Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

⎇001JW Interviewing Leather: Being the Steve #3

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Interviewing Leather - Being the Steve

“…Chapman’s not babbling. He’s asking questions. He won’t stop asking questions.”

“Isn’t that literally what an interviewer does?” the brown haired bagman asked.

“No. An interviewer follows a script — maybe digging a bit deep here and there, but not too much. All he wants are easy answers he can write up to everyone’s satisfaction. You read a couple’a issues of Amplifer, right? Those things are PR. We talked about this. There’s never surprises.”

“And?”

“And Chapman’s asking questions.” Marco was frowning. “He isn’t putting together a breezy little five page publicity exercise. He’s trying to understand. He’s actively trying to understand.”

The Steve was frowning. “Marco’s right,” he said. “He’s…”

Pieces fell into place. “Oh shit, he’s a journalist,” the Steve said, softly.


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 the Service employs Steves to monitor supervillains. The Steve assigned to the third tier villain called Leather was typical – he wanted to do his job without attracting notice – from anyone. But when Leather kidnaps a reporter for Amplifier magazine so she can be interviewed, the Steve finds himself caught between her wants and the Service’s requirements… and what the Steve himself wants? Doesn’t begin to matter. But then, it’s hard being the Steve.

Being the Steve

An Interviewing Leather Concurrence

Part Three


Monday Night

The post-job high was always pretty wild. Even the Steve had felt the mixture of adrenalin and excitement, leaving him feeling exhausted and endorphin soaked like the others. Tonight’s party was amped up a bit — playing the part for Chapman, though not that much, really. He’d asked a bunch of questions and watched the giddy henches and practically drunk Leather as they celebrated.

Drunk, that is, on the moment. Leather did drink, at least somewhat, but it didn’t have a lot of effect on her. The Steve had seen her drain two bottles of vodka in five minutes when she was proving a point to Steamroller Ayoade, and she’d been unsteady for all of a minute. As it was, she was dripping in stolen jewels and laughing. They had music playing — the house’s sensory was on full, of course, but they looked like they’d gotten away with it clean.

The Steve wasn’t a ‘hard partier’ at the best of times. When he was off the clock after a job, he might sometimes toke or have a brownie — take the edge off and relax — but as far as he was concerned he was still on the clock so long as Chapman was there. Still, he didn’t want to stand out, so he was smoking an ecstacy-brand herbal — it smelled for all the world like pot and had been rerolled into a joint. This let the Steve relax and observe from the corner, without looking out of place.

It also meant that he didn’t have to overly celebrate with Leather, without looking like he was dissing her or — worse — ignoring her. But that would be true whether Chapman were here or not.

“Hey there,” Chapman said, walking over. “Steve, right?”

The Steve shrugged. “It’ll do,” he said. “Having fun so far?”

“It has been… an interesting day,” Chapman said, dropping into the chair next to the Steve. They were old, battered leather easy chairs — the kind you could get from curbside graduation week at any university. That plus the distressed brick, somewhat dim lighting and music made the whole place seem like a broken down club. Maybe that was intentional — maybe Leather wanted Chapman to feel ‘at home.’ Or maybe the Steve was reading too much into it. “We didn’t get a chance to talk before.”

“I think we’ll have plenty of opportunities,” the Steve said. He offered Chapman the fake joint. Chapman shook his head slightly — the universal ‘no thanks, but I appreciate it’ of the kind of guy who hung out with pot smokers. The Steve knew he didn’t do drugs of any kind, and only rarely drank — that’s why he risked offering the fake joint in the first place. Regardless, he shrugged and took another drag.

“Maybe, maybe. So… you’re a lookout?”

The Steve shrugged. It was a drastic oversimplification — almost offensively so, really. He lay odds that’s why Chapman asked the question that way. “That’s as good a word as any,” the Steve said. “Didn’t Marco explain what I do?”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t do it, right? Or did he used to be a Steve?”

“Marco? No. He’s not the right type.” The Steve half-smiled. He knew he looked baked. All the better for Chapman to underestimate him. He didn’t want to tell Chapman too much, but didn’t want to seem evasive either. It was hard to be nondescript one-on-one.

“Why not?”

“Too tall. Too distinctive. It’s not clothes — it’s bearing. None of the others are really right for it. Being the Steve means blending in. It’s not enough to look unremarkable.”

“Why not?”

