Interviewing Trey #12

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Interviewing Trey

And here we are at the end of the week, and with any kind of luck at all, this post will actually appear on Friday. My old friend Jonathan Lennox thinks that a modern myth discussing the scheduling daemons that actually put the posts up at their appointed times is in order, to perhaps mollify said spirits and give them the recognition they deserve. I’m pretty sure he’s right. It’s generally a mistake to get those guys angry at you. Think about how many scheduled events you have in your life on a day to day basis.

But, that’s not for today. Today we’ve got the second Trey post this week, getting us caught back up. Hope you like it!

*** *** *** ***

Day and night had very little meaning in Dispater’s Vault. I may have overemphasized the point, but you have to understand just how surreal it felt. There was no way to see the outside world, no matter where you went. There was no television, no internet — nothing that gave you references points. The casino floor was packed every time I saw it, and it was always just as dim and dingy, no matter what. I didn’t have a watch, either, and I can’t remember seeing any clocks. It was like the whole place was just made up of ‘now,’ and it went on most of forever.

So, it caught me a bit off guard when Trey looked over at me. “How long have you been awake, anyway? You look like Hell.”

“I hear that a lot,” I said. We were back on the crew floor, and she’d commendeered one of the generic offices, where she’d been writing up moves for what I assumed was the audition piece she’d be using to winnow out her potential partners. “And you tell me — it wasn’t that long before Mister River brought me into the lounge where the Jack saddled you with me.”

“Really? Huh.”

“Though it’s worth noting I’d apparently been sedated and then had a bomb stuck in my head before that, and I don’t know how long I was out. Which reminds me — what date is it?”

She half-smiled, but didn’t answer that question. “All right. I’ll give you some wussiness. I’m going to assume we need to keep you rested. You’ve had food and you’ve asked a bunch of dumbass questions. Do you remember your room number?”

“I… have no idea what my room number is.”

Trey rolled her eyes. “Of course you don’t. Hang on.” She grabbed the phone and punched in a number. “Hello? Yeah, hey Baccarat. Hey — Todd Chapman. Yeah, I’m — uh huh? Yeah, I’m stuck with him. Anyway, can you get me his room number? Oh. Oh yeah.” She laughed. “Yeah, but think how much the ointment would cost! Right. Right. Okay! Thank you!”  She hung up. “Twenty-three nineteen. Not bad. Twenty-three’s pricy.”

“I wouldn’t know. It looked like a pretty standard hotel room to me.”

“Well, we’ll see in a few minutes. Right now I’ve got to go talk to staff services — can you endure being in this office for five minutes without me?”

I laughed weakly. “I think I’ll survive,” I said, though truth be told there was room for doubt. I felt sick, and I was exhausted, and neither one of those things was very pleasant.

“Good. Back in a few.” She sauntered out the door, pulling it shut. I heard an automatic lock ‘thunk’ as she did so. I guess I didn’t have a choice but to endure, since I wasn’t going anywhere.

The voice was a whisper, directly into my ear. “It’s a pretty good view when she leaves, isn’t it?”

I half-shrieked, tumbling out of the chair.

The Jack O’Knaves was leaning in, and bent over to where I’d hit the floor. He was wearing charcoal grey slacks and the same color vest, with a white handkerchief in his vest pocket, and a blood red silk shirt. “Who-hoah, chief. You’ll want to be careful. Those chairs are just waiting to dump you out onto the floor.”

“How… how long were you there? Did Trey know you were in the room?”

“What? No. No, our Trey is a lovely girl and not bad with a sponge-ball hand-pass but ‘observant’ wasn’t really what I hired her for.” He laughed. “So, has she been keeping good care of you?”

“Eventually. She was pretty pissed you left to go do… um… villain things without her.”

“Yeah, she’s pretty clingy. That’s okay. She makes it kind of work for her — like it’s her schtick. So, you say ‘eventually.’ Let me guess. A lot of yelling, maybe some physical pain, and then she had to defend you like you were home-base in a game of capture the flag?”

“That’s… almost unreal. Were you watching us? Did you set this all up with Sharp Top?”

“Oh, you met Sharp Top? That’s… almost unfortunate. He’s so affected. It’s like — you don’t always have to be on, Sharpy,” but there’s no getting through to him. I’d cut out his tongue but given his schtick he might go mime, and oh no. I’m not doing that again. Did he threaten to kill you?”

