Uncategorized, Novella, Screenplay, Complete

⎇001JW Defining Leather: Punching Down

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Justice Wing Vignettes

Tad Gilstone was riding high. He was a popular comedian, talk show and quiz show host, and television producer whose career was in high gear. Sure, people like his road buddy Sutton Sheldon didn’t much like the way he treated his girlfriends, and maybe he was ever so slightly incapable of giving a crap about anyone else, but those are survival techniques in show business. But, when some old garbage got churned back up and some kid hero he once mocked on his show Page View Review got national attention for her villain career… a career that could be traced right back to Gilstone show, Tad Gilstone knew he needed damage control.

It’s the comedy game, after all. Nobody cares, until you get caught punching down. But the questions remain… who’s he apologizing to? And for that matter, will Leather take it the right way… or take offense?

Content warning: gaslighting, misogynistic behavior, extreme language, and feces.

For literal millennia, humanity has secretly been composed of Homo Sapiens Prorsus (those of ‘normal,’ expected abilities and capacity) and Homo Sapiens Ambiguus (those with unexpected or divergent abilities), commonly known as prosahumans and parahumans. That secret ended with the Emergence Event (or just Emergence), when the first, arguably greatest hero Earth had ever known – Paragon – saved the Earth on international television. This began the Age of Heroes, separated into four eras: Emergence, Halcyon Days, the dark Apocalypse Agenda, and when heroes went In Nadir. Heroes and Villains seemed unreal and exciting, then seemed to usher in a golden age for humanity until a mad God ended all that with a nearly successful attempt to destroy all realities everywhere. What remained was a traumatized human race who may still love some heroes, but distrust heroism… and with it all of parahumanity. This is Justice Wing In Nadir.

Ten years after the Apocalypse Agenda, life has settled into the new normal. The former independent heroes called Justice Wing have been pressed into service by a Coalition of Nations to regulate superhuman – and, by inference, parahuman – affairs. Villains, meanwhile, have reorganized and flourished under the new cultural norms. In the midst of this, a D-List music reporter named Todd Chapman was kidnapped for a week by the third tier villain (and former hero Dynamo Girl) called Leather, conducting an interview that ended up a cultural touchstone, especially after the article raised serious questions as to how society treated their heroes – especially those who weren’t male – and just how easily crime did pay.

Of course, when you raise serious questions, that all too often means needing to provide answers…


Defining Leather

Punching Down

Eric and Wednesday Burns-White

In Nadir Era
The Eastmont Plaza
Las Bendiciones, CA

“So there I was in the front of the room,” Tad was saying to the small knot of listeners. Somewhere in the background there was a piano playing – the kind of piano that literally meant ‘no one pay any attention to the piano.’ Mood music. Light music. The sort of thing you played in hour four of the kind of parties that meant you were on the in and everyone else was on the out. “And Sutton is just, y’know, staring out at them, like he hadn’t just shit his pants. And this wasn’t polite ‘oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just be squishy back here. No one will know!’ poop. This was hardcore, pungent, ‘oh my God get this man to a doctor’ level shit. It absolutely reeked!

New to Justice Wing? A cast list and guide is available for this story.
The listeners laughed, as they were meant to – a couple legitimately, a couple politely, a few loudly in that way that meant they didn’t actually think it was funny but Tad was more important than they were so of course it was hilarious.

“Y’wanna know what’s amazing?” Sutton said, on the other side of the group. “We’re still friends. He tells this story two, three times a -year and I still hang out with him.” Sutton looked amiably bemused, which was his job in this situation. Sutton Sheldon was overweight and doughy where Tad Gilstone was tall, a bit lanky, and scruffy-looking. Sut was a character actor and comedian who never lacked for work, but Tad had a kind of slightly unkempt charm that lent itself to hosting gigs and stand-up specials. And maybe more important than all of that, while Sut had a production company like everyone past a certain level in Hollywood had a production company, Tad’s production company had several shows in development and on the air — shows that cost next to nothing to make and got good demos. That meant Tad could tell the poop joke while Sut smiled and looked rueful and didn’t complain. It was nothing personal.

But then, that was stand-up in a nutshell. It was nothing personal, unless you were going for the throat.

“So Sut has this deer in the headlights look, right? He’s locked up and not moving—”

“My people naturally freeze in the presence of the stylish,” Sut threw in.

“—and there’s silence for a long moment. I swear to God, one guy coughed. Like in the movies? The textbook cliché of awkward silence while dying on stage — only, you know, with shit in Sut’s pants. And I’m just as frozen, standing close to the stage, having absolutely no idea what to do in this situation… and Sut slowly turns and says ‘…do you ever get that not-so-fresh-feeling?’”

A decent number of the laughs were real — it was a good party story, and Tad knew how to work the crowd. Sut shook his head, playing the dopey sidekick. It was second nature for him. “Seriously,” Tad said. “I’ve never seen anyone make that big a recovery from that horrible a moment. I’m surprised Sut didn’t put it into his act.”

“Hey, underpants cost money!” Sut protested, which got another laugh.

Tad grinned, glancing around, keeping an eye on the movers and shakers. Parties were business…

Over at the bar, he saw Serenity talking to a couple of her friends. Loud laughs. Her mouth opening so wide. He felt a tightness up his spine, but didn’t show it. “Anyway,” he said. “I need a refill. Anyone need — no? No? Right! Tip your waitstaff!”

He turned and walked over to the bar. Serenity Clair was popular in nerdcore circles, a model with decent geek chic cred. She was kind of the perfect girlfriend for Tad when he was bridging out of how-to segments on network and basic cable and into geek and gamer humor and show production. Popular, pretty, easily able to get attention from the people in Tad’s demo.

Well. His old demo. That was part of the problem.

He walked over. “Ladies,” he said, grinning. “Always good to see you. Refills? Anyone? Right!” He looked at Serenity, then nodded towards the bar.

“Anyways,” Serenity said, her voice maybe half-again too loud, at least for Tad’s liking. “We should hit the dance floor! Am I right—“

Tad didn’t let his genial grin slip. All right, subtlety wasn’t working. “Can I see you for half-a-sec?” he asked.

“You see me all the time!” She laughed. She had that ‘many glasses of wine’ smell to her, he realized. Balsamic vinaigrette on a smoker’s ruined carpet. Not exactly top shelf balsamic vinaigrette, either.

“I do. Can I see you now? For a couple.”

“I guess. Be right back, guys!”

Tad walked over to the bar, turning to look at Serenity. “Can you please pull it back several dozen notches?” he snapped.

“What? It’s a party, Tad! Why—“

“I know it’s a party. And it’s important. And we’re in public, and people can see you. Can you please act like an adult.

She frowned. “I am acting like an adult,” she snapped. “You just don’t know how adults actually act. And you literally hate seeing me having fun.”

“If by that you mean I hate seeing you drunk and shrieking—“

“I have had two glasses of white wine.”

“I can smell it.”

“Yeah, you can. Because you can always smell it, because that’s who you are. I’m not drunk — I’m enjoying myself and that doesn’t mean I’m doing improv to impress people in suits like I was the entertainment instead of a guest, Tad!”

“Those ‘suits’ decide the fate of the whole world,” he hissed. “We’re here because they’re here. How do you not get that, yet? Huh? How do you not get that?”

“You know, I seemed to be doing fine in my career before you were here to explain these things to me,” she said, scowling.

“Were you? Were you really? Because you’re still doing Comicon floor reports on cosplay and hosting VidTune gamer news roundups in a halter top and I’ve got six actual television shows in production. I host two of them, one of them nightly. Are you really going to measure your dick against mine?”

“Oh, right. I forgot. You host Page View Review on TLN at one in the morning! You are so important.”

“I’m not doing this here with you,” he snapped, quietly. “But if you reach a point where your yearly income reaches one tenth of my monthly income, let me know, okay? Seriously, do you honestly think anyone gives a shit? You’re just another gamer girl in Cartoon Nation tank tops doing floor reports and ‘the news?’ You think they couldn’t replace you tomorrow? You think they wouldn’t if you weren’t with me? I’ve got a couple decades of road dues that says ‘don’t you fucking dare compare yourself to me.’ You host the penny-ante online shit my downmarket gig tears apart.”

She flushed again, looking down. He knew the gesture. The anger. The realization she had no cards to play. And what would she do tomorrow if he dumped her? Where would she go? Hell, most of Serenity’s gigs came from guys Tad knew.

“Are we done here?” he asked.

“Bastard,” she muttered.

“Are we done here?”


“Then stop drinking your two glasses of white wine and for Christ’s sake pull it back several notches. Be a fucking professional.”

She glared, then turned and walked away.

“Y’wanna know what’s amazing? We’re still friends. You can be made of dick sometimes, and I still hang around with you.”

Tad rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Don’t start with me, Sut,” he muttered.

“Why not? Are you gonna threaten to cut me off from your empire of extended-cable geek-friendly talk shows? Because right now? I’m considered a get.” Sut sounded more than a little pissed. He got like that. He had ever since he’d gotten married.

“My relationship with Serenity is my business,” Tad snapped. “I don’t need your expert analysis on shit you don’t understand when it comes to—“

“Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t understand your relationship with Serenity? I don’t get it?” Sut sounded full-on pissed-off. “I farted audibly in front of an audience at a midnight show and played it off. Eight years later you talk about me like I had a flash flood of diarrhea pouring down my leg. Every time you tell that fucking story it gets grosser. And I put up with it because it’s a good fucking story and you tell it well, and that gets us both work. But don’t you pretend for half a second I don’t recognize your bullshit for what it is, Tad.”

Tad looked at Sut for a long moment, before his shoulders slumped slightly. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry, Sut.”

“Don’t apologize to me. I’m a big boy who makes more money than you, since that’s apparently how we’re measuring dicks tonight. Though to be fair, you are so made of dick right now you win by default.”

“She drives me up the fucking wall, Sut. She’s so fucking childish.”

“She’s fifteen years younger than you are, Tad. And she’s one of the good looking ones hanging out with the other good looking ones at a high end industry party. Is she childish? Or are you old?

“I’m a professional.”

“Yeah? So’s she. You know how she gets noticed? How she gets cast? She’s wild and uninhibited and fun at parties, and those guys in suits think ‘hey, I want her to be wild and uninhibited next to my Gamecenter Six during the press reveal.’ You know — the way you noticed her in the first place.”

Tad rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well. Right now we’re a team, and what she does reflects on me. How do you not get that? Your wife doesn’t act like that.”

“My wife’s my own age. She acts like a woman in her late thirties at a party. And my wife isn’t in the fucking industry, Tad. Listen to me for one God damned second in your life. You’re being a dick. Don’t try to walk it back. And why is your career the important one, anyway? Why does she need to act ‘professional’ by your definition?”

“Because my career’s paying the fucking bills, Sut. Why do you let me talk about you shitting your pants? You say you’re a get right now? Sure you are. But I’m a guy with shows getting you, so when we’re together you fucking help me keep the cash flowing. Why is Serenity Clair exempt from that?”

“Because Serenity Clair isn’t a ‘get’ for your shows. Serenity Clair’s a girl you’re fucking and that, ostensibly, you actually like.” Sut shrugged. “You don’t want to listen to me? Don’t listen to me. But sooner or later, those same suits you’re so worried about will notice how you treat her.”

“They don’t give two shits about how I treat my girlfriend, Sut. That doesn’t even enter their head. In fact, if they think about it at all, it’s because they’re wondering if I’ll let her fuck them for a job.”

“Yeah. ‘Let her.’”

“Jesus. I liked you better before you became a fucking liberal fundraiser in a bad haircut. We’re comedians, Sut. Comedians, and producers, and writers, and no one gives two shits how we treat our girlfriends so long as people laugh and tune in. That’s the gig. That’s always been the gig. That’ll always be the gig.”

“Yeah, ‘cause the infonet’s so forgiving—“

“The infonet’s our fucking audience, Sut. We own social media. Who’s going to fucking yell at me for telling Serenity to grow up? Scrapr? Scrapr loves me! Check any gifset. I’m a feminist. You seem to be forgetting that. If I go out on my show and I rant about the raw deal women get, Scrapr loves me and the infonet loves me and the only people who hate me hate women.” He raised his arms up. “They don’t care if I have an argument with Serenity. I don’t know why you do. It’s not important.”

Sut looked at Tad. “The infonet’s like a nonstick frying pan, Tad. Everything slides right off until you get caught being a hypocrite, and then it doesn’t matter what the situation is. You’re scratched, and everything sticks,  and your whole deal is ruined. You’ve seen it happen. You’ve made fun of it on your damn show.”

“And if I were a hypocrite, I’d be in trouble, but I’m not.” He laughed. “We’re not talking wage inequality or opportunities or depiction of women in the media. We’re talking about my relationship with my girlfriend. It’s not the same thing, and everyone knows it.”

“Except me?”


Sut looked at Tad, and then snorted. “There’s a lot of things I don’t know, sometimes, Tad. For instance — I say it a lot, but honestly? I don’t know why I still hang around with you.”

“Yeah? Well, when you figure it out let me know, ‘kay? I’ve gotta get back to mingling.”

“Your phone’s buzzing.”

