Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

⎇001JW Interviewing Leather Revised #9

This entry is part 9 of 11 in the series Interviewing Leather Revised

“Hey spiky!” Leather shouted, tearing the box open and aside and lifting the Mountbatten Urn where it could be clearly seen. “Is this what you’re looking for? Huh?

Darkhood skidded to a stop. “Leather! Put that down – gently! We can talk about this!”

“Yeah, about that? So not my style!” She giggled. “Think fast!

I stared, my hands working my camera almost mechanically, as Leather did a forward in-air roll and flung the priceless urn out and away from herself, far over Darkhood’s head.


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 an assignment to interview the third-tier super villain ‘Leather.’ After several days of interviewing Leather and her henches, learning about what Leather did and how she made her living in the world of supervillainy, how she got there and seeing a glimpse of her original heroic side, Todd Chapman knows that the week is almost up, but that hardly meant his job was over. And now, as Leather and her henches prepared to abandon their lair and hit their final target, Chapman knew he wouldn’t be waiting for them to come home. He’d be right there, a bomb around his neck, waiting to see what happened next.

Interviewing Leather

Revised

Part Nine

Thursday Night

Leather had gone with electric blue for the streaks in her hair tonight. It was interesting watching her prep for the Prestige Job. She was freaking out, of course – she always did – but for this one the full team wasn’t necessary. It was just going to be Marco, Leather, and the Steve, and of course the Steve’s work was separate so she couldn’t grill him on the plan.

In other words, it was just Leather and Marco in Leather’s pre-heist freakout, and you could just tell Marco wasn’t happy about it. She’d made him recite the plan to her four times while the Steve prepped to head out, which was also about how long it took for Marco to smoke his pre-heist cigar. The two bagmen, on the other hand, were hanging out and waiting for the mission to begin. They weren’t doing their comedy schtick because they weren’t going along – which wasn’t the same as having the night off.

The Steve was dressed in a slightly worn blue business suit and red tie. It screamed ‘I think this is what a power suit looks like,’ which was almost certainly the effect the Steve was going for. He combed his hair to the side and put on a pair of wireframes and I swear, he gained ten years and a lot of world wearyness. And yet, looking at him… I know I’d never notice him. It was kind of remarkable.

Leather herself was wearing an almost liquid-glossy PVC bodysuit, black with blue accents the same color as her hair streaks. This was one of her ‘showcase outfits.’ It was a combat suit, though not ‘heavy combat’ like the suit she wore for picture day – this was a very loud crime and so she had to expect gunshots and maybe Darkhood. That said, the idea was to be in-and-out – dramatic and showy but not sticking around for an extended fight. In Leather’s brain, that meant keeping the heavy combat suit on the shelf.

“You have to understand,” she said to me earlier that night. “When I’m in the heavy combat suit, I’m geared up for combat. That makes sense, right? What’s more, wearing that suit involves tradeoffs. A lot of people think of our different suits like powerups from a video game or something – they’re not. They’re designed for different purposes. This suit’s not just a lot shinier than the heavy combat suit. It’s more flexible. I can fit in smaller places when I’m wearing it. I can get out of it quickly without help. Stuff like that.”

She grinned, then. “Besides. I fully expect to get photographed tonight. I look better in the heavy combat suit, but it’s not a sex-kitten-slash-come-hither look. Tomorrow’s the showdown. Tonight’s setting the stage, and you want to shine for those.” She looked down at the glossy fabric. “Literally, in this case,” she laughed. “Anyway, this suit photographs well and it’s definitely better protection than the Quiet Job bodysuit, and if it doesn’t have all the composite armor bits, it also cost like one percent what that suit cost.” She laughed once more. “The most expensive thing was keeping it on-brand. PVC can look plastic. This has to scream leather.” She winked. “In more ways than one.”

But Leather wasn’t laughing or winking a couple hours later. That would have interrupted her freakout time.

“All right,” the Steve said. “I’m heading out.”

Leather looked at him, then spun to stare at Marco. “Once more!” she barked.

