And here we have the eleventh part of “Interviewing Leather.” Stubbornly enough, she refuses to just end, though we can see the ending from here. Another part next week, maybe extending into the week after, and then one or two parts devoted to denoument. I really need to figure out what to replace her with.
This is quieter than the last part, but then you probably figured that. We need to set the stage, after all.
*** *** *** ***
It was a particularly busy day. Henchmen — including the Steve and that day player girl he worked with before — were tearing all over the building. Things were being put into cardboard boxes and double taped. Notes were being scrawled on the outside, identifying the contents.
It didn’t take an evil genius to figure out they were packing up.
I caught up with the Steve as he was wrapping dishes in newspaper and putting them in boxes. “I thought a service was going to do all this,” I asked, salvaging a mug to grab coffee before it was too late.
He plucked the mug out of my hand, and nodded towards a package of Dixie brand ‘to go’ cups, just like you’d get in a convenience store. “In an emergency bug-out? Sure. But that costs more. And do you have any idea how hard it is to find shit that the emergency service has packed?”
“Is there a lot of breakage?”
“No, nothing’s ever broken. Think about it. You going to break a supervillain’s favorite coffee mug? Some of these guys destroy whole towns because they’re pissed off that their bacon was undercooked. But they don’t have time to organize. They never know how quickly the F.B.I. and Justice Wing will come over the hill, seeing vengeance, evidence and the occasional chance to catch a hot supervillain taking a shower.”
“So you’re packing? When do you leave?”
“Tomorrow morning. We hit the blow-off, and within five minutes of us leaving the lot to do that, the service will come, haul all our shit out, and do the necessary.”
He didn’t answer. He just went to work on the next cabinet of dishes.
I caught up with Marco next. “So the blow-off’s tomorrow? What about tonight?”
“Tonight we’re workin’ quiet,” he said. “Ultra quiet, in fact. I think Big L doesn’t want a repeat of Darkhood butting in.”
“She needs to make the rest of her money?”
“Nah, the electronics heist did that, more or less. This is the prestige job.”
“Sure.” He set down the tool box he had been filling. “Lemme grab coffee.”
“Sure.” I followed him, my own Dixie cup needing refilling from the holy Keurig model.
“See, there’s predictable crimes, if you’re going to really work the media angle. There’s some loud crimes like the jewelry store. That way, they know you’re in town and you make the news. And there’s quiet crimes like the Circuit City. They pay the rent and usually don’t attract cowls. There’s major loud crimes where you’re baiting cops and cowls to show up. But you also need a prestige crime.”
“You said that. I still don’t know what it means.”
“It means something that’ll catch attention more than just straight money. Think about it. The jewel heist was all commercial shit. No antiques, nothing rare, nothing with a name. That means right now the highest ticket crime we’ve pulled was the electronics heist, and honestly — what kind of story is that? ‘Evil mastermind steals calculators that will sell well on the black market?’”
“It made the news.”
“Sure. It was a lot of money. But think a few moves ahead in the game. Most big money heists get forgotten, unless they’re ridiculously large or somehow novel. We remember the Great Train Robbery ’cause of the train thing. We remember D.B. Cooper because of how he left the scene. You need something for people to fixate on. I mean, why do you think supervillains steal shit like the Mona Lisa or the Hope DIamond? It’s not like those are easy to fence.”
“You mean they do it….”
“For the publicity factor. Yeah.”
“And that’s tonight?”
“Damn straight. Museum job. Mostly solo. Me, her and the Steve. She’s going in and grabbing the Mountbatten Urn. You know about it?”
“Some archeologist named Mountbatten — not the dead Royal guy, but a cousin or something — found it in the thirties in a dig over in Greece. I guess it’s one of the best preserved Grecian urns they’ve found, and it got a lot of newsplay. Which means it’s worth more than it would be because it’s an old pot — it has a name and a backstory, and it’s on display at the Meridian City Museum of Antiquities as part of their Twentieth Century Archeology exhibit.”
“And Leather’s going to steal it?”
“Damn straight. Get it quietly, liberate it without triggering alarms, back out without breaking it, over to where I’m waiting and we beat feet out of there.”
“And then what do you do with it?”
Marco shrugged, sipping his coffee as he walked back to the shop. “Shit man, I dunno. If we still have it when we get to the new place we’ll fence it. Or use it as an ashtray or something.”
“Still have it?”
“Sure. She’ll bring it with her to the blowoff. That way, bad shit goes down with Darkhood or Transit shows up, we have insurance. Well, more insurance.”
“What other insurance do you have?”
Marco grinned, and clapped me on the shoulder. “You crack me up, man, I’m really gonna miss havin’ you around.”
It still took me a second, but then it fell into place.
