Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

⎇001JW Interviewing Leather Revised #11 (Conclusion!)

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

“Because….” I looked off, down the street. “Because we live with you. Your kind. The heroes and the villains. We live with you and we thrill with you and sometimes we’re entertained by you and sometimes we’re terrified by you, but we don’t understand you. Not always.” I put my hands in my pockets. “Barbara Babcock’s a better reporter than I’ll ever be, but that’s just it. She reports on what Paragon and the rest of you do. Not on who you are. This… this is a chance to write about who you are.” I shrugged. “That’s too important to blow on a puff piece drooling over Leather in a PVC leotard.”


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 and how she got there. He got to see Leather at home, got to see Dynamo Girl fight crime for one last night, and then got to see Leather and Darkhood have a full on battle in Meridian’s streets. Now Leather has left Meridian and Chapman, with only the smoldering wreckage of her own lair… and an unexpected cashier’s check for $50,000 made out to Todd Chapman left behind in her wake.

Interviewing Leather

Revised

Part Eleven


Some Time Later

Meridian City is seven hours north, driving along the coast. About halfway there you hit Bay City, New Jersey. I was driving there, northbound. My car was new to me — a Prius, bought used for about fifteen grand. They wanted seventeen but I paid cash and that made all the difference. My old Hyundai had been totaled out, and I had gotten a check for eight hundred and thirty four dollars from my insurance company for my troubles.

The Prius was a good ride. Better A/C. As good or better milage since it was a hybrid. Roomier on the inside. And I had GPS navigation and a CD player in it, so you know it was swank. Nothing said ‘second hand Prius’ like a slot for CDs in the dashboard. Naturally, I plugged my T-Sound Elite into the usb port and called it a day.

I had made up a custom playlist on the T-Sound. I wasn’t heading to an interview this time. This was a pilgrimage. That said, the same basic theory applied — load up and listen to music to get my head in the game and thinking about my subject.

The mix was okay. Good for the purpose. I threw in some Bad Religion. Some Dropkick Murphys. The Cheshire Kittens and Compton Nuk’d. Darth Radian and a couple movie soundtracks. A little dance, techno, and trance. Liz Phair. It would have been wrong to skip Liz Phair.

And… I threw in a few other songs here and there. Maybe they didn’t really fit, but they were still fitting. It was the kind of thing she’d probably love in theory while hating the actual songs. That felt right to me. As I drove north and noticed a storm out over the Atlantic, one of those songs came on. Bonnie Tyler. A classic.

Where have all the good men gone
and where are all the Gods?
Where’s the streetwise Hercules
to fight the rising odds?

My lips quirked into a smile. Despite myself and what little cool image I had left, I sang along. “Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed? Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need!”

That’s the thing about that song. Sometimes we all need a hero. Even villains. Maybe especially villains. Anyway, I let Bonnie take the Chorus solo while I sped up a little bit. I was in a hurry – I wanted to beat the weather.

All to get to Bay City, where once a fourth rate super in red lycra fought low level crime under the improbable name Dynamo Girl.

Yeah. I have that playlist.


Monday Morning

I was more than a little surprised that they actually gave me the cashier’s check.

I’d crashed in a hotel for a couple of nights all at the City’s expense while they checked the money out and followed up on leads. They wanted me to stay in the area in case they had questions, and I wasn’t about to argue. It wasn’t a great hotel, but the rooms were clean and it was down the block from a Denny’s, and really what more do you need? I hung out, put my notes together, started writing the beginning of the story, and waited for the police to let me know they’d impounded the cash and that I was free to go.

But, that’s not how it played out. “You can’t seriously tell me I can have that check,” I said to Inspector Harris. “That’s stolen money.”

“We can’t prove that,” he said, shrugging. “This check was drawn two weeks ago, paid for by cash by this man.” He set a photograph down on the table of a man in glasses. It was black and white — a photo taken from security camera footage. “Have you ever seen him before? In particular, have you ever seen him in connection to Leather?”

I shook my head. “Nope.”

“Us either.”

“Wait. Two weeks ago? How’s that possible? I didn’t even get here–”

“As a guess? Leather got a bunch of these cashier’s checks made up a while back. Probably using one of those bloody support services. The operation’s squeaky clean. No money trail to speak of before the cashier’s check was issued. It’s legal tender. It looks like it was endorsed by the purchaser using a rubber stamp long before they gave it to her. All she’d need to do is fill in the name on the check and boom — perfectly legal money for expenses.”

“But you know she gave it to me.”

“No I don’t.”

I blinked. “Huh?”

“We suspect she wrote the note on your car seat. That looks like it could have been her handwriting, if we make allowances for the sharpie and the weird angle. But we don’t know she left the check. Her fingerprints aren’t on it. The signature isn’t hers. We reached the financial service that issued the check and they put us in contact with the man who drew it. His specific job’s to draw cashier’s checks off the company’s account and send them to a middle-man we couldn’t reach.” Harris chuckled. “Each one insisted the money was yours. When we asked why, they asked us for our warrant.”

Harris got up and walked over to the coffeemaker. “Then we spoke to his supervisors. Each one referred us to their own supervisors. That chain never ends, Mister Chapman. Even their books were in order. Even after all of that we tried to link the money to Leather, but there’s just no way to prove it was her money, even if it seems obvious.” He shrugged. “Since we can’t prove this money is stolen — especially since it was drawn by someone else before Leather committed any crimes in the city — we don’t have any right to impound it.”

I shook my head. “That seems insane. Maybe the F.B.I. or DETAILS—”

“We tried to get the Feds interested. They weren’t. So, that makes me think the bad guys have warrant proofed this method at least for right now. Obviously the laws will get changed and the loopholes will get closed, but even if that happened tomorrow it wouldn’t apply to that cashier’s check. Legally? That’s your money.”

