“Four henches?” Chapman looked around, then looked right at the Steve. He clearly hadn’t even noticed the Steve was in the room before now.
“Yeah, he’s on the job tonight too. He’s Steve.”
Oh you fucker. The Steve didn’t let his annoyance cross to his face. After all, he wasn’t listening, right?
“His name’s Steve?”
“His job’s Steve. Every job needs a Steve.”
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.
A professional Steve never stands out — that’s the entire point. Supervillains employ Steves to act as lookouts and to make the call to the Service if the villain and their henches are arrested. The Service employs Steves to act as their eyes and ears in the field, allowing for some sense of control over the chaotic world of villainy. In both cases, Steves hide from the spotlight and crave blending into the crowd.
However, when a third tier villain named Leather announces that she’s kidnapping a reporter for a week, her assigned Steve finds himself caught between these worlds. He just wanted quiet and to be ignored… but no one said being the Steve was easy.
Being the Steve
An Interviewing Leather Concurrence
Leather was pacing. She always freaked out before a job, whether they went out to commit the crime or the crime came to them. “You know what to do?” she asked Marco, a bit frantically.
“Be working in the garage when you bring him through? Yeah, I think I got that,” Marco said. He was smoking one of those cigars he always smoked before a job. The bagmen were doing a dumb comedy routine they did before every job. And the Steve?
The Steve was drinking coffee. Normally he limbered up, but for once his job was to hang out. More to the point, his job was to hang out in the central security office, looking at the video feeds, watching the motion sensor reports, and making sure a PATER team wasn’t following this guy to their doorstep. The bagmen were each in a different security office doing the same thing — redundancy was a good thing. That meant the comedy routine was happening over the comm system, which was annoying enough.
Honestly, from what the Steve had gotten back from the Service, the reporter looked like they were on the up and up. But that didn’t mean the Service was right.
As far as rituals went — the Steve didn’t really have any besides checking his gear, going over his plan, and stretching out if it was called for. Rituals and superstitions weren’t his thing. It was yet another joke among the henches — up there with the Steve’s favorite diner order (grilled cheese and tomato soup if they had it), his favorite snack (peanut butter on white), and everything else. The Steve lacked texture, from their point of view. A pre-mission ritual would come dangerously close to having a personality, and they just didn’t see that happening.
Which was exactly what the Steve was supposed to do. Hang out. Not be noticed. Have no strong opinions. Watch. Be ready to punch the panic button. And report back where appropriate. When he was being trained, it had been explained to the Steve pretty clearly. “The Service lives and dies by risk assessment. We can only do that assessment with clear information. Henches aren’t reliable — they get too close to Crooks. That leaves the Steves. No one even notices you guys.”
Marco stuck his head in. “We got about twenty minutes based on incoming intel. Want to come out for the thing?”
“Sure,” the Steve said, grabbing a thermos. “I’ll fill up while I’m there.”
“Makes sense. This all seem as stupid to you as it does to me?”
The Steve shrugged. “Doesn’t really make any difference to me.”
That made Marco laugh. “Like I’m shocked,” he said. The Steve followed him out.
The bagmen were in the kitchen, and so was Leather. She was still keyed up like they were about to head out on a job, which looked weird when she was wearing flannel sleep pants and a white t-shirt instead of a leather combat uniform. “Okay,” she said. “Circle up and take hands.”
The group got in a tight circle, holding hands and bowing their head. To the Steve’s knowledge, no one in the group was a practicing Christian. He knew one of the bagmen was Jewish, but that was about it. The Steve himself had given up religion and faith after high school — if God were out there, He didn’t care about the Steve, so the Steve saw no reason to care about him.
But they did this. Every Crook had their pre-job routine. There was an old comic book that had spawned a cliche — criminals were a superstitious lot. In the Steve’s experience, that was entirely true.
“Lord,” Leather said, “Please let the reporter get here without being followed or ratting us out. Let him cooperate without trouble and be good at what he does. Let us remember what to say and what not to say, and let us be have a good week both with him and with our work. In your name, Amen.”