Tad looked down at his pants. His smartphone was in his left pocket, screen out. It was indeed loudly buzzing, and Tad could just make out the screen lighting. “It’s Barb,” he said — Barb was his partner in his production company. Since most of their shows were directly connected to Tad’s public persona, she was prone to overreacting where Tad was concerned. “She’s been pestering me all night.”


“She does this every weekend. Freaks out about next week’s lineup. Shit like that. You learn to screen it out.” He snorted. “Next you’ll say I’m being misogynistic about that.

“I’m done talking to you now,” Sut said, shaking his head and walking away.

Tad smirked. He looked around, scoping the floor. Looking for suits. Looking for gets. People he could schmooze into being on one of his shows. People he could schmooze into developing one of his shows. Business was almost never finished at a party like this, but this was where business started. Sometimes a chance encounter or joke turned into a gig or even a development deal years later.

His phone buzzed again. Barb again. Jesus. She knew better.


Tad looked up. Ned Ripley, from DTN. Was he still in Light Entertainment over there? Light Entertainment had been a death sentence on the broadcast networks for years, but sometimes…

Either way, there was no reason to snub the guy. You never knew who was rising or falling, and today’s goat was next week’s GOAT. He walked over. “Ned! Jesus, have you lost weight? You’re starting to make the rest of us look bad!”

If you hit a certain level, you had a house in Del Mier. There were lots of ways the entertainment industry kept score: Q ratings, polling, focus groups, social media engagement… but the only one that really counted was cash in the bank. Since waving your statement around was considered gauche, that meant owning impressive shit you didn’t have to flaunt. Your car didn’t count. Car ownership was flaunting by definition. Likewise, most people wouldn’t ever see your house, but the grapevine always knew your neighborhood. Your address was either a commendation or a condemnation, and Tad knew it.

He pulled the Beemer into the circular driveway, top-down of course, so he could be seen – flaunting had its place, after all – then drove down into his underground garage. The door was already closing by the time he got out of the car. He headed to the stairs, which led up to the mudroom. The mudroom led to the front hall. The front hall led to the kitchen. The kitchen led to his next gin and tonic. Cause and effect. Concept and execution. It was just like telling jokes, except instead of laughs, you got drunk.

Fifteen minutes and one G&T later, he climbed out of his shower. He loved that thing. Waterfall-style showerhead, huge without being a tub, all in front of a gigantic mirror with sink and appointments in front of it. It was essentially the whole wall. He got a kick out of it and never quite knew why. He toweled a bit, watching the fog on the mirror evaporate…

Tad frowned. The house was still pretty quiet. Too quiet, maybe.

His phone was sitting next to the sink, right next to a second G&T he’d made to keep the first one company. He scooped it up and tapped the screen. Serenity’s face appeared and he heard it start ringing.

“What?” She sounded bleary.

“Jesus, are you drunk?” Tad snapped.

“What the fuck do you want,” Serenity asked. “I was in bed.

“I thought you’d be here when I got home.”

“Did you? Wow. That’s interesting. We should discuss it sometime.”

Tad rolled his eyes. “Do you have to be such a fucking child all the time?”


“Look. I thought you were going to be here. That’s all. If you weren’t, it would have been nice if you’d texted me or something.”

“You mean like when I texted you?”

Tad frowned, glancing at the front of his phone. Nine unread texts. “Never saw it,” he said. “Anyway, you should come over.”

“Oh, fuck you.”

“Seriously, Serenity. We had a bad night. I’m sorry. I’m sure I’m sorry. We can talk it out.”

“It’s two, Tad. You don’t want to talk.

“Yeah, but I’m pretty good at it while we’re getting undressed.”

“Can we cut to the end of this? How much crap will I have to deal with if I just roll over and go back to sleep, whether you want to talk or not?”

Tad chuckled. “Probably quite a bit.”

“And if I tell you I legitimately just want to sleep, and also I’m pretty sure I hate you?”

“Hey, it’s fine by me. I’ll have your stuff sent home.”

“You call me childish. That’s what gets me.”

“Yeah, well. Some of us get to be whatever we want. Some of us don’t.”

His phone buzzed and he heard the call waiting ping. Barb again. Jesus.

“What was that?”

“I have another call. We’ll talk about it when you get here.”

“Jesus, Tad—”

Tad hit the other button. “It’s two in the morning, Barb. Whatever you’re freaking out about, there’s fuck-all we can do about it right—”

“Where the fuck have you been all night?” Barb hissed.

Tad blinked. “What? I had the thing. The Western Lithography Dinner thing. Fundraiser. That shit. What—”

“Get down here right now. Right now.

Tad frowned. “…you’re at the office at two in the morning on Sunday?”

“Yes. I am. And have been for hours, because we’re in fucking trouble, Tad!”

Tad sighed. “I told you, Bart Broker’s going to do the talk show! He’s always got conditions, but it’s a done deal—”

“I’m sorry. Maybe it’s me. I must not be making myself clear. I don’t fucking care about the guests, Tad. We’re in trouble.

Tad felt his heart clutch. “…what do you mean?”

“Oh, I have your attention. Lovely. Get down here.”

“Why? Just — what’s going on?”

“Did you see the new issue of Amplifier?

Tad blinked. “The… what? What the fuck are you talking about?”

Amplifier! It’s a magazine? Rock stars? Shit like that?”

“No, I think it’s safe to say I missed that in my comic book pull. Oh, wait — I don’t have a comic book pull and I don’t read music magazines—”

“And no one said the name Leather to you at that fucking fundraiser?

Tad shook his head. “No,” he said. “Barb, I understand. You’re pissed. But I have no idea what that has to do—”

“I’m sure you don’t. When you walk in the door, I’ll explain it to you. If you don’t walk in the door, I won’t be here tomorrow or ever again. I have my own ass to cover, thank you.”


But she’d hung up.

“Jesus Christ, why can’t people just calm the fuck down,” he muttered. He gulped down about a third of the G&T, poured the rest in the sink, and headed out to his bedroom. No chance in Hell he was going to shave for this.

Tad rubbed his eyes. “You’re shitting me,” he said, finally.

Barb Edison was sitting at the small conference table they had for meetings at Riot Laugh Productions. Like most production offices, it consisted of a couple of administrative assistants, a couple of PAs, a couple of partners who had offices — that being Barb and Tad — and a whole lot of outsourcing. That was what passed for television development these days. Most of the time it was a pretty cheerful, if kind of soulless, testament to particle board furniture. At nearly three A.M. it looked like a morgue. “No, Tad,” Barb said. “I’m not shitting you.”

“How big could this possibly be?” Tad asked, rapping his knuckles on a magazine on the table. Amplifier, with a picture of a self-described super villain on the front in a sexy come-hither pose and enough combat leather to make a full set of Hell’s Angels hard. “I never heard of Amplifier or Leather before tonight. Has anyone else?”

“I don’t care if they have or not,” Barb said. “This thing made News24’s cycle. It’s on most of the News and Comment stations — they did a thing on it on USBC–1 News for Christ’s sake. Public radio news, Tad! And right in the fucking middle of this fucking thing, Leather calls Page View Review out by name!

“I remember when that shit went down,” Tad said. “She was the one with that terrible catchphrase, right? ‘Post no bills, accept no substitutes?’ Jesus, we issued an apology. What the fuck more do they want from us?”

“Tad? Do you know what they call a basic cable television show that mocked a super hero after she nearly died fighting a shaggy rage machine, arguably pushing her into a successful career as a villain as a result?”


“A piggy bank! How many fucking class action suits do you think we can rack up before they all reorganize together?! TLN’s owned by Medialife. Medialife’s owned by Kinoshita. Kinoshita owns half the fucking planet. And that’s just that side. Besides us, Ellington Media’s still got money in this, so lots of people are gonna try to get money out of them. Lawyers live for this shit, and every victim she’s ever robbed would love to get some of their money — and we’re getting named in every one of those suits, Tad. And we don’t own half the planet, so unless you’re secretly Mason Temple’s CPA, we can’t survive that.

“We apologized,” Tad snapped. “We admitted fault. We fired — what, three guys?”

“But who the Hell cares, Tad? We’re still on the air. Our office is still open. You still have a job. And in case you forgot, we only got away with it the first time because the infonet had other shit to be outraged over and we were on hiatus when it broke!”

“We pulled the episode from rotation—”

“Good for us. While I waited for you to answer your phone, I passed the time by sending out C&D notices to video sharing sites. I don’t know how or why that many people recorded the thing five years ago, but they’re all happy to throw it up on VidTune now! And you don’t want to look at any feeds. Not one. Trust me.”

“…this is already happening,” Tad said, slowly.

“Welcome to ten hours ago. Yes, Tad. This is happening.

Tad shook his head. “I mean… how bad was it? Really?”

“She had a compound fracture on her arm and was bleeding out the back of her head.”

“The video was shit. You could barely see that! That’s why we didn’t realize it in the first place!”

“Yeah! Right up until someone says ‘oh wait, doesn’t she have a massive head injury and a broken arm?’ Trust me. You never unsee it again.” Barb dropped her face into her hands. “I don’t know, Tad. We may just be dead.”

Tad shook his head. “No. No, we’re not dead.”

“We can’t make this go away.”

“I know! Sure! Of course we can’t. So we don’t. Come on, we know how this kind of scandal works. We can’t avoid it, we can’t hide it, so we own it. Monday night. Live if we have to, but let’s try not to have to because that could blow up in our faces.”

“How do we own comparing a broken, dying hero to a fucking tampon?!

“Exactly like that.” Tad snorted. “Sincerity and shit. We see the problem. We’re part of the problem. So we have to do better. Go the whole episode on it. Who was there that night? Was Sut there?”


“Good. Sut’s gone all girl power. We can play that. Who else?”

“Collette Myles and Eddie Dell.”

“Fuck. Not Eddie.” Tad rubbed his eyes. “Eddie’s always such a fucking pain, and he’ll eat this up.” He shook his head. “Collette’s fine. S’good to have a woman there anyway. Besides, she told some of the jokes, right? I mean, like, some of the bad ones?”

“Tad, I don’t think pointing at the token female guest from that night’s going to make this any better.

“I’m not saying it will. But — she’s got to have stories from the industry. Being a woman. Shit like that.”

Barb gave Tad a look.

“Barb, hate me tomorrow, but today can we just do this?” He thought for a moment. “Collette did say some of the bad shit. She did the tampon joke, right? What was it? ‘You’re called Red Beast, and I’m wearing a bloody pad. Which one of us is the period metaphor again?’”

“Well, she told it better than that.”


Barb rolled her eyes. “Collette’s in town. I dunno where Eddie is. Sut would probably do it.”

“If we’re lucky Eddie isn’t available, but it’ll play better if he’s there. Especially if he kind of digs into us. Makes it clear we’re angry at ourselves, not justifying. That’s the way this works. You get one chance to say ‘we did a terrible thing and we’re not excusing it,’ and the more uncomfortable we look, the better.” Tad sighed. “Do we have any idea how much money Leather stole over the years?”

“Maybe. I’ll check—”

Tad’s phone buzzed.

“What the fuck—” Tad looked.

Serenity Clair.

“Fuck. Give me a sec.” He scooped the phone up, standing and walking to the outer office. “Hey,” he said. “Jesus, Serenity. I’m sorry—”

“Where the fuck are you?”

“The office.”

There was a pause.

“Seriously, Serenity. I’m at the office. I’ll text you a picture if you want.”

“Okay, I want one good reason why I shouldn’t set your couch on fire right now. And I mean, this better be epic.

Tad sighed. “You hear about this… Leather, in that magazine? What is it, Amplifier?


“Wait. You have?”

Serenity swore again. “For someone who makes their living off the infonet, you sure never read it. Yeah, Tad. I’ve heard of Leather. She’s trending.”

“Okay. Well. She complained about a TV show. Did you see that in the article?”

“I haven’t gotten a copy yet. I just heard the news.”

“Heh. Well, you’re one up on me. Yeah. She mentions the show. By name.” Well, by implication but right now Tad didn’t really care about the distinction.

Serenity paused again. “Why?”

“We might have… contributed… to her becoming a villain by making fun of her while Red Beast was beating her to death.”

Serenity didn’t say anything.

“We apologized the next week.”

Serenity still didn’t say anything.

“Jesus, look, Serenity—”

“That might be the worst thing I’ve ever heard you say,” Serenity said, quietly.

Tad opened his mouth, but no words came out. He wasn’t sure what words there were.

“I mean, Tad, you can suck. You really can. But… Jesus Christ, that’s monstrous.

“We didn’t know, Serenity!” Tad shook his head. “You’re right. Look, you’re absolutely right. We’re trying to figure out how we can make this — not right. I mean, we can’t ever make it right, but we can—”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Tad. I know what damage control looks like. I’m going home. If I get another phone call from you because you’re horny—”

“You won’t. I’m sorry, Serenity. I’m really, really—”

The phone went quiet.

Tad swore and walked back into the conference room. “Well, if that was a preview of what we can expect—”

“Conservatively, eighty-one point eight million dollars.”

Tad stared at Barb. “What?”