“Look, it’s very simple. Just show up at five after ten tomorrow morning. No don’t be here early. No, I don’t mean ‘don’t knock yourself out getting here.’ I mean do not, under any circumstances, be here early.” Leather paced. “Because we’ve got a hostage with us. Jesus, is this your first day on dispatch or something? Look, do you want your men getting identified in a police lineup? No– answer me! Do you want your men getting identified in a police lineup? Yes or fucking no? Then you need to be here at five minutes after ten and no sooner. And if you’re late, you might not have time to do the necessary before the– no I’m not going to fucking kill my hostage to make your fucking schedule easier! Look, do I need to talk to your supervisor? Oh, he ain’t in? Gosh, what a shock. I guess I’ll just have to punch the emergency call tonight then, and make it clear to the contact team that you couldn’t settle on a schedule so no I won’t be paying the surcharges but I know someone who will.” There was a louder squak. “Friend… do you honestly think that’s the worst I can do to you? I mean, seriously? Oh, I don’t know who you are?” Leather giggled. “This is your first week, isn’t it. Right. I’ll be seeing you really soon, friend.” She hung up. “God damn I hate teamsters.”
“You’re going to track down a dispatcher?”
“Hm? No need. Give it two minutes.”
“You know that whole ‘calls recorded to ensure quality’ thing you hear on most customer service lines?”
“This service handles supervillain affairs. You think there’s a chance in Hell they let the dispatcher be the final word in customer care relations? Jesus, the Jack O’Knaves uses this service, and he once killed a waitress for bringing him half and half instead of cream.”
“So what’s our schedule?” I asked.
“Simple. We pile into the Leathermobile tomorrow. That includes you. We pull out at ten on the dot. Five minutes later the service hits and they do the necessary.”
“You guys keep saying that. What’s ‘the necessary?’ Move all your stuff out?”
“To begin with. They want to be absolutely sure there’s no clues left behind to them or to me. That’s kind of a tall order.”
“I’ll bet. What are we going to be doing.”
“Morning bank robbery. Right through their front door. Lots of shouting. Lots of taking down cops. Lots of lovely cash in cloth bags with dollar signs on them.”
“You sound surprised. What, you didn’t think Supervillains robbed banks?”
“Well, sure. But it seems so… unplanned.”
Leather giggled. “It’s planned. But what do you think the intention is.”
Leather gave me a sidelong look. Like she might look at a particularly unintelligent child.
“It’s not about the money.”
“Any money we do get is a bonus.”
“This is about Darkhood, isn’t it?”
“Of course. And the cops, but they’re secondary. We need to have a nice, public slugfest right in the open where everyone can see. The city demands it. The form demands it. He needs a shot at me fair and square, just like I need to have a chance to be dirty and sneaky and beat him in front of everyone.”
“And I’m going to be there?”
“Of course. You’re my hostage. If worse comes to worse I’ll threaten to blow your head off.”
“Blow my — I’m wearing the collar again?”
“Of course.” She giggled. “Why do you think we had it on hand in the first place. But that’s a last resort. The first threat will be to the Urn I’m stealing tonight.”
“So… what’s your intention for all of this?”
Leather grinning. “Simple–” her cell phone rang. “–hang on.” She flipped it open. “Talk to me. Hm. Well hello, sir. Yes, I do wish to register a complaint. I’ve come to expect a certain level of service from your people–”
I tuned it out, looking around. I was in her room. She was more comfortable about letting me hang out up there these days, though I’d slept on the cot down below the night before. She’d dropped books into boxes and had suitcases out with clothing shoved into them. It felt weird. Like the end of an era.
I found myself wondering if I should go with them.
Now, there’s no reason they would want me. I’m not a professional henchman or anything, and they’d hardly need a live in freelance reporter. But I’ll admit there was something about this dysfunctional gang I was going to miss. And there were so many things I didn’t understand yet. What happened on holidays? Did they get time and a half? Marco had alluded to a wife. When did he see her? He seemed to live with Leather, and they sure as Hell weren’t married. Was there a pension plan? And what did happen when they all went to jail.
I shook my head. It was weird. I’d spent time around stars before. Singers, dancers, actors — days with their entourages. I’d eaten with them, had their wine and their liquor, declined their cocaine and their women — yeah, I know. I’m not Hunter S. Thompson. But at the end of the gig, I never wanted to go with them. I preferred my mundane life of small apartments and shitty cars and take out Chinese food.
But I’ll admit I would miss Leather and the henchmen.
But then, prisoners got that way sometimes. Patty Hearst sprang to mind. And there were stories of Supervillain captives who turned, who became molls or villains themselves afterward. I guess I could see that.
Leather hung up. “It is a pleasure doing business with people scared for their paychecks and their lives,” she said. “Where were we.”
“Right! The blowoff. Did you figure it out?”
“Yeah.” I looked at her. “This is the climax. The eleven o’clock number. The finale. Either you go to jail, or you barely get away but he stops the bank heist and maybe gets the urn back, or he goes down and you have a huge payday and he’s humiliated.” I shook my head. “All the rest of this was just business. This one’s the real supervillain action.”
“What if he wins?”
“Then I go to jail, the Steve makes the call, maybe the henches get away and maybe they don’t, and we move on. They won’t get the money for the stuff I already fenced, so I’m not really out anything except some time and I’m stuck on prison food and overly public toilets for a while.”