I looked at it. “I don’t know that I can accept it,” I said.

“Conscience?”

“Maybe. But it could also be payola, you know? I take fifty G’s from the subject of my interview and that compromises the integrity of the interview, you know?”

He half-smiles. “An honest man. Well, I’m not keeping the check either way. What you do with it is up to you.”

So I took the check. And I walked out the door, feeling really weird.

“You look puzzled, Mister Chapman.”

I froze. After a moment, I slowly turned.

Darkhood was leaning against a police car.

I shook my head. “Do you just hang out in front of police stations?”

“Only if I figure I’m going to see something interesting.”

“Since when am I interesting?”

“Well for one thing, you’re fifty thousand dollars richer than you were twenty minutes ago. That’s pretty interesting, don’t you think?”

I chuckled. “And you think it means I was working with Leather?”

He chuckled. “Actually, no. I overheard your talk with Inspector Harris. I think you’re a little soft in the head, but you’re basically honest.”

I started walking. He followed. “Is eavesdropping on police business legal?”

“At least as legal as vigilante justice.”

“Vigilante justice isn’t legal.”

“Well there you go. So what are you going to do with the check?”

I sighed. “I have no idea,” I said. “I can’t keep it. You know I can’t keep it.”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure you can.”

“I’m a journalist. Accepting money from my interviewee is the fine line between writing up an article on a subject and a subject writing an article ‘as told to Todd Chapman.’” I shrugged. “That’s not kosher.”

“Undoubtedly. At least from one point of view.”

I stopped, turning and looking at him. “Hey what is with you?” I asked. “This is some of that money plucked from little children’s’ Christmas presents and shutting down small business, remember? It’s dirty!”

“Yes it is.” He sounded almost insufferably smug.

“Why do you want me to take it?”

He shrugged. “I don’t really care if you do or you don’t. But… you should consider all the possibilities, Mister Chapman. For example — you lost your car. Are you going to write that off as a learning experience?”

“I figured I was.”

“I submit that it would not be damaging to your article’s integrity to replace the car Leather trashed.”

“Even if I buy a Lexus?”

“Are you going to buy a Lexus?”

I paused. “No.”

“Then I’d say it’s not germane.”

“So I get another second hand car. Fine. That still leaves most of the money.”

He shrugged. “Donate it to a children’s fund. Or to Habitat for Humanity. Or….”

“Or?”

He looked sidelong at me. “Where do you go from here, Mister Chapman?”

“Me?”

“You.”

“Back home. I file my article and I get my next assignment.”

“So, from a week as Leather’s prisoner to a week with Reardon North?”

I opened my mouth, paused, and closed it, looking away.

“Not so appealing?”

“That’s the job,” I said. “I write slightly sycophantic articles about entertainers. I’m actually pretty good at it.”

“Is that the article you’re going to write about Leather? Slightly sycophantic?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

I pursed my lips. “Because this article’s important.”

“Why?”

“Because….” I looked off, down the street. “Because we live with you. Your kind. The heroes and the villains. We live with you and we thrill with you and sometimes we’re entertained by you and sometimes we’re terrified by you, but we don’t understand you. Not always.” I put my hands in my pockets. “Barbara Babcock’s a better reporter than I’ll ever be, but that’s just it. She reports on what Paragon and the rest of you do. Not on who you are. This… this is a chance to write about who you are.” I shrugged. “That’s too important to blow on a puff piece drooling over Leather in a PVC leotard.”

He nodded. “So that’s it? You understand us now? One week with one supervillain and you’re done?”

I snorted. “I haven’t even started. Even Leather told me that. She wanted me to go talk to rogues.”

“Rogues?”

“You know. The villains who make a career out of one superhero?”

“Oh.” He smiled a bit. “Rogues. I kind of like that.”

“Do you have one?”

“I have a few who seem a little fixated on me, yeah. There’s this one girl with a sword and a whip? Calls herself O Gato Cinzento. The first couple of times I thought it was coincidence, but after the ninth fight….”

“Why does she do it?”

“I have no idea.”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

He smiled a bit. “So are you going to dig deeper? Unearth more of their secrets and motivations? Uncover the ichorous villainous heart in all its diseased glory? And maybe even learn a few things about people like me while you’re at it?”

I shrugged. “It’s not that simple. I’m doing this on assignment. My editor wanted a supervillain who looked like an alt-rock cam model on the magazine’s cover. Once is a novelty, but we’re a music magazine.”

“Yeah. Damn shame, but you need to pay the bills, right?” He started walking away. “It’s not like you have the money to take six or eight months off and really research the question.”

I blinked. “Wait — are you saying—”

He looked over his shoulder. “Me? What makes you think I’m saying anything, Mister Chapman.” He spun, cloak flaring, his bow snapping out in his hand, and he fired a line arrow. It struck somewhere above, the line staying connected to the bow, and a mechanical ascender kicked in, hauling him up into a swing out above the street.

I watched him go, and then turned and kept walking. Breakfast at Denny’s sounded like a better idea all the time.


Some Time Later

Loose ends. That’s what it was all about.

I took the second Bay City exit, just like my new GPS told me I should. I knew where I was going, at least in theory. I’d done my research. Admittedly, the web barely knew ‘Dynamo Girl,’ but it confirmed she’d been a Bay City hero during her brief career – and that her career wasn’t actually all that brief. From what I could find ‘Dynagirl’ was first seen eight years ago, as of this writing. The Red Beast/Shockburn fight had been four years back, and sometime in the next several months Leather had first appeared in the American Southwest.

So Dynamo Girl had run through the streets of Bay City for almost four solid years. According to DETAILS, the average new super hero only lasts eight months before packing it in. Dynamo Girl had six times that tenure.

