This is late — for some value of late given that Tuesdays are still officially Random and I don’t have an obligation (for some value of obligation) to actually update on them. Still, it is the next installment of “Interviewing Leather” and I’m glad to have it.
It’s also a bit longer — clocking in around thirty-five hundred words. I considered cutting it in half and doing it over two weeks, but in one sense the “scene” had been cut in half already, with last week’s asskicking leading into this one. So, I decided to go with this one.
The themes continue to be mature on this bit, both in language and in other stuff. I’m really interested to see what people think of this one.
*** *** *** ***
Leather was clearly unimpressed with my expression. Most days, she might have found it cute. After having to bitch out her henchmen for beating the shit out of me, — not to mention the arrow wielding superhero that had screwed with her heist — she clearly wasn’t in the mood. “Don’t get excited,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I have to see if you’re just in a shitload of pain or if you’re actually really hurt.”
“Of course,” I said. “Never thought any differently.” I started to peel out of my clothes.
“Right. Sure. You get undressed.” She opened a drawer, grabbing out flannel pants, a tank top, and a pair of panties. “I’m gonna check my own injuries and shower. When I get back I’ll give you the once-over. If you have internal bleeding, try not to die before I get back.”
“What happens if I do have internal bleeding?” I asked. I’ll admit, I was in a lot of pain now, and the idea that I might have deeper injuries was worrying me.
Leather made a face. “One guy dumps you at the hospital while we push the panic button for the service. And Marco and the boys will wish they’d never been fucking born.” She half-stomped into her private bath, while I got undressed. It’s a little weird. I hadn’t been beat up — I mean, really beat up — since I was a kid in junior high. Seven years of covering rock and hip hop, I never took a punch from anyone. Now, every inch of my body hurt. My skin hurt. My stomach hurt, and my ribs hurt, and my arms and legs hurt. My face hurt and my lip was swollen and my eyes felt like there were ants crawling on them and the only reason I wasn’t throwing up was because I was pretty sure that would hurt too.
Fifteen minutes later, Leather came out in the flannels, the tank top, wet hair and more of a smile. Clearly, she’d calmed down herself. I noticed that she had a long ugly looking scab on her left arm, where I remember there’d been blood on her suit when she came in.
“Jesus,” I said. “You sure you don’t need a hospital?”
She grinning a bit. “Pretty damn sure. I heal fast. I’ll have a line scar by morning, then nothing by tomorrow night. I just cleaned it with iodine — it looks worse because I had to recut to get in deep enough.”
“Not all Darkhood’s arrows are shockers or tear gas or have nets in them.” She smiled ruefully. “Sometimes? They’re arrows. I’m a little more durable than the average guy on the street, and I do wear heavy leather, but an arrow will screw with me if I’m not careful.”
“Jesus. You mean he tried to kill you?”
Leather snorted. “He’s oldschool,” she said, beginning to poke at me. She seemed satisfied with my cries of pain and wimpish yelping. “He wasn’t trying to kill me. He was trying to slow me down. Give me a bad flesh wound. Try to take away one of my arms to throw me off.” She half-smiled. “If he were trying to really hurt me, he’d have put a few arrows in my stomach. He’s got the aim to do it.”
“Does he ever do that? Really shoot someone?”
“No.” She began cleaning the blood off my face with a cloth she got out of a foil packet. It stung like mad.
I shivered, looking every which way at once. God help me, I was in tremendous pain and right then? I could really tell how good Leather smelled. Of course, she was damp, wearing pretty flimsy clothes and she was practically on top of me. So I tried not to look directly at her. The last thing I wanted–
She giggled. So, you know, mission failed. “Sorry,” I said.
“Hey, at least I know you’re probably not dead. But don’t get any ideas. I don’t sleep outside the fraternity.”
“The fraternity? You mean supervillains?”
“Villains, yeah.” She chuckled. “Or otherwise. I won’t pretend I haven’t had a few cowls hanging off my bedpost.”
“Really? Superheroes sleep with supervillains?”
She looked thoughtful. “Some do,” she said. “Depends on the hero, really. Or the era.”
“Yeah. Old school heroes? Say, the ones who started ten or fifteen years back? They’d never knock boots with a villain. Not in a million years. Sometimes they want to, but they’re all about tension. Remember back when the Nightwatch was called Nightstick? The Nightstick and Cudgel days?”
“Well, there were always rumors about him and Lady Velvet? But you just know nothing happened.” She began probing his ribs with practiced fingers. “You get one of the more recent heroes, though? A lot of them’ll go for it.”