“Because unremarkable gets remarked on.” The Steve laughed. He was still ‘high,’ after all. “To be the Steve means you have to fit the situation perfectly. You can’t look like you’re hiding out, or look like supporting cast. You have to be an extra, just out of the camera’s focus. You have to always look right doing what you’re doing.”

“Makes sense,” Chapman said. “I know some reporters like that.”

No you don’t, the Steve thought, but didn’t let show on his face. “Anyway — I don’t have a lot to tell you. They knocked over a jewelry store tonight. I literally showed up, bought a cup of coffee, and then rubbernecked until after they left. That’s all there is to it.”

“But you get paid the same as the others?”

The Steve shrugged, taking another drag. “The Guild arranges all that.”

“Still. It doesn’t seem fair. You’re not taking the risks they are.”

The Steve remembered that one thug. He remembered the flush of fatigue when he made it through the tunnel. But he didn’t let those memories show on his face. “Yeah, well. You’re not the first to say so. It’s not up to me, anyway.”

“Sure. Makes sense.”

“Chapman!” Leather, wearing six pearl necklaces and a tiara of all things, swept close and seized the reporter’s hand. “You’re not paying me enough attention, damn it!” She laughed. “Dance with me! Dance, reporter! Show me those mosh skills!” She hauled him up and to the middle of the room, the brown haired bagman clapping and laughing behind them.

The Steve chuckled, and looked at the burning end of the fake joint, like he was fascinated by it the way the high got focused on things. Chapman had asked some good questions. He certainly seemed on the up and up.

Still, there was still that uneasy feeling. Still ‘on the tip of his tongue.’ And he didn’t like that. He didn’t like that at all.


Tuesday Morning

The night had gone easily enough, all told. The barracks were spaced out so each hench would have some sense of privacy. There was a separate bedroom or two off to the side in case someone got lucky and security considerations weren’t an issue, but no one really used them. There were six bunks, and they’d put up partitions between them so that folks would have some sense of privacy.

To handle Chapman’s arrangements, they’d set up a cot on the far end of the room. For him to leave he’d have to walk by all the other bunks — as well as avoid a few surprises — which meant he’d be easily intercepted. Granted, the Steve could think of a few ways he’d get out, but then the Steve was a professional. Chapman wasn’t.

Except Chapman didn’t try to get out. He’d asked a few questions and then sat up typing up his notes into a computer that couldn’t get online, then gone to sleep. Kidnap victim or not, he’d settled into his role as interviewer and didn’t otherwise seem worried about it.

Needless to say, the Henches had opinions. It was midmorning and they were hanging out in the common room — the television was on so they could catch the news. SOP for the day after a loud job, at least working for Leather. Chapman himself was up in Leather’s office so she could explain supervillain bookkeeping to him. And, more to the point, keep his attention focused on her.

“So is he just spineless?” the blond bagman was asking, ignoring the end of some late morning talk show. “Leather told him he was a prisoner so that’s it?”

“Nah,” the brown haired bagman said. “Whatever he is, he’s not spineless. For one thing? You notice he never fucking shuts up?”

“That could just be nerves,” the blond answered. “I’ve seen it before — people babble so they don’t start peeing out of fear. I’m just glad he didn’t yammer at us all night.”

“You’re underestimating him,” Marco said. “That’s stupid.”

“Are you calling me stupid?”

“Yes I am.” Marco rolled his eyes at the television. “Why do they always have a fucking cooking segment? Does anyone ever cook shit they see in the last ten minutes of Good Day Meridian Bay?

“Those ten minutes are the point,” the Steve murmured. “They’re filling time, amiably and cheerfully. At this point, the ratings don’t matter.”

“Wait? They don’t?” the blond bagman asked.

“It’s an hour long show in a local market,” the Steve said. “They need to grab a chunk of audience and they know it. If they get a decent share from eleven until noon, those last ten minutes aren’t going to cut too much into that share. They know they’re not going to pull new eyes in, so mostly they want to hold eyes for the news. People who click in for the news a little early are going to want something cheerful that doesn’t need context. So they cook food and make bad jokes and push a book no one will buy. They’re running out the clock.”

“Shit, that makes sense,” Marco said, watching more carefully. A middle aged woman with a shock of bleached hair was making some kind of omelette, while the professionally attractive host and hostess asked professionally clueless questions and made fun of each other. “It’s like watching elevator music.”

“So why I am I stupid?” the blond asked. He didn’t sound offended. At this point, the henches’ banter was as worn and smooth as the TV show banter.