“Seriously?” Marco asked, stubbing his cigar out in a nearby ashtray.

“Yes God Damn seriously! Go!”

“Fine. I drive you to the museum in the combat limo we rented. I then pull out and drive into the parking garage. I wait sixteen minutes – just long enough to be charged – and then pull out, paying for the hour and circling the block.”

I tuned the rest out. Four times was enough for me. Leather was going to be in schmooze mode in a breakaway disguise – it was a high society night at the museum as part of a fundraiser, with the Mountbatten Urn’s debut being previewed for high income donors. How that disguise covered Leather I wasn’t sure – she was in a full bodysuit like I said and her hair was down and had electric blue streaks – but the others were acting like this was par for the course. I didn’t get to see the disguise – when I asked, I was told, a bit coolly, that the technique was ‘proprietary,’ which I assume means the Service wouldn’t like reading about it in a magazine article.

Ten minutes before the official preview Leather would break off – the old bathroom excuse – and within two minutes her disguise would be gone (their word for it, not mine) and she’d be making her way through the drop ceilings. When the museum opened its doors to the high rollers and showed off the Mountbatten Urn, Leather would pop out from behind it, grab it out of its case, hit the ground in the middle of the crowd and practically dance around the guests heading for the East Wing.

Meanwhile, Marco would have gone a few blocks, circled back, and be driving through the alley on the east side of the museum. Leather smashes through a window – using her body to shield the urn – kicks off the far wall for positioning, and if Marco’s timing was right drop straight into the back seat of the limo, which would then pull out of the alley and swing up towards the heights. Somewhere in there it would change body style like the Q-car from the previous night, and they’d speed off. They’d swap cars somewhere in there and then head on back to the lair with the Mountbatten Urn safely hidden.

“Okay,” Leather snapped. “Okay. Right! Circle ’round!”

So we circled back up – including the Bagmen – and Leather led a fast prayer. The Steve then headed out, and five minutes after that Leather and Marco did too.

As for me? Thanks to a combination of good behavior and the fact that the Bagmen weren’t going anywhere I didn’t have to get locked up in Leather’s bedroom this time. Instead, I hung out with the Bagmen in the lounge area where they’d had the new game the night before. Of course, all that was packed now, but there was still the television at least.

“What happens to your cut on nights like this?” I asked the Bagmen. “I mean, you’re not on the mission. Do you still get paid?”

“Not counting the guarantee?” the blonde one answered. “It’ll be a bonus for the night depending on success. It’s actually the same for Marco, though he’ll get a bigger bonus. I dunno how this affects the Steve.”

“Why does Marco get a bonus tonight instead of–”

“Instead of a cut?” the brown-haired bagman interrupted. “A cut of what? They’re not fencing the Mountbatten Urn, remember? They’re just bringing it back here. That’s one of the things about Prestige jobs – a lot of the time there’s no actual financial gain.”

“Right,” I said. “This is all… sizzle. Razzle-dazzle. Stuff to get people excited.”

“Exactly,” the blonde said, grinning.

I thought about it a bit, sitting in one of the armchairs – there were two shipping containers in the room. One for the television, and one the armchairs would get stacked into. All part of the move, right?

“Uh oh,” the brown haired bagman said. “He’s got that look on his face.”

“I’m learning to hate that look.”

“No – sorry. I don’t mean to… well, the Prestige job… it’s not just about the public, is it?”

“What do you mean?” the blond said, a bit warily.

“Well, Leather really wants a good turnout at the blowoff. The police, Darkhood – the works. The Prestige job’s not just a way to add to Leather’s legend. It’s… it’s taunting law enforcement, right? Rubbing their noses in how easily Leather steals a high profile item when they were already on high alert. Am I right?”

The brown haired bagman thought about it. “…yeah,” he said. “I guess so. This is kind of mocking Darkhood.”

“Mocking’s the wrong word,” the blond said. “‘Taunt’ was a good one, though. It’s like trash talk on a playground.”

