"Leather’s a cool boss. If we keep our noses clean for a few weeks? Then she’ll forgive us and the next time we fuck up it’ll be another speech. But, y’know, if we fuck up before that? She wasn’t kidding last night. She’s got no sense of perspective. She will burn your house to the ground and laugh while she’s doing it." He laughed. "She doesn’t always look crazy or sound crazy, but trust me, man. She’s crazy."
In the alternate universe coded ⎇001JW, super heroes and villains have been around for decades and tensions are rising between parahumans and their unpowered prosahuman cousins. This is Justice Wing In Nadir.
Music journalist Todd Chapman had a one-day assignment to interview the third-tier super villain ‘Leather’ that had turned into a week’s captivity. The previous night the hero Darkhood had interrupted a so-called ‘quiet’ job and Chapman had been savagely attacked by Leather’s henchmen in reprisal, only to have Leather punish the henchmen and keep Chapman with her overnight. There, she began to open up to Chapman, though the question remained how the henches would react to the reporter the next morning.
Interviewing Leather (Revised)
It was a sunny day, and the light was good, and Leather had declared they weren’t going to pull a job that night, which meant the henches had the night off. That plus getting paid — even if that pay was docked — meant the henches were in a good mood, just like Leather said they would be.
Breakfast, in this case, was a group activity for Leather and the henches. It was also mandatory every day of the week except Saturday. On the one hand, it was a pretty casual affair. On the other, it doubled as a morning meeting that let them go over the plans for the day. If there were future jobs scheduled, they’d go over any prep that either had been done or needed to be done. If one of those jobs was scheduled for that same day, they’d go over the plan in detail, make sure all the prep work was finished, and work out a preflight schedule. As bubbly and cheerful as Leather usually was, and as informal as the meetings tended to be, this was still the most ‘corporate’ part of the day.
On this Wednesday morning, the breakfast was extensive. On most days, Marco and the henches cooked. Today, Leather had gone out before they’d gotten up and grabbed breakfast instead, going all out in the process. Catering packs of eggs in several forms, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, bagels with about six spreads, thick bread for toast, even breakfast pastries. It made sense to me — last night Leather had been pissed and the henches had borne the brunt of her wrath. This breakfast was her way of telling them everything was cool. Good employee relations, plain and simple.
Of course, that didn’t mean it was an apology breakfast. The blond bagman made that clear later that morning. "We ate good so we knew she still loved us," he said with a grin. "Crooks don’t apologize to the help — not over shit like last night. That was our bad."
"So she forgave you with Eggs Benedict?" I asked.
The bagman laughed at that. "Hell no. She… she’s dropping the matter, I guess you’d say. But she didn’t forgive us and she won’t forget what we did. We’re all on notice and we know it." He shrugged. "Leather’s a cool boss. If we keep our noses clean for a few weeks? Then she’ll forgive us and the next time we fuck up it’ll be another speech. But, y’know, if we fuck up before that? She wasn’t kidding last night. She’s got no sense of perspective. She will burn your house to the ground and laugh while she’s doing it." He laughed. "She doesn’t always look or sound crazy, but trust me, man. She’s crazy."
"Then… why would you possibly keep working for her?"
That made him laugh. "The money’s good, man. And besides, for all of that? Leather’s one of the good bosses. Remember when she nailed my partner in the stomach and lifted him over her head?"
"I’m not likely to forget last night," I answered. "My bruises have bruises of their own."
He laughed again. "Yeah. But on that power-lift? She could have just as easily broken his spine or caused internal bleeding or at least cracked ribs if she’d hit higher or harder. As nasty as it is to take a punch from her, she went out of her way to avoid really hurting him. I used to hench for this one guy called Morgue? Worked out of Gateway City? In that exact same situation he’d have probably broken an arm or leg. And someone like the Jack O’Knaves? Shit, that bagman’d be dead. Maybe all of us would be." He paused, then grinned a little more. "But you’ll notice — I kept my mouth shut and didn’t get thrown into a wall or gorilla press slammed onto the floor."
"So you were the smart one?"
He snickered. "Not really. I was less stupid. The Steve was the smart one — he did his job right from the start. But stupid or not, I’m a survivor. You got to be, man."