Barb just looked darkly cynical. “You asked. Between actual theft, property damage, other fun stuff like that? Leather’s allegedly responsible for at least eighty-one point eight million dollars, conservatively. The Times of London says eighty-two point three, but their numbers seem a little shaky. The Globe and Mail says one-ten, but don’t give a source. The Empire State Times says eighty-one eight, and they’ve got the best listed sources.”

“…wait… what… eight figures? She’s not like… an arch-villain, right?”

“Third tier.”

Tad paused. “I don’t know what that means.”

Barb started to laugh.


“We’re fucked,” Barb said, still laughing. “We’re so fucked.

Tad looked at her, then shook his head. “No. No, we’re going to turn this around. We’re going to own it, Barb. We can’t be the only one she’s got a complaint with in that article, but by God we’re going to be the ones who own up to it. You’ll see! By the time we’re done there’ll be think pieces on our courage.” He shook his head. “Get Eddie’s agent on the phone. I’ll call Collette. She’s been pretty hungry lately. I don’t think we’ll have trouble there.”


“I’ll talk to Sut.” Tad laughed. “Sut’ll do it because…”

“It’s the right thing?” Barb asked, eyebrow arched.

“Sounds like him. C’mon. Work time.”

PAGE VIEW REVIEW EP 7057 written by Tad Gilstone (usual additions) Sutton Sheldon and Collette Myles (list as writers) Eddie Dell (list as guest writer) RIOT LAUGH PRODUCTIONS TRANSCRIPT NOT SHOOTING SCRIPT UNAUTHORIZED USE PROHIBITED Unofficial Transcript Draft






Cold Open, no credit sequence or music. Slight electrical buzz to sound more ‘silent and somber.’ TAD GILSTONE is slightly off-center frame, allowing for the Games Monitor to be seen to his left. His demeanor is more serious than usual. [AFTER REFER AS MONITOR-SHOT]






Hello and welcome once again to Page View Review. I’m your host, Tad Gilstone. And you may notice that I’m standing in front of thepodium or not being quite as goofy as usual. That’s because… well, every so often when you do a daily show about current events on something as ever-changing as the infonet… sometimes you get it wrong. As shocking as it sounds – sometimes we screw up. And every so often, we learn that maybe, just maybe, our cowtown improv fake quiz show has actually caused real life pain in the world.


In this case the screwup in question dates back over four years. Seriously. We’re looking back four solid years ago to an episode we shot on this very stage. On that night we had our old friends Eddie Dell, Collette Myles, and Sutton Sheldon on the program, and we did a segment of what we currently call The Supertubes





-but at the time we called SuperCellSignal






(acknowledges audience reaction to the dated graphic with self-deprecation)

Yeah! Drink in the ancient dumbass logo goodness, people. We called it that back then we actually made a distinction between video from cameras and video from phones in those ancient days, unlike today where people naturally assume anything on VidTune came off a smartphone and anyone carrying around an actual camcorder is some kind of nerd freak!





(Acknowledges audience laughter with mock annoyance)

Yeah, yeah. Anyway. Just like today, Supertubes or SuperCellSignal or whatever dumb segment name we come up with is where we find some online video shot of low end super heroes and villains who are perhaps on the lame end of the spectrum and are caught doing arguably lame things. Now, we have rules we try to live by. First off? We decided to never show anything where the bad guys win. More importantly, we said right from the start that we wouldn’t show anyone getting seriously hurt. I mean, let’s face it. It takes balls to put on spandex and try to stop guys with guns from hurting innocent people and stealing all their shit, and we want to be respectful of that, even if we sometimes find hopefully good natured humor in some of the ways those heroes protect us.

(GILSTONE pauses for effect.)


Cut to closeup of GILSTONE’s face, still somber. [AFTER REFER TO GILSTONE-CLOSEUP]



Four years ago, we fucked that up. We fucked that up so hard.


Cut to STANDARD CONTESTANT THREE-SHOT CENTERED ON MIDDLE GUEST PODIUM. SUTTON SHELDON is behind the AUDIENCE LEFT PODIUM. COLLETTE MYLES is behind the CENTER PODIUM. EDDIE DELL is behind the AUDIENCE RIGHT PODIUM. The screens with their names are there as normal, but the game-show pushbutton assemblies have been removed from the podium tops, setting up visual cues that this won’t be a normal panel style episode. [AFTER REFER TO CONTESTANT-SHOT]



You only say that because of the massive and terrible consequences, Tad! Come on! Be fair!



Exactly! It’s not like we’ve all had nightmares because we made fun of someone who maybe died saving lives.



Oh. Those were supposed to be nightmares? Damn it. I’ve been doing it wrong.


CUT BACK to MONITOR SHOT. GILSTONE is still slightly off-frame to Audience right to make room for the Games Screen, but is stage-cheating right to talk to the contestants.



(breaking into audience reaction, speaking to the now-offscreen contestants while looking AUDIENCE RIGHT)

Shut up shut up shut up guys – come on. This is the oh-shit part of the show.

(Turns to face camera, addressing audience again)

As you can see, Eddie Dell, Sutton Sheldon, and Collette Myles are all here today. We did that because… well, look, we’re a dumb little comedy show, but… we actually did fuck up and it actually contributed to a lot of real life harm, and… well, let me just get to it.


CUT TO three-quarter angle view centered on GILSTONE, who turns to face the new camera. The upper third of his body is framed. [AFTER REFER TO THREE-QUARTER-SHOT]



On the episode in question, we showed footage we found online of a serious, oh-my-God level dangerous fight between horrifying rage kaiju-ape hybrid thing Red Beast and a local super hero in Bay City, New Jersey. Now, our obvious first mistake was putting anything with Red Beast on our show in the first place. It’s just the tiniest bit inappropriate to lightheartedly showcase the madcap antics of a monster that destroys property and kills people haphazardly–







 – which is why the Laughter Network decided against picking up the back-nine of The Jack O’Knaves Plays Delightful Knife Pranks on Toddlers.


CUT BACK to THREE-QUARTER-SHOT after holding for audience reaction.



So, we’re already in trouble. But we figured we were in the clear because there were no reports of injuries or deaths involved and because it seemed… well, like the local heroic response was silly. For more, let’s go now to Gormless Idiot Tad Gilstone of the past. GO ahead, Tad!






Archival footage of show episode #3019 segment #4



(Gilstone looks visibly younger – emphasize younger appearance – and is in full game show mode)

Obviously when you have the kind of threat that Broadhead or Vortex of Justice Wing wouldn’t willingly face without backup, you have to imagine Bay City sent out their very best and brightest. And I am so proud… so proud to announce that they did not disappoint! Thanks to an anonymous bystander with a shaky hand, a cell phone, and really good bladder control, we now know that Bay City responded with… a twelve -year-old girl!






Full screen cut to still photograph of RED BEAST clearly swinging his arm to maul the person in front of him, said person being UNIDENTIFIED HERO IN RED jumping over his arm. The (past) audience reacts with laughter at the dichotomy.











Yup. Funny, right? Hah hah? A teenaged girl fighting a monster like that. It’s just so ridiculous!

(Pained look)

Yeah, this doesn’t get any better. But like I said, there were no reports of anyone dying or being seriously injured, so we figured this was safe footage. Well, no reports that we found. Or stuff. Or… things.

(Shakes his head)

Okay, we fucked up bad.







First off? Before this? Red Beast – and the equally homicidal Shockburn, who was also there, just to make it clear how serious and dangerous this whole situation had been – had knocked a police helicopter out of the sky and was holding a few dozen people hostage. No one died, thank God, but right there – that alone should have told us not to go anywhere near this thing.





But let’s focus for a moment on that girl in red. Look at her. She looks so compact and small and adorable and it’s just so ridiculous that she’s fighting Red Beast, isn’t it? That’s what we thought, anyway. And we went on – and I’m not going to show you the footage again – to highlight her shouting a goofy catchphrase even as she jumped over his punch, and lots of jokes about how she was clearly a high school student of some sort, and showed her jumping around and being slammed into an outhouse-

(audience reaction)

Oh, it gets better. And then… well, let me pass it back to past me again.








Archival footage of show episode #3019 segment #4 – GILSTONE-PAST is in the usual GAME SHOW PODIUM WITH GAMES MONITOR shot, in full game show mode.



Okay, I just want to say this for the record. That kid – she can’t be fifteen yet, can she? Where’s her parents? Anyway – let’s go through this. That kid, clearly hurt, clearly taken a lot of hits, just kicked Red Beast again, then launched him like a hundred feet into a tree, then got punched hard, and thrown into that – I dunno, that cinderblock building, and she turned over mid-throw, broke her impact into a crouch, sprang off the building, shoulderblocked Red Beast, headbutted Red Beast, then jumped around and put him in a fucking sleeper hold! And that! Is! Fucking awesome!

(past-audience cheers)

Seriously! That kid better be the most popular kid in school for like the next four years! If any dumbass head cheerleader gave her crap before, she better give this kid a car now!









Okay, what I said there? That was true. It was fucking amazing and I tried to make that clear, but we were still making fun while I said it. And that… well, here’s where it gets hard. For us, and worse, for all of you. I mean… well, let me give you some examples from e-mail and Quipper quips we got at the time.


CUT TO full screen view matching the GAMES MONITOR





(reading nonastian’s comment aloud.)

Hey fuckfaces! You said that girl was ‘clearly hurt?’ Yeah! I guess you’re right since she clearly had a fucking compound fracture of her left arm! I know the video wasn’t that clear, but can’t you tell the difference between a red bathing suit or being covered in her own blood?


There is an uneasy crowd reaction offscreen. 





(reading ℀CordiallyTheirs’s comment aloud.)

That hero had blood caked in her hair and all down the back of her neck, just in case you still haven’t taken a look at the video you were mocking. So she had a major head injury and was still fighting Red Beast, and you thought it was funny because she was a young girl? That hero deserves a medal and you bastards just made fun of her! I hope your studio catches fire and collapses on you but you’re too busy cracking jokes to notice until you burn to death!


There is a two beat pause – the audience at most murmuring.


CUT BACK to MONITOR-SHOT. The comment is still up on the Games Monitor. GILSTONE is playing up the discomfort.



Okay, that’s a little harsh.

(audience laughter)

I mean, we fucked up pretty badly. I get that. We all do. But… maybe – you know, other people are in this studio too! Maybe the four of us up on stage should get crushed and burned to death-




If we’re lucky! That’s way too good for us.



(after audience reaction)

-but, like, the janitorial staff deserves to live, don’t they? A little?

(audience laughter)

Regardless of our fate, we got a number of these notes after our mistake. Though they paled in comparison with the following e-mail we received. We’re not putting their name up and let me make something clear. This is not a joke, okay?


CUT TO full screen view matching the GAMES MONITOR





(reading e-mail)

I was in Manchester Park when Red Beast and Shockburn took us hostage. They were looking for something. I don’t know what. They made it clear they weren’t just ready to kill all of us but were planning to kill all of us.  

Then, Dynamo Girl – the hero you never identified – somehow flung herself hundreds of yards and over the force field keeping us all in, and attacked the two. She had been our hero for something like five years, and wasn’t a teenager like you keep saying. She mostly did street gangs or purse snatchers, but when we needed her she showed up and saved us.


CUT BACK to MONITOR-SHOT. Online Comment #3 is still on the screen.



(still reading Online Comment #3 aloud)

And they beat her mercilessly in the process. She was electrocuted like ten times, and Red Beast kept trying to crush her skull in the pavement, and after she beat them she left the scene, covered in blood with many broken bones.

That was days ago, and no one’s seen her since. She’s probably dead. And seeing you make fun of her makes me cry all over again.


CUT BACK to THREE-QUARTER SHOT. GILSTONE looks serious. The crowd’s reaction is hushed but clearly upset. The reality of what had looked funny is too much.




(Sudden shift to affected joy, pumping his fist)

Well, good news everyone! We now know she didn’t die!

(audience cheers)

Yeah – no, that’s good. In fact, that’s great. No, clap a little more. Clap for her! Not us – no way not us, but clap for her!


CUT BACK to MONITOR-SHOT. Gilstone continues to be upbeat again, but continues to have a serious edge. The Games Monitor is dark.



No, she’s alive, and she’s okay. We found out she’s recovered and she’s been really successful. What’s… not as great is how we found out she wasn’t dead, and just what she’s been successful doing.

(half-smiles, somewhere between sheepish and somber)

But let me talk first about what happened after we got that mail.





See, the week after we showed that footage we were on break. And like I said – we hadn’t seen any coverage that said there were deaths or police crashes, and full disclosure, we didn’t realize she’s pretty bloody in the footage. It was pretty bad video quality, so we thought it was just video artifact errors. 

(shakes his head)

Anyway. Our fact checkers missed things and some folks got fired. I wasn’t one of them. Maybe I should have been. Either way, the Laughter Network put out the following press release.


CUT TO full screen view matching the GAMES MONITOR.





(reading press release)

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.


CUT BACK to MONITOR-SHOT, the press release still on the Games Monitor.



And we lucked out, because no one noticed. No one really picked up on the press release. We were on break so we didn’t feel we had to address it on-air, and there weren’t any more emails or online comments after that. So, we went on doing what we do, and we’ve been blessed and honored to be able to do it for four more years. And we revised our rules for what we’ll show and when.