I didn’t comment on that then, but thinking about it later… ‘mock’ was probably the right word after all. This was their chance to mock Darkhood and the Meridian police. To call them out, sure, but also to whip them in a froth and make it look to the public like they couldn’t begin to stop her.

It was all just theater, in other words. Well, to Leather. To those same cops – the ones whose reputation she was dragging through the Meridian streets – this was their lives. Their livelihoods.

But then, Leather was a villain, right?


Friday Morning

For a week I’d been interviewing Leather and her henches. I’d been kidnapped and had the crap kicked out of me, but I’d also gotten to know the small group. Still, even though I’d been on hand when Dynamo Girl fought crime, I still hadn’t been to an actual heist until now. In a way, this was going to be the blowoff to my story just as much as it was the blowoff to the week’s criminal undertakings. This was the the moment I’d been waiting for.

I’d like to say I was feeling a surge of adrenalin and a cool sense of adventure, but to be perfectly blunt I felt carsick.

For the record, I was in the ‘third row’ of the Leathermobile, which was just as big on the inside as the outside. I was sitting on a bench style seat that could be folded into the floor for convenience. I sat next to a brown cardboard box which had been carefully strapped into a seat. This was the Mountbatten Urn, I knew. I’d seen it the night before – the Prestige Job had gone without a hitch.

Priceless or not, the thing looked like an old pot. And while Leather had been psyched – Leather was always psyched after a successful job – she’d been way more into the ‘crappy’ commercial jewelry from earlier in the week. That stuff had a bad return on investment but it could still be converted into cold, hard cash. The Mountbatten Urn was infinitely more valuable but utterly worthless in a practical sense.

Well, it was worthless then. Now it was being hauled to a new crime scene on the off-chance Leather needed a distraction or a bargaining chip. That’s why I was strapped in next to it. After all, at this point I served the exact same purpose, didn’t I?

Needless to say, the collar had been strapped around my throat again. The last time they’d made me strap it on – it was my way of agreeing to their terms so I could see Dynamo Girl in the field. This time Leather strapped it on herself without giving me a choice. And while I didn’t struggle, I also didn’t help or willingly submit.

I wasn’t a reporter or interviewer or guest any more. I was a prisoner. I was a hostage. Most of all, I was insurance – just like the Mountbatten Urn, only the Mountbatten Urn didn’t have a bomb around its neck.

Carsick barely describes it.

Leather was drumming her fingers on the car door. She had added some red to her streaks, making them a deep purple today. “Is the MickDee’s still serving breakfast?” she asked, clearly distracted.

“Until ten thirty,” Marco said. He was driving like always. The Bagmen were behind the two of them, and the Urn and I were in the third row.

“We should totally get MickDee’s,” Leather said. “Who wants a McMuffin?”

“I could go for a sausage biscuit,” one of the bagmen said.

“The Steve’s halfway to the bank,” Marco said. “You sure you want to take the time?”

“Yeah. Get three egg mcmuffins, three sausage mcmuffins, three sausage biscuits and whatever people want to drink. Chapman! You want anything?”

“I’m fine,” I said, trying not to think about sausage. Of all the ways to prolong my lifespan, throwing up on a bagman seemed at the bottom of the list.

“Okay then,” she said. She was bouncing in her seat, all nervous energy and excitement. I remembered what she was like on the Dynamo Girl run – smooth and professional. Excited but not frenetic. It must make a difference to know how it’s all going to play out in advance. Or at least know how you intend for it to play out.

The plan was, if anything, even more basic than the jewel heist. It was literally “drive up to the bank, double park, get the hostage and urn into position, hit the bank and start grabbing all the cash they could while Leather took out the guards, entertained the crowd, and inevitably fought Darkhood and the police. There was no finesse, no careful planning. There was just Leather thumbing her nose at Darkhood and the Meridian City Metropolitan Police. And in a weird way, it was a no-lose scenario – at least for Leather.

Seriously. The worst case result involved Leather successfully stealing maybe millions of dollars and getting away. If the cops showed up without Darkhood Leather would tangle with them, spank them a bit, then get away with the cash. Her reputation would improve just in time to establish her new lair and go on tour to some other city.