The Henches and the Steve echoed the Amen. It was never a good idea to step on a Crook’s superstition.
Leather then turned and kissed Marco, then each bagman, and then the Steve. A firm kiss. It wasn’t unpleasant, though the Steve didn’t care for it. At least it wasn’t sexual — it meant no more to Leather than the prayer. She just did it before jobs, like Marco smoking his cigar. At least she always smelled better than the cigar, and today she didn’t reek of leather waterproofing oil.
“Okay,” she said. “Get back on posts. I’ll need about five minutes warning so I can get that ‘I just showered and haven’t really woken up’ glisten going.” She grinned. “If there’s a man alive who can resist a cute bad girl when she’s just out of the shower and she isn’t really awake yet, I haven’t met him.”
The Steve didn’t say anything. He just turned and headed back to the center security office. He walked in and sat down behind the desk. Nine monitors showing nine views, a computer in the middle showing status of motion detectors and other defenses. It was just a brick building meant to service a lighthouse that didn’t exist any more, but it was the home of a super villain and a paranoid edge clung to that.
And the Steve’s whole job was to watch and not be seen.
“Hey — hey, guy?”
The Steve looked up. One of the bagmen — the brown haired one — was standing at the door.
“Yeah?” the Steve asked. “Shouldn’t you be in left-forward?”
“Yeah, but… hey, are you okay?”
The Steve raised his eyebrows. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
The bagman laughed. “‘Cause Leather’s pretty chill as bosses go but she has an ego the size of a planet and the sensitivity of bedrock.”
“Meaning… I dunno. Meaning I know it bugs you when she…” The bagman shook his head.
“Makes sweeping generalizations about the male of the species?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that.” He laughed. “You’re not into it. I know. You’re not the only one.”
“I know. You’re into it, though.”
“Yeah, I am. I think she’s hot as shit. But that’s me. And it doesn’t matter if I do ‘cause I’m not what she’d want anyway and it’s a terrible idea to bang your boss. But you? You’re not into it.” He laughed again. “I got eyes, man.”
“And what do you see?” The Steve half-smiled, looking over the monitors. No signs yet.
“I see you not quite rolling your eyes. I see you get mad when she makes assumptions. I see you, man. I mean, I know. You’re the one no one sees, but we live with you. We sleep in the same fuckin’ room. I got eyes.”
“So what do you think you know?”
“Know? I don’t know anything. Maybe you’re gay, or maybe you’re just not into her, but either way it gets under your skin.”
“And why are you telling me this?”
The bagman shrugged. “We work together, man. Figured you should know. And know that someone gives a shit.”
The Steve considered. “Yeah. That’s pretty cool. Thanks.”
The bagman shrugged again. “Got to get on the board.”
“Have fun.” The Steve half-smiled.
“Sure thing.” The bagman grinned and stepped out.
The Steve’s smile slipped back to neutral, watching the bagman go. He was right. It was nice knowing someone cared about his feelings. But of course, it flew in the face of what he was supposed to be.
But then, the henches didn’t know what he was supposed to be when he was — in their eyes — off the clock.
There was movement on the old road — a car. Specifically a green Hyundai that was a few years old – something of a beater, really. Fortunate, really.
The Steve slipped his headset on and clicked the PA. “We have a contact,” he said. “Virginia plates. Should be here in less than eight minutes.”
“Got him,” one of the bagmen — the blond? The Steve wasn’t sure — said over the headset. “Doing a sweep for signals. Looks clean. No active transmitters or transceivers. Looks like he followed instructions and turned his phone off, and he doesn’t seem to be being tracked.”
“Confirmed. No sign of unusual movement in the woods or behind him on the road. Going to active radar in five… four… three… two…” The Steve flipped a switch, turning on the radar. It was designed to catch invisible flying supers — did it work? Not always. Sometimes not at all. But it was better than nothing. But a radar station could be noticed bouncing signals off things, so it had to be left off. The best sensors were passive. Motion detectors, UV and IR cameras, and that sort of thing.