I poured over the Oceanside Chronicle, Bay City’s local newspaper, such as it is. It wasn’t particularly helpful. Heck, consider Dynamo Girl’s last fight – the fight when she managed to throw herself over some kind of force field surrounding Bay City’s Manchester Park and the fought Red Beast and Shockburn two-on-one. Red Beast alone is the kind of monster half of Justice Wing would avoid until Paragon or the Beacon got there, but not Dynamo Girl. She fought them and she won. And the Oceanside Chronicle?

It’s exactly like she told me. The only mention of that astounding fight in the paper? Was the Police Blotter:

Manchester Park
Police apprehended two parahuman suspects operating under the names Red Beast and Shockburn at 11:04 am. Suspects had caused property damage, downed one police helicopter, and taken hostages. No hostages were injured and the pilots of the police helicopter escaped with minor injuries. Local parahuman ‘Dynamint’ assisted police then left the scene.

It’s easy to roll your eyes and dismiss Leather’s obsessive hunger for the spotlight as shallow or even venal, but can you imagine barely saving the world from a nuclear attack using just your wits and a penknife, nearly dying in the process, and then discovering that the one person who even noticed thought your name was ‘Velamint’ or ‘Tic Tac?’

There was a bad cell phone video – cell phone videos were still pretty terrible eight years ago – that apparently ended up on that basic cable show Leather mentioned. I wasn’t able to track down a copy of that episode, but I did find a letter put out by the Laughter Network three weeks later:

THE LAUGHTER NETWORK
3223 White Way Boulevard
Empire City, NY A0036

RIOT LAUGH PRODUCTIONS
C/O MYTHIC STORM ENTERTAINMENT
4004 Acorn Blvd., Bldg. 76
Morosco, California J1522

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Laughter Network, Ellington Media, and Riot Laugh Productions produce Page View Review, a panel show starring multiple comedians who ‘compete’ for ‘stars’ in a fake competition that takes a satirical look at the news of the day and infonet distributed video and content ranging from amateur work through professional productions. Page View Review broadcasts Monday through Thursday mornings at 1am with rebroadcasts (with additional editing for content) at 10am and 2pm the following days. The show takes an irreverent look at memes, funny video, and the daily absurdities of social media. Comedian and Executive Producer Tad Gilstone conducts the fake game along with a rotating series of comedians and other guest stars, and the show has multiple recurring segments (e.g. ‘Which Meme Means Modene,’ ‘Twitbusting,’ ‘Ugh, Really,’ and more).

One of these recurring segments, ‘SuperCellSignal,’ takes viewer submitted cell phone and other amateur video of some of somewhat absurd heroes and villains and gives the competing comedians a chance to riff on the footage. SuperCellSignal submissions must meet certain standards: heroes must defeat the villains (even by questionable methods), the footage can’t depict injuries onscreen or other inappropriate violence, and so forth. We take these rules very seriously and have a review process before any footage can be selected for the show.

Last week, episode #3019 included a SuperCellSignal segment where the villain Red Beast was defeated by what appeared to be an unnamed, underaged female hero. The quality of the video was poor but the footage – which depicted the young hero handily defeating Red Beast – was impressive enough to be included, with an effort being made to recognize the achievements of the young hero during the course of the segment.

Upon further review, it is clear that the heroine fighting Red Beast was doing so after being far more injured than we realized at the time, and indeed may have given her life to stop Red Beast and his confederate Shockburn. It was never the intention of the Laughter Network, Ellington Media, Tad Gilstone, or Riot Laugh Productions to make light of the heroic sacrifice being depicted, and we deeply regret the inclusion of the footage and the segment. The episode is being withdrawn from video on demand and will not be rerun or put in video collections, the methods by which footage is vetted for use on the program is being examined and overhauled, and where appropriate disciplinary measures are being taken.

It goes on like that, but you get the idea. Like I said, I haven’t seen the episode in question, but I’d lay odds on ‘sidekick physique’ jokes and leaning heavily into the cognitive dissonance of a tiny girl beating down a solid eight feet of fur, muscle and rage before we even talk about Shockburn.

With a little more legwork, I was able to put together some idea of her old stomping grounds. She’d had some good adventures. She’d helped people. She tried, and that’s more than a lot of us can claim.

Still… going back eight years puts us within a few years of the Apocalypse Agenda. The whole world was (and honestly still is) shell-shocked after the monumental destruction wreaked by the mad god Urizen, Freya and her legions in Europe, the Jack O’Knaves decimating Greystone City, and so much more pain and heartache. When it was all over, Paragirl, Shillelagh, and even Freya herself were all dead – every one of them dying on international television.

The world was turned upside down by tragedy and horror. The governments of the world reacted to the Apocalypse Agenda by over-reacting to it. People had spent years thrilling to the adventures of heroes and villains alike, but now it was clear just how deadly those adventures could be. Add to that a whole new generation of villains that seemed far more violent than the ones that came before, and people were scared and tired and just wanted it all to go away.

And here was this woman dressed like an aerobics instructor fighting crime… in Bay City, New Jersey. Less than 20,000 people lived in Dynamo Girl’s patrol area, and even before Dynamo Girl first appeared Bay City had won awards as ‘the safest city in New Jersey’ and held onto a spot in the top ten safest cities in the United States. Even if you dropped all the baggage from the Apocalypse Agenda and took Dynamo Girl at face value, the idea that Bay City even needed a superhero was a little ridiculous.

Well, unless Dynamo Girl got your cat out of a tree. Or saved you from a mugger. Or took out the street gang who’d come into town looking to expand. Or took a bullet to save your life. Or nearly died fighting monsters that were way outside her pay grade.

I don’t know. Was it really ‘sidekick physique’ and apathy that had kept Dynamo Girl out of the newspapers and stuck as the butt of jokes? Or was it the product of a shell-shocked nation that was tired of men and women fighting crime while wearing lycra?

