you saw him? What did he say? Did anything unusual happen?"

She watches Harley, with her refusal to acknowledge anything. She seems ill. "Q," she says quietly. "If someone needed. You know. Some medical care. Discrete medical care. I know a lady."

Harley laughs. What was once boisterous and obnoxious peals of amusement is a crackling. “Ya shoulda seen me a week ago! This isafter a doc got ahold-a me. I’ll be fine.”

She laughs again, low and slow, but doesn't share the joke. She looks and sounds more than a little unhinged for a moment, But she soon refinds herself. Focuses.

There really isn't much for Jessica to go through, but Harley just watches.

“Last I saw of him was right after a job we worked. A few weeks ago, maybe? A month? I… I ain’t the best calendar, sorry.”

She lives in a vortex where trivial things like what day of the week it is matters less. Where it's harder to care about tracking it.

One huge carousel ride.

-

"What kind of job? And this is a nurse. She won't hurt you. Because it looks like this Doctor sure did."

Jess finally turns from looking through Owen's things, concluding there's not much but a lot of nuthin' here, and settles down beside Harley.

"Did the job go badly? Come on, Q. Any details you can give me will help. You look awful, okay? Let me call Claire. She's super-cool. I will stand right there and make sure she doesn't do anything that hurts you if it makes you feel better. We'll have to take a car but I can get you there."

Because her concern is growing.

“The doc did ‘er best,” Quinn says, although she’s not particularly certain why she feels defensive about that fact. Hauling herself back up into a sit, her head drops between her shoulders to level a deadly serious expression in Jessica’s direction. “I nearly got cremated, and it just takes a minute.”

There’s a shallow sigh that follows, Harley’s pale and shadowed gaze narrowing. “The job went fine, and that’s the problem. I suckered Mercer into helpin’ me screw the Ex over. And that’s a capital ‘E’ ex. We got what we needed; Mistah J figured it out. And I gotta figure out if Boomerang’s about to end up in a fun house he ain’t ready for, or if he ended up there already and we’re just lookin’ fer the funny reflection. Because I don’t know how much Mistah J actually knows. Or if it’s even about the stupid job.

There’s a pause, and then the clown looks absolutely disgusted as she pulls the comforter up tighter and curls underneath it.

“I jes’ know I ain’t got anyone else to look fer him, and I ain’t no good to him right now.”

A rare moment of poorly expressed guilt. Cherish the sight. Or at least something close to it.

Right.

Jessica Jones stands there and absorbs all of this. Finally, she takes out an unopened package of Marlboro Reds. She tap tap taps them against her open palm, gets rid of the cellophane, pulls a fresh one and sticks it in her mouth. Cue lighting up.

She takes the longest of long drags on it and says, "Ok. Where was this? Tell me exactly what happened. No details left out. From the moment you started this till the moment the two of you parted ways. Sure, it might not be about the job, but that's an important stone for me to go turn over, Harley. It's one of say, four probable causes for Boomerang to go off grid."

B. Boomerang. She'd been thrown by 'B' when Harley had first used it, but she remembers now, that Mercer is saddled with a ridiculous nom de plume that Jess herself keeps ignoring.

She finds a wall to lean against and starts smoking. She keeps the notepad, the pen, both nearby, just to take an odd note or two.

If he got grabbed it doesn't seem likely he got grabbed here though. She's at least not seeing any blatant signs of a struggle, and she feels like Boomerang would struggle. She briefly checks her phone, visual voicemail being what it is, and notes, "His friend Emery just asked me to find him, too."

Harley Quinn, for what it’s worth, appreciates Owen Mercer’s dedication to a theme. Because, of course, she does.

But here, in the now, Quinn screws up her face. “Who’s Emery?” She knew she’d been cut out of a large part of Mercer’s overall life, but this constant smacking with the details of that fact really stinks.

“And also: no. The job is the job is the job. I may got no honor, but I do got rules. Namely, don’t do nothin’ that risks the prize. Can’t talk about it. Nothin’ doin’.”

A pause as she considers, and then ultimately decides: “Yeah, no. That’s off-limits.”

Irritation sparks in Jones' eyes. "I don't—"

No. Wrong approach.

Her head tilts from side to side for a moment as her mouth tightens. She sucks in a deep breath through her nose and flares it right back out through her nostrils.

"You're going to have to consider me part of your crew, then. Whatever you did to the Joker? I don't give a shit. This is a missing persons case. Guess what? They get harder to solve after the first 48 goddamn hours. We're now 28 days worth of hours past that. I don't care about the prize. I need details or I got no leads. If I got no leads, I got no way to find Mercer."

“You had more than you did ‘fore I called!” Quinn protests weakly, her jaw setting petulantly. “I gave you an” empty “apartment, an” ancient and vague “evening out, and a possibility for why he’s not missing but he’s dead.”