Which doesn’t make up for anything, for the record. Let me be clear about that. We got away with it, but that didn’t mean it was right or okay. And like we said – we never showed that episode in reruns after that first week, and we never put it on any DVD collections. And until this week that was the end of it.






Though… in all that time, the hero called Dynamo Girl never returned to Bay City. In fact, she never showed up anywhere. Not for a long time, anyway. So, to add an extra helping of guilt, we thought we’d been making fun of a hero who was literally being killed in front of us. Which… is not the kind of thing you like to have on your demo reel.





(Mock cheer)

But like I said – it turns out she’s alive! How do we know this? Well… like this!


CUT TO full screen view matching the GAMES MONITOR.




The audience has a mixed reaction, including some clapping and cheers, as well as a catcall or two, but all with a growing undercurrent of realization.


CUT BACK to MONITOR-SHOT, the Amplifier cover still on the Games Monitor.



As most of you know, this week Amplifier magazine put out a groundbreaking interview with the beautiful, vivacious, and alternately scary and sympathetic villain called Leather. And in that issue, Leather disclosed the following!


CUT TO full screen view matching the GAMES MONITOR.




(reading pull quote)

‘Here I was. Going out, working hard every night. And there was a night I took out two super thugs. Red Beast and Shockburn, if you keep up. Anyway, that fight hurt. I was lucky not to be hospitalized. But I managed to stop them. Get them locked up. And saved a whole crowd of people. I got page four of the Oceanside Chronicle. The fucking police blotter.


CUT BACK to THREE-QUARTER-SHOT. The audience is reacting to the increasingly uncomfortable implications.



Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, in case you didn’t guess, the Oceanside Chronicle is the local Bay City newspaper. Leather is talking about a fight she had in Bay City, when she was the hero we now know was called Dynamo Girl. In other words, she was talking about that specific fight we made fun of on our show.





So. Part of her not getting any real acclaim? Was directly our fault. We saw a woman throw herself between psychopaths and innocent people and we told jokes about it.

(pauses to let audience react, then continues)

But it gets worse. Oh, it gets worse. See, she also talked about some of the shitty ways that heroes — especially female heroes — get treated in our society, and how it contributed to her decision to pack it in and become a super villain.


CUT TO full screen view matching the GAMES MONITOR.





(reading pull quote)

‘See, I was a pretty good ‘good girl.’ I saved some lives. I stopped some crime. I fought the good fight. But look at me […] I look good. But I don’t look ‘super heroine.’ My hips are slender, not broad. And I’m a well shaped B cup, and I can work it well, but I’m still a B cup. You look at most super heroines and they’re double Ds. Freya was clearly double Fs. You look at any of the well known super heroines, and you’re seeing mighty tits. Hell, the only C cup in the second tier is the Beacon, and she’s so tiny they look bigger on her […] You know what they call it? ‘Sidekick physique.’ In fact, that’s what most thin chicks have to do if they want to get attention – partner up with a solid second tier heroine and let their first name be “and.”





(Reading Pull Quote #3)

Yeah, I cared. Fat lotta good it did me. The one time I got national media it was a fucking cable show mocking my ass and calling me a twelve-year-old. But if I padded my suit, I’d be popular and all the boys would like me and then I’d make the papers every day of the week! Fuck that. I look damn good, and I can lift a motorcycle over my head and make that look damn good.





(pause for uncomfortable silence, then falsely jovial)

So, who do you figure she’s talking about there?





Archival footage of show episode #3019 segment #4-4.


INTERCUT between quotes and shots.



We all just heard our mystery middle schooler demand Red Beast to post no bills! Because there’s always a danger in any superfight that a scurrilous villain will malevolently slap a flyer advertising his Cheshire Kittens cover band’s next gig on the hero’s supersuit!



(Cut to next shot)

Comedians, there’s stars-a-plenty if you can tell me the kind of things you’d advertise on our reluctant Junior Justice Winger here!




(huge audience reaction)



…she actually wouldn’t mind advertising shit, but her ass’s too skinny to fit anything bigger than a business card.



When you take on the Bay City Middle School Color Guard expect the pain!



Okay, so. You’re literally Red Beast, and I’m literally wearing a bloody rag. Which one of us is the period metaphor again?



I just want to say… it must suck to get a side-kick from a sidekick!


CUT to GILSTONE PAST as the audience groans.



Oh, no stars! The crowd didn’t like that one!









Why no, they didn’t! As it turns out, our audience didn’t like our cheerful misogynistic dismissal of a super hero who was being beaten to death by a steroid-pumped shag carpet who’d already promised he’d kill all the bystanders, edited with lots of fast cuts so we could crack sidekick physique jokes because Dynamo Girl didn’t look like an old Lady Fairplay comic as drawn by a sex-starved virgin who never studied anatomy.






Now now. They were okay when Collette did it! It’s me they don’t like.



I just want to say – I was doing Bowery Boy jokes and riffing about park bathrooms. Is there any chance I can survive the studio fire and be a cautionary tale instead?

(audience laughs)

I mean, someone has to survive – to bear witness to the next generation, spreading the legend of the wrongs we committed here, and not for nothing, I called it first!



Damn it!





(After audience reaction)

So. Yeah. That happened. And… we kind of have to own it.

(pauses for effect, looking serious, then shifts demeanor to conversational)

Well, actually we didn’t have to own it. In fact, we had to argue with legal to even do this show tonight, because this particular episode wasn’t rerun or on DVDs or available on demand any more. This episode had been pretty much forgotten. And that’s kind of why we wanted to talk about it.





See, we’re doing a show here. It’s meant to be funny, to highlight dumb stuff found online and cheesy moments and shit like that. And we’re pretty proud of a lot of the stuff we’ve done over the years. And of course we weren’t the only people cracking Sidekick Physique jokes about Dynamo Girl. And let’s be clear – we weren’t directly or – and I was told by the lawyers I had to say this or they’d shoot me out of a cannon – legally culpable for Leather’s decision to become a villain.


CUT TO full screen view matching the GAMES MONITOR.




The Audience laughs, breaking some of the tension in the room.


CUT to MONITOR-SHOT, the Gilstone-cannon-shot still on the Games Monitor.



(after audience reaction)

Oh yeah. But after the article came out, the other producers and I got together and talked about it. See – our show may not have been culpable for what Leather chose to do with her life, but we were maybe the easiest example of the problem. Not just because of our little dog and pony act, but because this is the way that our society sees female heroes. And if that doesn’t seem like a huge problem to you? Well, first off, nice to see you guy-from-the-paleolithic. Don’t eat the fast moving creatures. Those are cars, and cars aren’t food… and second off? Just looking at Leather’s criminal career alone? Rough estimate? We’re talking eighty-one point eight million dollars in theft and property damage. If that doesn’t sound like a problem to you, please send the deed to your house and the title to your car to our offices care of TLN because you should not own things.





And honestly? Way more importantly than that? We don’t know how many people lost property, or money, or even their lives in Bay City because after their hero nearly died in a completely selfless act that saved dozens of people, chuckleheads like us made fun of her for it. We’ll never know that cost, and that’s just something else we have to live with.





I’m a comedian, as are Stu, Collette, Eddie, and a whole lot of our colleagues who’ve been on the program. We make our living telling jokes and pointing out the absurdities of life, the injustices we shouldn’t have to put up with, and the clear examples of the Emperor forgetting to wear pants. That’s why we’re here. That’s the deal. But part of that deal is never punching down. It’s easy to kick people who’re already down, and sometimes you can get a quick laugh from it, but it comes back to haunt you because… bullying sucks. And punching down is a kind of bullying. But… it happens sometimes, and sometimes we do it and don’t even realize we’re doing it.


Well. We punched down. We mocked someone who nearly died saving lives, and in the process we reinforced the cultural expectation that real super heroines were pneumatic porn stars in spandex, while women who happened to be slender and under five foot ten were literally jokes waiting to be told. And that’s a shitty thing to do to anyone, but to do it to the heroes who put themselves at risk to save our lives and our property? It’s horrible. And it has to stop. And the only way it will stop is if we take some fucking responsibility for our own mistakes and be the change we want to see!


CUT TO wide angle shot of the full stage including the GAMES MONITOR on AUDIENCE LEFT, GILSTONE in front of his usual podium in AUDIENCE CENTER, and the COMEDIANS on AUDIENCE RIGHT. The audience is cheering and clapping.



(after audience reaction)

So today we’ve asked those same comedians back. We’re not going to give out stars or the usual. Instead, we’re gonna talk about Leather, and about Darkhood, and other heroes, and the way we tell jokes about all of those things. We’re gonna argue a little, and agree a little, and try to figure out where we’re fucking up and how to make it better. And yeah, we’re gonna tell jokes because we’re constitutionally incapable of saying anything on any subject without telling one to four jokes per ten minutes or else our hearts explode and we die. Being a comedian is a horrible curse.





And… just from me, to Leather… and this is from the heart. I’m sorry that show ever happened. And… for what it’s worth? I got a lot of cool shit at my house.

(Audience laughter)

Okay, the alarm system’s pretty good but come on. You’re you. I’m not saying I want you to rob me blind, but I can accept there’s poetic justice in the idea.


Just leave me my video game collection!

(Audience laughter)

Come on! A lot of it’s vintage. Some of that shit doesn’t even exist any more and emulators don’t give you the same experience!



I think you just told her where to find the really valuable stuff in your place, Tad.



(after audience reaction)

Shit! No! Don’t steal those! Back after the break. You’re watching Page View Review!


TRANSITION TO FULL STAGE SHOT panning over the audience.



Tad hugged Serenity. The audience was breaking up. A few audience members were talking to Collette on the other side of the stage. Sutton was kind of loudly holding court on the other. Tad had been right. This show had been up Sut’s alley. For Tad’s money? He was just glad it was over.

“You guys did great,” Serenity whispered. “Really. I think this’ll help some people.”

“Well, that’s what it’s all about,” Tad said, pitching it to her but speaking a bit louder. There were always people listening when the audience was breaking up, after all. “It’s about Leather and what happened to her, and people like her. It’s… you know.”

“Yeah,” Serenity said. “Are you going out after this?”

“I dunno. We usually do a dinner but tonight we only did one show and… anyway. Lemme go change and we’ll figure it out.”

“Sure.” They kissed, cheek to cheek, and Tad headed back across the stage, heading for stage left and the exit to the backstage area and the green room.

“Great show!” one girl shouted. She was – what? Early twenties? Maybe.

“Thanks!” Tad shouted back. “I hope next time we won’t be fixing our own mistakes!”

The girl laughed. She was at ease. The audience as a whole had been at ease. Audiences were like a fiddle. You tuned them during the preshow, then you played them, and if you did it right, they made all the music you wanted.

Eddie Dell was in the green room when Tad walked in. He’d just lit a cigarette. There was no smoking backstage, but those weren’t rules where Eddie was concerned. Those were at most guidelines. “Hey Ed,” Tad said. “Thanks again. That was fantastic. Thank you for coming down.”

“Yeah, this was a gas,” Eddie said, rolling his eyes. “I wonder if Cassandra got asked back after Aeschylus’s big bathhouse scene.”

“Yeah, I know,” Tad said. “What can I say? You were right.”

“Jesus, save it for the twelve-year-olds you call a demo. I’m here because if I didn’t show up that’d be the only thing Variety said about me this month. And I don’t exactly like getting lectured about shit I didn’t even do.”

“Eddie’s pissed,” Sut said, walking in, Collette behind him.

“Yeah, no shit, Sutton. There’s a reason I stopped doing this horseshit show.”

“Well, be fair,” Tad said, trying to play things off as a joke. “We did stop asking you.”

“We said we fucked up, Eddie,” Collette said. She was in that same getup she always wore — blue jeans, white button-down shirt, black vest, black bowler. She looked like Annie Hall’s widescreen print had thrown up. “What more do you want?”

“Spare me,” Eddie said. “You didn’t exactly stop taking the gig.”

Collette scoffed. “That’s right. I like eating, Eddie. And who knows? Maybe I’m helping with some of the shit we talked about tonight.”

“You?” Eddie scoffed. “You called a dying super hero a period metaphor! Four years ago I stood in that writer’s room with the rest of you and—”

“Yeah, Eddie. That was my job! I say the lines they write for me!”

“Yeah, well, they wrote me some shit too, but I didn’t say it on television, did I?”

“No, you absolutely didn’t,” Collette snapped. “Maybe if I’d been in a couple movies with George Burns and Robin Williams I could have refused too, but I wasn’t and I couldn’t. You think you’re hot shit because you wouldn’t tell a joke? That one brave act makes you a champion of womankind? Well, I couldn’t have said no and kept my job unless every other woman in the writer’s room agreed with me— oh, wait. They did, since they didn’t exist! And if I said ‘no’ to the script, I wouldn’t either.”

“That’s not my fucking problem,” Eddie snapped. “It’s not my fucking show. And if you’re so desperate for the shit they pay, maybe go work a toll booth. It’d be a better investment.”

Collette pinched the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes. “God, I can’t believe we’re doing this—”

“Now come on,” Sut snapped. “It’s not the paycheck, it’s the momentum, and you know it, Eddie! You can have a reputation for being difficult — oh, wait. Sorry. I accidentally spoke hypothetically. Everyone knows you’re horrible to work with, but you can get away with it because of who you are. If Collette tried any of the shit you pull, that’s it! She’s done!”