“I think he’s alone,” the other bagman — yeah, definitely the brown haired one — said. “Which means I think I just won five bucks.”
“We’ll see at the end of the week,” the first bagman said. “We’ll just see.”
The Steve watched the car approach. He watched it stop, and watched a man get out. Nondescript, but not unnoticeable. He’d maybe make a good spy. He probably made for a decent enough reporter. He’d be a terrible Steve.
But then, not very many people could be Steves. That’s why the Steve got paid as well as he did, and was careful not to admit it around non-Steve henches. But then, all they saw was the Steve getting his share of the take. They didn’t know he got a salary on top of that, paid out of the fees that Leather paid to the Service.
Some henches didn’t like the Steves even getting paid equal shares. He remembered a couple of gigs back — one of the guys working thug had taken a dislike to the Steve. Complained a lot about how “a glorified lookout” didn’t deserve to get paid like a real hench. The Guild rep shut the thug down, but he’d stayed sullen.
The Steve had just endured. Engaging was contrary to everything the Steve did. Of course, when the Crook got caught and all his henches went down… that one thug got left in jail two days longer than the rest. When the Guild rep asked the Steve about it, he shrugged and showed the call log and showed the thug’s registry for the job. Beyond that, it was a Service thing.
It was always a bad idea to piss off the guy you depended on to keep you out of jail or bail you out of jail. But then, henching was competitive, and not everyone was cut out for it.
“He’s heading for the lair,” the Steve said on the PA. “You’re up, Boss.”
On the door-cam, he saw Leather. She had indeed jumped in the shower, and was now wearing plaid flannel pajama pants and a white t-shirt, her hair still wet. She nodded to the Steve’s warning, knowing he was watching via the cameras, and dropped down into a crouch. She stayed down there, breathing in and out for a count of three, then fluidly stood and picked up a coffee mug she had on the end table. She then walked outside, barefoot, her body language suggesting boredom and sleep deprivation.
The Steve flipped to one of the exteriors hung in a tree, with a good view of the door and the approach. He turned on the mike. “—find the place all right?” Leather was asking, a bit raspy. Absolutely like she didn’t sweat any of this, and certainly hadn’t been up for hours freaking out.
The Steve only kept the gigs that paid well. The well paying gigs had Crooks who were good at what they did.
“Yeah. Sure. Almost too easily, really. Won’t the cops find it too?” The reporter sounded tired — he’d been on the road for hours, after all, having left early in the morning. So, he wasn’t exactly sharp. Which was one reason Leather was faking being tired herself — she wanted to look a bit like he felt, so he’d underestimate.
The Steve appreciated tradecraft. As someone who essentially always was in improv, he liked the people who paid attention to details. At least, when they were the ones paying him. He watched her chat with him for a moment, then offer him coffee, doing a heel-turn to the door and walking forward. It was at once a casual walk and yet a total advertisement. Leather was very graceful even when she wasn’t trying. Right now, she was trying but also making it seem like she wasn’t.
The Steve felt vaguely annoyed. This kind of shit was why Leather assumed all guys were into her. And the fact that the reporter wasn’t immune just confirmed her biases. But he breathed out. It wasn’t his job to enlighten Crooks.
Leather had given the reporter coffee. He was watching on the kitchen cam — they didn’t usually keep all these things on, but today was a risk and they all knew it. Leather hopped up on the table, perching and not spilling her coffee as she did it. It was probably her favorite trick, and Leather loved showing off, so the Steve and the henches had seen variations of that one over and over again. The reporter looked impressed, on the other hand. She was talking about that time she’d knocked over a WalMart out of pique. The Steve smiled a bit. That was a good story for the interview. Humanizing. Everyone who read this had wanted to smash apart a box store in a rage when they had gotten bad service, sometime in their lives. They’d be able to identify with how Leather felt. Which was exactly what Leather wanted.