Or was it both at once?

Regardless, it happened, and now I knew where it happened.

And like I said? There were loose ends to tie up.


Wednesday Afternoon

The Amplifier offices looked smaller, somehow. Maybe a little more cluttered. I mean, it was the same place as always, with pictures of stars on the walls and people running back and forth like chickens with their heads cut off. But walking in now…

I don’t know. Maybe I just saw them differently. Regardless I walked through the office. I didn’t say hi to anyone. I just walked straight back to Kyle Elias’s desk.

Kyle was on the phone. “—her that of course we’ll make all the arrangements,” he was saying. “Yes, of course we’ll take extra care. I know you’re not in the… I know. Yes, I know. The cover? Well, I don’t think that’ll be a problem. Heh. Of course. You too.” He hung up. “Publicists. Hey, Todd. Looking good.”

“Hey, Kyle. You’re a son of a bitch.”

He blinked, then laughed. “Look, I didn’t think there was any chance in Hell you’d agree to go up there for a week. At the same time, this was such a good chance, you know? So did it—”

“They beat the shit out of me, Kyle.”

Kyle’s voice trailed off. His mouth stayed open even as his eyes widened. I kind of wish I got a picture.

But I didn’t. Instead, I kept going. “A superhero almost spoiled one of their heists, and they thought I was responsible, so three large, vicious men broke into my holding cell and essentially curb stomped me. I’m lucky I didn’t break ribs or lose teeth. That was over a week ago and I’m still sore as Hell, Kyle.” I snorted. “Yeah, that was such a good chance all right.”

Kyle looked uncomfortable. “Well, you know… that’s a risk, right? We’re journalists. I mean, you cover rap—”

“Yeah, I’ve covered rap,” I said. “Probably more than a dozen rappers. Pretending for a second that your assumption isn’t racist, I still never capped off a rapper’s profile with a seven hour police interrogation, Kyle. I mean, you understand – the cops were pretty sure I was working with Leather, especially since my editor never called the police to report my disappearance.” Which was… let’s just call it ‘creative storytelling.’ I don’t think I was ever an actual person of interest or suspect in anything, but this wasn’t the time to debate it.

Kyle laughed, nervously, and spread his hands. “I’m sorry. Okay? I’m sorry. So… did you write it?”

I paused for a moment, then sighed. “Mostly. I have some loose ends to tie up.”

“Pictures?”

“Oh yeah. Good ones. She’ll melt the newsstands.”

Kyle grinned. “That’s my boy.”

“Good to hear. I want two-thirty a word.”

Kyle blinked. “What?”

“Two-thirty a word, Kyle.”

“You’re nuts. We’ve never paid a rate that high.”

“Well, now you will.” I just kept staring at him while I talked.

“We have a contract.” He shrugged. “You signed it.”

“That was for an afternoon’s work, and there wasn’t anything in there about kidnapping.”

“Yeah… the contract doesn’t specify time periods and does indemnify liability. I mean, I really am sorry, Todd, but the rate’s the rate.”

I paused, and smiled. “You’re right. It doesn’t specify time periods.”

“Okay then.” Kyle rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Look, I don’t want to be unreasonable, Todd. You did suffer – I know that. If the pictures are as good as you say, we’ll talk bonus, okay?”

“Mm. Still. You should know two things.” My smile slowly grew.

“I should?”

“Yeah. First off? The cops wanted to arrest you.”

Kyle blinked. “Me?

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Conspiracy to kidnap. Aiding and abetting. Failure to report a felony kidnapping. Reckless endangerment. Accessory to assault. Really, you pays your money and you takes your choice.” By now my smile had approached ‘shit-eating grin.’

Kyle had gone pale. “I….”

“Oh, don’t worry. I refused to sign a complaint or press charges. They considered charging you anyway, but I talked them out of it.”

Kyle stared at me for a long, long moment… then breathed out sharply. “You’re a friend, Todd,” he said simply. “And… you know, she told me… she promised me you wouldn’t get hurt—”

“But that leads me to the other thing. The other little factoid you should know.” My smile turned smug. “See, just because I didn’t press criminal charges doesn’t mean I can’t pursue civil charges.”

“…excuse me?”

“Oh yeah. There’s a ton of civil complaints I could have. I’m told by reputable sources they’d be pretty open and shut, too. So it seems to me we have a choice here, Kyle. I can turn in my story to you, as contracted, and you pay me a buck-fifty a word for it, and then I lodge a lawsuit against you, the publisher, the company that owns the publisher, the distributor and anyone else I can connect to all this.”

Kyle’s mouth was open again. He made a very small noise, but otherwise just stared at me.

Naturally, I pressed on. “And, since the lawsuit involves… what did you call it? An interview with a supervillain who looks and dresses like a alt-fetish model? I’m pretty sure that lawsuit will get massive press all on its own. Some legal department in the chain will offer to settle for six or even seven figures to shut me up, while you get to see an unemployment line up close and personal as your best case scenario.”

Kyle was silent now. He’d finally closed his mouth, and he was so pale he looked ashen.

I folded my arms. “But I don’t want to do that, so I’ll give you a counter offer. I turn in my article and you, out of the goodness of your heart and in recognition of my skill with the pen and the suffering I endured, will pay me twobucks-fifty instead. It’s way cheaper for everyone and no one needs to see a courtroom.”

“You said two-thirty,” he murmured, slightly in shock.

“That was before you said ‘no.’”

He frowned… and then laughed, relaxing. “Shit, Kyle. Let’s call it two-sixty a word. No reason to be stingy. This story’s going to be huge.

I grinned, relaxing a bit myself. “You know it, Kyle. Pleasure doing business with you.”

“Yeah yeah.” He shook his head. “You had me going there. So what was she like?”