“Not really.” I pushed myself back up to my feet. “Do you actually like any of the people who work for you?”

The Jack looked thoughtful. “You know, that’s a really good question. I’m fond of Mister River and Madam Bank. Fortunate, really — they’d be insufferable if I didn’t. Between you and me Nickel’s a total pill, but if I killed her I’d lose my butler and my accountant, and that’s just too crappy a weekend to contemplate. But don’t tell them that, or I’d have to kill all three of them just to keep the mystery alive.”

“What about Trey?”

“Do I like Trey? Mm. I try not to get too close. I mean, okay. I did name her, and that’s always a mistake. If you name them, you need to feed them. If you feed them, you’re accepting responsibility for them. Makes the killshot bittersweet.”

“Do you plan to kill her? Or is it just inevitable?” Part of me couldn’t believe I was asking him about murder so casually. On the other hand… it was the Jack of Knaves. If I avoided the subject of murder, it would be like getting to interview Clapton and then not bringing up the guitar.

Death is inevitable, Chapman. She’s going to die. You’re going to die. Paragon’s going to die. Well can all ignore it or pretend it won’t be happening, but it doesn’t care either way. Death’s coming. Sooner or later…” he fanned out a set of five cards in his hand. Two pair—aces over eights — both clubs and spades — with a jack of hearts kicker sitting right in the middle. “…we all have our card come up. Whether that’s dear Trey…” he snapped the hand flat, then refanned it, a 3 of hearts in place of the jack…” or maybe Sharp Top…” he passed his other hand over it, the 3 becoming a 4. “Or Madam Bank…” he turned the hand around then back, replacing the 4 with a 10 of diamonds. “Or maybe even…” he looked at the hand, then raised an eyebrow. “Wait… I’m confused.” He turned it back. The aces and eights were still there, but the center card had been replaced with the ‘How To Play Poker’ that came in Bicycle decks. “Who the Hell is that supposed to be? Man, I hate belabored metaphors.”

“Do you think their deaths serve a purpose?”

The Jack laughed. “Everything intentional serves a purpose, Todd M’laddo. Everything. So the obvious question is — what’s intentional?” He slid back, leaning on the desk. “What’s been intentional in our dealings, so far?”

I arched an eyebrow. “Everything.”

“What? Everything everything?”

“Well, yeah?”

“That’s silly. How could everything be intentional? Wouldn’t that require some kind of celestial power? Some kind of overriding capacity to control one’s environment? Wouldn’t that make me God?

“Or just really well prepared.”

He half-grinned. “How do we know God isn’t just really well prepared? I mean, it’s easy to be omniscient if you’re cheating.” He cocked his head. “Besides, there’s always one major problem with intentionality, isn’t there? One thing that can just muck the Hell out of a given purpose. One thing that can blow a trick, mess up an illusion, ruin everything. Can you guess what that is?”

I shrugged. “Fate?”

He made a dismissive snort, rolling his eyes.

“I… hm. I dunno. Destiny? Kismet?”

“Two words that mean ‘fate,’ more or less.” He smirked. “Don’t strain yourself. The answer is ‘the audience.’” He leaned closer. “You can spend months working on an illusion — years, even — and then one snotty little kid three rows back to the right thinks he sees a wire and announces that fact, and bam, you lose the whole effect. This despite the fact that not only isn’t there a wire, you were doing an oversized card trick, no levitation involved in the first place.” He shook his head. “I hate that little shit. If I were God, I’d spend all my time just smiting the Hell out of those kids.”

“As opposed to?”

“Huh?”

I shrugged again. “Don’t you essentially spend all your time right now smiting the Hell out of you audience?”

The Jack didn’t look surprised. His smile grew a bit, though. “So you are paying attention! Hah hah hah hah!” He got up. “I should motor. A whole lot to do if we’re going to get things ready for tomorrow’s work.”

“What’s tomorrow’s work?”

“The logical progression of today’s work, naturally.”

I repressed any look of impatience. At least, I sure as Hell hope I repressed any look of impatience. Trust me, I didn’t want to die, and I knew full well I could, at any moment, if the Jack decided he wanted to kill me. Though… despite that, I found myself relaxed around him. Something about the situation had me more at my ease than I’d been the other times we were in the room together. I’m not sure what.