And if Darkhood did show up, then it was a total win for Leather. Sure, it was maybe fifty/fifty she’d get away and even if she did she probably wouldn’t get as much (or any) stolen money out of the deal, but she’d have a new super hero battle to add to her resume. Assuming she acquited herself well her reputation would still go up and her press would improve.

If she got caught but the henches got away, it would be a phone call to one service. If she got away and the henches didn’t, it would be another phone call. If they were all captured, then the Steve would do his thing. Even as we rode, the Service was pulling everything out of her old Lair, so there was no chance the cops could raid it and get anywhere. The money from her earlier jobs was all laundered and banked. Prison would practically be a vacation for them. And when they escaped – and they would – it would still improve her reputation. There was no way to lose.

Really, it’s hard not to be cynical. No matter how you slice it, crime does pay for Leather and the gang. All that could happen was jail time, and it was clear Leather and the Henches weren’t scared of jail.

And honestly? That was another way they were different than the rest of us. I mean, jail is terrible. Prison is terrible. Some people argue it has to be, as a deterrant. Others argue that prisons in their current form were nothing short of torture. I get all of that.

But it’s different for supervillains.

I mean, there were degrees. Leather had mentioned the Sepulcher. I’ve had the chance to look it up since then – it’s officially the “Thomas L. Banting Memorial Correctional Facility for the Internment and Rehabilitation of Parahuman Criminals,” but after one of the Nightwatch’s enemies called it “Tom Banting’s Sepulcher” the name had stuck. Leather didn’t much worry about prison, but she sure as Hell didn’t want to end up Sepulchered.

But most villains don’t go there – it cost too much to keep them there.

We pulled into a McDonalds. There were three cars ahead of us. “Oh, bullshit,” Leather said. “Someone want to go inside?”

“We could send Chapman,” one of the Bagmen said.

Leather giggled. “Tempting.”

“He’ll tip the cops,” Marco said. “I would.”

“Yeah, point. And we’re suited up.” She made a face. “Hang on.” She pushed out, flipping onto the roof and leaping from the Leathermobile. Curling into a ball, she smashed through the front window like it was tissue paper and landed inside. With the windows rolled down, I could just barely hear the screams and Leather’s demands for Sausage McMuffins. To go.

“I’m gonna be sick,” I muttered.

“What? No. Don’t. Don’t be sick,” the bagman in front of me said, turning. “Do you hear me, Chapman? You are not going to be sick. You are not going to be sick.”

They had spare cloth moneybags. The other bagman got me one in time. They threw the soiled bag into one of the brown trashcans before Leather got back with paper bags of meat and egg swag and we headed off to the real job. To Leather’s credit she looked concerned or at least sympathetic when she’d learned I threw up. The smell of cooked egg really didn’t help.

“So I don’t get it,” one of the bagmen was saying to her while I was busy hating my stomach. “You didn’t want one of us going in because we’d be recognized and they’d call the police, but you were okay with breaking through the front window and stealing a couple sacks of breakfast?”

“It’s a time thing,” Leather said. “Those guys calling the cops after we’re gone means at least some of the cops will be distracted from the bank heist. If we went in and waited, they might show up before we leave and that’d just screw with the real job.”

“You just wanted a chance to steal Sausage McMuffins and call it work related,” Marco said with a chuckle.

“I didn’t steal them. I left a fifty.”

“That window would have cost more than fifty bucks.”

“I didn’t say my actions were legal. I just didn’t steal breakfast.” She took a bite of hash browns. “Aren’t we there yet?”

Within a couple of minutes, we were. This bank was at the top of a long sloping hill in the West Highlands – one of those hilltop neighborhoods where tourists and marketplaces were thick, overlooking the Underlands Dynamo Girl had patrolled two nights before. This was an old bank, back when they made them into temples of finance, all granite columns and elaborate architecture, and “THE FIRST MERIDIAN NATIONAL BANK AND TRUST” carved into the top. Of course, all the glass down closer to the doors declared it ‘BankOne’ after the latest of several buyouts and consolidations over the past few years.

