A week and a half wait. And (with the possible exception of the Dynamo Girl leg) the most anticipated part of the interview so far. Part twelve of “Interviewing Leather.” It’s also four thousand words long.
I hope folks like it.
We also (finally) have some fan art to put up. The first comes from Brian Stinson, based on Katie Tandler’s art, and is called Leather the Series. Click on it to see it in full size — and you want to see it in full size:
The second is from old friend of the writing Tephlon, who — like quite a few of the readers — really enjoyed Leather’s Dynamo Girl turn. So here she is in all her lycra glory!
Beyond that, please enjoy! With luck we’ll be back on Tuesday next week, and things will be cheerfully normal.
And yes. That means this is not the last part.
*** *** *** ***
In a way, this was going to be the blowoff to my story just as much as it was the blowoff to the week’s criminal undertakings. This was the crime scene I was going to be at ground zero for. I’d like to say I was feeling a surge of adrenalin and a cool sense of adventure, but to be perfectly blunt I felt carsick.
For the record, I was in the ‘third row’ of the Leathermobile, which was just as big on the inside as the outside. I was sitting on a bench style seat that could be folded into the floor for convenience. I sat next to a brown cardboard box which had been carefully strapped into a seat. This was the Mountbatten Urn, I knew. I’d seen it the night before — it had been snagged without a hitch.
Priceless or not, it looked like an old pot. And while she was psyched — Leather was always psyched after a job worked — she wasn’t nearly as into the Urn as she had been the commercial jewelry they still made fun of. This one wasn’t about money. It could have been any macguffin. And it was being hauled to a new crime scene on the off-chance Leather needed to distract or bargain down Darkhood or the cops.
Which is of course why I was strapped in next to it. The collar was strapped around my throat again. I’d submitted without a struggle, but I didn’t put it on myself this time. Nor did they ask me. This time, I was a prisoner, and the threat of blowing my stupid head off wasn’t to guarantee my good behavior while Leather played at superhero.
Carsick barely describes it.
Leather was drumming her fingers on the car door. “Is the MickDee’s still serving breakfast?” she asked.
“Until ten thirty,” Marco said. He was driving. Wheelman, like they said. The Bagmen were behind the two of them, with me and the urn in the back.
“We should totally get MickDee’s,” Leather said. “Who wants a McMuffin?”
“I could go for a sausage biscuit,” one of the bagmen said.
“The Steve’s halfway to the bank,” Marco said. “You sure you want to take the time?”
“Yeah. Get three egg mcmuffins, three sausage mcmuffins, three sausage biscuits and whatever people want to drink. Chapman! You want anything?”
“I’m fine,” I said, trying not to think about sausage. Of all the ways to prolong my lifespan, throwing up on a bagman seemed at the bottom of the list.
“Okay then,” she said. She was bouncing in her seat, all nervous energy. I remembered what she was like on the Dynamo Girl run — all smooth and professional. Excited but not frenetic. It must make a difference to know how it’s all going to play out in advance. Or at least know how you intend for it to play out.
The plan was, if anything, even more basic than the jewel heist. It was literally “drive up to the bank, double park, get the hostage and the urn out, hit the bank and start grabbing all the cash they could.” There was no finesse, no careful planning. This was an overt shout, taunting Darkhood and the Meridian City Metropolitan Police to try and catch Leather. And in a weird way, it was no-lose for Leather herself.
Seriously. The worst case scenario involved her successfully stealing maybe millions of dollars. If the cops showed up but Darkhood didn’t, Leather would tangle with them, probably win and escape scot free. Her legend would increase and she’d be ready to move on to her new lair and her new touring city. If Darkhood showed, then it was fifty/fifty she’d get away, they’d probably take no money, but there’d be a superhero fight to add to her resume. If she got caught but the henches got away, it would be a phone call to one service. If she got away and the henches didn’t, it would be another phone call. If they were all captured, then the Steve would do his thing. Even as we rode, the Service was pulling everything out of her old Lair, so there was no chance the cops could raid it and get anywhere. The money from her earlier jobs was all laundered and banked. Prison would practically be a vacation for them.