As absolution breakfasts went, this one worked pretty well. She really had gone all out, and she’d done the accounting to boot. All happening sometime between our conversation the previous night and the sun rising that day, I’d add. Apparently Leather sleeps maybe four hours a night, but almost never more than that — another little advantage of super powers, I guess.
She’d done the accounting so she could pass out the paystubs at the same time, and that put everyone into a great mood. The score had been pretty substantial — one of the henches’ best paydays of the year even after the insubordination penalty. Between that and the smorgasbord everyone was laughing and cheerful, just like last night had never happened.
Leather was conducting the meeting, of course. She always did. Most of the time she balanced on the back of her chair while she ate — always the showoff — but today she was sitting. She also had maybe three times what everyone else did. Scrambled eggs with melted cheese, an overstuffed omelet, bacon, sausage and ham, toast and bagels — a little of everything except the pastries. Leather wasn’t a fan of overly sugary foods. She’d started the meeting by reminding everyone that they’d have to pack the lair up the next day, and asking questions about the Thursday and Friday jobs — Thursday was the so-called ‘prestige’ job, whatever that meant, and Friday was ‘the blow-off.’ The henches answered her questions in between bites.
And me? I mostly listened and typed. I take a lot of notes on a story. The henches had joked about it before — I had to take notes at the end of the day, which meant I usually took them while I sat on my cot in the barracks while they tried to sleep. The night before I’d been on an air mattress in Leather’s room so I had to get caught up now.
This made Marco laugh, of course. “There he goes,” he said, gesturing towards me with a slice of toast. “Hey man, when you’re describing that uppercut, remember my name’s Marco, with a ‘C.’ I may need this for my demo reel.”
“How do you put a magazine article into a demo reel?” the blond bagman asked.
“Wait, we’re supposed to have demo reels?” the brown haired bagman asked. He was eating a bit more lightly — but then, his stomach probably still hurt pretty badly. Despite that, he was in a good mood just like the others.
“Sorry, boys. Your little tiff probably didn’t even make the cut,” Leather said, leaning forward in her chair enough to let her stretch her arms backwards, showing off that parahuman flexibility — and a few other things, to boot. “After all our passionate lovemaking and codeine filled revelations, I’m sure Chapman can’t even remember you ruining my fucking bedspread.”
“Oh Jesus Christ,” Marco said with a laugh. “I’ll buy you another damn bedspread.”
“No. I will buy me another bedspread. You will just pay for it. Like I’d trust your taste.” Leather grinned more broadly. “Okay. So. On to today’s fun. Thanks to Darkhood’s rude little party crashing last night, things are a lot hotter today than we expected. If someone at Transport Services or the Fence ratted us out, then tonight’s speed job may be compromised. So, I’m thinking we cut it entirely. We don’t want to screw with the blowoff.”
"Speed job?" I asked.
"Speed job," Leather confirmed. "We worked loud on Monday — hit the jewelers, fought some cops, and ran. We worked quiet last night — or at least we were supposed to be working quiet." She didn’t keep the annoyance out of her voice. "Slow, methodical, invisible, and lucrative. A speed job’s kind of in between the two — loud and flashy but moving too fast for the cops or Darkhood to keep up. It’s mostly publicity — mostly dumb heists. The mayor’s toupee, say, followed by a ritzy punch bowl from a fundraiser. Tear the roof off an armored car, grab three or four bags of cash, then keep moving. The bagmen wait at strategic places so I can drop things off in some quarter-second I’m out of view and then keep moving, and Marco picks the bagmen up and gets them into position for the next drop. Not usually worth a lot of money, but riles up the cops and makes local heroes like Darkhood look stupid for letting it happen."
"So how would a leak screw that up?" I asked. "If you’re doing this that fast?"
"Fast only works if no one expects you to show up. Let’s say I smash through a window and steal the mayor’s rug in the middle of a press conference. Lots of screams and camera flashes and film and I’m out a window on the other side and gone. If they know I’m coming? I smash through the window and seven cops start shooting at me or Darkhood fires a net-arrow at me. Even if I get away I’ll be the one who looks stupid. Sends the wrong message, so nope." She grinned. "Besides, if they are expecting me and I don’t show up? Then they still get to feel stupid even if I don’t get any publicity for it. Either way? No job tonight, boys!"
