Hey hey, kids! It’s time for another “Interviewing Leather!”
This is a story, as I’ve mentioned before, that I’ve been working on for just over a year. That includes some of my notes, and also includes the character of Darkhood, mentioned in the last couple of episodes as a C-list superhero.
Well, it only hit me last week, with a reference made in a rather poignant strip, that Brad Guigar had included a Dark Hood in his brilliant Evil, Inc. comic strip. No confusion or infringement was intended, which I figure you all know but it’s worth saying. And you should read Evil, Inc. regardless.
Otherwise — last week’s episode inspired more fan art! One comes from Dave Van Domelen, a cohort from the Superguy days (as well as lots of other things) and features Dynamo Girl shouting the catchphrase I stole from Scott Kurtz. The other come from Gossamer Commons co-conspirator Peter Venables who renders a post-car wrecking moment from earlier in the series. Yay! I get fan art! You should click on the thumbnails for full sized, of course!
Beyond that, please enjoy the story!
“We call this the collar,” Leather said, setting down what was indeed a leather collar in front of me. It had a silver disk on it, and it looked like the buckle could be locked. “It’s chock full of electronics. It has a transmitter and wiring all the way through it. Buckling it into place completes a circuit. It cost more than you’d expect.”
“Okay…” I said, looking at it. Black leather with silver accents. It looked like a Leather special supervillain gadget already. “I’m supposed to wear this?”
“You can choose to wear it,” Leather said. “If you do, you can come with me tonight.”
“That’s it? I put on a collar, and you let me come with you?”
I considered. It seemed way too easy. “This has a tracker in it?” I asked.
Leather sat across from me. She was in a tan microfiber bathrobe, her hair wrapped in brown stained towels. “Sort of,” she said. “Certainly it’s got tracking equipment in it.”
I frowned. “What am I missing?”
Leather smiled a bit more. “Marco? Show the gentleman what he’s missing.”
Marco smiled too, picking up the collar. He unscrewed one of the accents, sliding it off like a silver button and turning it over. There was a gleaming pink putty inside it, packed in carefully. “You see this?” he asked.
“It’s explosive. Not strong enough to blow a safe or a door, but you don’t want to know what that shaped charge will do to your neck.”
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
“So long as you stay near me, the bomb won’t go off,” Leather said cheerfully. “Or, if you can’t stay near me, you can stay near the car you’ll be in, and the bomb won’t go off. Or, you can tell Marco you’re in trouble and he’ll help you.”
“I thought Marco wasn’t coming,” I said.
“I’m not,” Marco said. “But there’s a radio transmitter in that thing. I’ll hear everything you say.”
“So, let’s say we get separated, and you’re not close to the car. Tell Marco and he’ll make sure you don’t die a grisly death!” Leather’s grin grew.
“But — but wait a second. If I can ask Marco to keep the bomb from going off, why put a bomb on me in the first place?”
“Oh, silly rabbit,” Leather said. “You missed the most important part. Marco will hear everything you say!”
“So if you call the cops, I’ll hear it,” Marco said. “If you ask for help or tell someone about the bomb collar, I’ll hear it. If you say anything to step out of line, I’ll know it.”
“And he can just as easily set the bomb off as disable it,” Leather said.
“It’s better than that,” Marco said, grinning. “If you don’t get my help, you’ll be in deep. If someone tries to cut the strap, it’ll sever a wire and break the circuit and the bomb will go off before they can get it away from you.”
“Oh, and it locks on,” Leather said. “Unlock or unhook it without Marco sending the disable code first–”
“And it’ll go off,” I answered. “It seems like a lot of these end with my head being blown off.”
“Not off,” Marco said. “There’s not that much explosion. It’ll just tear the soft tissue out.”
“Oh, and tear apart the windpipe,” Leather said.
“Well, maybe. It depends on how it sits.”
“Oh, it does not. That much blow-jelly? That’ll take out his windpipe.”
Marco rolled his eyes. “Fine. We can agree that the spine’ll be fine, right?”
“Wait wait wait,” I said. “You have to be kidding me. You’re going to put a bomb around my neck, put Marco — a guy who beat me into pudding last night — on a trigger, and I’m supposed to keep quiet about it?”