“‘Cause Chapman’s not babbling. He’s asking questions. He won’t stop asking questions.”

“Isn’t that literally what an interviewer does?” the brown haired bagman asked.

“No. An interviewer follows a script — maybe digging a bit deep here and there, but not too much. All he wants are easy answers he can write up to everyone’s satisfaction. You read a couple’a issues of Amplifer, right? Those things are PR. We talked about this. There’s never surprises.”

“And?”

“And Chapman’s asking questions.” Marco was frowning. “He isn’t putting together a breezy little five page publicity exercise. He’s trying to understand. He’s actively trying to understand.” Marco nodded to the screen. “He’s not throwing this to the cooking segment at the end of the show.”

“This isn’t a TV talk show,” the blond said.

The Steve was frowning. “No, Marco’s right,” he said. “He’s…”

Pieces fell into place. “Oh shit, he’s a journalist,” the Steve said, softly.

The blond blinked, looking at the Steve. “Uh, yeah?”

“Shit, the Steve’s right,” Marco said. “He isn’t a PR guy doing an interview. He’s a fucking reporter. A real one.”

“We read his articles,” the brown haired bagman said. “We vetted them as soon as we ID’d him. There’s no way any of those are winning a Herrington for hard hitting journalism!”

“And if Leather were some dumbass acoustic alt-punk guitarist, this wouldn’t be a thing,” Marco said. “But she’s not, and he knows it. We have to way up our game.”

“Why?” the blond asked. “I mean — seriously. This whole thing’s supposed to—“

“This is supposed to increase Leather’s profile and get her image and message out there,” Marco said.

“So… what? You’re saying Chapman won’t do that?”

“That’s not the problem,” the Steve said. “If he’s really digging into this — investigating — then his questions probe deeper into the subject matter. So answers require some serious thought.” He was frowning.

“Okay, I guess I am stupid,” the blond said. “I still don’t see the problem.”

“Leather’s a Crook,” Marco said. “A supervillain. And she’s also a twenty-something kid playing cops and robbers for a living, on the side of the robbers. Can you see anything good coming from her really thinking about what she does for a living?”

“—HT in Providence, this is the News at Noon! I’m Norma McGuire reporting live from Meridian News Central. We open today with dramatic footage from Grantham, Massachusetts, where the Justice Wing affiliated heroine Whippoorwill apprehended Moriarty James during a daring midmorning attempted robbery. James allegedly publicly attacked the Grantham Museum of Fine Art, using targeted smoke bombs and sedating gas to incapacitate the guards and crowd. Justice Wing’s magical magpie was caught on film using some kind of wind spells to clear the air, then binding James in what appear to be orange glowing bands. James was remanded to the Grantham Parahuman Criminal Response Unit of the Grantham Metropolitan Police Department.”

They cut to local footage from the scene — some Grantham TV reporter getting eyewitness accounts. The henches groaned almost collectively. “The boss is gonna be pissed,” the brown haired bagman said. “Getting one-upped by that—“

“Moriarty James is nobody,” Marco said. “A groupie. Hangs off the arm of the baddest guy she can find. Does jobs for the thrill — look at that robbery? What was even her goal? She wasn’t just working loud — she had no support team. She gets off on fighting capes.”

The Steve frowned. Marco was right — there wasn’t any real plan to the robbery attempt. At the same time, Moriarty James had lurked on the fringes of Crook society for years without getting kicked to the curb. That usually meant there was more going on than they knew.

On the other hand, it wasn’t their job to run herd on her.

“I like the outfit. Red PVC, bustier…” the brown haired bagman was grinning. “Why doesn’t the boss dress like that again?”

“The boss lacks James’s proportions,” Marco said. “And if you want to really piss the boss off, tell her that to her face.”

“What’s with her eyes?” the blond asked. “They… does she not have pupils?”

The Steve looked at the TV — this time showing James grinning to the crowd as she was led into the GPCR van. Her eyes reflected silver across her irises, drawing attention to her heart shaped face and straight brown hair. She certainly looked satisfied with her day’s work. “Contact lenses,” he said. “Maybe feeding her information, maybe protective—“

“Maybe just a look,” Marco said. “Who cares. Another wannabe goes to jail.”

“From Grantham we now turn locally,” McGuire said, her smile shifting into a practice frown. “In a week where Meridian City’s own Justice Wing affiliated hero is out of town, a villain has come into town — in this case, a known parahuman thief and criminal called Leather.”