“Makes sense,” Marco said. “Besides, the light’s good — is this picture day? It’s supposed to rain tonight so who knows how tomorrow’ll be.”
“That is a good point,” Leather said, grinning even more. “You get an extra strawberry.” She plucked a strawberry from the fruit bowl and languidly held it out for Marco to take. He grinned and made a show of accepting it.
Picture day, in this case, came back to me and my interview. I was supposed to get pictures to go with my story — after all, what good was interviewing an alt-rock banger chick villain if the article didn’t have any pictures of her in leather outfits? At least, that’s what Kyle Elias would say — and Leather was all for a photoshoot.
“We’re definitely canceling tonight?” the Steve asked. “I have to let the Service know if we are.”
“Oh, we are definitely cancelling tonight,” Leather said. “I’m thinking a nice quiet night in’ll do me some good. Oh, have them work out billing for any extras on last night, okay?”
“You already did the paperwork,” Marco said. “I know that ‘cause you already paid out.”
“Yeah — any extras are on me… of course, there’s also a leak they need to stop up, so any extras they charge me are gonna get contested, and that means they may end up refunding part of last night’s fee for… you know. Getting me shot in the arm with a fucking arrow.” Leather grinned even more broadly.
“And because you already figured our take, if there’s a refund you get to keep it all,” the brown haired bagman said, grinning as well.
“See? Don’t tell your Aunt Leather how to chase pigs. She’s a natural pig chaser.” She giggled. “Eat! Eat! You’re growing boys and girls and I had to wig up to pick breakfast up.” She took a forkful of eggs — they were at least half-cheese from the look of them.
So. That morning was designated for photos. An hour after breakfast I hauled out the tripod from my dead Hyundai’s trunk. The day was warm already and the sun was behind us, so I set up my digital camera while Marco and the bagmen kept an eye out for intruders.
The lookouts were necessary, as it turned out, because Leather was outdoors and in full combat gear. Even if some boater out in the bay happened to look up at the old lighthouse with binoculars they’d recognize Leather and call the cops. The henches had to stop that from happening.
We cut that risk down by staying on the side of the power station overlooking the water, so we couldn’t be seen from the road. Besides the security issues, it was like any other photoshoot. I worked the camera. Leather smoked a cigarette between sessions.
And I admit it. Leather looked good. I’d seen her ‘fuck me’ suit in our first formal interview, her ‘field suit’ — the bustier leotard/thigh high one — for the jewelry heist, and her ‘quiet’ suit — the flat black leather catsuit Broadhead had ruined. This? Was the big deal — the ‘full combat’ suit. And just looking at it I could tell it was serious. On the outside it was red and black distressed heavy leather. It was designed to present a very female profile even though it had hidden armor plating — titanium, ceramic, and who knew what else. It had been recently oiled so it fairly gleamed in the light. As she turned and moved I realized it was actually a lot of leather ‘plates’ connected to an elastomer undersuit, giving her freedom of movement in any direction while keeping her protected — a series of those plates went down her spine which meant she could twist and bend however she needed, but just looking at them you’d think they were ornamental.
"Is that thing even comfortable?" I asked.
"Most comfortable suit I have," Leather said, grinning and posing as I started taking pictures again. I knew my way around a camera — once upon a time I had pretensions of photojournalism. It was helpful as a music reporter because I could get candid shots ‘on the scene.’ Not that ‘candid’ photos were a good idea on this assignment, for what should be obvious reasons. At the same time, I’m not well known for model photography because I don’t really know from shooting models. So, we’d gone outside for the light, made easier because the lair had white painted brick facing the water, and I was erring on the side of caution by taking a few thousand pictures.
"Don’t you get sweaty?"
"Nuh-uh. This suit has a drysuit inner layer that wicks moisture. The flex layer helps it all breathe. And you’d be surprised how well ventilated the armor layers can be. Besides, I don’t really get too hot or too cold to begin with."
"And this suit’s better than the field suit?"
"Way better. It’s insulated against a ton of stuff, can take shots from a fifty cal, and is better engineered around my movement and combat style in the first place. I’d use it all the time except it costs too much to maintain every day and it takes forever to put on. And it doesn’t exactly fit under civilian clothes."
"I figured you mostly dodged attacks, rather than rely on armor."