Regardless, it was a nice, big bank. The Leathermobile careened up the fifteen cement steps in the front, hitting a top landing and skidding around. It felt like we’d driven through a potato field, and if I hadn’t thrown up five minutes before, I’d have done so right then. As it was there were dry heaves, just in time for me to be hauled unceremoniously out of the back seat by one of the bagmen.

“Remember, stay close to the urn,” the bagman hissed to me as he dragged me to the bank’s front doors. “You don’t want the collar going off.” The other bagman was setting the box with the urn in it next to the door. Leather skipped back down the steps, turned and got a full running start for the doors. She took the stairs five at a time and leapt at the top of them, curling into a ball going at least fifty miles an hour, then smashed through the doorways, shattering the glass overhead and to the sides of both the doors and blowing the doors – designed to open out – into the room in pieces.

There was immediate chaos and the sound of an alarm as she rolled chaotically through the lobby. The lie was put to her seeming lack of control when she her roll it into backflips, ending with a handspring that landed her on top of one of the islands where deposit slips and chained pens lived. “Ladies and gentlemen!” she shouted. “Welcome to your very own bank robbery! Everyone down on the floor right now! We don’t want anyone to get hurt!”

There were screams, of course. Men and women alike panicked and fled. There were three security guards, but they were frozen in shock, at least for one long second. That gave Leather a chance to dive, twisting in the air and landing in front of the first guard. She kissed him while deftly unbuckling the belt that held his gun, mace and radio, then threw it into the corner with a twisting motion. “Be good now,” she said to him as she rolled to one side, just in time to not be maced by the second guard, who’d reacted a little bit faster. Of course, that meant the first guard was maced instead.

Rather than take the risk that the second guard might actually hit her with a second spray, Leather did a backflip, landing behind a panicking businessman. “Hi!” she said, deftly lifting him up and darting to the side, keeping him between her and the guard.

“Put him down!” the guard shouted, voice shaking. “I swear to God I’ll shoot!”

Leather dropped the businessman to the floor, feet first, then used his shoulders to spring up and over, hooking her legs around the guard’s neck and rolling over his head, catapulting him fifteen feet straight into the third guard, who had managed to get out his radio. Why his radio I have no idea – the alarm was already going off, right. But then, what would a security guard normally do when an acrobatic twenty-something began smashing things and doing handsprings in the lobby? I mean, their training manual had to cover ‘super villain attack,’ didn’t it? After all these years?

Regardless, the two guards collided and went down. Leather’s lips curled into a smile as she regained her feet, sweeping up a pump-pot of complimentary coffee the bank had at the front of their velvet rope line and spinning, throwing it towards the third guard’s legs. He’d been trying to clear his eyes and skitter towards his lost gunbelt. Leather’s aim was perfect and he was tripped up, hitting the floor hard.

It looked like it hurt.

My heart was pounding. This wasn’t like watching Dynamo Girl. These guys were just trying to do their job, and Leather was hurting them. No, she was humiliating them.

At the same time, I have to admit she looked fantastic. Her movements were freer than Dynamo Girl’s had been. She did riskier moves and set up elaborate strikes. Now, satisfied that the security guards were down, she cartwheeled to the front of the line. “Don’t you just hate a line cutter?” she asked the woman who was crouched on the floor at the front of the line. “How’s it goin’, boys?”

“Not so bad,” one of the bagmen shouted back. They were handing their bags to the tellers, and the tellers were scooping cash into the bags. Those tellers were scared but did what they were told. And no doubt they were dropping dye bombs or setting off more alarms but neither the bagmen nor Leather seemed to care.

“Good! We need to hit the vault?”

“Can’t hurt!”

There were sirens outside.

“Hold that thought! Got to make the donuts!” she shouted, running for the door. She blew me a kiss on the way and dove through the shattered facade.

Me?

I followed.

I know. I’m an idiot. But I’d come all this way, I had a bomb on my throat, there was bad crap going down all around me and all I knew was the lead of my story was diving towards the police. I wasn’t going to miss this. I had my camera out and everything.