“Doesn’t seem very heroic,” I said.
Leather shrugged. “Depends on who you get. Some heroes? They’re clearly just into it. They like the sense of danger. They get off on bad girls. Half the time, they’re trying for a whole ‘bad boy’ image anyway — you know. Lovable rascal or dangerous loose cannon. It’s all a sex thing.”
“Let me guess. Your naiveté has trouble with superheroes having sex. Well, they’re not all like that. Not even all the ones I’ve slept with.” She half-smiled. “The others are way, way worse.”
“What do you mean?”
She sat back, tossing the blood stained peroxide wet nap into a basket across the room. Over her shoulder. Nothing but net. For all the drama of watching Leather hoist a henchman over her head or fling a tire rim two hundred yards, it’s the little examples of her power that always stick out. Her grace. Her aim. The sense that she always has her footing, even if she’s standing on one toe. “Bad boys or fetishists? They just want to have sex. It’s disappointing on one level, ’cause you’d like to think they’re better than that, but they’re straightforward and I can respect that. Some of these guys? They think they’re rehabilitating you.”
I blinked. “What?”
“The James Bond thing. They think that when they stick the allmighty wonder penis into the bad girl, through the healing power of orgasm they’ll make her see the light, see the error of her ways, swear off badness and come to the light side of the force.” Leather snorted, looking away. “They think they’re doing you and the world a favor by getting you laid.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. It was clear Leather was uncomfortable, and after the beating I wasn’t in the mood. But the reporter in me wanted to hear more. So I just kept my mouth shut.
“You know what it is?” she said, looking back. “It’s smug. No. No, it’s misogynistic. All these bad girls really need is a good hard dicking and then they’ll be sweet innocent little flowers and they’ll happily prance off into the kitchen and bake shit.” She shook her head. “I don’t know how the heroines put up with it. I really don’t. But then, I was a piss poor heroine.”
“It didn’t sound like you were a bad heroine,” I said. “It sounded like you helped some people. And like you cared.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I cared. Fat lotta good it did me. But if I padded my suit, I’d be popular and all the boys would like me and then I’d make the papers every day of the week.” She shook her head again. “Fuck that. I look damn good and I can lift a motorcycle over my head and make that look damn good.”
I bit my lip. Which hurt, so I stopped doing that damn fast. Damn thing was swollen, too. “So… what about Darkhood?”
“What about Darkhood?” she snapped.
“Is he a bad boy or does he wield redemptive genitalia?”
Despite herself, Leather snickered. “Neither,” she said. “He’s old school.” She shook her head. “I dunno if he was around back in the day or not, but he acts like it.” She smiled a bit. “It was pretty impressive. He was a damn hard fight.”
“You sound surprised.”
“He’s third tier,” she said. “And he doesn’t have anything going for him. He’s a guy with a bow and arrow and fake SCA props with circuits in them. Studded leather. Whole medieval theme going on. Guy like that gives someone with natural powers a good hard fight, you know he’s the real deal.” She shrugs. “I make a lot of fun of him. And let’s be fair, the man dresses like he didn’t quite make the Renaissance Festival cut. But….” She hopped onto the bed, crossing her legs in the air and landing in lotus. “Put it this way. Meridian City is Transit’s town. She’s the B-Lister. The second tier. Reserve member of Justice Wing. Has a power that’s damn hard to work around — what, with those teleportation gates and all that?”
“Plus, she’s a D cup. Not a Double D, but still. She’s camera friendly — got the look. The papers love her. The tabloids love her. She’s not first tier, but people all over the country’ve heard of her.”
“Darkhood still goes out every night and cracks skulls. Every night. And when he saw me — and I’m a real honest to god not-normal-human who’s good at what she does — he went in shooting. And when I got the bow out of his hands, he still came at me instead of running.” She shrugged. “You asked me what a superhero was, and why I gave it up? I gave it up because I couldn’t live his life. I couldn’t be an also-ran. I couldn’t…” she waved her hands in front of her, almost helplessly. “I couldn’t cope. He can.”
“You sound like you like him.”
Leather smirked. “Jealous?”
“Does he count as ‘in the fraternity?’”
Leather laughed. “Yeah,” she said. “He shouldn’t, practically speaking, but oh yeah.”
“Why shouldn’t he?”
“You know what? Put some pants on. The examination’s over. If you die in the night, it’s not my fault.” Leather rolled over backwards, dropping onto the floor in a standing position. “I’ll get you something for the pain, and we’ll make you up the guest bed in here.”
“In here? Not the cot?”