I shrugged. “Sometimes scary as Hell. Sometimes cute as a button. She’s enthusiastic and friendly and fun. And I think she’s really lonely.”

Kyle grinned. “Perfect. We can sell that six ways from Sunday.”

I smiled, a bit weakly. “Yeah. Yeah we can.”

Kyle leaned back. “So, going to take some time off, or are you looking for work? I might have something — don’t think for a minute it’ll pay more than a buck thirty a word. I mean, Tom Waits is cool, but he’s not going to bring in—”

“Hard pass.”

Kyle arched an eyebrow. “So, you are taking some time off, then?”

“Something like that. It’s been a wild few days.”

Kyle chuckled. “I bet. Anything else?”

“Mm. Oh. Yeah. One other thing. I met Darkhood.”

“Who? Oh — right. Meridian’s other superhero. How was that?”

“Pretty cool, actually. And he wanted me to give you a message.”

“Me?”

“Yup.”

A window exploded behind me, prompting a shriek from some guy at the photocopier. The broadhead arrow that had shattered it sailed through the room, over my head, and embedded itself in the bricks behind Elias, right in the middle of that crass picture of Kyle meeting Phil Spector.

Kyle freaked, spilling his coffee and falling out of his chair.

I kept my voice conversational. “He says that if you ever, ever learn about another supervillain’s lair and send a freelancer to get himself kidnapped instead of calling the police? You’re going to find out just how bad an idea it is to get on a superhero’s bad side.”

Kyle didn’t say anything. He didn’t even try to get up.

I grinned, putting my hands in my pockets. “See you around, Kyle.” I nodded to Don at the reviews desk. Don looked like he’d just seen a snake but managed to nod back right as I walked out of the office.


Some Time Later

I had found her old haunts by inference and legwork. The streets she used to patrol. The diner where she almost certainly slung hash and coffee. The boulevard that led to Manchester Park. I parked the Prius and did a walking tour. I was wearing the same outfit I wore when I rode with Dynamo Girl — the turtleneck was comfortable, the leather coat was nice and durable, and vision enhancing glasses were the closest I was ever going to come to superpowers. I don’t know why Leather let me keep that stuff but she did.

I saw the street where Dynamo Girl took down the Seventh Avenue City Strikers. I found a new building – the old one had burned down. Dynamo Girl saved seven people from that fire, one of them a four year old girl. I bought twinkies from the corner store where she’d taken down three armed robbers. I saw, at a distance, the city councilor she’d saved from an assassination attempt. Dynamo Girl dove right in front of the bullet, taking it in her left side. No big deal thanks to her healing, but at the time would she have known that? She could have died right there. She had to have known that, but she did it anyway.

Naturally I went to Manchester Park – the site of Dynamo Girl’s last battle, not counting a rainy night in Meridian. I found the exact site where she’d fought Red Beast and Shockburn. It wasn’t a great park, really. Cinderblock lavatories, yellow and blue tube jungle gyms and slides. A fountain of what looked like bronze but probably wasn’t. Nothing to write home about, except…

There were two differences. Two small things. The first was an oval depression in the asphalt. It was shaped into a face, like someone had taken a porcelain mask and pressed it face down into the wet tar. It glinted with some kind of silver color.

The likeness wasn’t really accurate, but it was close enough.

I looked at it for a long, long moment, then looked at the park lavatory that sat off to the side. It was cinderblock like the others, but the outside wall had a mural.

No, not a mural. A logo. A blue five point star with a white border, and three white chevrons underneath it. The paint was old and faded, but it was there. And it didn’t quite match the logo on Deej’s current leotard, but it was close.

I took a picture of the logo, and of the odd little silver face. There were no plaques or explanations. Just a face in the pavement and a logo on the bathroom wall.

I sat on the edge of the fountain and waited. People went by – adults and children, men and women, all going about their daily business. Though… I did notice that everyone stepped around the face. I’m not sure they even realized they were doing it.

Is there an expiration date on good deeds? If you save a bunch of lives at twenty, does that excuse stealing a kid’s Christmas at twenty-four? I don’t know. I’m not a philosopher. I think Darkhood’s right… but I think maybe Leather’s a little bit right too. I certainly think she made a difference to this neighborhood. I think they remember her when cats get lost or minor crimes happen. I think they miss her, and they wish she’d return.

And I don’t think they really understood she was a hero until the day she beat two villains. Why wouldn’t Leather think you needed a villain for a hero to exist?

I found one piece of incontrovertible evidence. Direct, clear evidence that once a brave young woman they called Dynamo Girl had run laughing through these streets. It was on a brick wall down on Seventeenth. A mural — graffiti, really, sitting amid a pile of tags and Obey stencils, covered over in part by some later artist’s work.

It was a girl in a red leotard, painted cartoony, like anime. She had wide eyes and a blue mask and was doing a cartwheel with the biggest grin in the world on her face. And above it trailing off to the side? Three words, done in yellow and red:

’GO GO DYNAMO!!!’

I took a picture of that piece of street art, and I looked at it for a long moment, and then I walked back to my Prius. When I got there, I got out the briefcase I’d bought two hours before I closed on the car.

Most of the money from that cashier’s check was going to go to living expenses. Keeping the rent up on my apartment. Keeping me in cheap hotel rooms, at least until I had enough of the book written to get an advance for it. And keeping me in travel and cheap food while I met people. Fifteen had gone to the car. It was nice and safe — and as I’d been directed in her note to me, it was better than my Hyundai had been.

But eight thousand, one hundred and nineteen dollars had to go to loose ends.

I walked onto the liquor store on nineteenth. RIDER LIQUORS the neon sign said. I’d found it by pouring over crime sections of the Oceanside Chronicle. They’d never caught the guy. It was a big liquor store with six cashiers. I could believe that on a Friday night they’d have a lot of money in here.