From out of the blanket, a pack of gum comes. A piece of crayon-bright purple gum is extracted and shoved into her mouth for Harley to chew upon in agitation. “You don’t understand, and I can’t explain it to ya’. There are some things that ya’ jes’ don’t talk about.”

One eyebrow draws up well into Jessica Jones' hairline.

The other draws deeply down.

Her lips purse around that cigarette, and she draws back a little.

All-in-all it is a very expressive, silent, seriously? As Harley Quinn explains to her how good the leads she's already got are. Like she's not even going to dignify that with an answer.

Instead she says, "No, you don't understand. The chances that we're going to find him dead in a gutter go up the longer you dick around. So if that's what you want, sure, by all means, hold to this stance. If you want me to actually find the guy? Spill. You won't shock me, I don't care, and I'm sure as fuck not going to go to the goddamn police."

“The cops? There are worse things in this city than the cops.”

Finally, finally, Quinn comes to the conclusion that perhaps this was a terrible mistake. And it makes her both angry and frantic, but it’s an impotent sort of energy that can neither pull her hair or throw things. It can’t hit, or break things.

“And ya’ don’t think ya can do it? Fine. Fine. I’ll jes’ do it myself.” She has oono idea how, but she’s hardly about to allow sheer desperation stop her.

To that end, the blonde starts the process of getting back off the bed, dragging the comforter with her like a cape. It’s slow, and draws more than one angry hiss as she has to put her hands more firmly down.

“I knew it was a long shot anyway,” she coughs and waves a dismissive hand in Jessica’s direction. “No harm in tryin, right?. Now I can say that I gave it that old college try. Which… is a phrase I never really actually understood. Because, I mean… Isn’t it more like that old college pass or fail? There’s not a whole lot of room for jes’… trying. Unless yer in the arts department, I guess. Those kids get away with murder. Well. Not actual murder. That’s a different course of study. That they don’t really teach on campus—”

In a moment of fury that is rare these days, Jessica's hand darts out, and for one dangerous moment it looks like she's going to try to grab Harley's arm. She stops herself at the last minute, closing her fist instead.

But the fury stays on her face.

"Alright, Quinn," she says instead. "You do…whatever. I'll still be trying to find him, but I guess my next step is kicking down the Joker's goddamn door so I can shake him down and ask him. Which. You know. The direct route isn't always the worst one."

No doubts she can find Joker either. Finding people is what she does, and Joker isn't missing. Just, presumably, somewhat uneasily accessible.

Of course, it could still be drugs. Something weird, unpredictable, and interdimensionally. It could be whatever has sealed his criminal records. But this frustrating exchange still represents what Jess sees as a strong possibility.

Might as well rule it out.

“Don’t you dare go near Mistah J, unless you are certain that Mercer’s on the list,” Quinn growls. Which she immediately regrets. “You could put B on it if he ain’t already, and that…”

She also regrets the way that she flops herself into a sit on the floor in the rag doll way of old habits despite the way that it hurts, but this time she just folds up in such a way that her head can nearly settle on her own lap as she pulls the blanket up over herself.

Because this is clearly the most mature path.

Underneath the blanket, Harley has her privacy to lose her brain all over again as she starts to overload. It’s tears, and anger, and unsettling smiles. Because what the hell else can she do at this point?

Jessica Jones rubs a hand all over her face. Alright, there's a good point. She should surveil the guy, not kick in the door.

But now there is a woman-child making a blanket-fort of tears on the floor.

Jess finally just sits down opposite her. She drapes her elbows over her knees. She smokes. She doesn't say anything for the moment. There are times when she has been able to tap into some big-sisterly instinct to say the right things to people.

But Harley is a case that's so far beyond anything she knows how to handle.

She decides to throw out another alternative. Quietly: "Let's talk about other possibilities. You know who his dealer is?"

The answer doesn’t come immediately. But the young psychotic on the floor does turn bandaged hands in stranger circles unseen as they are rerouted short of their desired destinations on account of not actually being able to easily grab things or twist the cloth of her hoodie around her fingertips.

“No,” she confesses mournfully, wrists curling subtly around themselves as part of the dance that speaks to her desperate desire to be thinking about something else. Anything else. It’s not working.

“He—”

That was the forbidden subject. The one she was only ever brave enough to face down with him the once.

It hadn’t gone well.

She didn’t repeat it.

And now it’s coming back to haunt her, another decision gone wrong. Quinn should have pressed in, not backed down. Instead, she’s here with peripheral and superficial things that don’t help.

“We—” Don’t talk like that.

“No,” she repeats, less strident than before.

"Okay," Jessica says.

