I didn't expect him to black out on me this rudely. "I thought we were in the middle of a conversation here, Twiggers." I turned my amused smirk upside-down and touched his face with my gloved hand, pulling open his closed eyelid with my thumb. His brown eyes didn't react. He didn't blink or wince or execute any reflex he was supposed to when something came close to his eyeball. He was out. Cold as a glacier. I rested my hand on the side of his neck as I pondered what to do with him next.
He was in bad shape. Signs of starvation were obvious as I looked closer at him. He had shadows under his eyes and his cheekbones weren't covered by as much flesh as they should be, not to mention the protruding bony elbows poking out of his malnutritioned arms. His skin was sickly pale when it was supposed to be a soft milk-chocolate shade. The poor thing was dying, if not already dead. But I could feel a faint pulse under my hand as his heart strived to pump blood up to his dehydrated brain. I frowned as I brushed his black bangs off of his dirty forehead. He had a bruise peeking out from his hairline. I didn't see it before. Camouflaging little bastard. My wrist retreated to rest on my bent knee, leaving him alone now. He must have been roughened up by one of the local vulture-ish gangs.
This man intrigued my curiosity. As pathetic and fragile as he was, there was a fighting spirit prominent in the way he didn't give up whilst making a bunch of racket against the door. I looked up and out to scan the alley nestled behind our restaurant. The darkness seemed like it could swallow him up and digest him for dinner. It was crazy (and rather stupid) that he coincidentally made it to our door. The door of the current hideout belonging to Gotham's number one terrorist, The Joker. I smirked again. "Just climbing down the ladder of Hell, are you? Pushing through one terror and moving on to conquer a bigger one?"
I took his lack of response as an affirmative. "Well," I chuckled like a mother scoffing lovingly at her adventurous child. "Don't give up now, little Twig."
"I win again." A hairy hand slammed down a Royal Flush and moved to scoop up the chips in the center of the table. He was glad they chose to pick up Doritos from the supermarket. Dorito chips were his favorite snack. "Malcolm, seriously!? This is the fourth time in a row!" The man to the left of him sneered with escalating annoyance as his tongue yearned for the spicy deliciousness he was deprived of.
The winning man named Malcolm, the oldest and most experienced one of the four Poker players, only smiled, happily relishing in his repeated glory. "Sore loser, X?" A red Dorito chip flew into his mouth and was crushed instantly by his gnashing teeth.
X, having a short nickname for Xavier, averted his jealous gaze and absent-mindedly played with the steel ring in his ear. He had a habit of playing with his favorite piercing when he was unsettled and upset. "Ahh shut up. Enjoy your chips while they last."
The other two men across the table were just as annoyed with Malcolm as Xavier was, and they made no effort to muffle their grumbles or shift their glaring eyes. Malcolm munched on more of his newly acquired treasures. "Oh come on guys, it's just a few chips. You'd be firing a gun in my face if it were actual money."
"True, that." An Australian accent heavily commented on the previously stated fact as Samuel suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. "You can't get away with cheatin' if the stakes are higha."
"You accusing me of cheating, Sammy?" Malcolm leaned forward in his chair, exerting some aggression of his own as he defended his masculine pride. This Australian frequently got on his nerves. That damned accent was a constant buzz in his good ear.
"Not a'tall mate." Sam sarcastically raised his hands in submission and sighed, tired of this game. They'd been playing it for the better part of the day, using every piece of food they could find in the building to substitute playing chips. The kitchen was as barren as a desert. Not a crumb was left to be seen. Sam optimistically suspected that Boss and Miss Quinn would be grateful for the tidiness, at least. It was a common perception that the clown duo had their own stash of snacks in their personal living quarters. It was not like this innocent game was going to make them all starve.
Xavier threw his hand of cards in the air above his shoulder with a careless flick of his tattooed wrist. "This game is pointless anyway." He ran his tongue over his rear molars, tasting the lingering essence of the cigarette he practically consumed earlier. The only reason he lived was to smoke, and anyone who took his smokes away from him was asking to also receive an enormous can of Whoop-Ass.