Leather snickered. "Yeah, not any more. You only need to learn that lesson once, I promise you."
"Too bad you weren’t wearing it last night." I snapped another ten pictures. Leather adjusted a little bit for each, clearly used to posing for cameras.
"I couldn’t even if I wanted to," She said, pouting for the camera, then shifting into a smile. "One thing this suit can’t do is compress down. If I have to crawl through a ventilator duct I need something that’ll scrunch down with me. The quiet suit’s good at that. There’s always tradeoffs." She chuckled. "And besides, last night? Even with Broadhead? Was worth it. We hit the motherlode."
"I don’t get it," I said. "How could you get that much money? Wouldn’t the fence’s cut knock it down?"
"The laptops did pretty well and it turned out they had a buttload of them," Leather said while I swapped SD cards again. She crushed the cigarette out against the brick of the wall and flicked it away in an arc that might have hit the water below, for all I could tell. "Real high end shit, too. But that wasn’t the best part. We scored a prerelease video game console."
"Big launch event for one of the new next gen video games," Marco said. He was grinning a lot. "Apparently they had like five hundred of them shrinkwrapped in their warehouse, plastered with ‘do not open before’ notes all over them. I’m afraid we might have broken street date."
"You’re saying a video game brought you more money than the laptops?"
"You have no idea," Leather said. "There are psychos out there who’ll pay ten thousand dollars a console to get it two weeks before release. And since they’ll sell out on opening day — they always do, ’cause companies intentionally under-manufacture to create artificial demand — lots of other people’ll pay four figures on eBay. The fence probably came when he saw what he had." She grinned. "We had a good night."
"Glad to hear it," I kind of muttered. They had a good night. Meanwhile, my back hurt. So did my stomach. My lip was still puffy. And while there hadn’t been any swelling thanks to the ibuprofin and Leather’s cold gel mask, I still had two black eyes. Looking in the mirror that morning, I could practically hear myself saying "No, officer — you just don’t know her. She loves me, but sometimes I make her do things…."
I pushed past those thoughts. I still had a job to do, whether I was in pain or not. "All set here."
Leather set a new pose, arching, lips pouty, eyes twinkling. She knew how to exploit what the costume covered and didn’t cover, and wasn’t afraid to show it off. "Let’s do this thing," she said, and I began snapping another few dozen pictures. I would give her suggestions and she would adjust for them.
For the record? Glamour photography is just as boring as any other repetitive work.
"Will this cover what you need?" Leather asked. "Like, do you need shit for the inside too? Or will you use these?"
"This should cover what I need. I’m gonna assume the henchmen don’t want their pictures taken, though if I’m wrong–"
"You’re not," Marco said. "Last thing I need is proof in a magazine I work for a supervillain. My wife’d kill me."
I didn’t follow up about his wife. I’d learned there were questions henchmen won’t answer. "Anyway," I said. "this is pretty much it. Although…"
"Although what? Oh wait, let me guess. Tasteful nudes, right? Maybe do nude sunbathing on the roof, and after that we can go to the back seat of your Hyundai and look at your etchings?" Leather was teasing. More of that good mood. The ever happy, ever bubbly supervillain pixie. And her bearing, her cheer, and her grin meant the Henches were in a good mood too. No matter what the bagman had said before, in practice last night had been completely forgotten — it was just another night of doing business. Even the guy she’d hoisted over her head acted like there was nothing new or different. Marco gave her shit like he always did despite being thrown against a wall the night before.
It seemed weird, but then I was acting like these guys were the same guys I’d been hanging out with and interviewing all week, instead of the thugs who’d stomped me into kibble. That was just business. They screwed up and they paid. And me?
They’d all said they were sorry and then they dropped the matter, and I figured out I was supposed to too. So I did. It’s how the situation worked.
But Leather was waiting for my answer. "Nothing like that," I said. "And no bikini pictures either. Unless you want bikini pictures?"
She gave me a look.
"Hey," I said. "You can’t tell me this isn’t an exercise in public relations for you. For all I know you want a bikini spread."
Leather smirked. "It crossed my mind, but honestly I look better in the suit. Besides, it’d break the mystery."
"Sure. Think about it. I’ve got a civilian name in my arrest record. My hair, tattoos, and personal style are distinctive. I want to be recognized when I’m on the job. So why do I wear a mask?"
