Friday shows up, and here we are ready for Part Five of Interviewing Trey. I hope everyone’s feeling good.
It’s interesting to me what people latch onto, writing wise. I figured Trey would start to catch on and it has. I didn’t know if Lovelace 1/2 would catch on or not, but it’s getting something of a passionate following. The myths aren’t getting the audience that once they would have known, but that’s likely more a matter of time than anything else. Plus, I think the myths are where most of my ring-rust has shown. Monday’s is I think the best written of what’s come so far.
But that’s not why you’re here today. Here’s the latest. Enjoy!
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People sometimes forget that I don’t just interview and research low grade third and fourth tier villains. I also research and interview second and third tier heroes.
Now, admittedly most of the time I interview the heroes as counterpoint. If you’re really going to get a sense for a villain, you have to talk to the people they fight. This is especially true for the rogues. In a lot of way, a rogue is the mirror, cracked or not, of the hero. Think of Paragon and Leonardo Lucas — Paragon is just that, both physically and morally. Leonardo Lucas is charitably ‘portly,’ with a receding hairline, the requisite bloatee facial hair, and maybe the finest mind our planet’s ever produced. If you’re going to understand Leonardo Lucas, you have to at least get to know Paragon, so you can figure out just what Lucas hates.
Not that I’ve ever spoken to Leonardo Lucas or Paragon, mind. Just like the Jack O’Knaves, they’re above my pay grade. But the principle holds throughout. And a lot of the time, low-tier villains fight mid-tier heroes — which makes sense. There’s fewer heroes after all.
There was one opportunity I had to talk to a second tier — this is why I bring all this up, mind. In this case, it was maybe the most beautiful woman I’d ever met — she went by Thunder Lass. You know the one. Long, metallic red hair, blue red and yellow bodysuit, a ‘traditional superheroine figure’ — the whole nine yards. We had been discussing Harridancer, a tier three who she’d fought six or seven times, but we’d gotten sidetracked, and we got on the subjects of the bad aspects of heroing.
“For me, the worst is the knockout,” she said. “Not the pain — I heal fast and I’m actually amazingly durable — but the actual dissolve into unconsciousness.”
“I have to imagine,” I said. “The sense of powerlessness.”
“Oh yeah — in a lot of ways. The worst of it is, you just don’t know what will happen while you’re out. You could be killed, or injured, or compromised in any number of ways. You could be drugged, or interrogated, or ensorcelled. You could be mind-controlled while you sleep. That happened to my team mate Reflective Lass — she’s out like a light and slapping the rest of us around like we were rag dolls.” She giggled. “That wasn’t fun. Still, it’s hardly the worst of what can happen — and it’s a helpless feeling — even when you wake up. You just don’t know.”
“But you take steps?”
“Oh, of course. My suit’s kind of stunningly hard to remove, for example. Friends of mine with masks or cowls usually have them trapped so they can’t be taken off. Magi have emergency spells, a number of hero teams have vital stat monitors that’ll scream if they go below a certain level. You do everything you can. But you don’t know, until you wake up — if you wake up — and see where you are and what situation you’re in. At that point, you can take control again, but until you’re actually conscious….” She shrugged. “We’re off topic again. We should get back to Harridancer. She knocked me out once. Actually — no joke — chained me with non-conductive cable to a giant bomb at the base of the Harding Dam. That was not my favorite way to wake up.”
I’ll be honest. None of this went through my mind as Nickel was chloroforming me. There really wasn’t time. But I can tell you this much. Thunder Lass is right. It’s a terrible feeling, even in retrospect.
Needless to say, I did wake up. And you know something — I would not have predicted the form that would take. I mean, it was surprising I actually woke up, sure, but more than that, I didn’t wake up in a deathtrap or cut in half as part of a demented magic trick or even chained to a bomb at the base of a dam. No. I woke up… in a comfortable bed in what looked for all the world like a really nicely appointed hotel room.
There was blue carpet on the floor, and prints of famous paintings on the walls (at least I assume they were prints), and the bed was high end hotel quality. There was a bureau against the far wall, a closet door, and an open door into a bathroom that was at least medium on the opulence scale..
Apparently, I wasn’t meant to suffer. At least, not yet.