“I’m still sitting right here, Sut,” Collette muttered. “Please don’t speak for me.”

Sut turned, a retort on his lips, but he paused and nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Christ,” Eddie said. “There’s no sorry in comedy! If Hattie McKotex there can’t handle it—”

“Okay, enough,” Tad snapped. “We’re all tired, and that wasn’t exactly very fun, so let’s just… let it go, okay?” He sat, rubbing his face with both hands. “God, I feel like I ran a marathon.”

“Oh, well. My heart bleeds,” Eddie said, pushing to his feet. “Sorry to be an absolution buzzkill. By the way, we’ve done a couple dozen ‘SuperTubes’ or whatever about women since that time we drove a good kid bad. When’re those apologies coming out?”

“They’re not,” Collette said, dully. “If they did, people might see a pattern, and that would mean that maybe these apologies are meaningless. And oh boy, we sure don’t want them thinking that.

Eddie looked at Collette. “Y’know what,” he said. “When I was twenty years old, I got a gig on the old Tony Summers show. Sketch work. I was just a kid. No one gave a fuck who I was, but that sketch had a pack of Jew-baiting jokes in it, and I told them I wouldn’t do it. Summers himself stormed into the room and read me the riot act. I said no. So they threw me out of the building, and I had a couple lean months. Okay. I’m not a woman. I don’t know how it feels to be one. But that day they still told me to tell a joke I wouldn’t repeat in front of my mother, and they sure as Hell made it sound like my career was on the line. I decided my career wasn’t worth a damn if I did. Do you have it harder? Maybe. Sure. Why not? But you told the joke, Collette. You told the joke. Sut told the joke. Tad couldn’t get enough of telling the joke. When you’re my age and there’s some other punk kid in the room, what story are you gonna tell him? ‘Well, I had to tell the joke or I’d get fired?’ We’re comedians. Grow a pair.”

“What blows my mind is you don’t even hear the sexism,” Sut snapped at Eddie. “Seriously? Grow a pair?”

“Yeah, because that’s the issue here,” Eddie snapped back. “I think by now I know—”

“You don’t know a damn thing,” Collette roared. “None of you do!”

The silence was palpable.

“I love every time a white male comedian tells me about that time they bravely weren’t racist or sexist or anti-semitic or whatever for five whole minutes,” Collette spat. She was flushed with rage on top of her punchy exhaustion, and didn’t seem to be picking targets. “You know what? When a Black comedian tells me those same stories, the punchline is ‘so I never worked in that town again!’ When I stand up in a room and say I won’t call a fucking hero a child, I don’t get back into that room, or any room like them! And don’t get me started on– ‘we don’t punch down!?’ Jesus, Tad — that’s all this show does. Ask the kid with the broom who didn’t know the camera was on. You’re just pissed off because one of your punchlines got big enough to call you on your bullshit and not be punished for it! Christ knows Leather isn’t impressed with your fucking resume!

“You know she’s—”

“Oh, shut up, Sut! You wrote that fucking side kick from a sidekick joke!”

Sut flushed. “Yeah,” he said. “And I can’t unwrite it.”

“And I can’t un-say ‘period metaphor.’” Collette’s voice went flat and cold again. “But here we are.”

Exactly,” Eddie bellowed, suddenly enraged. “See, this?” Eddie gestured around the room. “This is what should have been on your fucking stage, Tad! That’s what made this whole thing a joke. Maybe Collette’s right. Maybe I’m shittier than Taft and Freya’s bastard. I dunno. But at least this matters. Collette said more there in thirty seconds than your whole fucking apology show said in twenty-two minutes, but none of us get to say that shit when the camera’s on.” He shook his head. “Out there, right at the top of the show, you said we were comedians. Three minutes ago, I also said quote-we-unquote were comedians. But let’s be clear. We’re comedians! Me! Sut! Collette. We may fucking hate each other, but we’re comedians! You? You became a suit and don’t even know it. And in your world? Real shit? Important shit? Shit that means something? That’s not the point of comedy, is it? Thanks for the fucking gig.” He stormed out the door.

Tad looked around. Sut was staring at the wall. Collette was staring at the floor.

“Y’know, I thought it went well,” he said, finally.

Collette turned to look at Tad. “Glad to hear it,” she said. She sounded tired. “I’ll tell my agent to expect your booker to call.”

“Absolutely,” Tad said. “Do that. Seriously.”

“Sure.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, guys. I’m just so fucking exhausted. You wanna know something? Leather robbed my bank.”

Tad blinked. “What?”

“Seriously. I mean, it was a branch. Gateway City. Leather came tearing through there, baiting one of the local guys. Not Broadhead. Like, I wanna say he went by Whirlwind? He didn’t show up. Turned out he’d been put in the hospital the night before. So Leather beat down some cops and PATER stormtroopers and kind of marked time and then they took off. Like two hundred thousand in cash. Something like that.”

“Jesus,” Tad said. “Collette, why didn’t you tell us? That would have been gold on the show!”

“I know.” Collette stood up. “Catch you around. I’m doing midnight at the Hut tonight and tomorrow. Would be nice to have a name out in the audience.”

“I’ll try,” Sut said. “Depends on what Denise says.”

“Sure. Later.”

“Have a good one. We got you a car, right?” Tad asked. “Hang on. I’ll get you a car.”

“I don’t need a car,” Collette muttered. “Night, Tad.”

Tad watched her leave, and then watched the door shut behind her.

“So. You ever calling her again?” Sut asked.

“What? Fuck, no.”

“Didn’t think so,” Sut said. He rubbed his brow. “God, that’s shitty.”

“Hey, blaming me for the plight of womanhood in comedy’s shitty. I’m just not putting up with it.”

“You know, I’m pretty sure she didn’t blame you for jack shit. Eddie did, but you can’t blackball Eddie. For one thing, no matter what you say, he stopped doing this show. You didn’t decide to stop calling him. He’s too big a name even now, even when he sucks. Eddie blamed you. Collette? Collette blamed Eddie. She blamed me. But she didn’t blame you. She called you on that fucking ‘punching-down’ thing, but she didn’t blame you for the actual shit we were apologizing for! Any idea why that is, Tad?”

Tad closed his eyes. “No, but I’m sure I’m about to find out.”

“Because I felt like crap tonight. Eddie felt like crap tonight. And Christ knows Collette felt like crap tonight. And yeah, we all fucked up, out there and in here, and I have no idea what to do about any of that shit. So she blamed us. She even blamed herself. But not you. Why bother? Me and Eddie? We at least knew we deserved it. You came in here feeling good about tonight’s show.”

“It was a good show, Sut. We said important things. We told truth–”

“Oh, what power did you tell truth to, Tad? You were the only guy in the room with any power to speak of, as you love to remind me.” He snorted. “Hey, you remember — God. Must have been fifteen years ago or more. Before the Agenda. We were playing Grantham? Nick’s, I wanna say?”

“Maybe. We played a lot of shitholes and colleges.” Tad chuckled. “Grantham’s where both go to die.”

“Yup. But we didn’t. We killed. That was right after the whole Justice Wing Institute scandal, but before the Freya thing broke. I had a bit on Tartikoff, remember? About her and sex and patients and students?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do. That was a good bit. It killed.” Tad smiled a bit. “Jesus, you ever want to just walk away and hit the road like—”

“Shut up. I’m telling you something.”


“Whatever. Anyway. It finishes, and this kid — seventeen or eighteen? In like coveralls and a leather fucking jacket. He walks up and he tells me that he didn’t like it. And I said what you say, and…”

“Someone always takes offense. You let it roll off you.”

“Yeah, well. Anyway, this kid said ‘hey, Doc T’s my doctor. She saved my life. She saved my sanity. And she taught me everything I know. I don’t appreciate you mouthing off on things you don’t know anything about, but Doc T’s saved your life more often than you know.”

Tad paused. “He was an Institute kid? A student?”

“You could say that. I saw him on TV a few years later. Called himself Luis Ortega. Rip to his friends. Or Snapshot. You know. The guy who took out Urizen? The guy who saved everything?

“…holy shit,” Tad said. “I had no idea.”

“Yeah. Me either. But you know what? Scrawny kid like that in that dumb outfit? He’d have made a good SuperTube.”

Tad sighed. “Fine, Sut. We’ll drop SuperTubes. Honestly, that was in the cards anyway.”

“God, you never… you hear but you don’t listen, Tad.”

“Maybe.” Tad looked at Sutton. “It was a good show tonight.”

“Yeah, it was. It was good television. It’ll get press. The right people will hate it, loudly, and no one will think about where those jokes came from. And maybe it’ll even do some good. During the show, I kind of hoped so. Then I came back here—”

“Jesus. It’s Eddie. He’s alienated every producer in North America.”

“And Collette?”

“Collette needs to figure out who her friends are.”

Sut looked at Tad.

“Oh, what?

“I think Collette’s already figured that out,” Sutton said, standing up. “Always love doing the show, Tad. Lemme know the next time you want me on. Oh, but only if Collette’s here too, okay?”

Tad snorted. “God, get off your Dodge Charger, noble Paladin. Like Collette would—”

“I don’t care what Collette thinks, Tad. I don’t want her to find out. If she does, I’ll probably deny it. But if what she said in here tonight means you won’t have her back? Then I’ll skip. Thanks, bud.”

“You can’t save the world, Sut. You’re a comedian.”

Sut scoffed. “I thought that was our mandate. But if you won’t listen to Eddie when he says it, what chance do I have? Later.”

“Later.” Tad watched Sutton go, then shook his head. Damn it, no matter what they said, tonight had been a good show. The situation had been handled. That’s all he cared about. Now? Head home with Serenity, take it easy. They’d pick up the rest of the tapings tomorrow, he’d do the talk show on Thursday, then they’d already planned a hiatus. He’d pick up some shows on the weekends, maybe take a few meetings. Work went on.

Yeah, it was a good show tonight. One for the vault.

“So you have to understand, I love my girlfriend, but she’s… mm. What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh. Nuts.” Tad played off the laugh, grinning. “Seriously, she’s wonderful, but we don’t see the world the same way. For one thing, she was born after Lawrence was President. Seriously! Lawrence. I tell her about Jimmy Carter, it’s like I’ve described Warren G. Harding.” He waited a beat. “He was President.” He waited another beat. “Of the United States.

The Laugh Hut was a good gig. Tad liked to work clubs on the weekends. Longer breaks from TV meant touring, and that was always cool, but even during show production he kept some time on stage. It all came back to working the room. That meant you kept working, or you’d lose your edge.

“It’s not that it’s bad to be young,” he continued, letting the pace play out. “I think it’s great to be young. Hey, if you don’t believe me? I volunteer! I’ll be young! It’ll be great. I can be a spy for the adults, creeping around with stacks of pogs and fruit-bursting gum and getting the real dope! The skinny! The beat! Y’know, like the kids do! Kids… do… do that, right?”

There was another laugh — more than the joke deserved. That was intentional. You added a few near-clunkers. If they got laughs, that meant you had momentum and you could push. If not, you could double back.

“But you know, I kind of feel young anyway. I mean, I spend my week smoking weed and playing video games. I ate Fruity Pebbles at least four times last week, and none of those were breakfast. What do I have for breakfast? Nothing! Unless, well, I mentioned the weed, right? I’m pretty sure I mentioned the weed.”

There was an ear-splitting shriek from the audio system. Tad took a step back, looking around. “What the—”

“Sorry,” Jed shouted from the back of the club. He was the owner. He and Tad went way back. “Feedback.”

“Feedback?” Tad asked. “No, you put feedback on a comment card at Olive Garden when your breadsticks were unexpectedly limited. That was an attack!

Another laugh. Tad grinned—

Another piercing shriek tore through the room as audio equipment gave up on cooperation entirely. “Holy shit,” someone in the crowd shouted. There were a couple claps, and a lot of grumbles.

“Guys, give us just a minute,” Jed said.

“Little technical problem, that’s all,” Tad said. “Honestly, it could be worse. This one time—”

There was a third piercing shriek. Tad didn’t have a clunker ready, but he was willing to bet he’d lost the momentum.

“It didn’t sound that bad,” Serenity said as they walked up from the garage and into the kitchen.

“It sounded like Tweety Bird having an unwanted orgasm,” Tad snapped. “God, my head still hurts. God damn. It was a good crowd, too. Good for a Saturday. Jed had a lot of excuses, but Jesus, I don’t think he’s upgraded a thing for decades.”

“They still had fun,” Serenity said. She was in a Little Black Dress™, and had been the perfect arm candy in and out the club. Otherwise, she’d sat out front and had a good time at the show. “You’re too good at this, Goober. You can’t lose.”

“Oh, trust me. I can lose.” He poured gin into a couple highball glasses. “Tonic? Gimlet?”

“I dunno, maybe neither. I’ve been—”

“Don’t be like that, Serenity! Come on. It’s been a day. Have a drink with me.” He poured tonic, then offered one glass to her, while he picked the other one up. “It’s your favorite — ‘not fucking Beefeaters.’”

Serenity giggled. “Fine,” she said, taking the glass. They drank—

They both spat it out, almost in unison. “What the Hell?” Serenity gasped.

