Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

Interviewing Leather, Part Four

It’s Tuesday, which for the moment seems to mean Interviewing Leather! It’s Gay Talese, only not!


Marco smokes a cigar before they go on a job. There’s lots of rituals they do, mind, but Marco’s is to smoke a cigar. “Why hench? Why do anything, man? Money.”

“Is the money good?”

He chuckled, shaking his head. He was wearing a biker outfit, more or less. Leather jacket and pants, with chains, over a white tank top. It was the ‘uniform’ the three henchmen wore when they went out. “You kidding? S’a good deal. We get 20% of each job, after expenses, with a two grand a month minimum.”

“Twenty four thousand a year’s a good deal? You could go to jail, right?”

He laughed full out, this time. “Twenty percent of each job’s a good deal. Take tonight. We’re doin’ a jewelry store. Assuming we don’t get super’d, we’re gonna clean the thing out. That’s about eight fifty — maybe nine hundred thousand in inventory we’ll score. Figure we get ten cents on the dollar after fencing? We’re looking at eighty thousand for one night’s work. Twenty percent of eighty k means sixteen grand, divided by four henches.” He puffed his cigar once more. “Call it four grand, and that’s just for one night’s work. Minus ten percent for the Guild, and I’m takin’ home thirty-five, thirty six hundred. And that’s for a jewel heist — jewels suck, mostly. We do a bank hit, say, and I might bring home ten or fifteen thousand for one night’s work. If it’s a good bank.”

“Four henches?” I looked around. I saw three guys in the Village People outfits, and one guy wearing a windbreaker and jeans off to the side. He looked like a college intern.

“Yeah, he’s on the job tonight too. He’s Steve.”

“His name’s Steve?”

Marco shook his head. “His job’s Steve. Every job needs a Steve.”

I looked back at the guy. “What does a Steve do?”

“Steve gets to the area before we do. He sets himself up in the crowd of rubberneckers. If a super shows, he hits the panic button so we don’t get surprised. If the cops take all of us down, or a super takes us out, his job’s to be just some college student watching, make his way out, and make the call.”

“The call?”

Marco nods. “He calls the service. The service gets the lawyers out, calls families, does whatever we need. See, we all got jobs. I’m on wheel. I drive, ride shotgun, wait — stuff like that. Those guys are bag. They’ll be scooping up the jewels and gems into bags and toting to the car. The Steve’s our insurance policy.”

The Steve certainly looked non-descript. I won’t go into too much detail — I get the feeling outing a professional Steve wouldn’t be the healthiest thing I could do. But in general, I can say that I’d never give him a second look at a mall or public walkway. If he went inside the jewelry store, he’d stand out — he didn’t look like he had the money to look at expensive pieces of rock — but wandering around outside, drinking a latte? Oh yeah. The Steve didn’t smoke a cigar before the run, but he was doing stretches and deep breathing. The two bagmen were running through some comedy routine they clearly knew better than by heart. And Leather?

Leather was freaking.

First off, Leather was right. In her full combat costume — which is the bustier/merrywidow thing I saw in the picture before I came — she practically smoldered. But bouncing around as they got ready to climb into the Leathermobile — the Humvee-like APC’s unofficial name — she looked like she was somewhere between a nervous breakdown and a meth overdose. She kept darting from one hench to the next, grilling them on the minutia of the plan — a plan that quite honestly could have come off a playground game of cops and robbers.

Here’s how it would go down. The Steve would get into the area, and then call one of the bagmen on his cell phone. They had a prewritten script that meant “I’m in position, and everything looks clear,” as well as scripts that meant “more cops than usual” or “Paragon just landed on the roof, so abort.” Once he made the call, the bagman would give him an estimated time of arrival.

The arrival itself would come when the Leathermobile drove into the storefront. The front of the car was reinforced for ramming like that. Leather would spring out, dazzle the crowd with repartee, take down any security or police who happened to be inside, and get the civilians running out of the building. Once they’d sown chaos and gotten any opposition out, the bagmen would swarm out and start scooping jewelry into their bags. Leather would be in charge of getting access to the good stuff. If all went according to plan, it would take less than five minutes. That would still be enough time for the police to arrive, so Leather would take them on while the bagmen finished up. Anyone who managed to get past her would have to deal with Marco, though Marco told me this was a ‘no-kill job.’