Well, no. I’m actually pretty sure what. See, I was working now. We’d gone from him declaring I was going to be interviewing him and writing a book to me actually interviewing people. I was actually reporting, now. And that always seems to kick something in my brain. I’m not sure what that something is, mind, but it doesn’t seem to have any part of a survival instinct.

Regardless, I hope I repressed my impatience. “So, what was today’s work, then.”

He grinned. “We blew up ‘Green Choice Gasoline and Convenience’ in the Brattleboro Heights suburb of Greystone City.”

I blinked. “What?”

“Didn’t I make ‘what’ clear? What did that beanpole hussy you used to hang with — what was her name, again? Corduroy? — call it? I announced myself. I gave the full on business. I worked loud. God, spending time with her must have been like hanging around a Carney twenty-four seven.”

“You… blew up a gas station?”

“Damn right. One of those french-fry oil refineries, too. Which is a good thing, I suppose, since that means the carbon footprint of the explosion was essentially nil. I know that’s a big deal to you.”

“Why… why would you do that?”

He shrugged. “Does everything have to have a reason, chief?”

“Yes. Everything’s intentional. That’s my new mantra around here.”

He grinned again, leaning close. “Hah hah hah hah,” he said, softly, then clapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t you and Trey stay up too late, now. I know how you kids like to stay up and play Scattergories.”

I opened my mouth to answer, but there was a rasp of metal on metal to the side, and I looked — it was the sound of keys. I could see shadows through the translucent panels on either side of the door — shadows which resolved into the shapely, if slightly annoyed form of Trey as she walked into the room. “—stupid Staff Services. Filled all that out years ago, stupid idiots. Hey, you ready to go?”

“I—” I paused, looking around.

There was no sign of the Jack O’Knaves. If he hadn’t actually clapped me on the shoulder, I’d have wondered if it was some kind of hologram, or other ‘trick of the light,’ as they used to call them.

“What?”

“…nothing,” I said. “Yeah, I’m ready to go.” I started to walk—

“Careful! You dropped something.” She leaned down, doing that straight-legged waist bend pickup she did back in the parking garage. I wondered if that’s just how she picked things up now — designed to make people stare at her as she did it. She stood back up, fluidly, looking at a card in her hand. “…how to play Poker? The Hell?”

I felt my face flush, growing warmer. “In a place like this, I need all the help I can get, right?”

She snorted. “Damn straight.” She handed me the card. “Let’s go.”

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  • Dave Van Domelen

    People were playing the game long before anyone wrote the rules down. Jack seems to have picked Chapman as his Hoyle….

    • Alex emm

      Wait, is hoyle a slang term for the how to play card as well as the name of the gaming company?

      • Dave Van Domelen

        No, I’m not making up a slang term, it’s just that Hoyle was a person who wrote down the rules. So Jack may be setting Chapman up as the one to write the book on how to be a Jack-style villain. “Villainy according to Chapman,” in other words.

        • Alex emm

          ah, ok. thank you for clarifying.

  • Bauke

    I really really liked this episode. jack being in the room caught me as much by surprise as it did Chapman. :-)

  • Packbat

    Typo:

    I shrugged again. “Don’t you essentially spend all your time right now smiting the Hell out of you audience?”

    Should be “your audience”, I think.

  • Packbat

    I like the running gag of Jack talking about Chapman being environmentally conscious, by the way.

    Although the running gag of Jack misstating Leather’s name is possibly more interesting.

    • http://legionofnothing.com/ Jim Zoetewey

      It’s amusing to think that Jack might actually be jealous of the attention Leather’s gotten out of it. Given his position in the world, he’d hardly need to be.

  • Polychrome

    I noticed that Jack did not include himself in the “everybody dies” speech, which is interesting.

  • Psycho Gecko

    “Death’s coming. Sooner or later…” he fanned out a set of five cards in his hand. Two pair—aces over eights — both clubs and spades — with a jack of hearts kicker sitting right in the middle.”
    Ah, yes, the Dead Man’s Hand. They aren’t sure what the fifth card actually was, I believe, but it was the hand held by Wild Bill Hickock when he was killed. Interestingly enough, before it was connected to Hickock, a Dead Man’s Hand was said to be a full house of Jacks and Tens or Jacks and Eights.