Quietly. "You know what's going on with his criminal records? Why they're all weird? They don't usually seal adult records like that, but his are sealed. You know why that's the case?"

The only comfort she can offer is questions which point to alternative theories she might be able to develop about his case. Alternative lines of inquiry.

Ultimately, she realizes that Harley's only source of useful information may be that Owen is missing. That neither she nor this awful excuse for an apartment have any answers to give her. That she's going to have to trace steps another way.

There's his old gang, too. Also a possibility.

Under the blanket, Harley just laughs. It’s a cackling full of despair, despite the wide eyes that lift to peer out from the blanket at Jessica.

“Because the Devil does as it pleases to make sure that you stay in Hell.

The blonde falls sideways, rolling onto her back and setting the comforter along the floor. She starts to spread out arms, but thinks better of it partway. They draw in instead, tucking against her chin and putting both bandage-wrapped hands under her chin as she coughs her way through more laughter. Back she goes to her side, where it's easier to catch her breath.

She is so useless. So helpless to do anything about this. And growing only more frantic and desperate as she claws for whatever will help provide some anchor point in the wake of the run-in with her ex-sweetie.

None of this is working out like it was supposed to. Just like always, she finds herself trapped with the hooks of past decisions still sunk deep. This is the hazard of freedom—the dark underbelly that no one talks about.

Freedom is a lie. A terrible joke with a rotten punchline. How they all claw for it anyway. And how could Jessica ever understand the camaraderie of dead men, so reviled and unvalued that they’re so often all they’ve got? And even then…

Harley laughs harder, until she’s just a pile of huge wracking coughs. This officially sucks.

“The devil, the devil… ruling her kingdom of ash,” Quinn wheezes in singsong before declaring: “Joke’s on her. Ash can’t march.

A mad sounding clue, but a clue all the same. A woman. Someone powerful enough to have those records sealed. A kingdom, which means something way bigger than Owen.

“Alright, Harley. Alright. I’ll find him, okay? Look, this place is bleak as shit. You wanna stay with me until I do? Get a shower, some clean clothes, have some food? My…”

Undefined family member, friend, roomie, Aztec goddess and distant cousin of the bat clan?

“Roommate is never home and the top bunk is free in there. You could regroup a little.”

Speaking of terrible decisions.

Or, fuck it.

“Or if you want some privacy I could spring for a hotel room for you. I can swing a week at one of those pay-by-the-week places.”

Something seems to soften in Harley’s gaze at the offer, pale blue looking to Jessica with all of the mystery of a dangerous mental spiral to veil and obscure its meaning.

“Thanks, but no thanks, Jones,” she says, the words intended to be a merciful release from a really, really bad idea.

“I got the neighbors, and a bat on speed dial.” The Joker’s words ring, loud and real as Jessica's own, in Harley’s ears. My dear, we’re no good for anyone. She closes her eyes tight, trying to shut them out. They do their damage quickly, and then leave her to keep going with her thought.

“And… And Mercer might come back, yanno? Someone should be here if he comes back. I owe him a welcoming committee.”

“Fair,” Jess says, cause this is true. At least Harley isn’t going to leave now, dragging that comforter like the Queen of Dirty Laundry.

But she has gotten all the answers she can here. She unfolds from her spot on the wall, stands, puts out her cigarette.

“I’ll call the minute I know something. Hang tough, Q.”

“Tweety, er, uh, Red Robin said he’d be lookin’, too,” Harley finally offers, her nose twitching. Even as Jessica gets up, however, the blonde stays on the cool floor.

It's comforting in its own strange little way, and she pulls her blanket up protectively to take the moment as it comes.

“If ya want a huntin’ buddy.”

“Good. He’s better at this than me, and I’m real damn good. Between the two of us we should find something.” Maybe Harley dropped him one or two more bits of info than Jess got out of her.

“Talk to you soon, Q.”

The Queen of Dirty Laundry lets her lips purse over to one side, and then she offers just a little more, “If anyone gives ya shit on the way out…”

What, precisely? The threat of her name is worth a lot here, a queen of a different sort. But it might not go so great if she had to actually back it up right now. Ultimately, Harley decides that most of the trouble—mostly contained on the sixth floor—is unlikely to mix it up with a stranger down here.

“…well, jes’ don't let ‘em. Hope ya’ don’t mind me not walkin’ ya’ out.”

Jessica lets out a soundless chuckle. "I won't let them," she agrees.

But they won't if they know what's good for them. For their own good, she adopts the don't fuck with me walk on her way out the door, a silent signal to predators of every stripe that she knows something they don't, and they'll be biting off more than they can chew by attempting to get in her way.

"I'll be in touch," she says again, and then she's out the door and gone. There's no signs of altercations below, so probably the walk worked.

Now to see if Jessica's detective skills do.

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