“I dunno,” Tad said. “It’s like they swapped the gin out with turpentine, then let that go off!” He opened the bottle and sniffed. “Ugh. Does gin go bad?”

“Whatever that was, it sure did!”

Tad shook his head. “God. Y’know what? Let me grab a shower, and we’ll order a pizza or something. Watch some TV?”

“Sure,” Serenity said. “Right after I Brillo my tongue!”

“Scrape well!” Tad dashed up the stairs. Hell of a night. He stepped through the bedroom into his bathroom—

The scream brought Serenity running. “Tad? Tad?!

“Look!” Tad said, pointing. Serenity looked—

It was his huge bathroom mirror… but it had a single, long crack in it, going from the very top to the very bottom.

“…what would cause that?” Serenity asked.

“How should I know? I’m calling my fucking handyman.”

“At this hour?”

“Hell yes at this hour!”

“…oh… kay,” Serenity said. “…y’know, maybe I’ll just head home.”

“Fine. Whatever.” He hit the contacts on his phone, and waited.

“Yeah, love you too,” Serenity muttered. “I sure did have a wonderful night. Thanks for asking.”

“Shut up. I’m on the phone— Mark? Mark! Yes, it’s Tad Gilstone. Well I don’t care what time it is…!”

“Damndest thing,” Mark said thirty-eight minutes later, looking the crack up and down. Honestly, he was less a handyman and more a general contractor. He got top rates, which was one reason he made house calls on a Saturday night.

“Yeah, yeah. What happened?”

“My guess? The house settled.”

“The house… settled?

“Sure. See, houses, they have mass, y’know. Every timber weighs something. Eventually that bends a few supports, shifts things around. Maybe even drops one side of the foundation half an inch. That adds pressure points in the walls, the ceilings… all perfectly normal, but most of that stuff’ll bend a bit and be fine. Glass? Glass’s pretty brittle, and that’s a lot of it right there.”

“That’s not a supporting wall!”

“Actually, yeah, it is.”

Tad blinked. “It is?”

“Sure. It’s one of the few walls that goes bottom to top in your house with almost no empty spaces or doors. Put near the center of the building, too. Of course that’s a supporting wall.”

“…so what can we do about it?”

“Do?” Mark shrugged. “Well, that’s not a standard-sized piece of glass, and you’ve got the brass accents there and there… yeah, I’ll check suppliers and figure out where we can order a match. Shouldn’t be too big a problem. They may have to cut to size, though. Might add a week.”

“A week? You can’t replace this tomorrow?”

“Of course I can. A’course, that means using drywall, and I don’t think that’s what you had in mind.”

Tad closed his eyes, his head pounding. “Look…”

“Son, say anything you like. Threaten me if it’ll make you feel better. But nothing you say’ll give me the parahuman ability to shit out mirrored glass cut to order, so understand, it won’t matter worth a damn.”

“Jesus. Fine. Fine. Get an estimate.”

“Will do. First thing, Monday.”


“Son, I make housecalls on Saturday nights. My suppliers don’t.”

“Of course they don’t.” He shook his head. “God. Fine. I need to get some sleep anyway. I have a thing tomorrow.”

“Oh, well. A thing. Sure. All right. I’ll call you Monday morning.”

“Sure sure.” Tad just stared at the crack. “God, why me?”

Another night. Another party. Serenity was down at the bar with her gaggle of ‘friends.’ Tad didn’t find them particularly friendly, but they were usually young and decent eye candy so whatever. This particular shindig was Wyatt Lane’s birthday party. He’d gone all out. Full orchestra — Wyatt’s buddy Gideon Byrne had crooned out a couple of numbers, and Wyatt had tried to do him one better. There was dancing and dealmaking and liquor and fun.

“So there I was, in the front of the room,” Tad was saying, smiling and affable as always. “And Sutton is staring out at the people like hadn’t, you know, defecated in front of the midnight crowd—”

“I’m gonna get another drink,” Sut said. He hadn’t really been up for playing along, so Tad didn’t mind seeing him go. “You can humiliate me on your own, right, Tad?”

“Oh, I’ve got it in the bag,” Tad said, grinning.

“Oh, I know you do,” Sutton said, before heading off.

“Anyway! So there I was, and there was Sutton, staring at everyone in the Night Train Lounge–”

“The Night Train Lounge?”

Tad blinked, turning—

Mister Anthony Summers. Good ol’ Tony Summers, star of stage and screen. Emphasis on ol’, but he had more money than God and more pull than he had money. “The Night Train Lounge, you said. So, what, seven or eight years back? More or less? Before they renovated?”

“Yes sir, Mister Summers,” Tad said with a grin. “Everyone? If you haven’t had the chance I’d like to introduce one of Comedy’s absolute legends. I didn’t—”

“This isn’t one of your idiotic basic cable talk shows,” Summers said. “Was this or was this not at the Night Train Lounge before they renovated? With you up front after your own set and your alleged friend Sutton Sheldon behind the mike?”

“Well, yes.”

Summers nodded. “I was there,” he said. “The man farted. He played it off well. It lasted a tenth of a second. I’d never have remembered it except apparently you like to embellish.

Tad flushed. “Well, obviously… maybe some other night… I mean, there were a few—”

“Bella Conover’s working for me these days, after she sold the Night Train. She works at the Domino. Coordinates the comedy rooms. Lemme ask you a question, Gilstone. If I got her on the phone right now, and I asked her about the time someone took a shit on her stage and then played it off as a joke, do you think she’d remember the incident? Quick followup. If it happened, do you think it’s possible she’d forget it?”

Men and women alike were staring at Tad, now.

“That’s what I thought.” He drained his red wine. “I’m getting a refill.”

“Uh — well, sure thing. It’s an honor to— you know, I worked with a friend of yours.”

“A friend?” Summers asked, pausing and arching an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Eddie Dell. We had him on the show just—”

“Eddie Dell?” Summers scoffed. “Eddie Dell is no friend of mine. In fact, I have only two good things to say about that prick.” He leaned forward. “The first is that he once tore into my writing staff and me alike back twenty years before you fucked up your first amateur night. He had apparently taken offense to the content of one of our sketches, so I invited him to get the fuck out of our studio. Over the years I have come to realize he was right and I was wrong. I would have fired him anyway, because there’s a way to do these things, but I respect what he did, even if not how.” He looked Tad up and down. “The second is that Eddie Dell would never flat out lie about a friend for the sake of a punchline. Especially not a stupid, shock-value gross-out punchline that literally does nothing but embarrass that so-called friend as some kind of pansy-ass leg-humping alpha-dominance shit. But then, Eddie has to hang on to all the friends he has left. I’m sure you don’t have that problem, do you, Mister Gilstone?”

Tad opened his mouth, but had no idea what to say.

“Yeah. Good evening, sir. It’s been a disappointment meeting you.” Summers turned on his heel and pointedly walked away. Tad realized the rest of the crowd was doing the same.

That headache was back. In fact, it was worse.

Tad shook his head and walked over to the bar. He was willing to bet the gin here hadn’t expired.

“God, what is taking< so long?” Tad snapped.

“A lot of people are leaving,” Serenity said. “They can only get the cars so fast.” She looked around. “It hasn’t been that long.”

“Don’t tell me how long it’s been! I know exactly how long it’s been.”

“Fine. Whatever. Hey, at what point do I get to rag on you for getting drunk? That’s what we do at parties, right?”

“I’m not drunk. And even if I were, I was working. This is a business, sweetcheeks. I keep having to tell you—”

“I got a gig, tonight,” Serenity said, calmly. “A Star Trek aftershow. Stream only, but solid money. Second-billed. Does that count as working?

Tad looked at her. “An aftershow?”

“Yes. You’ve heard of them, right?”

“I produce two! You went to work for someone else’s aftershow?

“Oh, Jesus. Is there any way to win?”

“Don’t you dare fucking ask me that,” Tad half-shrieked. “I’ve been carrying you for years, and even with me you’re still just a glorified booth babe!”

“No, I’m not,” Serenity snapped.

“Oh really? Really? Fine! Fine! You confident you can make it without me? Walk away. Go on. Walk away!

Serenity stared at him, her face burning.


“Fuck you,” she muttered.

“That’s right. Don’t cop an attitude with me! You’ll lose, like every other airhead who thinks cosplay is acting!”

“Hey,” she snapped. “Don’t you dare—”

“Oh, Jesus. Here we go.”

“You know what? I’m taking a cab.” Serenity stormed off.

“Oh yeah!” Tad shouted after her. “Am I gonna see that bill on my credit card statement? Huh? Am I?

Tad’s BMW pulled up. He turned—

There was a long, white trail all along the passenger’s side of the car.

“What… the… Hell?”

“Is there a problem, sir?” the valet asked, offering Tad his key.

“Is there a— someone keyed my fucking car!

“This is how we received it, sir.”

“Don’t you fucking dare tell me this is how you got it! Do you think–”

“Sir, if you have a complaint I’ll be glad to fetch the bell captain for you.

“Yeah! You do that!”

Ten minutes later, Tad was staring at closed circuit monitors, showing tapes of his car.

“You see?” the bell captain asked. “That was there when you pulled in. It didn’t change from there…” He sped up the tape. “…to here, where it was parked. No one went near the car after that, sir.”

“I don’t fucking believe this,” Tad snarled.

“Maybe not, but it’s the truth. And I’d ask you to be a little more respectful to my workers, sir.”

“Respectful? Do you know who I am?”

The bell captain looked at Tad. “No, sir. But I know what you are. Is that good enough?”

Tad opened his mouth. With a growl, he grabbed his keys off the table and stormed back out to his car. As he walked, he could feel the eyes of onlookers on him. God damn that valet, God damn Sut, God damn Serenity, and God fucking damn Tony Summers too!

He got in the car and pulled out, breathing hard. God, for this weekend to end.

Mark looked the furnace up and down. “Mm. Yup. That’s where the smell’s coming from all right. Looks like you had a bit of a fire.”

“How’s that possible?” Tad asked. His head was really pounding, now. When he’d made it up the stairs from the underground garage, he’d discovered the whole damn house was full of smoke – oily smoke, like a grease fire writ large. It smelled at best like scorched fiberglass and shame. Nothing looked like it was still burning, so he’d gotten Mark in. Fire departments got noticed. Notices ended up in the press. Until he knew what was going on, he wasn’t going to risk press notice.

“Could be a lot of things. Wiring. Insulation. Hard to say.”

“And how come you didn’t catch this before?”

Mark looked thoughtful. “Well,” he said, finally. “I’d say it’s either because I didn’t install this or because I don’t maintain furnaces in the first place. I did give you a list of qualified technicians for that sort of thing, but I’m not going to take responsibility for something I don’t work with.” He looked at Tad. “If you’re going to get upset, maybe start with whoever put in your fire detection system, since I don’t think it actually went off while your house was filling with smoke. For the record, I didn’t do that either. I remember clearly, since I bid on it. I wouldn’t have used those Rialto brand smoke detectors in the first place, which is probably why you saved a few bucks off it.”

“Why are you so calm about this?” Tad demanded.

“Mm. Well. I don’t have to sleep here tonight, so that’s a start. I’ll have someone come out tomorrow and have a look, Mister Gilstone.”

Tad shook his head. “Fine. Fine. Whatever. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Have a good night. I’d leave the windows open and turn on the oven fan and bathroom fans, if I were you. Maybe get a couple-three air purifiers tomorrow.”

“Thanks for the advice.

“My pleasure, as always.”

Tad saw Mark back out, then leaned against the wall and rubbed his eyes. The house smelled like a bad auto garage, and the haze had cleared just enough to reveal a fine powder had settled over all the surfaces.

“I’m going insane,” Tad muttered. “It’s the only reasonable explanation.” He walked into the kitchen, heading to the fridge. He opened it–

No light. And no cool air.

“…oh fuck you, no,” Tad said, opening the freezer–

The freezer door had a pretty good seal, if the water that poured out of the bottom when he opened it was anything to go by.

Tad just stared at the refrigerator. He then slowly closed the freezer and fridge doors, turned, and walked to the stairs and up to the bedroom.

“Morning, Roz,” Tad said, walking into the Riot Laugh offices–

He paused. There was no one at the receptionist’s desk.

“She’s not there,” Barb shouted. “She went to work for Cinema Fortune.”

“She got a job over the weekend?” Tad asked. “What about notice?”

“Right now? I wasn’t about to ask.”

Tad paused, then walked over to Barb’s door. “Right now?” he asked. “What is it?”

Barb typed on her computer, then turned the screen to face Tad. She had a video pulled up on VidTune. She tapped her spacebar–

“Don’t tell me how long it’s been! I know exactly how long it’s been.”

“Fine — whatever. Hey, at what point do I get to rag on you for getting drunk. That’s what we do at parties, right?”

“I’m not drunk. And even if I were, I was working. This is a business, sweetcheeks — I keep having to tell you—”

“I got a gig. A Star Trek aftershow. Does that count as working?”

“An aftershow?”

“Yes. You’ve heard of them, right?”

“I produce two! You went to work for someone else’s aftershow?”

“Oh, Jesus. Is there any way to win?”