“Excuse me,” I asked one of the cashiers. “Is the owner in?”

“Yeah.” she said. “Back there.” She nodded to a black man, about fifty two years old. He was putting Scotch on a shelf.

“Thanks.” I walked over to him. “James Rider?”

“Yeah?” he asked, looking me up and down. “What?”

“You owned this store a few years back?”

“I owned this store from the day it opened. Why?” He stood, looking me up and down again. Wary.

“So you were the owner for the big robbery? You lost eight thousand, one hundred and nineteen dollars on a Friday?”

“Yeah?” he asked.

“Make any changes since then?”

He snorted. “If you’re here to sell me a new security system, don’t bother. We put in drop safes after that. No cashier can get access to more than two hundred dollars at any time, and we have better cameras and—”

“I’m not here to sell you anything, Mister Rider. I’m here to make a delivery.”

He frowned. “A delivery?”

I set the briefcase down on a clear area of shelf, and opened it up. Hundred dollar bills stared back at him.

His eyes widened. Then narrowed. “What is this?”

“I’m just the messenger,” I said. “This is the eight thousand, one hundred and nineteen dollars you lost that night. It’s being returned, no strings attached.”

He stared at the money, and then at me. “You working with the guy who stole it?” he asked.

“Nope. Do you remember Dynamo Girl?”

He blinked. “What?”

“Do you remember Dynamo Girl?”

His eyes grew wide. “Do I… do I remember Dynamo Girl?” He laughed. “Are you kidding? I was in Manchester Park! I was there when she fought Red Beast! She was amazing. I thought… we all thought she was dead or something!”

I smiled. “She isn’t dead.” I nodded to the briefcase. “And she had a job to finish.”

He blinked again. Tears had started dripping down his face. “This is from Dynamo Girl? Dynamo Girl.”

“Yup.” I stepped back, leaving the briefcase. “She got delayed is all. But it’s all there.”

“You know Dynamo Girl?”

I nodded.

“Where is she?”

“I dunno.”

He looked at me, then at the money. “Dynamo Girl got my money back?”

“She did.”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “Ain’t that a kick in the head,” he said.

“Yeah.” I grinned. We shook hands. “You have a nice day, Mister Rider.”

“You too. And if you see Dynamo Girl again, you tell her thank you. For everything. And tell her we miss her.”

“I hope I get the chance,” I said, before heading out the door.

About an hour and a half later I pulled out of Bay City. They don’t have a hero of their own right now, which meant there probably wouldn’t be any villains, either. That was okay. I had plenty of places I could go. I could head West! I’d thought about going to Crown City and try to chase down Paragon or Monument City to find the Lieutenant. Despite Leather’s warning, I’d even considered going to Greystone City and track down the Nightwatch and his rogues.

But I don’t know. There’s an awful lot of press out there on those guys. But there’s not so much being written about some of the others. Guys like Rubicon in Port Andrews, or Lightskip up in Republic City. Or maybe Santa Domingo’s Silver Horseman. I’d even heard about a new hero in the Puget Sound area, not far from where Paragirl used to patrol. They said she was a real cheerleader type. ‘Sidekick physique’ appeared in a few online descriptions. Everyone figured she was some more experienced hero’s partner…

And of course… there were the bad guys.

Oh, I could probably interview Leonardo Lucas in prison — if he were still in prison — but he’s been interviewed lots of times. I was more interested in Bandolier, or the Red Claw. Maybe track down Lady Velvet in retirement, or even find O Gato Cinzento back in Meridian City.

I didn’t know just then. But… I had enough money to keep me going and a lot of ground to cover in the process. And I knew I wanted it to be new ground. I wanted to write about the heroes and villains we don’t see on the news. After all, we all know something about the first and second tier heroes and villains alike. It was the third and fourth tier that interested me.

I wondered if I was going to get killed along the way. Well, maybe I was.

I pulled out of Bay City and onto the Interstate. Heading for the middle of the country — the crossroads of America. And from there, we’d see what I could turn up. I had the gear, and a new phone, a computer and a camera and a good recorder.

And questions. I had so many questions. The answers? Were out there. And I had quite a few months before hunger might drive me back to writing about the Cheshire Kittens or the latest Bianca Blaze celebutante trainwreck.

I hit play on the T-Sound. No playlist this time. I wasn’t psyching myself up to see Leather or Dynamo Girl. This was my story now.

The random die was thrown. The opening strains of “Consequence Free” by Great Big Sea came on the speakers. I sped up to seventy as they sang.

Wouldn’t it be great if no one ever got offended?
Wouldn’t it be great to say what’s really on your mind?
I have always said all the rules were made for bending —
and if I let my hair down, would that be such a crime?

I grinned. “Time to save the world,” I murmured, and headed down the highway to whatever showed up next.

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11 thoughts on “⎇001JW Interviewing Leather Revised #11 (Conclusion!)”

  1. I was thinking about it a bit, and I think Leather considers herself part of that “Hero Support System.” Not just in the “heckler” sense that Darkhood mentioned but….well, she’s trying to steal from people, not hurt them and especially not kill them. Any hero that isn’t trying their hardest against her isn’t going to die (probably), but will get mocked and defeated until they either get out or take this seriously.

    I’m pretty sure she’s harsher than Lady Velvet, but I don’t doubt what side Leather would be on if the Apocalypse Agenda 2 happened. She might not take an amnesty afterwards…or, well, she’d totally take it but probably go right back to stealing afterward, but she does care, even if she has a weird way of showing it.

    The fact that both Leather and Darkhood want him to not only do justice to this article, but to go on and write the book that becomes Low Society is interesting, I think.

    …..I still feel sorry for Dynamo Girl. And I wonder what would have happened if her parents hadn’t died.