All Leather’s jobs were no-kill, he said. She was a thief. Other villains killed as a matter of course, but the Henches Guild didn’t like it. The Guild contract went up to 40% on ‘sanctioned’ jobs. Marco said he wouldn’t touch them, though. “You go to jail as a hench. It’s just what happens. You go up for grand theft or aiding and abetting, it’s one thing. Even multiple felony counts ain’t that big a deal. Not for the Guild. But start killing people? Then they care. And God help you, you kill a cop. You get away from a job with dead cops on the ground, you need to cash in and retire and pray no one made you.”

“What about dead super heroes?” I asked.

Marco kind of blinked at me. “Well, it happens,” he said. “Not on any of my jobs, but they go down.”

“Is it trouble?”

He shrugged. “Not really. Not like killing a cop.”

It was getting close to go time on the night’s raid. Leather had everyone come close for the pre-job prayer. It was weirdly like being backstage at a Madonna concert, just before they took stage. “What about him?” one of the bagmen asked, thumbing at me.

“He’s technically a prisoner,” Leather said.

“You want to risk bad luck?” Marco asked.

Leather made a face. “Yeah,” she said. “You’re right. Chapman — get over here. And be respectful.

We got in a circle and held hands, heads bowed. “Lord,” she said. “Let us have a good job tonight. Let the police be occupied with more important things, and keep the civilians safe. Let the haul be good and the press get good pictures of me. In your name, Amen.”

“Amen,” the others murmured, and I did too. I felt weird.

For the record, other than just before they went on jobs, I never got the feeling any of these guys were religious.

The last bit of Leather’s pre-job ritual was a kiss. She kissed each of her henchmen, firmly. No tongue, but a solid kiss. She kissed me too. It was nice. I noticed she smelled like perfume and the mink oil you were supposed to condition motorcycle leathers with.

The Steve scooped up a bookbag, put on a somewhat dorky looking helmet, and climbed on — I swear to God — a Vespa scooter. A good one, actually. Clearly a rebuilt classic. He putted out in a cloud of two-stroke fumes.

“Okay,” Leather said. “C’mon, Chapman. I’m going to lock you up in the bedroom until we get back.”

“What if there’s a fire?” I asked.

Leather blinked. “Then you’ll burn to death,” she said, cheerfully.

“Okaaaaay. And what if some super hero captures your whole gang?”

“No worries,” Leather said. “I let the service know you were up here. When the Steve makes the call, they’ll send someone to let you out at the same time they pack my shit up.”

“Oh. Good enough. Good luck robbing the jewelry store,” I said, walking into her suite.

Leather grinned, and shut the door. I heard a heavy lock turn shut.

So now I waited.


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14 thoughts on “Interviewing Leather, Part Four”

  1. I have a strong urge to create an anarchist villain for Eric’s world. Who deliberately screws up Guild jobs, goes in after everyone is captured to loot the joint and leaves the words “No Unions” burned into the wall as a calling card…

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  2. An anarchist villain could certainly exist. However, he’d be without henchmen (for the most part, unless he found some the old fashioned way) or the benefits of the Service, transport services and the like. He could still buy from the various supply houses if he wanted (cash up front is the rule of the day), and he might or might not be able to use the money laundering services. But it’s perfectly viable. And if he’s powerful or resourceful enough, he can even live without the Service’s benefits — arranging his own jailbreaks and the like.

    This isn’t the only way Justice Wing villains can exist, but it’s a common one because it’s useful, and gives the villains the chance for both downtime and having some of the crap outsourced.

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  3. I’m waiting to see the explanation for:

    1) Why the heroes never catch on that the villains and villainesses are being serviced by a union. I mean, it would have to rival the Mafia in numbers, resources, funding and organization. The question “where do these goombas get such a shiny lawyer on short notice?” has to cross their mind ONCE in a while. And even the Tick would start noticing when all the henches he skull-clonked started looking familiar.

    2) Why the heroes never decide to start putting goons back and forth through the wringer like a pair of old sweatsocks till they got all the info they wanted. Even if they never sussed on to the whole ‘union of badguy roadies,’ “sweat the flunkies” is a popular game with the police and the FBI even IRL.

    3)Why nobody in the union’s blabbed. Even the Mafia has trouble with squealers, and this would be an even bigger blowup than bringing down the local Don. Old saying: two people can keep a secret if one is dead.
    Two thousand people?… forget it. Exploding brain implants could be one possibility…. but having goon-heads go ker-pop all over the place would be just as big a giveaway as someone ratting.