“The cot’s down with the guys, remember?” Leather was walking back into her private bath. “Tomorrow, they’re going to be flush with cash and feeling good, and they’ll be cool with you. Tonight, I bitched them out and slapped them around a little. They’re feeling ego bruised. So let’s not push it.”
“Right,” I said. I forced myself to stand, and walked — well, charitably it was walking — to where I had my bag with the clothes they’d bought for me. I got out a white tee shirt, the sweatpants they grabbed me (and which had become my default pajamas), and underwear and managed to get them on with only a few tears and three expletives.
“Much better,” Leather said, coming out with a glass full of water and some pills. “Here. Take these and drink all the water. And you might want to go to the bathroom now.”
“What are they?” I asked, looking at the pills in her hand.
“Powerful mind control drugs. Eeeeeevil mind control drugs. Also, the marijuana that makes the kids all crazy.”
“What, you need to mind control me? I can barely stand.”
Leather rolled her eyes. “Ibuprofin and codeine, dumbass. That should make sleeping possible.”
“I thought you needed a prescription for codeine.”
“Jesus. I stole over a million dollars worth of electronic shit tonight, and you’re giving me flack over codeine?”
I allowed as she had a point. And I took the pills.
Leather opened a side closet, and grabbed out a twin airbed. It had a built in pump which she plugged in and started inflating.
“Wow,” I said. “It’s just like camp.”
“Yeah. Tomorrow I thought we’d make lanyards and macaroni art. There’s pillows and a twin sheet in that same closet. Gimp them out and gimp them over to me so I can be kind to your gimp ass and put them on the airbed.”
I did my best not to limp. I failed. She was kind enough not to laugh as she put the sheets on. “Cool,” she said. “And guess how nice I am?”
“Way, way nice,” she said, fluidly standing and walking over to her bed. “You get to have my very best silk comforter tonight.” She pulled the bloodstained comforter off the bed. “Do you like the modern art approach I’ve taken with it?”
“I feel so connected to the piece,” I said dryly.
Leather cocked her head, looking at me as she dropped the wadded up comforter onto the airbed. “I don’t get you, Chapman,” she said.
“What’s not to get?”
“You. I know you’re here to interview me and learn what makes bad guys tick and maybe get a few sexy shots of me to sell magazines. But you just had your ass kicked and you’re asking me questions like nothing happened. Why? Who are you trying to be?”
I considered. “I dunno,” I said. “Hunter S. Thompson, I guess. Or Tom Wolfe.”
She arched an eyebrow, smirking. “Tom Wolfe maybe. You’re no Hunter Thompson.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You asked what the pills were.”
I let that one go. “Anyway. I’ve always loved that sort of thing. Truman Capote or Gay Talese. That sense of being in the presence of history, whether it’s big or small — giving a sense of the life in it. You know?”
“Sure,” Leather said. “It’s not that Frank Sinatra had a cold. It’s what effect the cold had and how life changed for so many people around it.”
“Wait, you’ve read ‘Frank Sinatra has a Cold?’” I asked, a little stunned.
That was a mistake. Leather’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, I know. What a shock. Suicidegirls don’t read Esquire, right? Go to bed, Chapman.” She half-stormed back to the other side of the room.
“Well I’m sorry,” I snapped. Maybe it was the codeine. Or maybe I really am just stupid. “I just didn’t notice In Cold Blood or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test next to Laurel K. Hamilton’s Vampires in Panties on your bookshelf!”
That stopped her. She turned to face me. And God help me, I understood right then. She was mad. Really mad. I’d crossed a line. “You should reconsider your words,” she said coolly. No laughing. No giggling. No profanity. Just an almost seductive steel with a razor sharp edge. “Otherwise, I might choose to be offended.”
I shivered, and the shivering hurt, even through the growing warmth of the codeine. “I’m sorry,” I half-whispered. “I made a judgement. It was wrong.”
Leather lifted her head, looking down at me. Looking down like she would at a bug, not sure if she found it cute or creepy. Not sure if she wouldn’t crush it.
“Okay,” she said, her bearing shifting. “Just be careful about that.”
“Okay,” I said.
She looked to the side, and as scary as she had just looked, now she just looked young. Young and lonely. “I don’t read that shit any more,” she said, quietly. “I kinda got over it.”
I cocked my head. “If I make a guess, will it get me killed?”
Well, that was fair. “Dynamo Girl read that sort of thing, didn’t she.”
Leather’s muscles tensed for a moment. Then they relaxed. “Jesus Christ,” she said. “It’s not like I hear voices or anything. I’m Dynamo Girl, just like I’m Leather.”