    Also, if I was DETAILS, I would keep an eye on any new hero that sticks it out more than twice as long as the average and consider extending them a job offer, and definitely extend one if they manage three times or have something crazy happen.

    …Is…Is Kyle on the phone with Leather’s publicist?

    Ok, Kyle was smart enough to indemnify liability in the contract. He did that much right. I’m…honestly not sure how well that would hold up in court, but he’s less of an idiot than I thought.

    Granted, he’s still an evil jerk who who deserves to be fired and blackballed for this stunt, but at least he wasn’t entirely stupid.

    Given how well Chapman thinks the lawsuit might go, I’m guessing the indemnity clause probably wouldn’t hold up well. Or, even if it did, the publicity surrounding the trial would be enough to cause the publisher to settle rather than fight it.

    Given that this part of the story is in Low Society, I kinda have to wonder if Kyle got fired after the book came out.

    I will say that scaring his editor half to death is probably the “Leather beats up a chain store for terrible service” of Chapman’s part of the story. It’s relatable but it doesn’t really help you look like the “good” guy.

    Taking a bullet for a city councilor seems like the kind of thing that should have made more press or at least gotten the attention of DETAILS.

    I really like my Prius too. They’re good cars.

    That’s the thing though. Bay City could have had Red Beast and Shockburn show up without Dynamo Girl. Anywhere could have a villain show up. Anchor had apparently considered trying to launch a beachhead from there and …well, for the record, I wouldn’t bet on Dynamo Girl against him and his team.

    But I wouldn’t bet against her either.

    Do NOT go to Greystone city.

    I confess, I’d be curious how his interview of Lady Velvet would go. I wonder if he ever manged to interview the Silver Horseman. I also wonder who the hero in the Puget Sound area was.

    1. I’m pretty sure she’s harsher than Lady Velvet, but I don’t doubt what side Leather would be on if the Apocalypse Agenda 2 happened. She might not take an amnesty afterwards…or, well, she’d totally take it but probably go right back to stealing afterward, but she does care, even if she has a weird way of showing it.

      There weren’t a lot of people on the other side of the Apocalypse Agenda. There were some dupes — Freya and her forces were played, for example — and the Jack and a few others took advantage of the situation, but when it came to the actual fight, there were almost no ‘villains’ on the planet who weren’t doing everything they could to stop the destruction.

      It’s just… well, by then there wasn’t a lot they could do.

      Lady Velvet ‘crossed the aisle’ when the aisle moved under her feet. She hasn’t actually changed that much since her supercrook days, but by this point it ends up looking heroic instead of villainous. The general amnesty and pardon helped, of course.

      I don’t know if Amplifier’s liability would hold up in a lawsuit or not, but that almost doesn’t matter. Chapman’s almost certainly right that the lawsuit would get a lot of media attention (thanks to the cute girl in leather and the potential scandal). Chapman’s probably right that they’d offer a substantial settlement just to stop the PR bleeding — and Kyle would be fired so hard it isn’t funny.

      For the record, the finished story as it’s written here (despite the unreasonable length) is the article that appears in Amplifier. I’ve gone back and forth on that before. If I ever get around to actually writing Low Society then there’ll be a chance to add some additional stuff to Leather’s interview, but there’s a ton to do before then.

      Why didn’t Kyle edit himself out of the article? Because the article is stronger and Chapman’s more relatable with the inclusions, and it helps Amplifier get ahead of controversy. Kyle has a few things in common with Vincent K. McMahon of WWE Entertainment — he knows he’s coming off bad whether or not he edits himself out of the article, so he’s leaning into it so a few of the people who hate him afterward buy copies of the issue anyway.

      In one sense I agree that Chapman (and Darkhood) scaring Kyle half to death doesn’t exactly make Chapman look good… but on the other hand, that scene’s gotten a lot of positive feedback over the years. It may simply be one of those things.

      I also think that DETAILS would be pretty interested in a four year veteran hero who jumps between a bullet and a city councilor and keeps on trying. For that matter, I think Justice Wing would be, too.

      Kind of sad no one told them, hm?

      (There’s an allusion to some of that in the “Like a Shot From a Cannon” teaser I sent out to the public a little while ago. The teaser was all short glimpses at Deej’s career as a hero… and I feel I should point this bit out….)

      Councilwoman Bennett shook her head. “Of course I’m *grateful.* But come on… think of the visuals! What kind of a message would that even send? Come to Bay City and see our Child Soldier Leotard Defense Squad?”

      “I’m not a *child!*”

      Bennett shook her head again. “You know who says crap like that, *Dynamo Girl?* *Children.*”

      So, you know. Sorry Deej. The optics wouldn’t look good.

      (And I’m a huge fan of my Prius too.)

      1. I feel like I should circle back around on Deej in Bay City, just a bit. It’s easy to see the combination of factors as unrealistic — surely someone would have noticed or made a call or something, right?

        The thing is… a lot of those things were spread out over the course of years. Deej hit the rooftops pretty much every day she felt physically capable, but on most of those days she was scaring pickpockets, finding pets, or retrieving frisbees from roofs. Even when she was fighting actual crime, she didn’t exactly do herself any favors by dropping criminals off at a policeman’s feet and then jumping off to the rooftops without a by your leave. Do that enough times and even sympathetic people are going to roll their eyes at the kid in the red.

        And remember how Leather said most villains started off as heroes? A lot of people hit primary or secondary parahuman expression and go out and do the super-thing. Most of them don’t last, and even the ones who do generally won’t get out of the fourth tier… because there are a lot of them out there.

        That’s why Justice Wing won’t usually seriously begin looking at neighborhood heroes until they hit the third tier. There’s just too many fourth tiers out there and most of them don’t last. It’s the same with DETAILS.

        Besides, it’s not like Deej told people she was living hand-to-mouth. From the outside, she looked fine, at least until the end.