  • Psycho Gecko

    I almost feel like there ought to be an online poker game grow out of readers of this.

  • Michael Brewer

    So, I just finished reading through this series. Most of the time when I read something, it’s just text. I don’t actually hear it mentally.

    When I read Jack’s lines in this series, I hear Mark Hamill speaking them.

    So, yeah. Good Job.

  • Charles

    Well can all ignore it or pretend it won’t be happening, but it doesn’t care either way.
    Well should likely be We.

    “Don’t you essentially spend all your time right now smiting the Hell out of you audience?”
    Second you should be your.

    “So, what was today’s work, then.”

    Missing a question mark, methinks.

    Ah Chapman, really hope you picked up on that as soon as he said it. I thought he made it pretty blatantly obvious…

  • SoItBegins

    So what happens next?

  • Arkone Axon

    I had to register with Disqus just so I could comment here…

    I adored “Interviewing Leather,” because it was simply so well done. But I have a serious problem with what’s going on in this one so far. Simply put, Jack O’Knaves is a fairly blatant Mary Sue. A “Villain Sue,” to be more precise. He’s an expy of the Joker, but the Joker suffers punishments for his behavior. Yes, he kills his own henchmen on a whim – and as a result he can only employ incompetent goons who can’t find better employment elsewhere (as Batman once summed it up, “no one wants to work for a homicidal clown.”)

    Jack, on the other hand… claiming that the henchmen support organizations don’t care what he does to them is simply… unbelievable. If they let him murder their people and violate the terms of their deals, then they’re destroying their own businesses; what henchman will work for a company that lies to them about providing protections? And the murder of Cobalt Blue? If this story is meant to be realistic, then this is the point where all the superheroes tell Nightwatch, “screw “Superman stays out of Gotham City.” We’re ALL taking Jack down. Now.”

    That being said… we’re seeing things from Trey’s point of view. It IS quite possible that the henchmen support organizations are in fact preparing a response. I hope they are, ESPECIALLY since they’re ideally suited to doing so. They have their people in Jack’s facilities around the world… and have access to the innermost workings (like whatever systems control the detonation of those explosive implants). I hope so. Frankly, this guy’s too much. There are villains with oodles of wealth, and there are villains who are happily omnicidal anarchists, but there are no extremely wealthy omnicidal anarchists. One precludes the other.

    • Eric Burns-White

      I’ll be honest — your comment fascinates me.

      No, in a good way. I’m not being facile at all. This is the kind of comment I live to get.

      I always hate to imply someone is ‘wrong’ about an interpretation, because you can’t be wrong about an interpretation — especially one that’s well supported, like yours is. I absolutely see your point. So don’t take this as an argument. Take it as counterpoint, or an alternate viewpoint. Or a different thesis or interpretation, and let me open with the phrase ‘he kills his own henchmen on a whim,’ ascribed to the Joker but with the implication of the Jack’s behavior being the same.

      Which is the crux of it. The Jack O’Knaves isn’t the Joker.

      The Jack O’Knaves obviously takes a large part of his inspiration from the Joker — I’m not going to lie about that. He’s in many ways a pastiche — the homicidal attitude is one of them. The seeming capriciousness. The fact that he’s a deadly subversion of what’s meant to be a positive entertainer.

      And, of course, he’s completely insane.

      But. The Jack isn’t the Joker, and the key to that is in the above post. Everything he does — everything he does — has intentionality. Despite his deriding Sharp Top for this very thing, everything the Jack does has affect. It’s all performance.

      You wonder about the Guild, and what kind of response they would have to so many of their henchmen being killed. Some of this would come out later, naturally, but some we can speculate now. For the most part, the Guild already has enacted their response — the people who work for the Jack get paid a lot more than people who work for… well, sane villains. Hazard pay, times a ton.

      Why would anyone take that deal? That depends. How desperate are you for money?

      If your children are starving, and your spouse’s cancer is progressing, and the only possible hope for treatment isn’t covered by any kind of insurance — would you go to work for someone knowing you would die, if it meant that family would be provided for?

      If you’re on the run, and you have nowhere to go, and someone offers you a quarter of a million dollars a year salary to essentially be a roadie? Would you do it? Even knowing that the rock star in the middle might shoot you dead?