I frowned. "Wait, let me guess. Theater?"
"Got it in one." She leaned back against the wall, one arm draped up alongside it, one leg bent at the knee, and looked sidelong at me. I took the picture, then another, then another as she shifted slightly. "Me showing up, even in a leather suit, just looks like they’re being robbed by a porn star. Put a mask on my face and it becomes something more. Something grander. Something iconic. There is mystery, and allure, and it makes everyone more comfortable."
"There are both heroes and villains without masks," I said, shifting to the side to take another four pictures. I was glad I had a lot of memory cards and a pro grade digital camera.
"Sure, but they still have a defined look. The mask is part of my defined look," she said. "Plus, it makes things more convenient. If I want to go out and have lunch, it’s a lot less likely I’ll be recognized and someone will call the cops, because all the news reports have me in a mask." She smiled a bit. "You still haven’t told me what the ‘although’ was for."
"Hm? Oh. I was wondering if you had any pictures from your… well, former career?"
"Huh?" Marco asked.
"What?" Leather said, frowning. Then she grinned. "Oh! You want to know if I have pictures from my Dynamo Girl days!"
I blinked. "I didn’t think you’d told your henchmen about that."
Leather snickered. "Was that your way of trying to be coy then? ‘Former career?’ The next time you try to cover for someone’s past or secret identity, try not to make it sound like they used to be in porn, okay?" She stepped away from the wall — a sign we were going on break, so I stepped back from the camera. "But yeah, I told them. It’s part of the screening procedure. You need to let the guild know if you used to play the other side of the street, so bad situations don’t come up at bad times."
"Henchmen go to jail sometimes," Marco said. "When we’re in the whole recruitment phase, we need to know if our new boss is an ex-hero. Some bad shit went down a few years back. An ex-cowl recruited four henchmen he’d put in jail before he crossed the river. They figured out it was him and decided to get revenge. Guild had to pay reparations to the villain and to the henchs’ families."
"Dumbass," one of the bagmen said. It was the one Leather had lifted over her head the night before. "Who gives a shit if your boss put you in jail last year. If you get paid today, yesterday don’t matter."
"That’s why I love you guys," Leather said.
"Anyway," I said, steering things back onto track. "It’d just be a good counterpoint to the article if I could get some pictures of you in the old costume. Unless you’d rather not."
"No," Leather said. "No, that’s fine. I’m just trying to think if I’ve got something. I used to scrapbook and shit, so I might have some old photos. Hm." She looked thoughtful. "Grab some more coffee. I’ll be right back."
We watched her bound into the building. I realized I was alone with the henchmen for the first time since the beating.
"You take cream, right?" Marco asked, heading to the back door.
"What? Yeah. Yeah, thanks."
He paused, looking back. "How you feeling?" he asked. "Want some Advil while I’m there?"
I was pretty sore, I’ll admit. Getting more codeine would have been nice, but I didn’t want to be foggy while I was on the clock. "Sure," I said. "That’d be great." I tried to smile gamely. "You guys are good at beatdowns."
He shrugged. "Not so much, really. Some of the guys are what we call security specialists? Bodyguards, mooks, call ’em whatever? They can fight. We’re just tough."
"Heh. That much I figured out. That’s why I couldn’t be a henchman, I guess."
Marco grinned, shaking his head. "Man, you think any one of us could go three on one and not end up tasting blood? You get down to it, you passed the only real test."
"You’re still doing your job." He turned and walked in. "Coffee and Advil, comin’ up."
It was weird, but hearing Marco say that felt good. I guess it had never occurred to me, but in a Henchman’s world, getting beat up was an occupational hazard. How you dealt with it on the day after probably counted more than the day before. I nodded to the bagman nearest me. He grinned and gave me the thumbs up.
I should note that the bagmen never gave me names, and Leather and Marco never used them around me. That’s standard. Henchmen were jobs as much as anything. The bagmen. The wheel. The Steve. Marco was Marco because he was the Guild representative and acted as the henches’ supervisor. It’s entirely possible that wasn’t his real name either. Earlier in the week, I’d asked one of the bagmen if that bothered him — the anonymity of it all.