Maybe this wasn’t as stupid an idea as it sounded.
Leather hopped back off the table. “I’m gonna grab another cup and we can go talk. Where’s your stuff, anyway?” she asked.
The reporter lifted his backpack, nodding toward it. “All set.”
“You have your clothes in there?” Leather sounded dubious. Playing it just about right.
“My clothes?” the reporter asked. He looked confused. The fatigue couldn’t have been helping.
“God, it’s fun to watch the pigeon walk into the trap,” one of the Bagmen said over the radio.
“No, I’m just here for this afternoon. If we need to do followup, we can do it on the phone or I can drive—“ the reporter was trying to sound reasonable, but had that slightly irked look everyone got when it turned out their travel arrangements had been screwed up by the hotel.
“No,” Leather said, with a hint of annoyance. “I talked to a guy named Kyle Elias and told him I’d need someone up here for a week if we were going to do this. I can’t have you leave before we’re done. Jesus, you might call the cops!”
“I’m not going to call the cops. Why would I call the police?” The reporter was rubbing his eyes. The Steve snickered, watching his reactions. Schmuck.
They argued back and forth, the reporter standing firm on his point. Leather looked at him, then nodded. “Whatever. Want I should show you around the place?”
“Oooo… the bear’s stepping so close to the trap,” the other bagman said on the radio.
“I already said he was a pigeon,” the first answered. “Bears have claws and can bite. Pigeons are just dumb.”
“Pigeons can fuck you up if you’re not careful.”
“They’re on the move,” the Steve said. “They just went into the vehicle bay and are about to climb up to the roof.”
“Where’s the on-roof cam?” the blond bagman asked.
The Steve watched Leather and the reporter climbing the stairs along the wall, though the mikes couldn’t pick them up, there. “Leather had me pull it,” the Steve answered. “It wasn’t hidden well enough, and she didn’t want him knowing we were surveilling until we were sure he didn’t bring company or have a wire.”
“No signals coming from him. He probably has his phone but it’s probably off.” The other bagman laughed. “Man, maybe I will lose that five bucks. Maybe.”
The Steve put the door cam back on monitor three, and focused it on the reporter’s car. It probably wouldn’t take long. He checked angles, and turned hidden cameras in the trees around the lair towards the building, angling them up, waiting…
A tire rim flew off the roof of the lair, blurred on the cams. The cam focused on the car caught the perfect moment of it smashing the hood in on itself and snapping straight back through the windshield. A perfect hit.
The bagmen howled with laughter, and despite himself the Steve chuckled too. Checking the tree-cams he could see the reporter be hurled high into the air and over the edge, only to be caught by the ankle. The south side of the building — no shock. There was a rail Leather could kick off of if she missed him so she could intercept him from below. But, of course, she didn’t miss.
“God, this is too much. Are we recording?”
“Of course we’re recording,” the Steve said. “You think the Boss doesn’t want to see this?” He smiled a bit more.
“He’s being pulled back up,” the blond said. “Right. Show’s over. Back to passives?”
“Done and done,” the Steve said. “No signs of reprisal. Check the rotation for the monitor schedule. Someone tell Marco.” He hung up his headset and got up, stretching. He then headed out of the room and down to his office. He was going to lay low for a bit — get a little work done while waiting to see if Leather needed anything else. Chances were she wouldn’t — she’d be distracted. Talking about herself was Leather’s favorite pastime, after all. ––
There was a knock at the Steve’s office door. “Yes?” he called out.
Marco stuck his head in. “Hey — Leather’s in her study with the guy. Anything on the background and Service checks?”
The Steve looked back at his screen. “Chapman, Todd. Writer for Amplifier. College graduate. Did a lot of music reviews and the like for his college paper. Kind of lived at concerts, bars with live music — pretty normal music geek. No arrests. Not one of their star writers even at a second rate like Amplifier, but does well enough. His writing style’s kind of… I dunno. He writes well enough, but pretty much just blows smoke and compliments musicians. Acknowledges controversy without engaging it.”
