And here we are, back again with Interviewing Trey. Due to things and stuff, it’s actually been some time, for which I apologize.
When last we left off, the Jack O’Knaves had just foisted intrepid reporter Todd Chapman onto Trey — one of his most prominent magician’s assistants and henchmen. She was tasked in finding a replacement for Deuce, who the Jack had killed when Chapman was being kidnapped. There was also some discussions about casinos and lots of people in polo shirts.
In one sense, it almost feels like we just got out of the prologue. After all, the story’s called Interviewing Trey, and we’re actually in a position where Chapman might actually get to ask a question or two. Might, anyway.
I hope you like it.
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Back in the days before capes and masks and sequined henchmen, I wrote about music. It was pretty much just the thing that I did. Now, you might not think that would have been good preparation for covering the Supervillain Lifestyle section, but honestly it works in more ways than you might think. Both professions are as much performance as they are production — both require tons of preparation and minute details. Both involve idiosyncratic personalities which often clash. And both have several metric tons of affectation that you need to tunnel through before you actually begin to understand them.
In this particular case, I’m thinking about an up and coming R&B singer, J. Beguile. You may have heard of him — he was big around ’04, especially in and around Century City. He’d taken his name from the old J. Geils band, and actually covered “Centerfold” as a part of his live show — he hadn’t put the song out on an album at that point. He’d likely have gone someplace, but the supervillain Beguile thought he was being disrespectful and consumed one of his concerts in a kind of purple unburning fire. The new Freya freed the audience and saved him, but he pulled out of the public eye after that. Anyway — this isn’t my point.
My point is, J. Beguile was actually named Jeremy Beeson. When I interviewed him, he’d already built up an entourage. He was ‘on stage’ whenever he was around people, as near as I could tell… right up until his show was over that night, and we ended up in his green room. Fresh from a shower, in a tee shirt and pajama bottoms, he kind of fell back against the couch. “So let’s talk,” he said, his voice gravelly from the concert.
“Right now? You don’t want to get back to the room and–”
“Right now. If you want to get to know me — to really get to know Jeremy Beeson, this is the time to do it. The green room, man. That’s where it all goes away. The green room, or rehearsal spaces when we’re putting a show together, or the studio. Anywhere else you see me, I’m J. Beguile. Sitting in my own living room, I’m J. Beguile. Walking my dog or hanging out in the hotel room? I’m J. Beguile. Anywhere else, I’m on, and you’re on the outside. Back here, this is the green room. It’s where the art doesn’t happen. The green room is where you get into the performance, and where you destress back out of it. The performance space is where you can screw up your dance and hang with your dancers. The studio is where you and the guys can jam between takes and screw around with music. Most reporters? They never really see the green room. Not like this. So they never really talk to the singer. They just let themselves be entertained by the act, and pretend like they know you.” He leaned forward. “Right now? I’m tired, I need a shower, I’m dressed down, and I don’t give a shit about anything except my post-show glow. Right now you’re on this side of the curtain. You want something better than pull quotes? Ask me questions right now.”
Why do I bring this up? Because up until now, having been captured by one of the most infamous of supervillains… the psycho of psychoes himself… I was still a prisoner. I was still being played to. The hotel room, and Mister River. The trick elevator, and sitting in the VIP Lounge over Dispater’s Vault. The Jack O’Knaves with his tie off but surrounded by his people, including his support staff in matching freaking polo shirts and khakis. For all intents and purposes, I was still being handled. No actual interview had taken place.
When I’d been fobbed off onto Trey, she wasn’t happy — she’d made that clear. But the Jack had told her to bring me with her, to answer my questions, to ‘do whatever I asked her to do,’ which is a loaded freaking order any way you look at it. She’d said we were going to go get coffee while she began the process of finding a replacement for the recently murdered Deuce — her partner in the Jack’s crimes. And I’ll admit, I expected that meant we’d descend to the floor of Dispater’s Vault and find ourselves in some illicit cafe, with drugs and sex all around us while the marks gambled and bought and sold themselves all around us. I expected I’d still be shown the facade, in other words.
Instead, we went down five levels — not into the hotel, mind. The elevator we took went straight down, with no sideways movement. And when we got out, everything was different. It looked like we were on the basement level of a gymnasium, right down to cinderblocks painted that kind of yellowish nothing, and dull red painted steel doors with safety glass windows. And locker rooms. Locker rooms.
One of which had a logo of a heart over it. She walked into that one, pushing the heavy metal door open. “Civilian!” she shouted into the room. “Anyone naked or care?”
There was no answer. She nodded for me to follow and I followed. And yeah — it was a locker room. Grey brown standup lockers with Stanley combination locks, wooden benches, toilet stalls with doors and a larger communal shower with partitions. It had that weird combination of chlorine and sweat and vague rubber from the no-skid floor. She walked over to a locker — ‘3,’ naturally — and I realized there were nine lockers on one side of the room — 2 through 10 — and nine more on the other side (12 through 20).