By the time I’d gotten out, Leather had dove down the steps for the cops. It was a smart move. She didn’t want them to set up perimeters behind their cars, shooting bullets and tear gas at her. She wanted to be close at hand so they’d have to engage her – especially since there wasn’t any chance they could beat her in a hand fight.

She made a show of it. Spinning around, pushing off one officer’s bulletproof vest, grabbing the arm of the next and whirling him around, forcing that officer’s own taser onto another while she kicked her legs out and nailed two more as they got close. Movie moves. The kinds of things you never see in real fights because they’re dumb, but when you’re so much faster, stronger and more durable than the people you’re fighting you can do dumb things if you want.

I snapped pictures. My heart was racing. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to root for. This was Leather. I’d been living with her for a week. I’d seen her go out and save a woman’s money and maybe her life. We’d made jokes together and she’d opened up to me. I knew her, at least a little.

But she was a criminal, and these police officers were trying to stop her. And watching her beat and even humiliate them, I felt a little ill. Is this how villains see us? As opportunities to show off?

There was the sound of a siren – almost more a claxon. A heavy wagon was heading up the hill, blue rollers flashing. I recognized it – it was a PATER van.

If you don’t know, PATER stands for ‘Parahuman Advanced Tactical Enforcement and Response,’ and it specifically refers to police who were trained and equipped to handle parahuman threats. Leather, in other words.

Leather grinned even more broadly and threw herself to the side, rolling and landing next to a motorcycle – a big one. More a chopper than not. She grabbed it and did a forward roll, spinning the motorcycle around and over her head and hurling it at the van, smashing it right through the windshield and making the van skid to the side, overbalance and go over.

Leather giggled, backflipping back to the other cops, dropping onto the back of one who’d begun to crawl forward in the process.

“Boss!”

It was one of the bagmen. They were coming out, laden with some very full sacks of cash. I couldn’t imagine how much money was in those things. Leather turned, grinning at what she saw. And taking her time, to boot.

But then… she could take her time if she wanted to, because there weren’t any more cops. She’d taken them all down. Even the PATER team hadn’t made it out of the wrecked van at least yet.

I have no idea how the PATERs were doing, but looking at the regular cops? Sure, they were all stunned or unconscious, but they didn’t look really hurt. She’d taken them to the limit but never went over that limit. Perfect control and perfect results. I doubted any of them would miss a day’s work over this.

There had clearly never been any doubt.

I felt small, and tired. Oh, and there was a bomb around my neck. But by now that was old news.

“You ready?” Leather shouted to the bagmen.

“Oh yeah! We’re rolling in it!”

“Right! Then let’s hit the Leathermobile and get the Hell–”

It was like a missle, even whistling like a skyrocket as it flew out and nailed Leather right in the middle of her armored back. The impact made it explode into powerful electrical sparks – one even arced to a metal garbage can nearby. Leather convulsed and went down on the steps, her body spasming.

I turned, back against the wall. Somehow I managed to take a picture.

Darkhood was across the street, up on top of a now-abandoned bus. His clothing was rough cut brown and black – it looked medieval, but his gauntlets were modern archery gloves and his bow was high tech and pristine. He had turned to cover the bagmen, standing tall, his hood back enough so we could see the full face mask underneath, showing only yellow glowing eyes. “Put the bags down, boys!” he called out. His voice wasn’t muffled from the mask – in fact, it sounded amplified, if a touch distorted. Disguise, I figured. “You made a good run of it, but it’s over now!”

I looked back at the bagmen. They looked at each other and dropped the bags.

“Now that’s a good pair of thugs,” he said, dropping to the ground fluidly. He managed to land in a crouch, never changing his aim. “Now, you understand I’ll need to bag you up, of course. It’s nothing personal, but I need to bind up your boss before she comes to, and I can’t have you two sneaking off.”

“Hey man, just don’t hurt us,” one of the bagmen said. “This’s just a job, you know?”