“So. Essentially a PR flack, like we thought?”
“Like everyone else at Amplifier except the politicos? Yeah.” The Steve was frowning as he said it.
“And he’s no politico?”
“Never wrote an article of substance, near as I can tell. But if you want to get the real in depth story on Traci Tay’s life on the road…”
Marco cocked his head. “I don’t like that look.”
“Your look. That’s a ‘it all checks out but it doesn’t add up’ look. Is there a problem?” Marco didn’t like problems. The Steve had that made abundantly clear over the course of this assignment.
The Steve thought about it. “I… don’t think so. There’s just… something. Something on the tip of my tongue.”
Marco snorted. “Well, if your tongue-tip decides to speak up? Tell me.”
The Steve watched Marco go. He checked the cam in the study. Leather was there in the shiny PVC leotard. Chapman was sitting in front of her desk. Leather was stretching and arching as she talked. Showing off. Flirting. Making sure Chapman was paying attention even though that was literally his job to begin with. Pushing for a sexual response.
He unmuted the picture. “—any ten super villains, and nine of them started as super heroes,” she was saying. “I started at sixteen years old. Red, white and blue leotard with pale tights. Cheesy as Hell, since I didn’t have a patriotic thing going, but there’s not a good ‘starter kit’ for super heroes out there…”
The Steve frowned a bit more, listening to Leather talk about her ‘Dynamo Girl’ days. Chapman’s responses and followups nudged the conversation along. Made the interview conversational. Kept her talking and let her build the stories for him. That tracked with his usual style. It was smart. It let her drift off her intended script without even meaning to do it.
He glanced at the computer display — there was a long list of Chapman’s Amplifier articles on the screen. The Steve had read quite a few. PR flackery, like he’d told Marco.
The Steve shook his head, as if to clear it, and shut off the feed from the Library. Not his job to snoop on that interview. He signed into the VPN to get some Pat work logged. That would take his mind off things. ––
The Steve was stretching out — basic stuff. Knee bends and the like. It was mostly to deal with nerves. Off to the side, he heard the Bagmen going through their routine like always. Marco’s cigar was stinking up the room. Leather was bouncing around like a ferret on meth. Just another Monday heist…
Only it wasn’t, because Chapman was there, talking to Marco. “Is the money good?”
Marco laughed, shaking his head. “You kidding? S’a good deal. We get twenty percent of each job, after expenses, with a two grand a month minimum.”
“Twenty four thousand’s a good deal? You could go to jail, right?”
Marco laughed. “Twenty percent of each job’s a good deal. Take tonight. We’re doin’ a jewelry story. 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. Call it four grand, and that’s just for one night’s work.”
The Steve was paying attention to everything Marco said, of course. The Service would want to know what Chapman was told. But of course Marco didn’t even notice — no one noticed the Steve—
“Four henches?” Chapman looked around, then looked right at the Steve. He clearly hadn’t even noticed the Steve was in the room before now.
“Yeah, he’s on the job tonight too. He’s Steve.”
Oh you fucker. The Steve didn’t let his annoyance cross to his face. After all, he wasn’t listening, right?
“His name’s Steve?”
“His job’s Steve. Every job needs a Steve.”
Chapman looked at the Steve. He looked dubious. “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 us all 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.”
“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 kept stretching. He kept his breathing calm, his demeanor the right balance of pre-job nervous and bored. Nothing showed he overheard. Nothing showed reaction. That was the job, and the Steve was good at it.
They’d gone into other details on the plan, Leather interrupting a couple of times because Leather did that before jobs. The Steve just kept getting his head into the game.
“Okay!” Leather shouted. “Circle up!”
“What about him?” the blond bagman asked, thumbing towards Chapman.
“He’s technically a prisoner,” Leather said.
“You want to risk bad luck?” Marco asked. The Steve said nothing. Superstitious lot, always.