“Don’t you dare fucking ask me that! I’ve been carrying you for years, and even with me you’re still just a glorified booth babe!”

“No, I’m not!”

“Oh really? Really? Fine! Fine! You confident you can make it without me? Walk away. Go on. Walk away!

Barb killed the playback. Tad looked down at the video’s description:


TAD GILSTONE: Comedian. Noted feminist. Misogynistic asshole! ON VIDEO!
My favorite part’s where he trash talks cosplayers when it’s clear the man can’t even dress himself! Or says cosplayers can’t act – hey asswipe! Any cosplayer who can convincingly smile while standing next to you deserves a SAG card for that alone!

“That’s… that’s… out of context,” Tad began to say.

“I honestly couldn’t care less,” Barb said, coolly. “We’ve had four cancellations this morning. So far.”

“Wait. How… how far has this gotten—”

“It’s the infonet, Tad. Remember? You’re supposed to get how it works. That’s literally one of your selling points.” Barb shook her head. “I wish that clip was the only one, but the moment it hit — remember Connie Adroit?”

“God, that stupid name,” Tad muttered.

“Don’t judge, Tad. Turns out she’d been sitting on audio of one of your greatest blowouts for a while now. Rumors are flying around. Nina Neal offered a statement of support for Serenity. The word ‘abuse’ was used in it four times.”

“Ab— I never hit Nina! I never hit anybody!

A clock on the wall ticked audibly for a moment.

“…oh, Jesus, it’s true,” Barb eventually said. “It’s actually true. You’re just stupid. All these years I figured you had to be at least a little smart, but no. You’re not.”

Tad barely registered the insult. “Why didn’t you call me? When these started, why didn’t you call me at home?”

“Call you?” Barb scoffed. “Why? What are we going to do, Tad? Have another apology show?

“…I… look, the only way we can get ahead of this—”

“No, Tad. Not we. I’m a producer. I work with you. Not for you. I produce television. I don’t manage careers. I sure as Hell don’t manage yours. Right now? The best thing you can do? Is go home. I sincerely doubt we’re taping this week, and I’ll line up guest hosts for the talk shit.”

“But we need to have a strategy, Barb. You know that.”

“Tad, the last time we did this I had to save our show. I couldn’t even get you on the fucking phone. This shit? Literally isn’t my job.” She shook her head. “You know, ten, fifteen years ago? You were capable of giving a shit about people. It didn’t come naturally, but it happened. Maybe I did this to you. I don’t know. The thing is? I also don’t care. I have a life, and I’m going to do what I have to do to protect it. Right now, that means you don’t come near me.” Barb smiled, very professionally. “Are we clear on our strategy?”

Tad stared at Barb. “I’m… I’m going to my office.”

“Don’t. Go home. Or anywhere else. I don’t care. But if you’re staying here right now, I swear to Christ I’m taking my name off the door and writing a fucking tell-all. Right now, I could probably get a decent advance for it.”

Tad stared at Barb a moment longer, then turned and left.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” Tad snapped into the phone. He turned off Rodeo Drive. “I don’t know why this is happening, Larry! I’m just — we need to call someone! Crisis management specialists or something! Damage control people!”

“Crisis management, he says,” Larry said on the phone. Larry had been his agent for a number of years. “Tad, we’ll do damage control after we finish finding all the damage.

“What do you mean?” Tad asked. “Did something else happen?”

“Do you remember a drunken rant at Catch a Rising Star about six years ago?”

Tad didn’t say anything.


“No one was filming that,” he said, slowly.

“Well. Turns out you’re wrong. See, people have cell phones, they take pictures or movies with them. You do a bit about it on your show, remember?”

“It was — I had a migraine and my medication reacted to the alcohol.”

“That’s a great way to open a statement. ‘It’s not my fault. I was mixing prescription medication and liquor.’”

“There has to be something — call… wait! Call the Harrier Foundation. With all the charity work we’ve done with them over the years—”

“Ah! Released a statement saying your relationship with them ended eight months ago and that they had no idea these problems were lurking in your closet.”

“Eight mo— they can’t say that!”

“Of course they can. You worked contract-to-contract with them. Technically? After the last benefit, your relationship ended. We just expected it to restart in a month or two, like always.”

“Why are you so calm about this?”

“Because if I get upset, I’ll say stupid things. I don’t like to say stupid things, so I don’t get upset. You might want to look into that.”

“…okay, how long has everyone I know been sitting on these helpful quips?

“I assume since the day they met you. I certainly was. Tad, you’re that perfect television personality. You walk in front of the camera and everything just turns to gold. So everyone was happy enough to work with you. They wanted in. I wanted in. But come on, who’s going to bat for you now? Who’d you ever go to bat for, when there wasn’t a camera there to tell the world what a great guy you are?”

Tad pulled into his drive. He saw Mark’s truck, and a furnace truck, both parked in the drive. “Come on,” he snapped. “How many people had their careers on life support until I had them on? That means something!”

“Yeah. It means you both got them cheap and had a favor to hang over them. Don’t get me wrong. It made you a good producer. It just made you a lousy friend. Look, give it a day or two and we’ll regroup. I’ll set up rehab or something. We’ll blame it on whatever we’re currently blaming this stuff on. Just try to calm down and maybe… I don’t know. Take up yoga.”

“Thanks.” Tad hung up, pulling down into the garage. Home. Thank God.

“Wait. What are you talking about?”

Mark breathed out between his pursed lips, with a hissing sound. “I put in the orders against the account you authorized. The orders bounced. All of them.”

“The same thing happened to me,” the HVAC guy said. “And that furnace? It’s pretty fucked up.”

“Right. I’ll transfer cash. Give me a sec.”

“Sure,” Mark said. “But I have a job at one, so…”

“Just give me two minutes!” Tad stormed back up the stairs and headed to his den, where he had his computer. He opened the laptop, clicking on the browser and…


Tad looked at the wifi icon. It was flashing. He frowned, getting up and going over to the living room. He reset the wifi router, then went back.


With a groan, he pulled out his phone….

“No service?” Tad said. “What in the…”

“Mister Gilstone?” Mark called up the stairs. “Should I be resubmitting the orders?”

“No! I’m having a network thing!”

“Oh. Another thing.” Tad heard the furnace guy snicker. “Well. Okay! Call me when you want me to resend the orders!”

“Wh— no! No wait! Don’t go!” Tad jumped up and ran out the den and down the stairs—

—just in time to watch the front door shut.

“…oh my God what’s happening to my life?” Tad whispered. He closed his eyes, and went back upstairs. He got undressed in the bedroom, then headed into the bathroom. He ignored the crack in the mirror and started a nice, long, hot shower.

Twenty minutes later he opened the door, toweling—

And froze.

The mirror had fogged over, the crack almost dividing it into two panes. No, two signs, since there was something written on both, clearly having been traced on the steamed-up mirror by a finger.

“POST NO BILLS” was on the left. “ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES” was on the right.

Tad’s mouth dropped open. He began to shake his head. “No. No no no… no!

The steam began to evaporate, slowly. The words were still there.

“God damn it, no!” Tad ran out of the bathroom and down the stairs, not bothering to dress—

He barely knew he was falling before he hit the bottom of the landing. Later, he’d remember hearing the fall rather than feeling it. Of course, the pain more than made up for it afterward.

“You should probably still consider going to the hospital,” the officer said to Tad. Tad was in a robe, sitting on those same stairs. ‘Detective Corporal Foster Harrison’ was on the card the officer gave Tad after he and his partner had arrived. That partner was upstairs, looking over the bathroom. 

“I’m fine,” Tad muttered. “I just slipped on a loose mat on the stairs.”

Harrison frowned slightly. “You did?”

“Yeah. You must have seen–”

“I checked those mats, sir. They all seem well secured.” 

“I – whatever. Did you look at the mirror?” he asked.

“We did,” he said. “And let it steam up.”


The police officer smiled, trying to look kind. “I’m sorry, Mister Gilstone. It neither looks like there was any writing on that mirror or that it’s been recently cleaned.”

“…that’s not possible! It was a message! It was a message from Leather!

The police officer paused. “From Leather.”


“To you.”


“About… posting bills, you said?”

“It was — there was a thing! When she was Dynamo Girl we got footage and — we’d made fun of her you see, and she’d said ‘post no bills’ and ‘accept no substitutes,’ and we’d picked up on that and then…”

“…Mister Gilstone, I really think you should go to the hospital.”

“Wait! If there was no writing, she could still be in the house!

“What’s going on,” Harrison’s partner shouted down the stairs. She’d been looking things over while Harrison talked to Tad.

“Mister Gilstone thinks Leather’s hiding in the house,” Harrison shouted back up.

“Why would he think that?” she called back down.

“We did an — there was an apology show!” Tad shouted.

“…oh,” the other officer said. “Right. Okay. I think I’m done up here.”

“All right.” Harrison looked back at Tad. “I’ll… go down to the station and we’ll check on Ms. Leather’s current whereabouts, Mister Gilstone.” He sniffed the air. “Did… you… have a grease fire in here?”

“It’s a long story.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sure. Don’t worry. You just relax and… you know. Go to the hospital.”

I don’t need a hospital!” Tad shrieked.

“…right. We’ll… be in touch.”

“I’m telling you, I didn’t authorize any transfers out of my accounts,” Tad said.

Stephanie Russell had been Tad’s banker and wealth manager for a lot of years. She sighed. “Tad, I’m sorry. We have audio records of your calls over the past week. All the online accesses seem to come from your house’s IP, and the ISP confirms that, plus confirms you’re three months behind in payments to them.”

“…that — you know I paid them! It’s — you have the records. You’re literally my bank.

“Yeah, only we don’t. We have one record of an attempted payment by check two months ago, but it bounced.”

“Two mo— that’s not possible. Leather — the show wasn’t that long ago!”


Tad closed his eyes. “Steph. Leather is doing this to me! She… she broke my mirror! And wrote me notes! Wait… wait, she emptied my bank accounts — call the police! She — she’s got video of me up on the web…”

“…Leather. The thief.”



Tad opened his mouth, then looked away. “I made fun of her once. When she was fighting Red Beast.”

Stephanie didn’t say anything.

“I mean, we—”

Page View Review,” Stephanie said, quietly. “Holy… I don’t know why I didn’t put that together.” She looked at Tad. “Oh my God. She was dying, and you made jokes about her ass?

“It was a mistake. We apologized for it! We apologized twice! Only now… now she’s… she’s destroying my life, Steph.”

“Is she? Wow.” Stephanie sounded… decidedly unimpressed.

“Steph, you have to believe me.”

“Oh, do I?” Stephanie took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you what. We’re going to conduct an audit, Mister Gilstone—”

“Mister — since when don’t you call me Tad?”

“Don’t ask that, Mister Gilstone, okay? We’re going to conduct an audit. We’ll see what we can find. We’ll reverify the recordings and the transaction logs and we’ll cross-compare to other banks where we can. If there’s the slightest indication of malfeasance, we’ll let you know. Of course, we’ll need to authorize an audit of this scope in writing, for liability purposes, so if there’s anything you don’t want us to scrutinize, you should probably figure that out before you sign.”

“Steph, you have to believe me!”

Stephanie sighed. “Mister Gilstone? Why would you want me to believe you? You just told me that you made fun of a girl being beaten to death — no. No, that’s not strong enough. A girl who intentionally took a near-fatal beating from a literal monster to protect innocent civilians. If I did believe you, why would you assume I’d be on your side?”

Tad’s mouth dropped open. “It’s – this is a crime! I’ve been robbed! And after all the years I’ve—”

“My daughter is parahuman, Mister Gilstone.”

Tad froze. “O… okay? She is?”

“Yes. She’s also petite. Roberts-Childer Wealth Management and BankOne of Southern California would certainly like to thank you for all those years of patronage, and if you would like to speak to the Vice President in charge of Wealth Management on either this matter or my professionalism or performance, I’ll be glad to put you in touch so that they can reassign your account.” She leaned forward over her desk. “But if you ever again imply I owe you anything more than professional courtesy? I will have to ask you to leave. Do we both understand the terms of our professional relationship moving forward, Mister Gilstone?”

Tad stared at Stephanie. “…yeah,” he said, quietly. “Sure. Whatever.”

“This really wasn’t a good day to ignore me,” Barb said. “I mean, for years when I’ve wanted you in the office you blew me off. One day I tell you to stay out–”

“God damn it, Barb. My bank accounts are dry, my phone and infonet service were both canceled for non-payment, my house keeps breaking, and Leather is trying to destroy my life! Right now, the office has a phone line and infonet, and I’m a little short on both of those. I won’t leave my fucking office, okay?”

Barb shook her head. “Fine. That’s fine with me. The regulators will be here at three, though.”

Tad paused. “Regulators?”

“Yeah. See, I was taking stock of where we were — you know, trying to save this ship before you sank it. Which is how I discovered… what, four years of cash being siphoned out of the working accounts? All hidden with shell tricks designed to fool me, fool our regular accountants, fool the auditors—”

Tad stared at Barb. “What?”

“Oh! Wait! Let me guess. Leather must have done it! Which meant she clearly started robbing you… what, six months before the fight with Red Beast?” Barb put a hand to her mouth in mock-horror. “Maybe she’s precognitive!