Leather snorted. “Not at all,” she said.
I breathed out. “Okay,” I said. “Because that’s what it sounded like.”
“You’re going to put a bomb around your neck,” Leather said with a grin. “All the rest was accurate.”
I stared. “And what if I refuse?”
Marco chuckled. “Then you can join me and the boys in playing with the new video game. We kept one out when we fenced the others.”
“You are not playing that without me,” Leather said.
Marco shrugged. “You don’t have to go play at cowl,” he said.
“It’s not playing. Fine. You sleazes can play with it. But don’t you screw it up! And don’t go online!”
“We’re not stupid,” Marco said.
I looked at the collar while they argued. I felt a little sick to my stomach just looking at it. I knew full well putting that thing on was idiotic. Hell, there was lots easier ways to commit suicide.
But I was still feeling… I dunno. Ego bruised by what Leather had said earlier. That stuff about Hunter S. Thompson.
My story — maybe the biggest part of it — was going out on the town. And I could either watch it and document it, or let my story tell me about it later.
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. You’d think I’d be in too much pain to be that stupid, but we all know I was.
As it worked out, preparations were a lot simpler than preparing for a heist. After she’d finished dying her hair — it was kind of a chestnut brown as it dried, and she’d done something so it had a little less flair and a little more wave — Leather was putting her time into research. Maps of the city, newspaper articles — that kind of thing. “So what’s the plan?” I asked.
“We patrol,” she said. “I’m figuring out a good route right now.”
“Oh yeah.” She grinned. “That was actually one of the fun parts of doing the superhero shuffle. Planning your routes through the city, I mean. You wanted to make sure it was an area you could cover, and you wanted it to cross through high crime areas. At the same time, if you did it right the city could be really pretty.”
“This was Meridian City?”
Leather shook her head. “Nah. I never even visited Meridian City until I took this lair. That’s why I’m trying to soak things up. We’re not going to have a really good route tonight. Those take time to develop. But we should be able to find some trouble down in the Underlands.”
Leather nodded. “Yeah, you know the West Highlands neighborhood? Upscale. Has marketplaces, theaters, banks and stuff, all up on hillsides?”
“Well, you have a lot of elevated bridges and onramps up to it. And people live along the bottom of them too. Stretches into low income neighborhoods, and then out to more industrial areas.” She half-smiles. “Tourists above, townies below. You know how it goes.”
No, I really didn’t.
What got me was how… mellow things were. The henches pretty much had the night off, of course, so they were just hanging around. That seemed strange to me — normally, there was discussion and rediscussion going on. Contingencies discussed. What-ifs for everything from ‘the police show up too soon’ to ‘Transit, Paragon and the Nightwatch happen to be having coffee across the street.’
Not this time. One of the bagmen spent his time doodling in a sketchbook. The Steve watched television. Marco worked on the Leathermobile.
And then there was Leather herself.
I told you how she builds up to a job. How frenetic and nervous she gets. She goes hyperactive, she does the prayer, there are the kisses — the whole thing. The ritual. Performance prep. I’d seen singers and actors do the same shit time and again. There’s stuff you do before a show. And there was stuff Leather did before a heist.
Oh, she was clearly excited. She bounced around from the upstairs down to the bottom level (including dropping two stories into a crouch. The girl showed off all the time). But she wasn’t nervous. She wasn’t trying to plan out every detail. She was just psyched up.
And me? Well, that was simple. I was scared shitless.
Look, up until that moment I’d interviewed and profiled musicians. Yeah, sometimes the world of rock or rap gets violent, but not all that often. I sure as Hell never cruised the streets with someone looking for a fight. And let’s not kid ourselves. Leather — or Dynamo Girl — was going to be looking for a fight.
“So what am I doing on this trip?” I asked.
Leather shrugged. She was in her exercise gear now — a white tank top and blue stretch pants — practicing katas. “Does your camera work well at night?”
“With the flash.”
“Leave it at home, then.” She smirked. “A camera flash might distract some criminal lowlife. Make him notice you. Maybe shoot you. I’m not doing this to get you killed.”