Leather looked annoyed. “Yeah, you’re right. Chapman — get over here. And be respectful.”
The Steve walked over, taking the brown haired bagman’s hand on one side, and getting Marco’s on the other. Leather was next to him, and Chapman next to him, with the blond bagman rounding it out. It put Chapman and the Steve opposite each other.
The Steve bowed his head, thankful he didn’t need to hold eye contact with the reporter. “Lord,” Leather 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,” they all murmured. Chapman too, the Steve noticed.
Leather then stood back up and began delivering her pre-job kisses. Same as always. Firm, solid on the lips. The Steve dutifully let her kiss him. This time, she reeked of Mink Oil. From there, she moved to the bagman and the Steve turned around and grabbed his bookbag and helmet. He pulled the next wallet out of the cabinet and looked inside — apparently this time he was ‘Richard Hall,’ and had the driver’s license, credit cards, library card, and various random loyalty rewards cards to show for it. Not that he’d use any of them — this was just in case his wallet got lifted or he got searched.
He got on his scooter — a ’64 Vespa GT — 125 cc, two-stroke, silver and white aftermarket paint. Decently restored but with appropriate weathering. It was the most distinctive thing about the Steve — which was actually part of the camouflage. He wouldn’t use it on another job that week, and if someone did make him, they’d actually remember the scooter before they’d remember anything about him.
Besides, he’d restored it himself, with just a little help from Marco on the engine. He liked the thing.
Riding along the alternate route out to the main road, the Steve could take a few minutes to clear his head for the job. He had to get the frustration and anger out of his system. Of course Marco described the Steve’s job to Chapman. The article would have touched on that side of things, and undoubtedly the Steve was going to have to talk to the reporter anyway. The Guild had signed off without any caveats, and the Service hadn’t stepped in, so that was that.
God, the Steve hated it. Hated being identified. Being noticed or singled out. It was more than a professional thing. He wanted to be left alone as much as possible. Being noticed meant being identified, being engaged, being—
Being somebody. If the Steve wanted to be somebody, he could have stayed in Monument City.
The road soothed him. The sound of the pavement under the tires. The two stroke churning along. The wind. Pure solitude.
He chained the Vespa up in the Mall parking area, and walked to the standalone Starbucks.
The Starbucks was mostly empty — it was that chunk of the not-quite-evening where there wasn’t a commuter or dinner rush but most of the lunch and all-day folks had left. This was by design, of course. They’d watched foot traffic over a few weeks to plan the right day and time — Leather wanted enough people to be noticed, but not enough to increase the risk of civilian injury. The Steve had less than a five minute wait.
“Hi there!” a female barista said. She sounded legitimately cheerful. “What can I get started for you, today?”
“Skinny vanilla latte,” the Steve said. “Grande.” The ultimate forgettable espresso drink.
“Right! For who?”
“Rick.” The Steve looked over the baked goods, not making eye contact. He’d been just loud enough that the Barista wouldn’t be comfortable asking him to speak up — no reason not to muddy the waters a bit when it came to false identities.
“Great!” He paid her in cash, then dropped the change in the jar. It wasn’t enough of a tip to be noticed, but it also meant they wouldn’t talk about the asshole who wouldn’t tip. He then walked over and looked at the clearance mugs, waiting. Bored and boring, all the way.
“Skinny vanilla latte!”
The Steve went and collected his drink. ‘Brett’ was written on the cup, but no one else seemed to be waiting for that drink order. Perfect.
It was later in the day, the sun beginning to sink, but still pleasant enough to sit outside. The Steve went outside, sitting in one of the metal wire chairs and sipping coffee, slipping his phone out and checking texts.
Darby’s Jewels was across from him. Not very many people there at this time of day, which is what they wanted. No sign of police in the immediate area. If there were guards, they were inside.
The Steve punched in a phone number and let it ring.
“Yello?” It was the blond bagman. As usual.
“Hey. What’cha doing?”
“Nothin’,” the bagman answered. “Just hangin’. Out for a ride. Maybe see a movie. What’s happenin’ with you?”
