I’m about halfway through part eleven of “Interviewing Leather.” It seemed wise not to push to get it done and possibly compromise what may be one of the more engaging bits (or not be, depending on how well it goes, of course). On the other hand, it certainly can go up on Thursday without any difficulty, and that means that “Homecoming” gets a second run on Tuesday this week.
I like “Homecoming.” I like it in part because it examines heroism, and in part because it examines transition, and in part because it shows a very heroic person having very unheroic thoughts. In a way, if a lot of Justice Wing is informed by DC Comics, then “Homecoming” is informed by Marvel. Human beings with human frailties doing the best they can to overcome their flaws and do the right thing.
This part also makes the ‘historical record’ nature explicit, which I think fits The Home Front, as I’ve mentioned before.
I hope you enjoy!
-hope these interviews help you with your movie. I’m just not sure anyone will much care about me and how my vigilante career ended. There must be more important stories to-
No, no. I don’t mean to tell you your business. I’m sure you’ve got everything taken care of. Well, let’s go back to 1946, shall we? I told you about that first night I went solo – that first night I met Lieutenant Blockbuster, the new kid in town. The super hero.
I looked up the good Lieutenant’s career when I went home. The papers had covered him, all right. He was in Life’s “America Powers in Europe” article, on the fourth page. Just a short caption about “America’s One-Man Exploding Shell,” and references to the war in Italy. The newspaper listed him as Lt. V. Esterhaus, and he was indeed from Topaz City. Which frankly made me angrier.
Mom and Dad were really understanding. They listened to me rant about “that nut in the metal shell” for a good hour, and never said a word about how unreasonable I was being.
Sam finally came upstairs and calmed me down. He asked me what was wrong, and I started to go off again – but he interrupted me.
“So,” he said. “One of the gods lives in Topaz City, and you’re feeling very human?”
I blinked. “Lieutenant Blockbuster’s no god-”
“Really? I don’t know how else to describe him. Destroyed a car with a gesture from two hundred feet in the air? Set fire from the heavens at his will, and flew off without a care in the world? I think maybe we need a better word for him than – what did your mother say you said? A ‘nut in a metal shell?'”
I looked out the window, still fuming. “So he’s got powers. So what. That doesn’t make him a god, or anything else. He-”
“Oh Len… Lenny Lenny Lenny. What will we do with you, hm?
“This isn’t about me” I snapped back. “I mean – who knows what that guy is capable of. What if he starts lording it over us? What if he starts-”
“He served well in the War, didn’t he?”
I didn’t answer.
“Len… I understand. Really, I do. We all want to make a difference, but even more, we want our differences to stand out. To be recognized. You’re a very special man. You serve this city and you served this country. You’re good at it, and you worked very hard to become so. The idea of this man appearing and doing the same thing so effortlessly… well, it hurts, doesn’t it?”
“I guess…” I said.
“You’re a proud boy. But don’t let your pride color your feelings. Don’t let it turn to jealousy. You do your best. You help people. That’s why you’re doing this, right? To help people?”
“Right,” I said.
“Not for headlines or to be the number one guy in Topaz City?”
“I said you were right.”
“All right, Len. Now then. Did this Lieutenant Blockbuster stop the criminals from escaping.”
I snorted. “Yeah. He stopped them.”
“But after you got them out of the liquor store, and protected Mister Miller?”
“Well then. It sounds like you both did good work tonight. You should be proud of that – not angry because you’re not the only man in Topaz City with a secret identity.”
“Good. I think maybe you should get some rest. Go out again tomorrow night. See how things change.”
“All right,” I answered, and let him pat me on the back and head out of the apartment. Mom got me some hot cocoa, and I went to bed.
And got to thinking. ‘Not the only man in Topaz City with a secret identity,’ Sam had said. He was right. This Lieutenant had to be from around here – otherwise, why come here? I mean, I might have been kind of irrational about having heroic competition, but I didn’t honestly believe he’d shown up in Topaz City just to ruin my solo career. He was probably young – just from his attitude, he had to be close to my age, in one direction or another. In his twenties at the latest.
It was time to track down any V. Esterhauses.
The next few weeks I really busted myself. I wanted to prove I was every bit as capable as Lieutenant Blockbuster. From sundown to the deep morning I roared around the city on my motorcycle, stopping crimes and muggings and what have you.
And, to be honest, Lieutenant Blockbuster was out and about too. He stopped a bank robbery, and got the cover of the Topaz City Courier. I was in that edition too – I was on page fourteen, under “Public Crime.” I’d stopped a holdup of a restaurant.