    Frankly, this union would be any superhero’s first order of business. The raw information they had on supercriminals would make it target number one of every hero, super-team, midnight detective and ex-navy SEAL with a gun and a vendetta. Heck, heroes would start ignoring the villains and going straight after the goons!

    They would have to be more secretive than the mafia, more decentralized than the Viet Cong or Al Quaeda, better networked than the worldwide web and made up entirely of people with less ambition than a surfboard beach bum.

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  4. What makes you think the heroes don’t know?

    Especially after this article is published… but even so…

    Isn’t it interesting that the Guild charges much higher rates for a job where killing is sanctioned? And that the Guild won’t protect the Hench that takes a kill-job as much as they will a no-kill-job? And that you may as well go on the lam the minute you kill a cop?

    Makes one wonder who’s really running the Guild, it does….

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  5. Why nobody in the union’s blabbed. Even the Mafia has trouble with squealers, and this would be an even bigger blowup than bringing down the local Don.

    Plenty in the union have blabbed. The problem is, first off the informant is marked, and second off most individuals in the union don’t know much. A contact or two. Mostly phone numbers. Much like the Service and Transport Services and most of the rest of the support organizations. All of these are as “need to know” as you can imagine.

    And there’s lots of good reasons to keep your mouth shut. Even more than “squealing might get me and mine killed.” Henches in the union can expect good legal support, can expect their families to get support even if they go to jail, get various benefits in what is, after all, a dangerous business, and can even be broken out of jail in the right circumstances.

    But there are those who squeal, and there are some circumstances where chunks of the union or the service or other such things are compromised. Much as the Mafia and the Drug Cartels are sometimes compromised.

    But the Mafia and the Drug Cartels don’t fold when that happens. They still do frighteningly good business.

    Sometimes, crime does pay.

    Oh, and:

    Frankly, this union would be any superhero’s first order of business.

    First tier heroes, maybe. Maybe.

    Lower than that? They’re out of their league. Way, way out of their league. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, just like some superheroes go after the Five Families of New York as their first priority. As do some cops, and some F.B.I. agents.

    Sad, what happens….

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  6. What makes you think the heroes don’t know?Especially after this article is published… but even so…

    Which obliquely raises a point. Marco (and Leather, for that matter) aren’t going to be in trouble with anyone over this article, because they’re saying things generally enough that everyone who might be interested already knows.

    The heroes know there’s a service, there’s a Hench’s Union, and all the rest. They know a lot of how this works.

    For some heroes, almost certainly that forms an avenue for investigation. The Nightwatch may well have a disguise as a Hench who’s a member of his local Hench’s Union branch (much as the Batman in the comics has an identity — “Matches” Malone — who is in the syndicate). The Nightwatch is first tier and very good at what he does, but the existence of the support services gives the Nightwatch too much information to just shut them down.

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  7. While the white capes may know IN GENERAL about the exsistence of something, things like “the Steve”? Thats got to be crossing a line. And just because the other side knows about you doesn’t mean you get to talk about it. EVER.

    I mean mobsters aren’t in the mob. They’re involved in That Thing of Ours…

    Thats why I maintain reporter boy is doomed. I mean outside of writer fiat. ‘Cause its your story and your world and thus your decision on internal logic and motivation and so forth…

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  8. > he does, but the existence of the support services
    > gives the Nightwatch too much information to just
    > shut them down.

    Plus, you’ve got to figure any hero who makes a real run at the Henchman’s Union is going to get hella blacklisted by the Honorable Guild of Sidekicks, Proteges, Manservants & Assorted Trades Local 802. Not to mention the teamsters. And the police, for that matter! Sure, they’ll arrest henches themselves when they get the chance, but when Archduke von Agony is blowing up a local shopping center, who do you think the boys in blue are going to call for backup? The Rorschach lookalike who threw two union men off a bridge last week? Or Paragon, who, from what I hear, redirects his flight patterns to avoid crossing a picket line?

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  9. I don’t think “the Steve” is giving too much away. What does it matter if the good guys know the industry nickname for the position, and who says they don’t already know it? I once read an autobio of a post-Untouchables Chicago fibby whose name escapes me at the moment, and it was surprising how much of a “Morning, Sam.”-“Morning, Ralph.” relationship he seemed to have with his enemies… even to the point where the mobster bar was right next door to the g-man bar, and the two groups would come over to use the others’ telephone when theirs was down.

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