        1. Lots of things look fine from the outside. And lots of things are actually fine on the inside and people have privacy for a reason.

          Doesn’t make me any less sad when things slip through the cracks.

          I hope DETAILS takes this article seriously as a wakeup call to do better about the fourth tier heroes. I get it that there’s a lot of them, but …well, currently the only jobs around that will let you use super powers are “Super Hero” and “Super Villain.” If the average hero lasts 8 months and is probably more just …some kid who came into their powers trying to be Paragon for awhile before things get too hard or real life sets in…well, if the only other options for jobs are ones where you either have to pass as a prosahuman or go outside the law….

          I mean, I don’t want anyone forcing those kids into jobs they don’t want, but making sure they don’t burn out into supervillainy seems like it should be something that they’d want to do.

          If nothing else, I hope that councilwoman is a bit more forward thinking these days. I doubt any politician is going to ever not be concerned with optics, but I’m pretty sure she could have spun “I got saved by a super heroine” a lot better than “we got attacked by supervillains and everybody died.”

          I kind of wonder, had the Excelsiors never formed and Rodent had consistently had a terrible life, where her breaking point would have been and whether she would have reached it before she died.

          Either way, I do hope you’re still planning to do the various reaction pieces to the article and I hope we get to see Rodent’s reaction to it. At least partially because I’m curious how Rodent is doing by this point.

          1. Both DETAILS and Justice Wing have a lot of takeaways from this article — and that’s not even counting Paragon. Or Barbara Babcock for that matter.

            As for the plight of the parahuman in the modern workplace… yup! This is one reason the Cheshire Kittens blew up like they did. In particular their songs “Ditchdigger Supreme” and “Jesus Christ Need Not Apply” focus on the theme. The latter got them a good amount of controversy and some picketing right up until someone finally read the lyrics. But that, as they say, is another story.

            Councilwoman Bennett’s about to have a really terrible few weeks. But then, she’s not alone.

          2. Also, hm. I hadn’t really thought about Rodent in this context. There is Rodent/Leather stuff in the pipeline, but it’s not directly connected to the article.

          3. You’ve noted before that Leather is an ectype of the Spider-man/Rodent Archetype, so it just seems natural to me to wonder how Rodent would feel about someone who was like her once, but …broke under the pressure.

            Well, and I’m curious how Rodent is doing these days.

            Granted, Rodent might not even read the article. Lots of people probably missed it. I bet Jetgirl is head down in the next version of her flight suit and totally missed it too.

          4. Around this time, Rodent’s… actually really busy. See, you remember that the Excelsiors dissolved after the Apocalypse Agenda.

            For various reasons, by the time the article “Interviewing Leather” came out in Amplifier magazine, the dozen or more heroes who had patrolled and protected Empire City had dwindled to next to zero — and Empire hasn’t become an easier place to live or less of a haven of weirdness and villainy. The Astonishing Alliance, the Pentad of Guardians, Bauchan, the Lieutenant, Freya, the Cavalier, and a number of Institute kids from the Empire area are all gone from Empire for a variety of reasons. Connor Church lives at Excelsior Court officially but ‘Phalanx’ rarely comes out to play. Sprite’s still going, as is Foolhardy… but a huge amount of the city’s protection at this point? Is Rodent.

            No, she still doesn’t get decent press in the city. It’s weird. In her own city on her own turf she’s maybe third tier. As far as the villains are concerned, she’s first tier on a national level. Only in Empire, huh?

      2. I for one fucking love that bit, the message for Kyle from Darkhood.

        A. its not like Chapman could have talked him out of it, and B. you know chapman deserved a LITTLE payback fun for his car and the kidnapping. and C. if that’s in the article, other people might be less inclined to pull similar shit in the future.

    2. I’m trying to remember where I read it, but there was a super story with a bit of q and a with a villain (it might have been here, not sure) where a villain talks about new heroes. (actually, I think now that it was Flyover City.)

      And the villain says that when a new hero shows up and can’t hack it, they don’t just beat them into the hospital. They do their best to humiliate the living hell out of them.

      Because one of two things happen. They give up, and end up NOT dying to the next villain that doesn’t mind killing. Or, they get bitter, they get better, and they get SERIOUS, and the next time they face off with the villain, the villain gets a legit fight. And the villain very much felt themselves as doing a public service by it.

  2. So, I was thinking about Leather the other day and how I was still kind of feeling this nagging sense of cognitive dissonance… and it finally hit me.

    Leather is playing Cops and Robbers professionally and this gig is what gets her from varsity to the college level.

    Leather isn’t crazy. The situation is what’s crazy and Leather and everyone else is reacting to it fairly appropriately (or at least understandably).

    The tropes that make super hero comics what they are have evolved and changed over time, but, to get a setting where you have gods out punching each other in the street, wearing spandex, there are …standard tropes and assumptions and fundamentally …they’re a bit weird.

    Like, often the Supers having a punch up is treated as “oh, it’s no big deal” in comics and they’ll all share a beer in a pub afterwards, but in real life, that’s assault, resisting arrest, grievous bodily harm, manslaughter…. it depends on the circumstances, but…. yeah.

    There’s this sense of “Oh, it’s all in good fun, we can handle things, it’ll all be fine” that tends to pervade super hero stories and that even seems to come back, despite whatever intergalactic world destroying event just happened, which stands firmly at odds with the …well, consequences of reality.

    So, there’s this cognitive dissonance that occurs when reality intrudes into the super hero domain. Because Super Hero stories aren’t about consequences, while reality is basically nothing but consequences. And most super hero settings have their own line they walk and their own justifications for the various things.

    And, I think, now that I can see the fundamental incompatibility and how you’re handling it better, I think it’ll only make me appreciate your stories more.

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