It’s Friday — and you know what that means. It’s another day where we’re Interviewing Trey — not that the interview has really started.
This episode… um… yeah. You know what? I’ll try to get complete notes on it later this morning, because I can’t exactly put them in now. I may even write a tumblr post about it or something. It’s nothing that big in one sense, but I think it underscores differences in my writing process from 2007 to now.
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I talk a lot about Bandolier. He was a Brit, who had a real hate on for the Beacon, over in Crown City. Really, it’s because he was one of the more fascinating rogues I’d met. He was… well, he was good at everything, you know? Seriously — he was handsome, intelligent, athletic, rich even before the crime… everything he did came easily to him. And yet, he turned all that talent, skill, charisma and resources to committing new crimes and trying to kill Beacon. Not only hadn’t this been a good career choice, overall — it had kind of destroyed his life. All his old assets had either been sold off to pay his fines or were found to be tied to his crimes and seized as evidence, so he always needed to make scores to even get his finances back in order. All his old friends and associates had dumped him. I guess he even lost a boyfriend along the way — one he clearly still loved, from the way he talked about him.
But he didn’t have any regrets. If anything, he was downright happy. I don’t get it. Probably I never will.
Anyway, I bring it up because one night we were up on the roof of his then-latest lair. Hand to God, it was a used car dealership. He’d somehow gotten a floor beneath the service bays kitted out for all his villainous needs, and the active car dealers made for great cover. But, it was sunset and the facade on the edge of the roof provided good cover. We were sitting on lounge chairs, me with a chain connecting me to the roof (I’m generally treated as a prisoner when I arrive — easier for everyone, especially since the deal was I’d spill everything to the cops and heroes afterward.) And we were smoking cigars. Seriously. I think he was going for male bonding.
“So what’s the key to success?” I was asking him. “What separates you from the has-beens and the never-weres?”
He chuckled. “Are you suggesting I’m overly successful? I sleep twenty-eight feet from a ’99 Ford Escort.”
“That’s a lifestyle choice, isn’t it? And I’m suggesting you’re successful in ways other villains aren’t. Even if you go to prison, you keep your rep intact and you never seem to be that put out when you break out. Hell, you’ve pretty much moved up into the second tier–”
“Nah, I’m third-tier,” he said, blowing a bit of smoke into the air. “There’s a pile of us Rogues here in Paramount — we kinda dilute each other’s impact. And honestly, even the Beacon herself’s second tier.”
“How can you say that? She’s the leader of Justice Wing.”
“Right, exactly. She’s the leader, but any time you see them together — who’dya see? Paragon, the Lieutenant, Centurion, Nightwatch if he’s with them. Before the unpleasantness, Freya would be up there too. Where’s their big leader Beacon? Off to the side, between Transit, Broadhead and the Ancient Mariner. Top’a second tier? Maybe. But second tier.”
“So what’s the key to your success?”
He took another puff, thoughtfully. “Impact,” he said. “Dramatic impact? Societal impact? Whatever.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean if you do something, make it count. Make people remember it. Show, don’t tell. If you do something terrible, make it something people would never forget. This one time? I was fighting the Beacon in the downtown corridor, and she was mopping up my henches like nothing. Girl who turns into light? Not an easy fight, I can tell you. But while I was watching my henches drop like someone’d cut their strings, all in an eyeblink, I clicked a remote I had in one of my strap pouches. Even as she burst to me, there was a hideous shriek of metal, and six parked cars turned into one giant robot, all set to commit mayhem, and nicely reflective to boot.”
“Yeah, but she beat it, right?”
“Sure sure. But for everyone watching, this was simultaneously cool and like something out of a science fiction oriented horror story. Cars — cars, which people drive — were suddenly pulled into a robot. None of them ever forgot that moment. The best villains find a way to use style.”
I was never sure if he was right, but the world has ways of making you find out.