“Here it is!” Marco said. “Are we recording?”

“It’s a DVR,” the brown haired bagman said. “It’s always recording.”

“I set it to save,” the Steve said, leaning forward.

“—wanted for grand larceny, grand theft, and burglaries thought to be in total excess of twenty million dollars nationwide,” McGuire was saying. “Last night, Leather added destruction of property, resisting arrest, and felony larceny right here in Meridian City. The parahuman villain allegedly drove an assault vehicle through the front of Darby’s Jewels at the Belmont Crossing Shopping Center. Leather then allegedly stole jewelry and other goods possibly valued in excess of one million dollars. WHCT Newscenter has obtained security camera footage of the alleged crime — including the destruction of the front of the store, and evocative footage of Leather allegedly subduing a security guard before disabling the security camera.” The screen showed the grainy footage — the Leathermobile smashing through the front window and display cases, followed by a cut to Leather bringing down one of the guards, before she leapt up to kiss the security camera and kill its feed.

Nice,” Marco said. “Get the boss — she’ll want to see that.”

The Steve nodded, pushing up and jogging to the spiral staircase. “Yo, Leather!” he shouted up. “C’mere! Got something on the DVR for you!”

“Right!” she shouted back down. The Steve headed back into the break room, where they’d backed the recording up and paused it. A few moments later, Leather — dressed down the same way the Henches were — bounded into the room. “What you got?” she asked, grinning. Behind her, Chapman followed at a more measured pace, watching with interest.

The Steve tapped the remote, showing her McGuire’s report on the theft, including the security camera footage. Leather made a happy little shriek at the footage of her bounding up ten feet and kissing the security camera before killing it. “Perfect!” she said, pumping her arm. “That was exactly what we wanted.”

“How do you mean?” Chapman asked.

“That’s good video,” Leather said, turning to face Chapman. “That’ll play the rest of the week. I give it even odds the cable news channels will pick it up. Maybe even the networks.” She was hopping up and down from foot to foot, excited. “That footage will show up on police video television shows for the next decade.

Chapman raised his eyebrows. “What does that give you?”

Leather stared at Chapman for a long moment, then rolled her eyes with a dismissive grunt and almost blurred back out of the room.

Chapman looked around. “Am I missing something? I mean — you all made… what, four grand each, last night? I get that’s not nothing, but what does the TV footage really give any of you.”

“Us? Nothing,” Marco said. “It’s not about us. Like you said. We got paid pretty damn well for five minutes work plus commute time. For Leather? That was mission fucking accomplished.”

“Because she’ll be on extended cable ‘caught on tape’ footage and viral web videos? I still don’t see how that helps.”

The Steve forced himself to look relaxed. “The more her name circulates, the higher her profile rises,” he said. “The difference between a Tier Four Crook and Tier Three comes down to name recognition. The more people who know who you are on sight, the better. Footage like that’s almost like a long-tail effect, because it’ll keep circulating in the background while she adds new stuff later.”

Chapman chuckled. “So Supervillains, TV shows, and laundry detergent all work the same way? It all comes down to Q-rating?”

The Steve shrugged. “Why would Crooks be any different than the rest of the world?”

Chapman looked thoughtful. “That isn’t how the Mafia works, though. Or most organized crime.”

“You’d be surprised,” Marco said. “Besides, whatever else you say about Leather? She is not the Mafia.”

“Hey!” Leather shouted from the kitchen. “I’m over here, Chapman! Talk things up with the hired help later!”

Chapman chuckled. “Excuse me,” he said. “My kidnapper calls.”

Marco laughed, waving him out of the room. He watched the reporter walk through the door and head for the kitchen. “The fuck of it is, I like him,” he said, softly. “That’s scary.”

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3 thoughts on “⎇001JW Interviewing Leather: Being the Steve #3”

  1. One of the best parts of this perspective is getting to see how *smart* Marco is.

    Also, the chance to piece together a bit more of what Moriarty is doing is always nice.

    This is a good one. Thanks!

    1. He’s not the Guild Rep for nothing.

      I really do enjoy this behind the scenes look.

      I’m also looking forward to seeing what ultimately becomes of Leather, as they say here, being forced to actually think about what she does for a living.

      1. For the record — and you already know this, Michael, but still — three ‘stages’ of Leather’s story are “Becoming Leather,” “Interviewing Leather,” and “Defining Leather.” Defining Leather begins after the article’s publication, and a lot of it deals with Leather thinking about what she does for a living.

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