"Hey O! What shou' we play now?" Xavier turned to his buddy, the fourth man, always hidden in his silence, but nonetheless a careful observer. The black-skinned boy didn't reply with a suggestion. Typical. Oliver was only nineteen, and as shy as a hermit crab. Well, maybe "shy" wasn't the right word. In fact, it definitely wasn't he right word. The first time anyone called Oliver "shy" was the day they were burned alive. Oliver had an obsessive passion for fire.
"I'm sick of games! Every one we play always get dominated by Malcolm!" Sam snapped, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms as he pushed with his toes and raised the two front legs of the wooden chair, balancing on the back two.
"Then maybe Malcolm shouldn't play." Xavier glared at the smirking burly man munching away on his precious Doritos. Because Malcolm was the oldest and most experienced criminal of the four, he always had an air of superiority and smugness. he frequently reminded them, his voice dripping with arrogance, that he'd been living under The Joker's dangerous hand for five months straight without getting killed or mutilated. Frankly, the rest of the clown's henchmen were sick of hearing it.
Malcolm scoffed. "Fine by me. It's not like there are any other prizes left to win anyway." There it was again. That little shrug of narcissism. Another chip shattered loudly in his mouth. Malcolm munched and glanced over at Sam, whose expression had changed at that comment.
"Unless you boys got some cash stored somewhere that I should tell Joker about..." He lowered his voice and deepened it in a poisonous threat. It was strictly forbidden to keep anything a secret from Boss. Sam shook his head slowly and stared at his fidgeting hands, thinking about something unrelated to their boredom-busting games. "No..." The Australian muttered carelessly, obviously not guilty of the henchman crime.
"You're thinking of Harley, aren't you?" Xavier's shoulders shook as he chuckled, grinning with sleaze at the man across the table from him. Sam's face exploded in surprise, embarrassment, and rage. "N-NO!" He denied, losing his balancing concentration and slamming the two front legs of his chair to the hard floor, holding the table edge to steady himself. Fear jumped even higher in his chest as he flinched and realized how loudly the THWACK of the chair echoed around the restaurant. Xavier laughed harder at his fumble. "Boss is gonna kill you!" He chanted deviously, leaning forward over the table and snickering with a toothy sneer.
Sam was frozen in fear, guilty of his twinging thoughts of the unattainable and incredibly dangerous woman. "I..." He attempted to defend himself one more time, desperate to keep his life. If Joker knew about his feelings...
Oliver, still as silent as ever, smirked as he eagerly predicted and envisioned Sam's gruesome future punishment. Malcolm's stare of disbelief wasn't helping the tense atmosphere which now engulfed the four men. "You're in love with Miss Qui--"
Each man froze at the feminine voice calling them with piercing sharpness. If Sam had a gun on him, he would have shot himself right then and there. She heard them.
"COME OUT HERE!"
Malcolm was the first to stand up from the table. "Nice knowing you Sammy." He chided, shaking his head with an amused smile and wiping his orange-powdered fingers on his pants. Oliver was the next one to get up, keeping his hands hidden in his pockets as he followed Malcolm toward the back door.
"Ahhh Sam." Xavier laughed under his breath, giggling at the stupidity of his colleage. Anyone who even looked at Miss Quinn the wrong way was shot if Joker glimpsed it. "You might as well fall in love with a lion's kill."
"Who is that?" Malcolm asked, surprised at seeing an unconscious body lying at my feet. Oliver observed from behind the tall brute, awaiting orders like a good unquestioning soldier. I always liked him the best. "It's your grandfather." I muttered sarcastically. "Why do you care? Just pick him up."
Malcolm slowly gave me a look of confusion. I held his gaze, expecting another bothersome question. With an outward jerk of my chin and a lift of my blonde eyebrows, I inquired as to why he was so being slow about my order. Oliver already had the hispanic under his arm, lifting him and adjusting him so he was slumped over one shoulder. Malcolm seemed to come to a conclusion about something inside his head, giving a tiny subtle shrug and a shake of his head as he took most of the stranger's weight off Oliver.
I lead them inside, not flinching as Oliver took care to close and lock the back door behind us, shutting out the world. I strode into the restaurant with rightful assertiveness, the heels of my boots clicking against the stained concrete floor. Most of the old termite-infested carpet in this joint was burned away in a fire a decade ago. No, it was not caused by us clowns, in case you were wondering. The crisp scent of Xavier's time-faded cigarette smoke lingered in the air and wafted up my nose. I breathed in the familiar smell without a grimace.