Meanwhile, back in the present, we’d just reached the surface — the gate had been torn into. It looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it; Cater was clearly just as strong as he looked. Low grade meta? Almost certainly. So, it was me in my leather coat, my turtleneck, and my sunglasses — the clothes Leather had given me once upon a time, which had become something of a trademark — the Jack himself in his Vegas themed tuxedo, Cater in his blood red outfit with the four clubs, and Trey in her spangle suit designed to show off skin and her three spangled hearts. It was surreal, and made moreso when the Jack turned to face me as we stepped out into the light. He had an affected serious expression on his face. “Mister Chapman, I’m not sure I have your full attention,” he said.
“Right now? I promise you you have my full attention.”
“Oh, you’re kind — but no! No. There’s something missing… some distraction I haven’t put my finger on.” With a jolt of fear I knew he was talking about my hope local hero Cobalt Blue would save me. But, despite that, he didn’t say anything. “I can feel… a disturbance in the vibrations of the world, Mister Chapman,” he said, smiling slightly. In the sunlight, his reddish blonde hair almost glittered — perfectly groomed, to go with his almost impossibly handsome face. The Jack was charismatic, without a doubt, and when he looked straight at you with those grey eyes… you felt like they were nailing you to the wall. If you got his attention, you got his full attention. “The spirits beyond are singing for you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, shivering. I’m about to die, I thought. He’s going to kill me, right here on the street.
“Why, they sing to me of faith, of hope. Of a man pushed to despair but who refuses to give up. You!” he gestured to me with his left hand. “You have felt the embers stirring in your heart, haven’t you? In the company of demons, you have placed your faith in angels.” He grinned. “It is remarkable to see that kind of faith — especially in a man who keeps… what did you name your book, again? Oh yes. Low Society. Despite your taste for underworld wine and cheese fêtes, you look skyward.” He shook his head, still grinning. “I can only be impressed. Let’s go!”
So it sounded like he’d figured out — maybe from my expression? Who knows — I had let Cobalt Blue know I was coming, and that Blue would investigate. Clearly the Jack wasn’t worried, but c’mon. Why would he be? He was the first tier, and he was insane.
I was glad for both these things, right about then. I figure those were the only factors keeping me alive, if he knew a super hero would be looking for me. A sane homicidal maniac would have killed me even if he’d come all that way to find me.
Yeah, I know. I just said sane homicidal maniac. Trust me, when you meet the Jack O’Knaves, suddenly everything is a matter of degree.
We walked down the street — a single block. We had to look ridiculous. A man in a tux, a second man in a blood red full bodysuit, hauling a third in an outfit that would have looked cool on Keanu Reeves in his Matrix years, but not at all since then, and a red haired woman whose white spangled outfit was barely decent by Las Vegas standards, much less Minnesota. How could he expect no one to notice?
But points to the Jack. No one did. Or if they did, they didn’t call attention to that fact. He walked into a second parking garage — this one actually in service, walking along the lower level. Almost no cars were parked. Okay, my Prius was in there, but then I had business in the local neighborhood. Parked two doors down was a limousine. An honest to Christ black limo, with Greystone license plates — license number 8AJA8. Standing next to the limo was an attractive dark skinned woman with short, well styled hair. She wore a white chauffeured uniform, holding a cap in her hand. On her lapel was an red enameled pin with what looked like five pips on it — like spots on a die. It was only as we got close enough that I realized they were shaped like playing card diamonds. The five of diamonds. Nickel, Jack and Trey had called her. The Jack’s gambling motif yet again. How did they get away with this?
Though we approached, Nickel didn’t move to open the door. This surprised me. Instead, Jack walked over to the Prius, Trey lithely moving to his side. “Is this your car, Mister Chapman?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, trying not to croak.
“Excellent — and you can see that I haven’t tampered with it in any way, right?” As he spoke, Trey circled the car, rapping all four windows, the window on the hatch and the hood of the car with one knuckle.
“Not that I can see, no,” I said.
“Hah hah hah hah!” he laughed, grinning more broadly. That damnable affected laugh. “I like that answer. Keeps your options open. Trey — if you please?”