“So this is where the Hearts suit up?” I asked. It was a pretty obvious question, but then I didn’t have much else to go on just then.
Trey didn’t answer. She just kept working the lock.
“What?” she snapped, opening the locker. It was pretty stuffed on the inside.
“I asked if this–”
“I heard you.” She pulled out a long red outfit of some sort — all I could tell from a fast glance was it looked like lycra.
“Oh. Okay. Do I… what, interpret your answers via body language?”
“I’m not hear to answer your dumbass questions, Chapman.”
“Aren’t you? I thought your boss told you to do what I said.”
“He did.” She turned, and gave me a winning — and very practiced — smile. “What can I do for you, sir? Would you like to see a dance? Some close up magic?” She slid two fingers up along her arm, arching her back — very alluring, except her annoyance ruined the effect. “Or maybe you’d like to see me make these clothes disappear? That’s a popular trick among the press, isn’t it?”
I half-smiled. “Well, for one you can tell me if this is the locker room the Hearts use.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, Einstein. This is the locker room the Hearts use.”
“Cool. So what do the different–”
“Oh, Jesus Christ. Do you even hear yourself? Stop talking! I don’t want to hear you talk. I’m stuck with you, and I’m going to be stuck with you, but that doesn’t mean I need to even know you’re in the room with me. Do you understand me?”
I looked at her for a long moment. “I understand you,” I said, finally.
“Good.” She slammed the locker door shut.
“But I’m going to ask you questions, and unless I drastically misunderstood the Jack’s orders, you’re going to answer them. So maybe you and I need to get back onto a better foot.”
She whirled, one long leg spinning out and connecting with my side with a surprising amount of force and knocking me into the far wall, which fortunately had one of those hanging exercise mats on it. I’ve never known why they put those in gymnasium locker rooms, but right then I was glad for it. Between the days under sedation — and apparently in surgery — and my general crappy condition, it hurt like Hell and I went down. “Who the fuck do you think you are?!” she spat at me.
“A reporter,” I coughed, pushing up to a sitting position. “Why? Who do you think you are?”
“Who am I? I’m Trey! I’m the right hand of the Jack O’Knaves! I’m the instrument of his expression! Don’t you ever forget that!”
“Are you worried he has?”
I’ve never felt such hatred in a stare. “What?!”
“He’s going out with Kick and Stick. Do you think that means he’s forgotten who you are? Does this mean you’re washed up?” Yeah, this maybe wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but there were only two choices for me right then. Go passive — do what I was told, and wait for the Jack to kill me, or try to get some control over my situation. A few years in the scene hadn’t made me any better at fighting or escaping or defusing neck-bombs, so if I were going to get control, it would have to be by doing my job. And that meant getting my only source of information to talk to me.
Or, you know, kill me.
“He told me to recruit a new Deuce! I’m going to do just that! I’m going to find the best partner I’ve ever had, and we’re going to be the best team he’s ever had! Do you hear me?!”
“Then why are you so pissed at me? I didn’t kill Deuce.”
She clenched her hand into a fist, her body coiling. I could tell she was about to throw herself at me — and it seemed at least somewhat likely I’d be killed in the process. “If it wasn’t for you–”
“What — she’d be alive? She’s the one who stepped on the Jack’s lines. You didn’t even care she was dead at the time.” I cocked my head. “Or did you?”
“That bitch just held me back!”
“So what’s the problem? And if you kill me now, will that mean the Jack’ll put you back at his side without a partner? Or just get pissed because you broke his biographer?”
She stared, and seemed to almost deflate. “Damn it,” she hissed.
I stayed up against the far wall — I probably looked pathetic. “Look, I dunno what he intends to do with me, but he claims he wants an interview. That means he wants the whole nine yards. If he put me with you, it’s because he wants you to be in the story. Isn’t that something? He doesn’t have me interviewing Stick or Kick, does he?”
Trey looked angry and tired all at once. “Don’t patronize me. I’m not nine years old and I’m not a moron.”
“I never thought you were a moron, and any man with a pulse can see you’re not nine years old.”
She looked at me, then snorted in disgust. “Asshole.”
“So. Are we going to do this?”
She rubbed her brow. “I really do need some fucking coffee,” she said.
“Okay, I’m going to get changed in the shower area. We’ll get coffee, and then I have to get to work. Ask whatever the fuck you want.”
I nodded. “Okay.”
“‘Okay,’” she imitated, high pitched. “He better let me kill you when this is all over.”
I opened my mouth — probably to say something facile — when I realized she was serious.
She snorted again and stepped into the shower area.
Lying there, I felt the pain beginning to get bad again. I expected I would just need to get used to that. At the same time, I felt weirdly okay. It took me a moment to figure out why. I was in a locker room where a supervillain’s assistant had just kicked me into a wall and threatened to kill me. No artifice. No ploys. No fancy language. Just undisguised hate and violence.
I was finally in the Green Room.