Really, it’s hard not to be cynical. No matter how you slice it, crime did pay for Leather and the gang. All that could happen was jail time, and it was clear Leather and the Henches weren’t scared of jail.
We pulled into a McDonalds. There were three cars ahead of us. “Oh, bullshit,” Leather said. “Someone want to go inside?”
“We could send Chapman,” one of the Bagmen said.
Leather giggled. “Tempting.”
“He’ll tip the cops,” Marco said. “I would.”
“Yeah, point. And we’re in costume.” She made a face. “Hang on.” She pushed out, flipping onto the roof and leaping from the Leathermobile. Curling into a ball, she smashed through the front window like it was tissue paper and landed inside. With the windows rolled down, I could just barely hear the screams and Leather’s demands for Sausage McMuffins. To go.
“I’m gonna be sick,” I muttered.
“What? No. Don’t. Don’t be sick,” the bagman in front of me said, turning. “Do you hear me, Chapman? You are not going to be sick. You are not going to be sick.”
They had spare cloth moneybags. The other bagman got me one in time. They threw it in one of the brown trashcans before Leather got back with a pile of meat and egg swag in paper sacks, and we headed for the real job. To her credit she looked concerned or at least sympathetic when she’d learned I threw up. The smell of cooked egg really didn’t help.
“So I don’t get it,” one of the bagmen was saying. “You didn’t want one of us going in because we’d be recognized and they’d call the police, but you were okay with breaking through the front window and stealing a couple sacks of breakfast?”
“It’s a time thing,” Leather said. “Those guys calling the cops after we’re gone means at least some of the cops will be distracted from the bank heist. If we went in and waited, they might show up before we leave.”
“You just wanted a chance to steal Sausage McMuffins and call it work related,” Marco said with a chuckle.
“I didn’t steal them. I left a fifty.”
“That window would have cost more than fifty bucks.”
“I didn’t say my actions were legal. I just didn’t steal breakfast.” She took a bite of hash browns. “Aren’t we there yet?”
Within a couple of minutes, we were. This bank was at the top of a long sloping hill in the West Highlands. One of the hilltop neighborhoods where tourists and marketplaces were thick, overlooking the Underlands Dynamo Girl had patrolled two nights before. This was an old bank, back when they made them into temples of finance, all granite columns and elaborate architecture, and “THE FIRST MERIDIAN NATIONAL BANK AND TRUST” carved into the top. Of course, all the glass down closer to the doors declared it ‘BankOne,’ the subject of one and probably more than one buyout over the past ten years or so.
Regardless, it was a bank, and a big one. The Leathermobile careened up the fifteen cement steps in the front, coming up on a top landing and skidding around. It felt like we’d driven through a potato field, and if I hadn’t thrown up five minutes before, I’d have done so right then. As it was there were dry heaves, just in time for me to be hauled unceremoniously out of the back seat by one of the bagmen.
“Remember, stay close,” the bagman hissed to me as he dragged me to the bank’s front doors. “You don’t want the collar going off.” The other bagman was setting the box with the urn in it next to the door. Leather skipped back down the steps, turned and got a full running start for the doors. She took the stairs five at a time and leapt at the top of them, curling into a ball going at least fifty miles an hour, and smashed through the doorways, shattering the glass overhead and to the sides of both the doors and blowing the doors — designed to open out — into the room.
There was immediate chaos and the sound of an alarm as she rolled seemingly chaotically through the lobby. The lie was put to her seeming lack of control when she turned it into backflips, ending with a handspring that landed her on top of one of the islands where deposit slips and chained pens lived. “Ladies and gentlemen!” she shouted. “Welcome to your very own bank robbery! Everyone down on the floor right now! We don’t want anyone to get hurt!”