The counter curving in front of the wall of back hallway which I currently walked down was vacant of any intact wine bottles, but still suitable to be called a bar. The hanging lights above the bar stools were moderately bright but unable to shine to the front windows of the building. This prevented light from leaking out of those boarded windows, also preventing any passersby from birthing a curiosity about what went on inside here. The stairs leading up to the second and third floors were completely unstable and they tended to creak as if they were auditioning for a horror movie. The evidence of their instability? The giant hole my apparently "overweight" body made when I first tried to ascend them. Yep. One hundred and twenty pounds was too much for them to handle. I guess I should lay off the donuts and save them for the cops, huh? Anyway, we never go upstairs. The only room offered on ground level to sleep in in this dump was sort of a suite, built especially bigger and better air-conditioned than the rest. I suspected it was the room of the inn's beloved original owner.
This place was my home. Our home. I was comfortable here as long as J was. Once he wasn't, then none of us were, and we moved somewhere else.
I put up a hand to prevent Xavier from bumping into me as we turned around the back hallway corner simultaneously. He froze and allowed me to calmly push his chest back and clear my path. Malcolm wasn't as gentle as me, elbowing the punk aside as he hauled the stranger in, following my lead with Oliver trailing behind with the stranger's legs in his hold. "Who's that?" X piped, curiously peering to see if he was dead or not. Samuel was sitting rigidly at a table with cards strewn over the surface. They must have been playing again. I flipped my hair as I passed, not giving X an answer or the Aussie a second glance.
"Keep an eye on Twiggy for a second, will ya?" I didn't glance back, gesturing sloppily with my wrist for my boys to stop following me as I stepped down the ledge of the bar area floor into the pit of the dining room. To the left of me, a catwalk extended out from in front of the bar, ending with a curved edge. A slender silver pole rose up from the center of the edge of the catwalk. My stage. I smiled with pride.
I didn't expect an answer, but the three of them mumbled in response anyway. "Yes, Miss Quinn." Toward the front of the big room, through a small maze of overturned, broken tables and scattered, toppled chairs, the door to our room was securely closed, its dark brown wood looking ominously black in the shadows of the distant bar light. The handle was spherical and fitted perfectly in my enclosed palm. The bronze metal was cold, as always. I slipped inside and shut the door silently behind me, disappearing from my henchmen's view into an abyss of hell I could only describe as paradise.
Sam slowly and sheepishly turned his head around to see the door creepily close and click, echoing in the silence of the room. She was gone.
Almost two whole minutes passed before anyone moved or spoke. Boss didn't come out, and neither did Miss Quinn. Figuring he had some time to relax, Xavier fiddled with his piercing, raising his eyebrows at Sam and turning to the unconscious bloke in Malcolm's hold. "So...anyone know who he is?"
"A skeleton." Oliver huffed, letting go the stranger's skinny legs. "Just like the rest of the homeless people in this city." He put his hands in his baggy pockets and sighed in boredom. He really wanted to burn something right now. Fire always gave him a brilliant flicker of beauty to gaze at.
"You got that right..." Sam cleared his throat and found that his own legs had regained the strength to stand. He walked over to his pals and took his turn examining the "skeleton". Malcolm smirked as he stood like a statue holding a dead pigeon. "You're lucky, Sammy. Miss Q didn't hear your little secret."
"Shut up already." Sam hissed. A bullet through his fat head would shut him up. If only it was that easy. Killing another henchman was prohibited unless it was ordered.
Malcolm lifted the man's body up and laid him down on their poker table, giving them all a better view of his face as it was exposed under better lighting. The agony of his starvation was apparent in his unconscious expression. After cocking their heads back and forth and staring at him like puzzled scientists, Xavier finally broke the trance of curiosity and leaned over to nudge the stranger's face with his knuckles. "Hey... dude, you okay?"
"He's dead, you fool." Oliver rolled his eyes, uninterested. X made a face and put a hand over the man's neck. "Nah, he's got a pulse. I think." He wasn't sure if that faint warmth emitting from his throat counted as a sign of life.
They all jumped as a hauntingly familiar door squeaked open, the handle being rotated sharply in one direction and yanked to swing open the dark wood. Their gazes shifted slowly to look back at their Boss.