However, not suffering didn’t mean I was comfortable. My head was pounding and I had a terrible case of cottonmouth. I pushed myself upright rubbing crust out of my eyes. I was in a white tee shirt and boxer shorts — neither of which I’d been wearing when I had been knocked out, even under my metrosexual biker outfit. Great. At some point naked at the behest of a psychotic birthday party magician. I figured it was even odds embarrassing pictures of me were on the Internet.
Then I realized that would mean someone would know I was out there, somewhere, in an odd situation. That seemed singularly unlikely, given how clearly the Jack O’Knaves wanted me to know no one would know he had me.
There was a single knock at the door, and then it opened, and a man came in pushing a tray with the aluminum room service plate covers I knew from Christ knows how many hotels. He was a dark skinned man with a fringe of white hair wrapping around his head, leaving most of the top of his head bare pated. At first, I thought he was wearing standard hotel room service livery, but I quickly realized his clothes were a different kind of uniform. Black cost and pants, vest, ascot with pin — a cluster of diamond shaped crystals. He was a butler. “Mister Chapman,” he said, with the clipped tones of Received Pronunciation. “How are we feeling?”
I winced, feeling my stomach lurch as he uncovered plates laden with bacon, eggs, sausage, grilled English muffins, glasses of water and juice, mug of coffee — it looked good but just smelling it made me want to throw up. “I can’t speak for you, but I’m feeling horrible. You might want to bring this to someone who can eat it.”
“Ah ah ah,” he said, “sick or not, you’ll eat. That is, if you want to actually start feeling better. You’ve gone too long under sedation with nothing real in your stomach. The sooner we change that, the better you’ll do.”
“Under sedation?” I asked. I reflexively looked at my left arm. Yup, the telltale bandage on the top of my hand, covering a yellowish iodine stain. And the slight ache I hadn’t noticed through my general body yuck. “How… Long have I been out?”
“Time is a fluid concept down here,” he said. “Come, start with some water, then move to the eggs.”
I took a couple of sips of water, trying to wash the taste and dryness out of my mouth all at once. “Who are you, anyway?” I focused a little more, looking at the Swarovski crystals on his tie tack. Nine of them, in a cluster. The nine of diamonds. I was definitely still the Jack O’Knaves’s prisoner.
“I am called Mister River,” he said, scooping up a forkful of the eggs. “Now, open up, and let’s get this into you.”
I looked dubiously at the egg on the fork. “How do you know I’m not allergic?”
“Trust me. There’s no ragweed in these eggs. The kitchen’s quite diligent about that.”
“How do you know I’m….” I cut myself off. I really didn’t want to know the answer. Besides, I could hear Leather’s sarcastic voice in the back of my head. “Right. Mass murder and kidnapping you can deal with, but violating HIPPA, now that’s just too far…”
Mass murder. Deuce lying dead on the ground. The spear through the Rook’s eye, Cobalt Blue’s lifeless, horrified stare.
I turned away, gagging. River was behind me, a hand on my shoulder and another on my back, supporting me as I threw up. Bile and dry heaves — he was right about my stomach being empty. “Shh shh shhhh,” he murmured. “It’s all right. Let it out.”
“He killed them,” I choked out. “The Rook when he was helpless, Cobalt Blue — his own henchwoman….”
“I know, I know,” he said, in a soothing voice. “He killed them. He kills a lot of people. I know. Just let it out.”
Thinking back over it all, I feel at once terrible and vindicated by my reaction. Terrible because… Well, you know the drill. I’m supposed to be inured to the horror — snide and sarcastic and a little cooler than thou in the face of violent murder. And give me some credit on that score — I didn’t chunk in the Rook’s lair. But on the other hand….
Look, it’s easy to read about murder, or see it fictionalized on television. But… It’s different, seeing it as it happens, especially when done so cavalierly. It’s horrifying, in the truest sense of that word. Vindicated? Hell, I’m proud. No matter how crappy a human being I can be, I’m not a monster. Not like the Jack O’Knaves.
No one is a monster like the Jack O’Knaves.
Finally, after a long moment, when nothing more seemed to be coming out, I relaxed, just slightly. “Why River?” I asked. “Why not some pun on Nine?”
“The River is the last card turned over in Texas Hold’em,” he said. “Mister Oaknavés says that I’m who he sees at the end of the day. Therefore, I’m the river.”
“Heh. Dumbass poker reference. Got it. Why do people work for him?”
“Willingly, you mean?” he asked, his voice soft. “I have no Earthly idea. Now then. Let’s get some of these eggs into you, shall we?”