There were screams, of course. Men and women alike panicked and fled. There were three security guards, but they had to recover from their own surprise before they could react. That gave Leather a chance to dive, twisting in the air and landing in front of the first. She kissed him, deftly unbuckling the belt that held his gun, mace and radio, and threw it into the corner with a twisting motion. “Be good now,” she said to him as she rolled to one side, just in time to not be maced by the second guard, who’d reacted a little bit faster.
Rather than take the risk that he might actually hit her with the spray, Leather did a backflip, landing behind a panicking businessman. “Hi!” she said, deftly lifting him up and darting to the side, keeping him between her and the guard.
“Put him down!” the guard shouted, voice shaking. “I swear to God I’ll shoot!”
Leather dropped the buisnessman to the floor, feet first, then used his shoulders to spring up and over, hooking her legs around the guard’s neck and rolling over his head, hooking and flinging him fifteen feet into the third guard, who had managed to get out his radio. Why his radio I have no idea — the alarm was already going off. But then, what would a security guard normally do when an acrobatic twentysomething began smashing things and doing handsprings in the lobby. I mean, it doesn’t come up in the training manuals, does it?
The two guards hit and went down. Leather’s lips curled into a smile as she regained her feet, sweeping up a pumppot of complimentary coffee the bank had at the front of their velvet rope line and spinning, throwing it towards the third guard’s legs. He had been running for the gunbelt she’d tossed, and she hit perfectly, making him go sprawling and rolling.
It looked like it hurt. My heart was pounding. This wasn’t like watching Dynamo Girl. These were the good guys, and Leather was humiliating and hurting them.
At the same time, I have to admit she looked fantastic. Her movements were freer than Dynamo Girl’s had been. She did riskier moves, and spent more time setting up elaborate strikes. Now, satisfied that the security guards were down, she did cartwheels to the front of the line. “Don’t you just hate a linecutter?” she asked the woman who was crouched on the floor at the front of the line. “How’s it goin’, boys?”
“Not so bad,” one of the bagmen shouted back. They were handing cloth bags to tellers, and getting money dumped into them. The tellers looked freaked but did what they were told. And no doubt were dropping dye bombs or setting off more alarms as they did it. Clearly Leather and the others didn’t care about that, though.
“Good! We need to hit the vault?”
There were sirens outside.
“Hold that thought! Got to make the donuts!” she shouted, running for the door. She blew me a kiss on the way and dove through the shattered facade.
I know. I’m an idiot. But I’d come all this way, I had a bomb on my throat, there was bad shit going down all around me and all I knew was the lead of my story was diving towards police. I wasn’t going to miss this. I had my camera out and everything.
By the time I’d gotten out, Leather had dove down the steps for the cops. Which is smart, if you think about it. She didn’t want them to set up perimeters behind their cars, shooting bullets and tear gas at her. She wanted to be close at hand so they’d have to engage her — especially since there wasn’t any chance they could beat her in a fight.
She made a show of it. Spinning around, pushing off one officer’s bulletproof vest, grabbing the arm of the next and whirling him around, forcing that officer’s own taser onto another while she kicked her legs out and nailed two more as they got close. Movie moves. The kinds of things you never see in real fights because they’re dumb, but when you’re so much faster, stronger and more durable than the people you’re fighting you can do dumb things if you want.
I snapped pictures. My heart was racing. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to root for. This was Leather. I’d been living with her for a week. I’d seen her go out and save a woman’s money and maybe her life. We’d made jokes together and she’d opened up to me. I knew her, at least a little.
But she was a criminal, and these police officers were trying to stop her. And watching her beat and even humiliate them, I felt a little ill. Is this how villains see us? As opportunities to show off?
It was one of the bagmen. They were coming out, sacks laden. I couldn’t imagine how much money was in those things. Leather turned to look at him, which is when I realized there weren’t any more cops. She’d taken them all down. And what’s more — and perhaps more incredibly and more frighteningly, all at once — I could tell she hadn’t really hurt any of them. She’d bloodied their noses and encouraged them to lie down and be in pain or unconscious, but I doubted any of them would miss a day’s work over this.