“You might want to rethink your career,” he said shifting his grip–

Leather rolled forward, grabbed the nightstick off one of the downed cop’s belts, and threw it at Darkhood as she sprang forward. We’re talking a seriously mighty throw – the kind of pitch Randy Johnson would sell two children and a controlling interest in Roger Clemens’s memorabilia to be able to throw.

Darkhood rolled to the side, firing his arrow at the billy club and nailing it in midair. His net deployed uselessly even as it was knocked up into the air by the club, but Darkhood ignored that as he rolled to the side while Leather ran straight for him. Coming out of that roll he had another arrow nocked and he fired it, forcing Leather to dive and roll over it – she’d been running for him. As she came up from a roll he shot another arrow at her feet. This one exploded – a concussive charge that threw her back towards the police cars. She twisted in midair and tried to land on her feet, but she misjudged the landing and rolled back over the vehicle. I saw her head hit pavement and winced.

And because I was there, I took another picture.

Leather managed to roll to the side. I could see her looking under the car, watching Darkhood run – he was circling behind, keeping a wide arc. He wanted a clear shot, and he wanted to keep his distance away from her. It hit me that’s what this fight would come down to – Darkhood wanted distance so he could nail her with arrows. Leather wanted to close so she could kick his teeth in. And so far Darkhood was ahead on points.

“I got a lot of woozy cops here!” Leather shouted. “So if you intend to shoot a tear gas arrow or a flash arrow or another bomb, don’t let me stop you! I’m sure they’ll feel lots better without eyes or spleens or whatever!”

“Worry not, fair lady,” Darkhood answered. His voice was calm. Measured. He made the ‘fair lady’ thing sound normal too – like this was how people talked. “I’ve got plenty of arrows for all occasions.”

“Yeah? Let’s find out, mumblety-pants!” Leather threw herself backwards, landing on her hands at the base of the stairs and handspringing with enough strength to clear her to the landing at the top. Not ten feet from me.

Right next to the box.

As she flipped, she also had twisted, avoiding Darkhood’s next arrow by inches. It hit the arch of the building with an electrical discharge. Darkhood didn’t hesitate but ran to the side, another arrow nocked as he jockeyed for position.

“Hey spiky!” Leather shouted, tearing the box open and aside and lifting the Mountbatten Urn where it could be clearly seen. “Is this what you’re looking for? Huh?

Darkhood skidded to a stop. “Leather! Put that down – gently! We can talk about this!”

“Yeah, about that? So not my style!” She giggled. “Think fast!

I stared, my hands working my camera almost mechanically, as Leather did a forward in-air roll and flung the priceless urn out and away from herself, far over Darkhood’s head.

Now, I’ve looked at the pictures and I saw the result. I know intellectually what happened. Somehow – somehow Darkhood threw himself backwards and twisted around while dropping the arrow he’d nocked, nocking and firing two arrows at once – the Urn over his head at this point – and then draw, nock and fire a third arrow. While Darkhood hit the ground at a horrid angle, stretched out and back-to his enemy, his first two arrows embedded themselves in two different telephone poles with a cable connecting them, while the third arrow deployed a net that snagged the urn at the precise instant the net would also hit and wrap around the cable.

I know that’s what happened. I’ve gone through it. I even have a horribly blurry photo of the net arrow being launched while the other two arrows were still in the air. I am reliably told Darkhood doesn’t have superhuman powers. He’s just that. Damn. Good.

But at the time, it just looked like Leather threw the urn, Darkhood went sprawling, and then the urn was instantly tangled up in a net sixteen feet in the air, swinging in the breeze, all on the other side of the street. I had never seen anything like it.

Leather clearly had, of course. She didn’t stop or stare all agog. She just blurred forward with all that parahuman speed, running straight for Darkhood.

And that’s why she she threw the Urn. It was a distraction. She knew Darkhood wouldn’t let it be destroyed and she was clearly confident he’d be able to save the thing, but it took him out of position and got him focused in another direction flat on his back facing away from her. That let her close the gap and seize the advantage in the fight. And it worked – by the time he’d started to turn over, Leather was in the air dropping an elbow hard into his stomach.

