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.”
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.