Yes that stuck in my craw. Yes it made me mad. Look, I’m not sitting here claiming I was rational or justified. In my day, a guy with a marksman’s eye and a good right cross could dent crime. Now? The city’s hero flew. How do you compete with that?
In James Buchanan High’s graduating class of 1943, there were two V. Esterhauses. A twin brother and sister. Vincent Esterhaus’s picture wasn’t in the yearbook – it had the service stars of an enlisted soldier. His sister Victoria was pretty, with curly black hair.
Lieutenant Blockbuster first went active in Europe in 1943. I had a match. I checked the phone books and learned that Vincent Esterhaus lived on North Conroy. I took a ride up there one day, in my dad’s Coupe. I just sort of rode around, not really knowing what I was looking for.
And then I saw them. Brother and sister in the Coffee Pot Cafe. Two years hadn’t changed Victoria Esterhaus very much. And Vincent? He was her twin, all right. Not identical, obviously, but very similar. The same delicate features. The same curly hair. He looked like a Zoot Suiter except he was wearing a grey-blue business suit. He looked very young cocky businessmanish.
I got out of the car and went into the cafe. I… hm… what did I have? Seems like it was pretty good coffee, and I had a egg sandwich and a piece of toast. Not sure, but it sounds like what I’d have.
I watched them out of the corner of my eye, careful not to get caught looking. They were laughing a lot, and not paying much attention to what was around them.
He was too good looking, I thought at last. Not rugged enough. I could deck him and he’d thump with the best of them. He wouldn’t be so handsome then, not with a shiner on his eye and his coat all torn.
And you could tell, in the way he fought, too. He wore that metal carapace, and flew out of reach of everyone and everything. Of course, he didn’t have to mix it up, hand to hand. Nuh-uh. He could stay all nice and clean, floating above it all. He was probably scared someone’d hurt him if he got too close.
Heh… this tape won’t get me reelected, I don’t think. But it’s how I felt. You wanted honesty, right? Not lies to cover things up?
I left there feeling pretty good. I’d found him out! I knew his dirty little secret – that under the metal and fire he was some momma’s boy in a suit. No matter how much the crowd ooooed and ahhhhed at him, I knew he wasn’t anyone special.
And maybe that would have been enough for me. Maybe I could have gone on my petty little way, feeling like the real hero of Topaz City, if it weren’t for the message waiting for me at Sam’s when I got in. It was from the Mayor, via good old Sergeant Thomas at the Eighth Precinct. The Mayor wanted to see me.
I suited up, and took a ride to City Hall. The letter got me in the front door. I walked the four flights of stairs to his office – it didn’t seem right that I’d take the elevator. Maybe Blockbuster flew, but I walked and I was proud.
The secretary stood as I came in, and smiled. She looked at me like I was some kind of movie star. Well, to her maybe I was. I introduced myself with a smile.
“Oh, I know,” she said. “I’ve read about you for what seems like my whole life! It’s an honor!” I smiled and nodded, and took a good look. Yeah, eighteen or so, so she’d have been twelve or thirteen when I’d started. That was about right.
And it puffed my chest up a little more, I admit it. She let me into the Mayor’s office.
Mayor Leamer grinned broadly when he saw me, walking around his desk to shake my hand. “Lad, this is truly an honor,” he said, pumping my hand firmly and smiling a politician’s smile.
“Thank you, Sir,” I said, shaking his hand back. “I’m just proud to serve.”
“I know you are, I know you are. Proud service indeed, too. Years of it. You should have a medal, do you know that? A medal!”
“Thank you, Sir. I don’t need a medal. I’m just proud-”
“Yes yes, I know. Commendable attitude, Son. And I’m sure you’ve been wondering why we called you out here, hm?”
“Well… have you heard about our new Financial Exchange?”
“I’ve seen the construction of it, Sir. It looks like it’s going to be pretty impressive.”
“Oh, it is, it is… they’re already calling it ‘little Wall Street,’ you know. Heh. Little Wall Street. That means something, Son.”
I kind of bit my lip, wondering if he’d ever get to the point. My time was better spent on the streets, not listening to him ramble. Still, he did call me in. A threat to the new Financial Exchange?
“…anyway, we’re going to be opening our doors on the twenty-third of this month. Which is where you come in.”
I frowned. “There’s been a problem?” I asked. “Some kind of threat? Some attack-”
“What? Oh, no no. There’s been-”
“Then you just want someone there – someone to guard the door, just in case?”
