Part two of Interviewing Trey, and the first part where we really get to know the Jack O’Knaves.
For those who’ve read Interviewing Leather, there’s one significant difference that will become apparent in this post. Leather was a thief, pure and simple. She didn’t just avoid killing, she went out of her way to not kill.
The Jack O’Knaves is under no such restriction, and this is very apparent starting… now.
Notes on this will follow, of course.
*** *** *** ***
About three months before I first started interviewing a zero-bit rogue called the Rook in Nowhere, Minnesota, I was hanging out in a Ramada Inn watching television when my phone rang. It was a relatively new phone, with all the fripperies — net access, messaging, camera, app support, any kind of timewaster you might like, really.
It was the default ringtone. Which was unusual. I don’t often hear the default ringtone because I only give the number out to specific people I know, and I assign each of them a ringtone based around their personality. One of the advantages of formerly working for a rock music magazine was a truly massive library of songs.
I glanced at the Caller ID. (123)456-7890. Okay, there was no way that number was accidental. Or real, for that matter. And it was weird enough to get my attention, so I picked up. “Yello?”
“I saw you on the news,” a perky female contralto voice said. “You’ve been hitting too many God damn pancake breakfasts. I worry about you. Cholesterol’s no joke, you know.”
I half-smiled. “Hey, Leather.”
“Leather? I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is your dear, sweet Aunt Mathilda. You never thanked me for those fucking socks I knit you for Christmas last year, either. Don’t think you’re going to stay in my will.”
Leather was a supervillain, and in most ways my claim to fame. She was the one I was originally sent to interview, back when I was mostly interviewing rappers and pop princesses. A devilish little pixie, at once dangerous and oddly sweet, she’d kidnapped me for a week and gave me my first real insight into the world of the super powered criminal. Since then, I’d heard from her every so often, always through some means that were nigh impossible to trace. I hadn’t seen her since the end of a bank robbery where she’d left me to be rescued by the police, who got there just in time to see me throw up.
It’s safe to say I had complex feelings about that week.
Still, it was always weirdly nice to hear her voice again. She’d taken to calling me once or twice a year, just for the Hell of it. She never said why. I didn’t argue the point. “I never counted on that,” I said. “You always liked Billy best anyway.” I leaned back. “What can I do for you, ‘auntie?'”
“I hear tell you’re optioning the movie rights for our little article.” She didn’t sound angry, but I knew full well that could be the prelude to something truly painful.
“Not quite,” I said. “The report was I was considering an option on the movie rights, not that I had accepted it.”
“Too good. Makes the book advance look cheap.”
“Well yeah. Print is dead. So why haven’t you taken it?”
I laughed, a touch cynically. “Optioning the movie rights to an interview I did with a girl capable of tearing steel in her hands if she gets annoyed? I can’t imagine why I’d hold off on saying yes.”
“What? That? Oh, shit, Chapman. No worries. Well, mostly no worries. You tell them I have conditions.”
For the record — the way movie options work, Leather had no real say in the matter. It was my article, and my journalism. I could sell the rights however I wanted. That said, I hadn’t been kidding before. You didn’t do something that made a supervillain angry if you could possibly help it. “What conditions?”
“Whoever plays me better be pretty. But not too much tits or ass. I look the way I look and she should too. And she better be able to act and at least look credibly like she could pull off my stunts. I am not kidding here, Chapman. If they get some airhead who can’t talk on camera, can’t hold herself like she could fight and can’t stand up straight because of her F-cups, I will fucking burn their studio to the ground. Make sure they know that.”
“You know what? I’ll make it a contract rider.”
“All right then. So we understand each other. Oh, and not fucking Mila Kunis. I mean, okay — she fits the criteria, but I couldn’t stand That 70’s Show.”
“She’s done stuff since then, you know.”
“What? You mean Family Guy? Come on, don’t even — oh wait. She did that thing in Black Swan, right? Hrm. That wasn’t bad. Okay, she’s in. In fact, tell them to get fucking Mila Kunis, okay?”