“So what is my role? Am I your sidekick?”
Leather stopped, staring at me. Now, she’d been sort of flickering between ‘Leather’ and ‘Dynamo Girl’ all afternoon, and the chestnut hair just reinforced that. But that laugh was all Leather. That laugh cut me down to size. “Don’t flatter yourself, Chapman,” she said, still chuckling. “You’ve got no powers, you’ve got no training. You’ve got nothing but an annoying habit of asking questions when a sane person would shut up.”
My face felt hot. “Darkhood doesn’t have powers,” I said. I knew it sounded lame even as I said it.
“Darkhood can neuter a fly at two hundred yards with his eyes closed. You got some hidden talent you haven’t mentioned, Chapman? Some ancient combat technique you neglected to bust out when the henches were pounding you into hamburger?”
I looked down. She didn’t say anything. I realized she was actually waiting for me to answer. “Not really,” I said.
“That’s right,” she said. “Don’t you get it? You’re not Paragon or even Paragirl here. You’re Barbara Babcock, looking for a scoop and maybe needing the hero to rescue you.” She leaned forward. “But I don’t want to have to rescue you. I’m going to be trying to fight crime out there, and believe it or not, that’s not easy and that’s not safe. If you go waltzing in playing out your Nightwatch fantasies, you might get hurt. You might get killed. Or you might get some innocent bystander hurt or killed.” Her eyes were on me, intense as lasers. “We’re. Not. Getting. Anyone. Killed. Right?”
“Right,” I said softly. I thought about the collar I’d be wearing. The bomb I was strapping to my throat. Was she really unable to see the difference? Could she really be Leather enough to make me a mobile hostage and still be Dynamo Girl enough to care this much about theoretical victims?
“Good,” she said. And she grinned. “You should probably wait in the car anyway. Watch from there. Oh man, you’re going to love this car.”
“You’re not taking the Leathermobile?”
Leather snorted. “Of course we’re not taking the Leathermobile. It’s all wrong for this and besides, the cops have it on tape. Nah, I got something special for tonight.”
Tonight was about ten after eight, as it worked out. She came out, wearing a red dress with an overcoat over it. She had on pumps, but her legs were pale. The togs on under her civilian clothes, obviously. She looked like a fresh faced nineteen year old, perky and cheerful. There were no signs of her piercings — not even the holes — and her tattoos had clearly been covered. “Are you ready, Todd?” she asked.
I took a deep breath. The collar was sitting on the table I was sitting at. I was wearing jeans, a black turtleneck, and a black leather jacket — more GQ than biker gang, though. Marco had given me a pair of wraparound sunglasses. “After dark, they make things easier to make out if there’s any light at all,” he said. “Simple enhancement.” And it was a mask, but he didn’t say that.
“Yeah,” I said. I picked up the collar, and slid it around my neck. It clicked shut, and I felt a tingle. Marco was sitting near some of his gear, and I saw it flare into life as I locked the collar on. “I’m ready.”
“Good,” she said. “Roll up your turtleneck and come on.”
I got up, sliding the fabric up. Covering the deadly explosive I had willingly put on. And I followed her.
And came to a stop as she walked around the Leathermobile. She opened up a door beyond, where the next bay was. I hadn’t been in there.
I stopped when I walked through the door. I stopped and I stared.
I swear to God, she was unlocking the door on a dark blue Toyota Tercel. She looked back over her shoulder. “What?”
“Nothing,” I said, walking in. “It… it’s just….”
“Yeah?” She grinned. God help me, she looked adorable when she grinned. Which was so not Leather.
“You sounded so proud of your car earlier,” I said. “This isn’t that much better than my Hyundai?”
“Sure it is,” she said, giggling. “For one thing, my car has an engine and a windshield. Coming?” She slid into the driver’s seat.
I shook my head and climbed in. “I’m just saying–”
I frowned, then. I frowned because there was something… off about the interior. Something about the controls, the dashboard. Looking in, I wouldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. But sitting there….
She grinned more broadly. “Judge me by my size, Skywalker?” she asked. “Judge my car by its make and model do you?”
“This… is this some kind of… I dunno, supercar?”