The Mayor looked perplexed. “No, Son… nothing like that! What do you expect? Racketeers storming in with machine guns? What would the point be? No, it seemed to me that nothing would liven the affair up nearly as much as getting Topaz City’s own Mystery Man to officially open the Topaz City Financial Exchange’s doors! Think of it! The All American Lad – veteran of Franklyn Delano Roosevelt’s own Liberty Brigade, cutting the ribbon on the brightest star in Topaz City’s financial crown!”
I stared at Mayor Leamer, stunned. “You… want me… for a ribbon cutting ceremony?”
Mayor Leamer blinked. “Er, yes,” he said. “Doesn’t that-”
“There are crimes going on out there right now,” I snapped. “Honest to Christ crimes where people are scared and in trouble, and you want me to open a glorified bank for the newspapers to take pictures of it?”
“You watch your language, young man,” Leamer snapped. “If you’re going to be like that, I don’t think you’re exactly who we want representing our city anyhow!”
I shook my head, spinning on my heel and storming for the door. “The next time you call me, there better be a damned good reason,” I snapped.
“Look – you’re upset,” the Mayor said, switching faces. I think it hit him that he didn’t want the All-American Lad to be seen storming angrily out of his office. Not good for the old re-election campaign. “I’m sorry. I should have mentioned why I wanted to see you. But honestly, Lad – what’s wrong with it? We’ll pay you, of course, and you’ll be seen lending your own personal seal-”
“Why not call Lieutenant Blockbuster,” I snapped, spinning to face him again. “This sounds like the sort of thing he’d eat up with a spoon.”
The Mayor blinked again, truly startled. “Don’t you think the Lieutenant has better things he could be doing?” he asked. “Honestly, Lad – have some perspective.”
Needless to say, Mayor Leamer lost my vote. I was furious. I hit my cycle and took to the street – not to patrol. Right then the Nazis could have attacked Topaz City and I’d probably drive right by them. I just wanted to ride… get out. Get away. I buzzed up Pine, heading for the suburbs….
And I heard it. I heard him. Over me, rumbling like a rocket. I looked up and he was pacing me. My first thought was to draw and shoot – Leamer’d called him after me!
But of course I didn’t. I wasn’t insane.
The jerk waved. I brought the cycle up short, waiting. See what he wanted, then get the Hell away from Mister “Doesn’t He Have Better Things To Do?”
“Hi,” he called down over his loudspeaker. “Is this a good time to have that talk?”
“What do we have to talk about,” I shouted back, not bothering to control my anger. Little wimp in a big shell…
That seemed to take him aback, though it was hard to tell. “I… just thought it would be a good idea,” he called down. “If this isn’t-”
“No, let’s get it over with,” I snapped. “The water tower on Ridgemont, overlooking the City.”
“Right!” he called back, and with a plume of red-orange fire, he sped into the dark night. I spun out and accelerated to the North, not bothering to watch him go.
He got there first, of course. He was looming next to the Water Tower. Eight feet of reinforced metal with arms sticking out. I pulled up, killed the engine, and got off next to him, checking my whip, lasso and guns.
“Hi,” he said.
“What is it,” I answered. “I’ve had a lot of my time wasted tonight-”
“Oh,” he said. “Are you on a case? I didn’t think I was interrupting anything – can I help? Or can we do this-”
I took a deep breath. “I’m not on a case,” I said. “Is this a social call?”
“Well… yes, it is,” he said. “You’ve done so much good in Topaz City, I just always wanted to meet you, and since we’re in the same business now, it would make sense we knew each other, right?”
“Oh, right,” I said. “I’m sure you’re worried about needing backup.”
He paused again. “Excuse me?” he asked finally.
“Look, you’ve made it abundantly clear that this is your city now. I happen to disagree. But you don’t have to dress it all up with a pep talk. No one can hear us here-”
“What have I ever done to you?” he asked. “Look, I wanted to meet you – you did so much to guard Topaz City during the war-”
“That’s right,” I snapped. “I did. I was here, trying my damndest. Where were you, huh?”
“Where was I?” Blockbuster answered, getting angry for the first time. “I was in Europe! I was on the front lines of the war! I was blowing up tank columns and getting shot at! What is wrong with you? I volunteered because of you and Six Gun Sam!”
“Oh, well thank you,” I snapped back. “Look, if you want to come into Topaz City, I can’t-”
“I live here,” Blockbuster answered. “I’ve lived here my entire life. Who are you to sneer at me because I want to protect it, huh?”
“Tough talk for a man in a ton of metal, looking down on us.”
Blockbuster stared at me. “I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I didn’t realize I was supposed to fight stupid. I thought the object was to stop crime, not ‘fight fair.’ You don’t want to be my friend? Fine. I don’t need you, ‘All-American Lad.’ Just keep out of my way, and I’ll keep out of yours.”