I felt small, and tired. Oh, and there was a bomb around my neck. But by now that was old news.
“Oh yeah! We’re rolling in it!”
“Right! Then let’s hit the Leathermobile and get the Hell–”
It looked like a missile, and when it hit her back it exploded into sparks powerful enough that one arced out to a metal garbage can nearby. Leather convulsed and went down on the steps, her body spasming.
I turned, back against the wall. Somehow I managed to take a picture.
Darkhood was across the way, up on top of a bus that had been stopped by the onrush of police cars. His clothing was rough cut brown and black — it looked medieval, but his gauntlets were modern archery gloves and his bow was pristine. He had turned to cover the bagmen, standing tall, his hood back enough so we could see the domino mask that covered his eyes. “Put the bags down, boys!” he called. “You made a good run of it, but it’s over now!”
I looked back at the bagmen. They looked at each other and dropped the bags.
“Now that’s a good pair of thugs,” he said, dropping to the ground fluidly. He managed to land in a crouch, never changing his aim. “Now, you understand I’ll need to bag you up, of course. It’s nothing personal, but I need to bind up your boss before she comes to, and I can’t have you two sneaking off.”
“Hey man, just don’t hurt us,” one of the bagmen said. “This’s just a job, you know?”
“You might want to rethink career counseling,” he said shifting his grip–
Leather rolled forward, grabbing the nightstick off one of the downed cop’s belts, and threw it at Darkhood. We’re talking a seriously mighty throw — the kind of thing the Big Unit would sell two children and a controlling interest in Roger Clemens’s memorabilia to be able to throw.
Darkhood rolled to the side, firing his arrow at the club and nailing it in midair. His net deployed even as it was knocked up into the air, and Darkhood rolled forward. As he came out of the roll he had another arrow nocked and he fired it, forcing Leather to dive and roll over it — she’d been running for him. As she came up from a roll he shot another arrow at her feet. This one exploded — a concussive charge that threw her back towards the police cars. She twisted in midair and tried to land on her feet, but she misjudged the landing and rolled back over the vehicle. I saw her head hit pavement and winced.
And because I was there, I took another picture.
Leather managed to roll to the side. I could see her looking under the car, watching Darkhood run — he was circling behind, keeping a wide arc. He wanted a clear shot, and he wanted to keep his distance away from her. It hit me that’s what this fight would come down to — Darkhood wanted distance so he could nail her with arrows. Leather wanted to close so she could kick his teeth in. And so far he was ahead on points.
“I got a lot of woozy cops here!” Leather shouted. “So if you intend to shoot a tear gas arrow or a flash arrow or another bomb, don’t let me stop you! I’m sure they’ll feel lots better without eyes or spleens or whatever!”
“Worry not, fair lady,” Darkhood answered. His voice was calm. Measured. He made the ‘fair lady’ thing sound normal too — like this was how people talked. “I’ve got plenty of arrows for all occasions.”
“Yeah? Let’s find out, mumbletypants!” And Leather threw herself backwards, landing on her hands at the base of the stairs and handspringing with enough strength to clear her to the landing at the top. Not ten feet from me.
Right next to the box.
As she flipped, she also had twisted, avoiding a fired arrow by inches. It impacted above us with an electrical discharge. Darkhood ran to the side, another arrow nocked as he jockeyed for position.
“Hey spiky!” Leather shouted, tearing the box and lifting the Mountbatten Urn where it could be clearly seen. “Is this what you’re looking for? Huh?”
Darkhood skidded to a stop. “Leather! Put that down — gently! We can talk about this!”
“Yeah, about that? So not my style!” She giggled. “Think fast!”
I stared, my hands working my camera almost mechanically, as Leather did a forward in air roll and flung the priceless urn out and away from herself, far over Darkhood’s head.