“But you could leave tonight and not risk it.”
She considered. “Yeah. Yeah, I could.”
“But you won’t.”
“Of course not.”
“And if you beat him? I mean, take him fully down, stop him entirely, and humiliate him?”
Leather shrugs. “Then he’ll have to rethink his line of work. And if he can’t hack it, he’ll do something else with his nights and the world will be better off without him.”
“And if he can hack it?”
“Then he’s the real deal, and he’ll be stronger next time, and when our paths next cross it’ll be glorious.” She grinned. “C’mon, man. By now you understand how this works.”
“I don’t know that I do,” I said. “There’s so much I don’t still understand about supervillains.”
She grinned. “M0re than you know.” She went back to packing her stereo. “For example, you’ve just been hanging out with me. Maybe from here you should spend a week with some Rogues.”
“You repeat me a lot, you know?”
“Sorry. What are Rogues.”
“Supervillains — but not like me.” She lifted components down into the styrofoam packing molds. “They’re the ones who stick to one city and one superhero. The way Leonardo Lucas always fights Paragon, or the Jack O’Knaves takes on the Nightwatch, or Bandolier fights the Beacon?”
“Oh — sure. They’re different?”
“In some ways, absolutely. Think about it.” She glanced up, grinning. “I tour to other cities so my lair won’t get compromised. Their lairs get compromised six times a year, and every time they need to move to a new one. Everything they do is more expensive. Higher rates from the guild because their henches go to jail more than mine do. Higher rates from the service because they go to jail more than I do. It’s like insurance — the more you use it, the more you pay for it. And they don’t take in nearly as much money as I do, in part because their fences get a bigger cut because it’s way more likely the fences will be outed.”
“Then why do they do it?”
“Good question.” Leather stood, stretching. Despite a week with her, I stared. She was just so fluid. “For some it’s revenge. Jack O’Knaves really wants to kill the Nightwatch. Most of the Nightwatch’s rogues are psycho that way. For others it’s ego. That’s the Leo Lucas thing. He doesn’t just want to rule the world, he wants Paragon to bow before him and then die, first. For others, it’s probably some stalker thing. Or it just feels right to them. I mentioned Bandolier? He clearly likes the Beacon and likes Paramount City. There’s a whole hometown feel to it, no matter what they end up doing.” She shrugged. “I spent time with the Bandolier once. He was doing contract work, same’s me. For me, it was a break from touring. I wanted a salary and some camaraderie. For him? He needed cash something fierce, because he wasn’t making a living back home.”
I shook my head. “Why would he possibly do that if he wasn’t making a living at it?”
Leather half-smiled. “See, this is why you need to spend some time with Rogues. If you can figure that out, I’ll be glad to read it in your book.”
“What makes you think I’m going to write a book?”
Leather snorted, and went back to packing.
I looked around. “So where do I go. Greystone City?”
She snorted. “No fucking way. Avoid the psychos like the plague.”
“How do I tell the difference.”
“Read a newspaper. If there’s a body count? Stay away. And no one but no one in Greystone City’s sane. They used to be, back when it was ‘Nightstick and Cudgel’ instead of ‘the Nightwatch.’ These days, the sane ones have retired or gotten the Hell out or been killed by psychos who want their names.”
“Gotcha.” I looked off to one side. “Man. Just when I think I’m beginning to understand this lifestyle….”
“‘Understand this lifestyle.’ Don’t you get it?”
“Clearly not.” I was a little tired of the whole ‘don’t you get it,’ thing, but I’d learned not to express such things lest Leather’s mood change.
“You don’t understand lifestyles. You live them. And if parts of them don’t make sense to outsiders, well — that’s because they’re outsiders.”
“You make it sound like being gay.”
Leather considered. “Not quite. People can be gay without being in the gay lifestyle. And the whole metrosexual thing sort of means people can be straight and still live in the gay lifestyle. So maybe.” She shrugged. “Look. In the end, we’re supervillains. I don’t have anything more I can say that’ll explain it. Maybe the next person you interview can tell you more.”
I realized she meant it. “You know,” I said, “I interview celebrities. Musicians. This was unusual for me.”
Leather snorted. “Yeah.”
“What does that mean.”
“No, it means something. What?”
Leather shrugged. “Maybe in a year I’ll look you up, Chapman. And we can see if you spent that year interviewing rappers and teen idols or not.”
“You made it clear I’m not a superhero or a supervillain before Dynamo Girl went on the town.”
“So what makes you think I’m going to risk my life for more stories.”
She smirked. “You got out of the car.”
I paused. “Well, yes.”
“Kurt Loder would have stayed in the car. He would have watched, and reported, and written a damn good story. But he would have stayed in the car.” She half-smiled. “Face it, Chapman. You crossed the threshold. You don’t go back from that.”
“So what does that make me? Barbara Babcock?”
“Don’t get airs. She’s first tier.” She grinned. “You’re still fourth. Welcome to the lifestyle.”