Trey whirled, producing a long stemmed rose from… well, somewhere. I couldn’t imagine where she’d hide a credit card in that outfit, much less plant matter. She tossed the rose smoothly to the Jack, who plucked it from the air and spun himself, flourishing with the rose, only it had become a red satin sheet which he whirled and spread out, covering my car from hood to hatch with the first toss. He stepped forward, between me and the car, while Trey circled it again, repeating her knocking on the windows and hood. “I have to commend you on your choice of vehicle,” he said. “After all, we all have to live on this planet. By driving a hybrid you’re being a good responsible global citizen. Nickel — remind me to buy a hybrid limo, would you?”
“Yes sir, Mister Oaknavės.”
“But I’m sure Mister Chapman here would like to get on his way — we should probably wrap this up.” He took four steps back, standing next to the rear of the car, taking hold of the sheet. “Watch closely… and be amazed!” he shouted as he pulled the sheet from the car with another flourish.
The Prius looked exactly the same, if one didn’t count the dead man pressed against the window. His face was twisted in terror, His blue eyes wide and unseeing, blood spattered everywhere and smearing the window even as his hands were pressed against it, like he had been trying to get out. Blond hair wild, with blood in that too.
And a blue domino mask, torn in one corner.
I felt my heart contract in my chest, the world wobbling. I started to stumble back, but Cater was there to force me to stay upright.
The Jack made a tsking sound. “You know, you pretreat the upholstery, you get the car detailed, but still those damn heroes get in and mess everything up.” He grinned. “Trey!” He snapped the sheet out over the car. Trey, on the other side, caught it and the two spread it wide, settling it atop the car once more. He moved fluidly around to the front, even as Trey once more circled the car knocking. “Now, you may be wondering — how do I possibly top that? Do I make the hero disappear, blood and all? Do I add two or three more heroes and the odd innocent bystander? Do I fill the car with balloons or balls from a ball pit? Those are good choices. I’d ask you to guess, but you’re close enough to throwing up as it is — the last thing I want to do is add performance anxiety to the mix. Honestly, I should have ended on that high note, but if the parking lot attendant finds a dead hero in a Prius, they’re either going to call the police or Al Gore. I’m honestly unsure which is worse.”
“So!” He turned, grabbed the sheet, and pulled it away with another grand flourish. “Hah hah hah hah!”
My Prius was white. This car was dark green, and a little ratty. I realized it was a green Hyundai Elantra. A 2002.
The exact make, model and color of the car I’d owned before the Prius. I’d think it was that car, except Leather had thrown a truck tire rim a few hundred feet and smashed in the hood and shattered the windshield.
And the thing is? I never mentioned the color of that car in the article. You have to admire detail when you see it.
And right then I got it. Really got what Bandolier had told me. The Jack could have just shown me Cobalt Blue’s dead body. Instead… he went the extra thirty miles, right down to my old car.
The body would have scared me shitless. The swapped in car tricks? Had impact. And no matter how I might want to, I’ll never forget them.
The Jack O’Knaves inclined his head, then offered an arm, which Trey flowed into. “We should get going. Nickel, the door if you please. Cater? See to Mister Chapman.
Cater’s hand clamped over my mouth and nose, hard. He was holding a wet cloth. A sweet smell assaulted my nostrils, and my head began to go light.
In the movies, something like that works in seconds. In real life, it takes a little time. I felt woozy, sure, but I had a long moment before I went out. A long moment to have it sink in. He’d killed Cobalt Blue — probably some time before I’d even gotten there. He’d set up some trick to reveal his body, designed to shock me into realizing I had no way out. And then somehow he managed to substitute the car with something completely different. How? I had no idea. Where was my car? Probably on its way to be destroyed, along with any evidence.
I heard a distant thunder. My ears playing tricks as the drug took hold — maybe. The whole world was whirling. Or maybe it was the parking garage imploding, dropping a few thousand tons of concrete on top of the four dead bodies in there. Who could say? I was all alone, and no one was going to figure out I was gone for weeks, if ever.
And yet, just before everything went black, my last thought wasn’t on the Jack O’Knaves, or Trey or Cater, or Deuce, the Rook or his henchmen, or even on Cobalt Blue, who died probably without even knowing why. My last thought was on the question he’d made me ask him. Why the Jack O’Knaves? Why not the Jack of Hearts or Spades or something?
He never answered my question, I thought. And then I thought nothing at all.