“You got it. You’re doing okay?”
“Me? I’m fabulous. Did you see me after the Walkerton Heist?”
“The camera loves you.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” She yawned. “Hey — I read your book. Not bad. I’m glad I suggested it.”
“Me too. Thanks.”
“No worries. I’m glad you hit a wide range, too. Not just marquee types and ‘safe’ villains.” She paused. “I’m also glad you stayed the Hell away from Greystone City.”
“You told me not to go there.”
“Yeah, well — that doesn’t mean you’ll listen. You’re still doing the interview thing, right? Promise me, Chapman. Promise me you won’t go to the Nightwatch’s turf.”
“Aren’t you kind of overstating this? I’ve met psychos before, you know.”
“You met mildly crazy people, yeah. They’re different in Greystone. You have no idea. They’re sick. They kill people the way you or I drink coffee. Something about that city, or about the Nightwatch himself… it’s a cancer. I won’t even go there on business, and when I get pulled into something with one of them, I do my damn best to get back out as fast as possible. I mean it. No Decypher. No Lady Velvet. No Violet. No Hyena. And Lord help you, no Jack O’Knaves. Don’t go there.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I promise. I’ll stay as far away from any of them as I possibly can.”
And now? Here we were. Three odd months later, and I was less than forty feet from the Jack O’Knaves himself. For some reason, he’d come all this way from Greystone, just to see a fourth-tier supervillain named the Rook. Which meant the Rook was probably doomed, and if I said or did the wrong thing, I’d be doomed too.
The Jack O’Knaves was smirking as he looked around the parking garage level. “You know, I like this, Rook old sock. It’s got that entrepreneurial spirit — the supervillain equivalent of working out of your parents’ basement.” He chuckled. “I guess, anyway. It’s been some time since I had parents. Tragic story, really. They were killed right in front of my eyes. By me, but that doesn’t make it hurt less.” He walked over to a workbench, and traced a finger along it. “Though you could dust.”
“I…” the Rook swallowed. “I… didn’t know you were coming. If I’d known, I’d have… I’d have made the place ready for someone of your… your stature. Is there something I could do for you? Something you need me for?”
Jack paused, looking back over his shoulder. “Need you? Need you?” He laughed — that four-laugh laugh that ended up a half-note. It was practically a trademark. “Why would I possibly ever need you, Rook? What could you possibly provide for me?”
The Rook was pale, now. “I… I don’t….”
“Go on,” Jack said, walking closer. Leaning in. Eyes narrowing. Half-smile on his face. “Tell me. What could you give me? What could you possibly provide for me that I couldn’t get better and easier elsewhere?”
The Rook swallowed. “Nuh… nothing, sir.”
Jack flourished with his left hand, a long cane seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Another classic stage magician’s trick, but nastier as he slapped it against the Rook’s dynamic energy field. The field seemed to explode, with what looking like reddish lightning surging through the Rook. The d-lister screamed, his muscles locking for at least five seconds before Jack lifted the cane away. The Rook fell to his knees, where he threw up. “Wrong!” Jack screamed at him, his face twisted into rage. “Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong!” He kicked the Rook in the face, knocking him onto his back and breaking his nose. Steel toed shoes? Maybe. “You think I would come to Minnesota if I didn’t have a reason? Do you? Do you?!”
“I’m sorry!” the Rook screamed. “I’m sorry! What do you want? I’ll give you anything you want!”
“You’re damn right you’re sorry!” the showgirl with the two hearts on her outfit shouted gleefully. Both the girls looked into it — way more than any hench I’d ever seen.