Now, I’ve looked at the pictures, and I know intellectually what happened. I know that somehow — somehow Darkhood threw himself backwards, managing to drop the arrow he was holding, nock twoarrows at once, fire them while the Urn was almost exactly over his head, draw, nock and fire a third arrow, and hit the ground at a horrid angle, stretched out and back-to his enemy. I know that somehow, the two arrows he fired first had a cable connecting them, and embedded themselves both in telephone poles, the cable retracting taut. And I know the third arrow deployed a net that snagged the urn at the precise instant the net would also hit the cable and wrap around it.
I know that. I’ve gone through it. And I have a horribly blurry photo of the net arrow being launched with the other two arrows still in the air. I also know Darkhood doesn’t have superhuman powers. He’s just that. Damn. Good.
But at the time, all I know is he threw himself backward, arrows going flying, and then the urn was tangled up in a net sixteen feet in the air, swinging in the breeze in the middle of the street.
Leather didn’t stop to stare or be agog. She just ran forward, with all that superhuman speed, straight at Darkhood. And that’s why she did it. The urn wasn’t a ransom item, it was a distraction. So long as she was at a distance, Darkhood could take her. But get him focused elsewhere, not moving, back-to her and sprawled on the ground, and she could close the gap. By the time he’d started to turn over, she was in the air, over him, and dropping an elbow hard into him.
I thought it was over, but he twisted and kicked, and she rolled off and they squared off. He snapped something on his bow and it segmented into two halves, the string retracting until he had — mm. Not really nunchucks. Call it a flail. And he laid about with it. She twisted underneath it, sweeping his legs. His footing went out, but he went down into a handspring, kicking up. She rolled under it and got her footing. They closed, striking and punching. Her inhuman grace. His staggering training. He went in with a taser. She ducked and twisted and struck at his ribs. She hit but he seemed to absorb it — body armor of some kind maybe. They turned and struck, and he went around and tagged her with the taser. She went rubbery, and he went over her–
I don’t know if it was panic or what, but as she fell backwards she curled up and thrust out with those powerful legs, and he flew.She got her feet–
And froze. I froze. We all froze, watching. She had kicked too hard. He was a good fifty feet in the air, and he was going over the edge — the long clifflike edge of the ramp. We were at the peak of the West Highlands neighborhood. Leather had kicked Darkhood out to where he would fall to the underlands.
She was staring, her hand clenched. Her body tense. She didn’t move, watching him twist around as he fell. It looked like he was doing something with his flail — maybe trying to get it back into the bow. Get some kind of line arrow….
He fell below the edge of where we could see. We stared. My heart was pounding.
It felt like forever, but with a thunk we heard and saw an arrow slam into the retaining fence at the edge. An arrow with a line on it.
Leather pumped her fist. “Yeah!” she said, and looked around. The cops were beginning to get to their feet. “Okay, book,” she shouted to the bagmen. “Leave the bags, hit the Leathermobile! We’re gone!”
The bagmen didn’t complain. They ran. Leather ran after them.
“Wait!” I shouted. “The collar! You can’t leave me or–” I stared. The dumb bitch had forgotten the bomb around my neck!
Leather skidded to a stop, right at the door of the Leathermobile. She stared at me for a second, then burst into laughter. “Jesus, Chapman,” she shouted back. “There isn’t really a bomb! Who do you think we are?”
I stared as she ducked in, and the car tore out. Stared as the recovering cops opened fire as it escaped. I sunk to my knees, staring, and watched the Leathermobile leave. They got no money from the bank, but they got away. And Leather and Darkhood crossed swords in the light of day. And people would talk about this for weeks. And I wasn’t wearing a bomb.
After I could no longer see the Leathermobile, I did the only thing I could think of. I leaned forward, so I was on my hands and knees, and I threw up again. And then I waited for a policeman to come rescue me or arrest me, depending on how he saw things.