I thought that’d end it, but Darkhood was far from done. He twisted and kicked, and she rolled off and they squared off. He snapped something on his bow and it segmented into two halves, the string retracting until he had – mm. Not really nunchucks. Call it a flail. And he laid about with it. Leather twisted underneath his flail-strike, sweeping his legs. His footing went out, but he went down into a handspring, kicking up. She rolled under the kick and got her footing. They closed, striking hard and fast.

Her inhuman grace. His amazing training. It was like watching a ballet of violence. He pulled a taser off his belt even as the flail retracted back into some kind of baton. She ducked and twisted and struck at his ribs. She hit but he seemed to absorb it – body armor of some kind maybe? They turned and struck again, and he went around and tagged her with the taser. She went rubbery, and he dove over her–

I don’t know if it was panic or what, but as she fell backwards she curled up and thrust out with those powerful legs, and he flew. She got her feet–

And froze. I froze. We all froze… just watching.

Leather had kicked too hard.

Darkhood was a good fifty feet in the air and far over the long clifflike edge of the hill. We were at the peak of the West Highlands neighborhood. Darkhood was falling to the underlands.

Leather was staring with her hand clenched. Her body was tense. She didn’t move. She just kept watching. Darkhood was twisting in the air – doing something with his flail, maybe? Snapping it back into the bow, I guess? If he had some kind of line arrow….

Darkhood fell below the edge of where we could see. We stared. My heart was pounding.

It felt like forever, but with a thunk an arrow slammed into the retaining fence at the edge. An arrow with a line on it.

Leather pumped her fist. “Yeah!” she said, and looked around. The cops were beginning to get to their feet. “Okay, book,” she shouted to the bagmen. “Leave the bags, hit the Leathermobile! We’re gone!

The bagmen didn’t complain. They ran. Leather ran after them.

Wait!” I shouted. “The collar! You can’t–” They had forgotten the bomb around my neck.

Leather skidded to a stop, right at the door of the Leathermobile. She stared at me for a second, then burst into laughter. “Jesus, Chapman!” she shouted back. “There isn’t really a bomb! Who do you think we are?”

I stared as she ducked into the Leathermobile. I stared as the black humvee tore off and away. I stared as the recovering cops opened fire. I stared as I sunk to my knees and watched the Leathermobile squeal around a corner.

They got no money from the bank, but they got away. And Leather and Darkhood crossed swords in the light of day and Darkhood had gone down. And people would talk about this for weeks. And I wasn’t wearing a bomb.

After I could no longer see the Leathermobile, I did the only thing I could think of. I leaned forward, so I was on my hands and knees, and I threw up again. And then I waited for a policeman to come rescue me or arrest me, depending on how he saw things.

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1 thought on “⎇001JW Interviewing Leather Revised #9”

  1. I hope you’re going to post the various reactions to Interviewing Leather after this. I want everyone to see Broadhead being jealous about that shot. I also want to know how all the supers are doing.

    Really, if a super villain puts something around your neck and calls it a bomb collar, are you going to disbelieve them? Even if it’s a tiny bit of tinsel or just a strip of leather? I certainly wouldn’t.

    Nice to see Chapman struggling with the conflicting views he has of Leather. I would still say that Leather is probably one of the less dangerous supervillains, simply because she’s actively trying to avoid killing people and she’s mostly in it for the money and fame. But she’s not tame and she’s not a hero. She’s also not a lost little girl anymore.

    I do think that she’s rationalizing her actions as being “well, it’s not legal but it’s not really hurting anyone, so it’s fine” which is something everyone does to some degree. I think it’s going to get interesting for her when she pushes things too far and ends up having to actually face the consequences for what she’s doing.

    Almost killing Darkhood might be enough.

    …Oh, right. I bet Beguile got a good laugh out of this particular super fight. Given what we know she knows and how she seems to pick up on stuff she shouldn’t, I bet she has the context to make this fight super funny. For her anyway.

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