“Nothin,’” the Steve answered. “Grabbin’ coffee. I thought maybe Shiela’d be down here but I don’t see her anywhere.”
“You’re too good for her, man. We’re goin’ in a tunnel, so, alright. Talk to you later.”
“Yeah. Later.” The Steve hung up. Message sent and received. They were en route. There were no cops or supers visible, and the place was ripe. He slipped his phone back in his pocket and pulled a battered paperback of poetry out of his bookbag. Just another pretentious Vespa riding lit major who read Ezra Pound for fun.
The Steve was practiced, able to follow the poem while keeping his eye on the jewelry store and surroundings. He couldn’t just keep the book open — he had to look like he was reading. Being the Steve meant living in the details. Being one of the crowd. Having a reason and purpose for everything he did. Always being natural, even if he was aping affectation. So he had to be reading Pound, not just staring at dirty paper…
Faun’s flesh is not to us,
Nor the saint’s vision.
We have the press for wafer;
Franchise for circumcision.
All men, in law, are equals.
Free of Peἰsistratus,
We choose a knave or an eunuch
To rule over us.
O bright Apollo,
τίν’ άνδρα, τίν’ ἥρωα, τίνα θεὸν,
What god, man, or hero
Shall I place a tin wreath upon!
There was a distant squeal of tires. The Steve didn’t react — he wouldn’t be expected to, if he didn’t know it was coming, so of course he wasn’t. As he heard the sound of the gunning engine get closer, he looked up and around. Others at the outdoor tables were doing the same, of course.
The Leathermobile didn’t have her name on it or anything — it was just a better armored version of a Humvee in mostly black. Its front in particular had a heavy duty ram plate on it, which tore around the corner, running the light, and into the parking lot. It drove straight for Darby’s Jewels, smashing straight through two of those concrete pillars designed to discourage cars from jumping the curb and crashing through the huge front window of the jewelry store. There were a couple of shrieks nearby and people began jockeying for position, trying to see, to get cell phone pictures… anything! There were crashing sounds from inside the store, and through the side window the Steve could see Leather bouncing around.
The Steve jockeyed alongside the others, even as he slid his hand into his windbreaker’s pocket and around his key fob. There was a hidden button worked into it, which his thumb clicked once, arming the signaler. He kept moving back and forth, thumb ready. So far, no sign of trouble…
Leather smashed through the side window, half-wrapped around a security guard. The Steve noticed she was taking the impact of the window-smash herself — Leather was unusually concerned about collateral injury, at least for a Crook — but he doubted anyone else watching did. The two hit the ground and Leather turned their impact into a series of forward rolls before flipping up into the air over the fallen guard, twisting three times with her legs fully extended and pushed outward — a ‘triple-twisting layout’ she called it. The Steve took her word for it. She stuck the landing in front of the guard, rolled forward, plucking his radio and tear gas off his belt. The former she crushed. The latter she deftly tossed onto the roof of the store.
A few people had shrieked when they burst through the window. She turned and waved, grinning, before darting back to the store, moving into a tumbling roll which ended with her diving back through the window.
The guard wasn’t moving much, but the Steve was pretty sure he was at most dazed. “Did you see that?” a woman next to the Steve hissed. “Someone has to do something!”
The Steve heard the sirens maybe a moment or two before any of the rest of the crowd. He was trained for it, after all. At least three cars, based on engine noise. He single-clicked the button with his thumb — one tap meaning ‘incoming police.’ He knew that the bagmen, Marco, and Leather herself would all get a pulse of some sort — Leather’s was generally a sharp beat against her shoulder blade concealed by her suit. The bagmen and Marco got it from their watches — a pulsed spark against the skin of their wrist. It was nigh impossible to miss, but no one other than the henches or Leather would ever knew it happened.
The Steve continued to gawk, trying to push to the front of the crowd. Just another rubbernecker. He had started counting from the moment he’d hit the button — it was seven seconds later that the Leathermobile gunned in reverse, sliding back out over the broken posts and spinning around before the engine gunned and the wheels began squealing.