“Fine.” I threw a leg over my cycle-
“All units, all units,” the Police Band radio crackled up. “Robbery in progress at First National Bank. All… oh my… it’s… one man. He smashed through the wall of the vault! He-”
I blinked, and started the bike. I roared down the hill – it was a hard ride to the First National, but I could make it in five minutes if traffic was clear.
There was an explosion behind me, and Lieutenant Blockbuster roared towards the city, taking the direct route.
Fine. Let him get there first. What did I care? I could go places he couldn’t. Sometimes, you couldn’t blow something up and win. Especially if there was one man down there, and he had enough explosives with him to smash through a wall into a vault. Fire bursts wouldn’t scare him.
I pushed it to the edge, coming close to going over three or four times, banking to either side. Adrenalin flooded me. I was racing, I realized. During the war, Sam and I would race against the Germans, or against sympathizers, or against criminals… now I was racing Blockbuster. I had to get there. I had to.
I swung into the city, and hit the sirens. People dove out of my way. I leaned forward on the bike, the wind snapping through my hair and tearing my eyes. I had to help. I had to stop-
I swung onto Fourteenth in time to see an automobile thrown through the air and smash into a cop’s car. I skidded to the side and threw myself off the bike, running. What was going on – what was Blockbuster doing? What-
And then I saw. It wasn’t Lieutenant Blockbuster. He was sweeping around, firing down and blowing chunks of macadam out of Fourteenth street. Straight at a man in a dockworker’s outfit. The man had to be seven and a half feet tall. The police were shooting at him.
He was ignoring it. He was ignoring their guns.
I froze, for just a second, and I knew what he was. Just like the costumed Nazis and nuts Sam and I put away… we had our opposite numbers.
This one was Blockbuster’s. A villain, with super powers as tough as the Lieutenant’s.
He grabbed a streetlight and ripped it up, swinging overhand so fast I could hear the whoosh of it all the way across the street. He slammed it into Blockbuster’s armor shell, spinning him end over end, and making him lose control of his flight, slamming him into the ground, hard.
And I ran forward, guns out and throwing myself over a police car. “Geez Lad,” someone shouted. “Get back! He ain’t human!!”
I fired four fast ones, bouncing the bullets off and distracting the thing. He spun, facing me. “You wanna fight Browbeat?” he howled. “I’ll crush you!”
I took another shot at him, and threw myself to one side, lasso out. He jumped – one jump took him forty feet right at me, but he missed and I got back and threw my lasso and got him! “Give it up,” I shouted.
He spun around – so fast – and snapped the rope of my lasso like it was paper. He grabbed the rope and yanked, throwing me forward and burning through my gloves in a second, giving me rope burns right through the leather. I stumbled at his feet, and tried to push up – he was over me with a rock-
An explosion of fire and light blasted him back away from me. “Get away from him,” Blockbuster shouted, having gotten to his feet. His P.A. was out, and his voice sounded shrill with the shriek over his blast.
Browbeat threw himself up and straight at Blockbuster. Blockbuster fired, but Browbeat kept pushing forward and swung.
The fist slammed into the center of Blockbuster’s shell like a cannonball, the impact’s noise smashing through the streets like a thunderclap. Blockbuster was thrown back onto the pitted scars of the street, the remains of his shattered armor shell crumpling around him. Maybe dead – how to tell….
Browbeat started for Blockbuster slowly, and I realized the thug was going for the death blow.
I hated Blockbuster. I really did. I don’t know why I ran forward. But I did. “Hey,” I shouted, grabbing my six-shooters with raw hands.
Browbeat turned. “Get outta here,” he snarled. “I ain’t got time for you!”
“Make time for this!” I howled, and fired eight more times. I was an expert marksman taking a risk. And I hit the mark – eight shots, one after another, right… in… his… god… damn… eyes!
That rocked him. He staggered back, and I ran past and dove, grabbing Blockbuster out of the remnants of his armor shell and running with him. I knew I couldn’t stop Browbeat. I could only save Blockbuster’s life.
I ran with everything I had into an alleyway, skidding to a stop behind garbage cans. I crouched there, panting and setting Blockbuster down behind me. I had a whip and two empty six-shooters. Browbeat could bounce bullets and throw cars. I couldn’t stop him.
But he wasn’t following. I heard shouting – I must have rattled him, because he was jumping off.
I turned to Lieutenant Blockbuster – I had to figure out if he was still alive. He was the only one with the sheer power-
And I stared at the body lying next to me. At the pressure-suited chest that slowly, painfully rose and fell with breath.
Lieutenant Blockbuster wasn’t Vincent Esterhaus at all.
It was Victoria.