“Of course.” I frowned. “What’s your real name, anyway?”
“You had it changed?”
“No, I just don’t care.” She fell onto her bed. “I like Leather. I like the name. If you go and look up my arrest record you’ll find the birth name, but so what? I never use it. Hell, the last time I did use it was as the secret identity. The one who waited tables while I wore red lycra and fought purse snatchers. But even then I felt more like Dynamo Girl.”
“So you have no attachment to that name? What about to your family? Or your past?”
“No family to speak of — a sister out in Wyoming, but we haven’t spoken in years. She’s norm, anyhow. S’far as I know, anyway. Folks were nice enough but they’re dead. High school was just… high school. And then I decided to save the world, and then I decided to enjoy the world instead. Go to bed. I want to turn out the light.”
I got into bed. The codeine had kicked in well now — I felt a bit spacy, and tired, and warm, and I didn’t hurt nearly so badly. “Right,” I said.
“Oh! Hang on!” She rolled out of bed and dashed back into the private bath.
I got used to the bounciness of the airbed, settling down. The codeine was feeling really nice right about then.
“Here.” She came out, holding what looked like a blue domino mask. “Put this on.”
“Jesus. Just lift your head up.”
I lifted my head up, and she pressed the mask to my face, around my eyes. To my surprise, it was ice cold. I may have yelped but I didn’t move, while she delicately tied it into place. “What is this?”
“Gel mask. You stick it in the freezer until you need it. That’s why I keep the minifridge in there. Well, that and not wanting to go downstairs for soda when I crave at two a.m.”
I shivered as she stood up. “It’s cold,” I said.
“Your journalistic skills are legendary,” she said, sliding back into her bed. “It’s meant to reduce swelling. More comfortable and less ooky than putting steak on your face.”
“Why’d you have that thing?” I asked, my voice a bit remote now. I was floating, and even the cold felt distant.
“Because when you wear a shaped leather mask on your face, someone will love punching you in it. Sometimes a lot.”
“Oh, he says. Good night, Chapman.”
“G’night,” I said. And you’d think that would be the end of it. I’m not even sure when the lights went out. I think I slept for a while.
In the darkness, though, I heard her say “kegels.” Just out of nowhere. At least, I don’t think I said anything first.
“You asked me why it’s a bad idea to sleep with Darkhood, even though he’s in the fraternity,” she half-whispered. “Kegels. Well, vaginal muscles.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. It weird. Whispering about this in the dark. I thought of camp again, after lights out.
“My muscles are stronger than normal human muscles,” she said, still in that half-whisper. “All my muscles. You going to write about all this?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Why?”
“Then write that too. Guys — normal guys, like you… they want to have sex with girls like me. Only I don’t have sex with normal guys like you because just having a good time can injure you. I have to be too careful. I have to relax all my muscles, all the time. It’s not worth it. It’s no fun, and I get self conscious.”
“Huh. I guess I never thought about it like that.”
“I have. It’s why I gave up the birth name. The birth name was the secret identity, but say I fell in love with someone as that girl. Say that waitress had a regular customer, and they fell in love and got married. What kind of sex life would she have? What kind of intimate relationship would she have with this guy she couldn’t ever let herself have an orgasm with, in case she broke something or bruised something. I mean, it’d be like he had sex with an industrial vice.”
“So you stick to guys like you. Supers.” I shifted, fighting to stay awake through the codeine and the fatigue and the ache.
“Yeah. Only that’s not… you don’t have a relationship like that. Supervillains make bad boyfriends. Too much competition. We’re all the stars of our own stories. We don’t want to be supporting characters.”
Leather was quiet a long moment. I thought she might have fallen asleep.
“Bad boys are worse than supervillains.”
“And the redeemers?”
“You think I could fall in love with one of them? With someone who thought he was better than me? I told you — they’re misogynists. I’d have to give up my self respect, and I’m not going to ever do that. Not for anyone.”
I shifted. The air bed bounced. It was like I was floating. Like I was on a cloud. This is what supers feel like, I thought. This is what it feels like to be floating in the air. “But you sleep with them?”
Leather paused. “Yeah,” she whispered.
“Who else is there?”
I didn’t have an answer to that.
I heard her turn over, and punch her pillow into shape. She sort of sighed, dropping her head down. I heard it, though I couldn’t see it in the darkness.
“Who did Dynamo Girl sleep with?”
“Sorry,” I whispered.
“No one,” the whisper came back. A voice in the darkness. “She was old school.”