The cop cars tore into the parking lot, but Leather jumped back out the window, running straight towards the lead car, accelerating to thirty or forty miles an hour in a few seconds. She jumped at the last moment, sliding into a jump kick which stove the driver’s side fender of the police car in and knocked it off course, even as she kicked off into a high backward somersault, landing on the second car’s hood and spinning to smash its windshield in with an open palm. The third car was skidding to a stop even as Leather jumped over her current car, doing a vault handspring off the roof of the car and landing off a forward roll as she ran towards the last vehicle.
The doors flew open, the police sliding out and behind them, bracing and opening fire with their service weapons. Leather didn’t slow down, though she did jump and spin, dodging the gunfire until she reached them, driving herself into the car’s grill, smashing it in and lurching the car back, the doors slamming into the two officers and knocking them down.
While all this had happened, the Leathermobile had peeled out and was driving off — apparently the way it had come, but the Steve knew it had a pre-planned escape route it could take, designed to avoid or shake pursuit. Marco was on wheel, and he was good at it.
Leather, in the meantime, had kicked off the car towards a light pole. She spun around it, flinging herself high, straight for the Starbucks — causing a few more shrieks while people ducked. The Steve went low too — more to blend in than because he was worried, and saw her hit and bounce off one of those same concrete posts on the parking lot, using it as a springboard as she jumped up onto the coffee shop’s roof. By the time the Steve had turned around there was no sign of her.
The whole thing had taken less than five minutes.
There was chaos, of course. There always was. One bystander ran to check on the security guard. The police in the other cars had gotten out and were looking for any sign of the supervillain.
The Steve let himself be jostled before he finally grabbed his backpack and went back inside the Starbucks. It was pandemonium in there, of course, and the Steve followed the crowd as they worked through adrenalin and panic, before going back out the front door and half-running for his Vespa. It was a careful move — he had to wait until other people, still reeling from the excitement, were dispersing with the same blend of exhilaration and panic so he wouldn’t look like he was fleeing the scene. At the same time, he didn’t want to stay put — avoiding police questioning was an art form, really.
He got to the Vespa, pulling his helmet on, unlocking it, and starting it up. By the time the next five police cars were driving Hell bent for Leather — literally — into the parking lot, the Steve was pulling dutifully to the side so they could pass. No one flagged him down. They were busy.
The Steve pulled out and drove back the way he came — different than the way the Leathermobile had either come or gone, and heading to an escape route of his very own.
Not bad, for a loud crime. Plenty of attention, probably no real injuries, and almost certainly everyone got away clean. Really, it went as well as any loud crime ever went — the Steve didn’t like them to begin with, since they were designed to draw attention instead of avoid it.
His cup of coffee had been left behind. His fingerprints weren’t an issue — they used a special set of false-prints on their fingertips and palms when gloves would look out of place — which meant the only physical evidence left behind had a name written on it that didn’t correspond to any of the cover identities the Steve could use. There was no reason anyone would suspect ‘Brett’ in the first place, but if for some reason they did? They could go looking for ‘Brett’ all they liked.
The Steve felt a wave of fatigue as he turned and drove down the tunnel under Fourth — it was a long bridge tunnel, designed to let lower traffic get past an underpass. It also had a series of embedded sensors ready to send a pulse if a tracking signal had been somehow added to the Steve or his Vespa. From there, it was about a twenty minute drive home. All part of the job.
But then, so was the fatigue. He never noticed being that tense while the job was underway, but at the point where he was probably clear? He was wiped out, always. It felt vaguely ridiculous. Admittedly, Steves never wanted to be caught. If you were caught you ended up with a record. A record meant you were trackable. A record meant you couldn’t blend in the crowd — not one hundred percent.
A record meant you were somebody, and if you were somebody, you couldn’t be the Steve.
Still, everything seemed fine so far.