He laughed at me. "Man, I get paid to haul shit. I’m like one of the teamsters. If my name never comes up, my name doesn’t end up on the cops’ lips and they don’t show up at my mother’s asking stupid questions. Let the supervillains take the spotlight."
Back at the photo shoot, we were drinking coffee. Leather’d been inside for like fifteen minutes now, and I was a little worried about losing the morning light. And as I’d only gotten a few hundred pictures on multiple SD cards, I wasn’t sure I had enough.
"That’s far enough, boys!"
All four of us jumped, startled. One of the bagmen dropped his coffee. The voice had come from above–
She leapt from a fourth story window, a smile on her face, a blur of red as she twisted and rolled in the air. She landed smoothly, legs bending to full crouch to absorb the fall and sprung forward, doing a handspring-cartwheel combo to get on the other side of us before dropping into a fighting crouch. Her hair was brown — a wig, but a good one. Her face was covered with a blue half-mask with white accents. She wore a red short-sleeved turtlenecked leotard clinging just right, with a blue and white five point star emblem on her chest and three military-style chevrons coming off it to my right. She wore pale pink tights just transluscent enough to show her legs, blue legwarmers, and red sneakers. The look was topped off by the biggest shit-eating grin I’ve seen that mouth form.
She’d taken the labriet out, too.
Marco looked like he was caught between running like Hell and losing bowel control. After a half-second he burst into laughter. "Oh shit!" he shouted. "It’s Dynamo Girl!"
"Watch your language, punk!" Leather shouted, shifting to make arms akimbo. "It’s punch o’clock, and I’m late for work!"
Now all the henchmen were laughing, which I think was her point. Certainly, they didn’t feel threatened. I wasn’t, because I wasn’t sure what the rules actually were now. Did the costume mean she was on the side of the angels, even if only briefly?
Seemed unlikely, really. She was posing and joking with the henches. In the meantime, I was watching her. The lycra was, if anything, more clingy than the leather she normally wore. And of course it couldn’t be shaped so easily. The effect made her seem smaller, and more human. She looked younger, too.
And… I hate to admit it, but I understood what they meant by ‘sidekick physique’ when I looked at her in the Dynamo Girl outfit. Intellectually I knew she was an adult around my own age, and beyond that I knew she was an exceptionally dangerous supervillain. And yet, looking at her in that thing? I kept expecting some hero with an hourglass figure and six more inches of height to show up and call her ‘old chum.’
She’d said her Dynamo Girl career lasted four solid years. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have people patronizing her all the time, even after saving their lives.
"Right," she said. "Let’s get these pictures underway," She darted over to the wall and posed.
So I began to take pictures. What else would I do? "Why’d you keep the old costume?" I asked.
She giggled. "Why throw it out? I had some good times wearing this thing." She shifted — her poses more action oriented, less seductive. She was cute, and pretty, where ‘Leather’ was smoldering and coy. Her bearing had completely changed. "Well, something just like it. Truth be told, my actual togs aren’t really wearable any more, but I had this made up for me. It’s a little tougher and shows me off at least a little better." She giggled. "I guess I’m just sentimental."
"That makes sense," I said, snapping picture after picture. "So why the wig?"
"Well, my hair’s a big part of the whole ‘Leather’ thing," she said. "People come to expect it. ‘Dynamo Girl’ had naturally colored hair, so if you want an accurate picture of the good old days…"
"No — I mean, sure, that makes sense. But I meant ‘why do you happen to have a brown wig?’"
She giggled again. ‘Dynamo Girl’ was a giggler, it seemed. "Deniability. Like I said — the hair’s distinctive. When I’m in town just having a life, I don’t want to have to play supervillain the whole time. Sometimes I just want to go to Home Depot or Denny’s. So I throw on a wig, jeans, a t-shirt, and maybe a flannel shirt over it instead of a leather jacket. You’d be surprised how easy it is to pass as just some chick."
I laughed. "Not that surprised. I mean, you don’t look anything like Leather right now."
She kind of blinked. "Really?"
"He’s right, boss," Marco said. "Total makeover. Different attitude."
"And you don’t stand the same way, either," the brown haired bagman said.
She cocked her head. "Huh," she said. "I just figured it was dressup. Putting on the old togs for a laugh."
"Do you feel any different?"
She considered that, stretching. "Sort of," she said. "Old habits, I guess. I was always very careful about what I did or said in the togs."