Jack whirled then, throwing his cane spinning straight up into the air even as he threw his right hand out. The two-of-hearts girl jerked with a gurgle, falling backwards. Jack had caught the cane and spun it twice more before tucking it under his shoulder before I realized he’d thrown a knife into the girl’s throat. The girl wearing the three didn’t look any less happy at the goings on — she just stepped back out of the way as Jack walked over to where her fallen opposite number lay. “Oh Deuce,” he said, kneeling down and putting a hand on her face, careful not to kneel where the blood was beginning to pool and flow. “Never step on my lines. You know better. Oh Deuce. My poor, dear Deuce.”
Deuce gurgled again, maybe trying to say something, and then she stopped moving. Jack looked legitimately sad at the girl’s death. “My poor Deuce,” he murmured again. “Trey? Get one of those dropcloths and cover her over, would you? I hate to see her like this.”
“Yes sir!” the other girl — Trey, I guess — said cheerfully, spinning and walking over to where some old tarps were sitting on the floor.
There were a series of shots, then. Which kind of shocked me out of a stupor. I’d interviewed some psychotics before, but as dangerous as some of them were, I’d never met someone who killed his own henchman in cold blood over a triviality, then professed real grief over it. It hit me then. It hit me as hard as a club to the abdomen. He really was insane. Regardless, gunfire was enough to get me to crouch behind the truck, trying to stay low and out of the way. The police?
No, as it turned out. It was Bob, shooting up the car ramp. He got off four shots before a bullet made his head explode like a cantaloupe. A gigantic burly man — at least six-eight, shoulders like the mother of all linebackers — wearing a skintight blood red uniform that covered everything except his jaw, four white clubs decorating the front — was walking down that ramp, carrying an ugly looking carbine in one hand and the other henchman over his shoulder. Blood was trailing behind them, and I could tell it wasn’t from ‘Four.’
Three people dead, and the Jack O’Knaves hadn’t been in the room five minutes yet.
“Where were we? Oh, right. Rook.” He walked back over to where the crook had begun to crawl. Casually, he stomped on Rook’s back, driving him back down to the floor. “Have you figured it out yet? What do you have that I could want? What do you have that no one else does, right now?”
“…oh God….” Rook sounded like he was crying. I didn’t begrudge him that. “Oh God, please….”
“God? Oh, no. God’s allegedly everywhere. I wouldn’t have to come here for God. It’s something else. Come on. You can do it.” He hooked his foot under the Rook, rolling him back onto his back. The Rook was bleeding pretty badly from his nose, now.
And then, with a cold chill, I got it. I knew why he was here. I knew what the Rook had that no one else did, right now.
I stood then, lifting my hands up, and stepped around the truck. “I’m right here,” I said, softly. Trying not to interrupt. I didn’t want a knife in my own throat.
Jack turned, and looked delighted. “A volunteer! Trey, why don’t you help that nice man up on stage, while I prepare my next amazing illusion!” He laughed that four-beat laugh again. Hah hah hah HAH! God, it curdled my brain to hear that. Trey — clearly, the three-heart girl — turned and sauntered over to me, hips moving. Sex in sequins. Eyes bright, a wicked smile, a coy expression as she cocked a finger towards me, beckoning me to her. Ten feet away, her coworker’s corpse was still cooling under the dropcloth.
“Chu… Chapman? You’re here for him?” the Rook croaked.
“Of course!” Jack turned back. “I can’t believe you didn’t guess that. I mean, you’re a supervillain, Rook, old bean. A police officer or a bystander? I can accept they couldn’t figure out such an obvious answer. But you? We have to be at a higher standard, don’t we?”
“I… I’m sorry,” Rook whispered.
“Me too.” Jack whirled the cane back out into his hand. A spearpoint snapped out of the bottom, and Jack drove it down, straight into Rook’s eye. “But maybe the next chess inspired mook will be more on the ball.”
Four people dead, including the only three who knew where I was. And now I was alone with a psychotic mass-murdering stage magician, his equally unhinged girl friday, and a gun toting giant with no regard for human life.
Leather had been right. I’d had no idea. And the chance I would survive learning better was getting smaller all the time.