Whatever else I might say about him, Mister Rivers knew his stuff. He helped me into the shower after feeding me what I could eat, and stayed on hand to keep me upright. That might seem weird to you — I didn’t even know this guy — but something about him made being naked and shaky in a shower in front of him perfectly natural. Like a good nurse or caregiver. And I suppose that’s a part of being a butler, I suppose. Still, it was surreal. The situation as a whole, I mean. From my frame of reference, I’d gone from horror and murder to vomit, breakfast and a shower in rapid succession.
Back at the start of this account, I mentioned that this beat had become… well, a job. Not ‘just’ a job, but not constant surprise and wonder, either. All that was out the window, now.
He had me change into nice clothes. Black slacks and polo shirt, silk boxers, well made walking loafers. Merrills, if you know loafers, which I admit I didn’t before then.
“Where are my clothes?” I asked as I finished sprucing up. I felt eight hundred and three times more alive. My head still hurt, but it was retreating to the back of my head, where it nestled. Being clean helped me with most of my feelings of dread, too. Maybe that was a bad thing, but being horrified is best done in doses. Otherwise, you’ll run out of horror when you really need it.
“Cleaned and hanging,” Mister River said. “And your other things from your knapsack and car have also been unpacked and put away. I’ll show you later, though for now….”
“Let me guess. Mister ‘Oaknavés’ is waiting?”
“Let us just say that I have been asked to bring you up as soon as you were cleaned up.” He paused. “It’s best to treat those requests with a certain implicit urgency.”
“I’ll bet. Lead the way.”
The hallway also looked like any given hotel corridor — off white stucco walls, red and black patterned carpet, suite and room doors with keycard readers on the outside. I swear to Christ there was even an alcove with ice and a soda machine in it. Really, the only difference was a lack of windows at the end of the halls, and even there there were the weird heavy gold patterned drapes hung as if there were. Perfect illusion, all told. And insane. Or was I actually in some kind of hotel?
No… No, as we rounded the corner and I saw the mirrored walls on either side of the brass looking elevator, I realized exactly want this was. This wasn’t just a simulated hotel. This was a simulated Las Vegas casino, complete with hotel floor.
Well, I thought it was simulated. There’s no reason he couldn’t have flown me to Vegas instead of Greystone City. Somehow, I doubted that, though.
Before his insanity was apparent, the Jack O’Knaves had been called Jack Cave, a Vegas and Atlantic City magician in the old style, traveling the country on tours and working out of the old Carthage resort and casino on the strip. While Cave was in Greystone City, a series of thefts and murders came to the attention of Nightstick and Cudgel. The trail led them over Cave’s entire tour route, and they took him down in Vegas itself. He didn’t seem upset — if anything, he was excited and happy to be caught.
Investigations afterward showed “Jack Cave” didn’t exist. Instead, the trail led to “Black Jack Nimble,” a pro poker and blackjack player. Before that, there was Jack B. Sharp, street and close up magician. Every step led to another alias, until in the end there was just a big unknown. To this day, no one knew his birth name. Whatever it might have been, Jack Cave’s greatest escape was from his own past.
In the end, Jack Cave escaped from jail before he could be charged. Literally, one minute he was in his cell, the next he wasn’t. People still don’t know how he did it. But in one sense, Jack Cave never left the cell. When next he surfaced, he was the Jack O’Knaves, and his new home was Greystone City. At first, he was just one of the regular loonies infesting Greystone. Just like the Cypher, who encrypted his plans into elaborate codes, daring Nightstick to decrypt them and catch him in the act, or the original Lady Velvet, who spread seductive alchemical crime waves across Greystone, the Jack O’Knaves challenged Nightstick and Cudgel to figure out the method behind his mad tricks, living as much for the chase as the score.
And then one day, he started killing people. Including Cudgel, or so everyone assumes, at least. The atmosphere of Greystone changed. The silly villains changed, retired or died. The rest grew twisted and psychotic, and their king was a Jack.
But Nightstick changed too. He turned inward, evolving from a semi-public figure into a vigilante some said was as twisted as his rogues. And with that shift came a change of name, turning him into the Nightwatch.
Looking around this lair, as we stepped into the elevator, I realized that in his own, insane way, the Jack O’Knaves still lived the Las Vegas life, at least in his own head. And I was a prisoner in the casino of his own mind.