“Something like that,” she said, grinning. She slipped a hand under the dashboard. I heard a click, and the metal garage door began opening.
I glanced back behind us. I saw Marco standing in the door. His expression was unreadable.
I looked forward then, just in time for the car to pull out. The lights came on and we rode down to the road, swinging towards Meridian City and into the night.
“It’s… smooth,” I said.
“It’s been rebuilt from the inside out,” she said, shifting gears. “I’m keeping it down right now, but we could easily do one-sixty if we had to. It’s a Q-car.”
She grinned. “It comes from Q-Ship. Old naval term. See, back in the War days, there would be U-Boat attacks on civilian ships. Raids, to disrupt shipping and hamper the war effort. So the Allies would mock up a ship to look civilian, but when things got rough it would pop out cannons and start shooting.” She ran a hand along the wheel, the other hand holding it steady. “This car looks normal, but in a pinch you’d be surprised what it can do.”
“You use this in your… night job?” It somehow seemed wrong to bring up crime right now.
Her grin softened a touch, but didn’t go away. “Not really,” she said. “It’s pretty silly. I spend a lot of money on this car. Make it better, make it cooler. But it’s not really in style for my usual line of work. Besides, I have a driver and a couple of associates. This would be a bit cramped.”
“So why do you do it?”
She shrugged. “Same reason some guy with an SUV, a pickup and a compact car buys a broken down muscle car and restores it. It’s fun.” She grinned. “And it’s perfect for tonight. Hey, I’m gonna pull over at a convenience store — grab a soda. You want? I’m buying.”
I blinked. “A… soda?”
“I always get a soda when I patrol. Start the night off right.” She grinned, then paused. “Got. Got a soda.” She giggled. “I keep forgetting I haven’t done this for a while. Which is weird. It’s not like I ever drove on patrol before.”
“Why are you driving on patrol this time?”
“Because you can’t get to the top of a brownstone in three seconds and you can’t run forty-five miles an hour.” She winked. “Besides, I didn’t have this car back then.”
She slid into a Cumberland Farms and we got out. “Hey,” I said. “What do I call you? I assume the normal name’s off limits, and since you’re not wearing the mask….”
She paused, frowning.
I paused too. I wondered if I’d just made a mistake. She wasn’t enamored of her legal name, I remembered.
She grinned. “Call me Deegee,” she said. “It sounds like a sorority girl nickname, don’t you think?”
I half-smiled. “It does at that. All right, Deegee.”
We went inside. It was a little weird. I’d been a prisoner for days, and I was still at least sore from the night before. And now here I was, dressed like a metrosexual and wearing sunglasses at night, and we were in a convenience store like normal people. Deegee made her way back to the soda cases. I looked around, surprised that the sunglasses seemed to adjust when I walked indoors. I could see myself in a security mirror, and I knew they were still black — which I realized also covered up my two black eyes, which was a good thing. But I could more or less see normally wearing them.
There was a bored looking cashier behind the counter. A couple of teenaged boys were hanging around the magazines whispering about the copy of Maxim they hadn’t gotten around to picking up. I noticed them glance over at Deegee, and one nudged another. Which surprised me a little. Glancing over, I realized that she looked so different now — so mundane, really — that I hadn’t noticed how pretty she was. The intense, smoldering sensuality that Leather brought to almost everything she did made the pretty, normal girl Deegee was pretending to be seem almost small in comparison.
“Todd!” she called across the store. “They actually have A&W Cream Soda! Score! You want?”
“Sure!” I called back. I looked around, trying to decide if I wanted a Snickers bar.
And that felt so weird to me. I was wearing a bomb, hanging out with a sociopath who wanted to play dressup one last night — and don’t tell me it was my idea. Right then, that didn’t matter — and I was vaguely considering buying a candy bar before we went out and let ‘Deegee’ punch criminals for justice.
“Hey Todd — you coming?” she asked, having reached the cashier.
I decided against the Snickers bar. “Yeah,” I said, walking behind her. I accepted the cream soda, and I followed her out. We got into the car, and both put on our seatbelts.
“Right,” she said. “Let’s go save the world.”