"You said that twice. Is that just an anachronism, or is it some kind of industry term?"
"Huh? Oh. Fighting togs. It’s what they used to call superhero outfits in the old Captain Prestige comics. So we call hero suits togs."
"But not villain suits?"
"Nah. That’s different."
She shrugged. "It just is." She stretched again. "Yeah," she said. "yeah, I do feel different. And a little weird."
"Why weird?" I kept taking pictures.
"Well, the last time I was in this was the liquor store holdup I told you about. You know? Which means the last time I wore this was the case I lost. The failure." She shrugged. "It’s just weird. Dynamo Girl’s last hurrah involved stealing eight thousand bucks from a liquor store. It’s weird to wear the togs now."
I frowned. "Why does that have to be the last hurrah?"
The silence was palpable.
I shifted where I stood. The mood had turned uncomfortable. "Seriously. I mean, you’ve already said you’re not going out and stealing anything, tonight. So instead of Leather going out, why doesn’t Dynamo Girl go out instead. Spend a night fighting crime instead of causing it. Break a few muggers’ heads and leave them for the cops?"
"I… never really thought about that," she said, frowning. "I mean, I went bad."
I shrugged. "Yeah, but so what? I’m not saying reform or give back the money or anything. I’m saying that if you feel bad that Dynamo Girl’s last night ended in crime instead of justice, why let that be Dynamo Girl’s last night? Make a different last night instead."
She looked stunned, falling back against the wall.
"Hey, now wait a minute," Marco said. "Look, your business is your business, boss, but we don’t do Good Guy Shit. That’s not in the contract."
"You wouldn’t have to," she said, cocking her head. "I mean, seriously. Super heroes don’t use henchmen. You’d still have the night off, all the usual rules in effect."
"So long as that’s understood." Marco frowned a bit more. "This wouldn’t become a thing, would it? You wouldn’t go all Robin Hood on us or cross the aisle and leave us high and dry? We have a deal here."
"No," she said. "No, nothing would change. But Chapman’s right. There’s no reason I couldn’t do this. Just for a night, but still." She grinned. "Why not? I mean, seriously — why not?"
The bagmen looked at each other. Marco kept looking at his employer.
"Oh, stop fretting. I’m not crossing back over. This is just a lark. It’s fun. Besides, we lived in this city for a year. You think I don’t want to clean the streets up just a little?"
"They got two cowls already doing that," Marco said.
"There’s still crime, isn’t there?"
Marco rolled his eyes. "Okay. What if you get caught?"
"What are you talking about? Who ‘catches’ a superhero? A villain?"
Marco shook his head. "Shit, man. You’re Leather, remember? What if someone figures it out and you get caught?"
"Oh!" She considered. "Keep an ear on the police scanner. If you hear I’ve been taken in, punch the panic button like normal. Clear out, let the service take care of things."
Marco thought about it for a moment, and then nodded. "Good enough." He shook his head again. "You’re really gonna do this?"
"Well… there’s some work involved. Need to dye my hair — the wig could come off. I’ll need to grab my skin dermacover for the tattoos…" she smiled a bit more. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I am gonna do this. Why not? One last ride into the sunset!"
Marco snorted. "Your life, man."
"I wish I could see it," I said.
She paused, and peeled her blue mask off. "What was that?" she asked.
"I said I wish I could see it," I said, noticing that the togs looked strange on her when she wasn’t masked. Less like a uniform, more like a costume.
Leather got a slightly wicked smile on her face. "Who says you can’t?"
I blinked. "Well… I… was under the impression I was a prisoner here. Why would you let me out?"
"Well now, that raises an interesting question. How badly do you want to see this?" She sat down, pulling off the wig and shaking out her hair. Her bearing had shifted again — she was all Leather. Amused Leather at that. I found myself wishing she’d put the mask back on.
"What do you mean?"
"You told me you wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe," she said. "Well, remember. Hunter S. Thompson rode with the Hell’s Angels. These guys went out and they did, Chapman. Do you really, really want to be on hand for the return of Dynamo Girl? To get that story, even if no one ever gives a shit?"
I frowned. Right then, I could feel my aches from last night again. "Well, yeah," I said.
Leather’s smile turned predatory. "Would you bet your life on that?"