      In the case of Mister River or Madam Bank, they have no choice, of course. They’re going to do as they’re told (for a number of reasons beyond the bomb in their bodies). Would the Guild intercede? Not really — they weren’t Guild members before they were co-opted, after all. A lot of villains force their henchmen to work for them, often with the threat of violence or deadly force. The Guild charges penalties if said force is actually applied, of course.

      You may have mistaken something essential about the Guild, by the by. The Guild exists to provide henchmen to supervillains. It doesn’t exist to protect henchmen from supervillains. It is the darkest possible side of Unionism (and I’m a supporter of unions, in my everyday life). The dues a Guild member pays to the Guild ensures that they’ll have either a way out of prison or a comfortable life in prison, depending on circumstances. It also allows for skilled tradesfolk to be places where their skills can be best used, provide a comprehensive health package, and provide next-of-kin benefits.

      And it ensures that the people who take these jobs know what they’re getting into. There’s a major difference between the contract Marco and the Henches have with Leather (via the Guild), and what the Diamonds or Spades have with the Jack.

      And, naturally, if the contract is violated, then the Guild will in fact respond with surprising force. However, the Jack killing Deuce didn’t violate the contract. It’s right in the contract that Deuce knew the Jack might kill her. She got extra money for it, in fact.

      Going back to “Interviewing Leather,” consider the conversation Leather — who is not a killer and who has a camaraderie with her henchmen. When she was angry because they disobeyed her orders, she caused them physical pain, and even mentioned that because they had been insubordinate, she could cripple or kill them if she wanted — and possibly not even pay a penalty for a contract violation in the process. Don’t take Leather’s geniality to mean she didn’t have options.

      Which naturally brings us to the subject of the Hearts, like Trey or Sharp Top. They’re not in this for the money, which brings us back around to the Jack.

      The Jack is a pastiche of the Joker yes, because I wanted to explore those tropes. However, he’s also informed by people like the original 80′s interpretation of Brother Blood, with a soupçon of Marvel’s take on Loki thrown in for good measure. He’s a master manipulator. He’s charismatic as the day is long. He knows how to draw you into a conversation, and turn that slowly into a conversion. He’s a cult leader as much as he is a crimelord. Remember, it’s not just that he killed Deuce. He killed Deuce and Trey didn’t bat an eye. That’s not contractual. That’s drinking the Kool-Aid.

      And in that way, he almost becomes the Joker’s opposite. The Joker is Chaos incarnate — he’s, in your words, whim. The Jack plans everything. If he does something on a whim….

      …well, it’s generally safe to say it wasn’t a whim.

      The Jack’s organization — in particular, Dispater’s Vault — isn’t simply the Joker running a new Ha Ha Hacienda. It’s its own infrastructure. It’s organized crime. The Jack isn’t the only investor in it, either, even if he calls the shots in the Casino. The Jack is able to do all the stuff I’m describing because he makes an obscene amount of illicit money — not simply with illegal gambling, but with all kinds of criminal activity. Drugs, prostitution (including full on trafficking, I would imagine), extortion, loan sharking, money laundering, fraud, contract killing, bribery, robbery, protection, racketeering — depending on where in the country you go, the Jack’s organization looks very different and does very different things.

      And when you have that much money flowing through that many areas, then killing a henchman or six is well within everybody’s acceptable risk.

      Why does the Jack run such an organization? Are his flamboyant public crimes just a hobby? Or does he run his organization purely so he has infrastructure and resources for those public crimes?

      Who can say? He’s insane. High functioning, but insane.

      Finally, I can’t address much on the matter of the death of Colbalt Blue at the moment, but you’re assuming anyone actually knows Cobalt Blue is dead. Even if they did know, it would be difficult to figure out the Jack’s involvement in the death without significant investigation.

      Is such an investigation taking place?

      Well, that would be telling.

  • Oddstar7

    Is this story going to continue at some point? I would really like to know what happens next? It’s a great story.

  • Tony Durham

    As a long time reader (Superguy completed by 1997) I loved Interviewing Leather, and am thrilled with Interviewing Trey so far. I’ve worked the Casino circuit for 20 years and wonder how you have the idealist image so close.

    That said, I have also dealt with the very I’ll spouse for many years, and am available if you need an informed ear to talk to.