“Computers. It must be… a data trail or hackers… it’s not real, Barb.”

“Oh, of course it isn’t. Not when there’s hackers.”

“You have to know it’s possible, Barb! They’re super villains! They – they must have specialists who—”

“Of course they do,” Barb snapped. “Specialists who cost buttloads of cash to hire! Jesus, even when literally everything’s falling apart, you manage to have an ego.” She turned and started walking out of his office. “Don’t still be here at three, Tad. And never say I did you no favors.”

Tad watched her close the door. He turned and launched his browser, and began to check sites.

There was no question but that he was broke. There was no question that everything looked legitimate. And there was no question that everything but everything also looked suspicious as Hell.

News24 had a breaking story alert on Tad, updating in real time. Tad shook his head. He’d made real-time coverage status on the actual news. How was that even possible? Scrolling through those updates, Tad got a sense of what the public knew – or thought they knew, anyway. At last report, Serenity had given a statement asking for privacy while she sought counseling for systematic abuse. At least five people from Tad’s past had written statements of support for her. Tad shook his head. How could she do this to him? At least she could have warned him–

Tad paused. When was the last time he’d spoken to Serenity, again? When he apologized over the valet parking blowout?

Wait. Had he apologized? Or talked to her since then? It was no excuse if he hadn’t, of course! The least she could have done was texted him a heads-up. He clicked on his computer’s messaging app. He could–

Thirty-four unread messages. From the look of things, quite a few were from Serenity.

“Well… Leather got my phone canceled. I couldn’t get those,” Tad muttered to himself, though honestly he didn’t believe it. He kept reading.

Six female comedians had issued statements about their experiences on Page View Review. All six mentioned the lack of permanent female writers on the show. Two or three mentioned some locker room jokes or similar incidents, the kind of shit that happened in every comedy writing room in Las Bendiciones. Of course, saying that wouldn’t help Tad’s case. ‘Oh no, we’re not unusually sexist…’

“I’m a feminist, Sut,” Tad muttered. “Scrapr loves me.” Tad hadn’t bothered looking at Scrapr. He was already in a bad enough mood. He didn’t need to see the reblogs.

Beyond all that? Besides the video Larry had told him about, three other videos from the past had gone up on VidTune. In one he was caught using slurs. It was a British chat show. He’d thought that’s just what you did. They’d apologized for that one, but no one wanted to hear it right now. A second was from about ten years back – a political bit. He’d talked about burning the American flag. He’d been making a point about free speech, but again, right now no one would care. It just meant a bunch of the guys who didn’t care about slurs or women’s rights or parahuman rights had their own reasons to hate him. And then there was the one–

Jesus. The one where he was talking about his penis to a starlet during a press junket. A fifteen-year-old starlet.

He vaguely remembered that incident. He’d been drinking a lot more back then. He couldn’t swear…

Well. She’d been reached for comment. She said he never touched her. Thank Christ for that. She went on to say he’d been supportive, but that he’d spent most of that movie shoot drunk. Naturally, plenty of people had made associations between that old video and the new footage of Tad drunkenly berating Serenity at the valet station.

What was it Collette had said again? “They might see a pattern, and that would render those apologies meaningless?” Jesus Christ. Eddie was wrong. Collette’s the one who should have been named Cassandra.

Collette had declined to comment. Tad remembered what he’d said to Sut. How he’d said Collette needed to know who her friends were. He wasn’t sure if he’d been calling the kettle black or if this just proved his point.

News24 updated again with a pinging sound. Tad looked. TLN — the Laughter Network — had just released a statement ‘confirming’ that Page View Review was on hiatus ‘while internal reviews were being conducted.’ They didn’t give a date for its return. The same report quoted Barb saying the talk shows Tad hosted would use guest hosts for the foreseeable future, with the same ‘internal investigation’ line. She went on to say that Tad had already voluntarily stepped away from day-to-day operations at Riot Laugh Productions during those investigations. When asked if he’d still have production credits on their shows, Barb avoided answering.

Tad turned to look at the left-hand wall, the one between his office and Barb’s. There were pictures of some of the different names he’d worked with up there. Obviously he couldn’t see Barb through the wall, but he knew she was there. Hell, she’d probably made those comments over the phone while Tad was sitting there.

The desk phone rang. Tad picked it up, almost mechanically. “Hello?”

“Mister Gilstone?”


“Detective Corporal Foster Harrison? I was the lead investigator on your case after your 911 call, earlier today?”

“What — yes! Yes, of course! Did you find anything? Did Leat—”

“Mister Gilstone,” the officer said, carefully. “I have a request from the Fire Marshal’s office to get access to your home. They don’t have a warrant, so you don’t have to grant that access, just so you know.”

“The… why… why wouldn’t I want them to have access?”

“Mister Gilstone, a Mister Cory Madden of Valley Heating and Cooling contacted their office. He was examining your furnace earlier?”


“He had a concern that… there might have been signs of an accelerant.”

“An acc— Leather! You have a clue? You—”

“We… don’t have any specific suspects at this time, you have to understand. And… well, like I said, you might want to contact a lawyer before—”

“Why would I need a lawyer?”

“Well… please understand, Mister Gilstone. I’m speaking in the hypothetical. I don’t mean to imply—”

“Yeah yeah yeah fine fine fine. Why do I need a lawyer?”

“Well, you claim that over the weekend you got home and found the building full of smoke. At that time you reportedly called a general contractor who’s worked on your house but didn’t call the fire department. Between that and the failure of the smoke det–”

“Wait. Do you think… Why would I possibly burn my own house down?”

“Mister Gilstone, my partner… she didn’t intend to come across the past due notices, but you did leave them out. We haven’t said anything about them to the Fire Marshal, but when you invited us in, that gave us implicit permission to take notice of potential clues. Again, I am not making any kind of an accusation at this time, but you have to understand–”

Tad’s computer pinged again. Apparently the News24 story had updated again.

He ignored it. “Past d— what past due notices?”

“For your mortgage? Please understand, the Fire Marshal’s office will find out about your mortgage status from the lending institution, so whether or not we tell them won’t matter for very long.”

“My mortgage isn’t past due!”

“…I’m sure it isn’t, Mister Gilstone. Perhaps… this is more of Leather’s handiwork?”

“You — she’s destroying everything in my life!

“I know. I know.” He paused. “She’s currently in jail in Alabama, Mister Gilstone.”

Tad felt the world close in. “…what?”

“Arrested three days ago. She has a hearing on Friday. She wasn’t available for questioning, I’m afraid.”

“…that’s not possible. It’s a trick. It all has to be a trick.”

“I’m sure, sir. Anyhow. Do… you want to give permission for the Fire Marshal to investigate? Or would you rather wait for a warrant?”

Tad opened his mouth, and then closed it. “…no,” he said. “No, that’s fine. I’m happy to cooperate. Just… I’ll… have my lawyer call you and you can work it out. But not – I’m cooperating. I just—”

“Of course. For the record, this is time sensitive, so I’d suggest making that call quickly. Have a good day, sir.”

“You too.” Tad hung up. He slowly turned and looked at the computer. Apparently another video had been posted. He clicked on the VidTune link.

Tad watched himself driving his keyed Beemer with the top down. Driving down Rodeo, yelling into the phone he had pressed up to the side of his head. He saw a couple of teenagers jump back on the sidewalk, though come on, he wasn’t that close to them or anything…

He looked at the video description:


TAD GILSTONE: Misogynist and Asshole weren’t enough! Go Go Distracted Driver!
I used to think Gilstone was cool, but watch him almost plow down a couple kids while he screams obliviously into his phone!

Tad closed the window. He had to get going, anyway. It was going on three and he had to follow up on a couple of these so-called stories. Do a little research, maybe find a hole in Leather’s little narrative he could bring to the cops, then duck back to…

Well, duck back to his car, he guessed. Where else could he go?

“Where exactly have you been?” Larry asked over the phone. “I’ve been trying to reach you. Your phone’s been disconnected!”

“I’m aware,” Tad snapped. He was tired and hot after walking halfway across Las Bendiciones. “I had to find a bar with a pay phone. This may be the last pay phone in Las Bendiciones. Look, apparently my car—”

“Did you talk to an Officer Foster Harrison at around two-thirty this afternoon?”

“What – oh, yeah. Yeah, I need to call – I need you to call my lawyer, Larry. They’re going to want—”

“You needed me to call your lawyer two hours ago, Tad! The Fire Marshal doesn’t like to wait.”

“It’s fine. Just… cooperate with whatever they need—”

“That’s really not an issue, Tad. They got a search warrant one hour ago. When Officer Harrison called Riot Laugh back looking for you, Barb referred him to me. I also think she offered to roll on you for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. I’d say she’s a mite peeved.”

Tad felt the lump in his stomach grow. “What does that mean?”

“Do they not cover the Lindbergh baby in school anymore? Back in–”

“Hah hah. What does that search warrant mean?”

“It means they’re already over there, Tad. My understanding is the Del Mier Police Department’s also gotten a search warrant since then.” Larry sounded serious. “It means don’t go back there, Tad. Officer Harrison’s going to call me when they’re finished, assuming they don’t find something. Either way? Just don’t show up.”

Tad flushed. “Larry, Leather’s probably loaded the place up with who knows how much incriminating evidence. If they… we’ve got to…”

“Tad, no one’s going to be impressed by your name-dropping a villain, especially when they find out you’re at least twenty percent of the reason she became a villain in the first place. Double-especially when she’s apparently in jail in Alabama.”

“What? Wait, no, Larry. No! I did some searching online. There were no reports of any villain arrests in Alabama last week!”

“These things don’t always make the news, Tad.”

“She’s Leather! She’s a big deal, Larry!”

“Yeah? Well, four years ago, Red Beast was a big deal, but his arrest didn’t get reported, did it?” Larry sighed. “Tad, right now you want to stay clear of your place. When Officer Harrison calls me I’ll… wait for you to find another pay phone. But if you show up now, they could interpret that as an attempt to tamper with potential evidence.”

“Larry, where do I go? I have no money and none of my credit cards work. And my car–”

“Figure something out. I’m on your side, Tad, but your only hope is ‘stupid but basically honest,’ and we’re way behind on that right now so I can’t get caught lying. The less I know, the less I have to tell Officer Harrison if I’m going to give the appearance of cooperation, Tad.”

Tad took a deep breath. “I think he’s a Detective Colonel.”


“Harrison. I think he’s a Detective Colonel.”

“There’s no such thing as a Detective Colonel.”

“That’s what was on his card, Larry!”

“Do you mean Detective Corporal?


“Because that’s, like, the guys right below Sergeant. They have those.”


“G’bye, Tad,” Larry said, before hanging up.

Tad looked at the phone receiver in his hand. “They did report Red Beast’s arrest,” he muttered. “It was in the police blotter. That’s part of the newspaper too. That’s still news.” He turned–

A man was sitting on a bar stool at the bar, looking at Tad.

“It’s… nothing.”

“You’re talking about Leather.”

Tad blinked. “Yeah?”

“That’s what I thought.” He snorted. “My Mom? Worked as a jeweler for twenty-eight years. Diamond exchange stuff. Right up until the day Leather cleaned their whole place out. Working ‘loud,’ I guess, like that jewelry store from the magazine.”

“You don’t say,” Tad said, turning to hang up the receiver.

“I do say,” the guy said, clapping a hand on Tad’s shoulder and turning him back to face him. “They closed that whole branch down. Wasn’t worth keeping open. Put Mom out of a job, since no one wants to hire anyone that close to retirement. I was thinking about that while I watched you talk about Leather on the television. I mean, it’s pretty rare you know why a villain goes bad, right?”

Tad opened his mouth. “Oh… right. Um… look, I’m… I’m sorry your mother lost her job.”

“You’re sorry a lot these days, aren’t you?” The man leaned closer. “You know? My mom doesn’t like violence. She wouldn’t care for my hitting a man over her, no matter how much he deserves it. She wouldn’t approve. Now. I’m going to turn and finish my drink. When I’ve done that, I’m going to turn back around. If you’re not here, I’ll know you’re just as much a chickenshit as I think you are. If you are here? I’m going to assume you’re interested in a little recreational tussling. Then, if my Mom asks? I can tell her you wanted those teeth knocked in.


“I’m interested to see what you decide,” he said, letting Tad go and turning to finish his drink.

Tad didn’t take any time thinking about it. He just elected to go the chickenshit route, just as fast as possible.

Sutton Sheldon’s production company was called ‘Suttlers of Catan,’ because Sut was a giant nerd. Today, Tad couldn’t even muster the energy to roll his eyes. He just sat in the reception area, looking around. It looked eerily like the Riot Laugh offices, only with slightly different interior decor and warmer lighting.

“Could I get some water?” he asked, quietly.

The receptionist didn’t respond. She kept typing.

“Excuse me—”

The receptionist slipped headphones on.


A door opened, and Sut walked out. He was in a polo shirt and khakis. “Hey, Tad. Come on in,” he said, his own demeanor chastened.

“Thanks… thanks, Sutton.” He stood, shaking a little.

“You’re sweaty. Did… did you walk here from your office?” Sutton asked.

“…my car was impounded.”

“Oh. Because of the… cell phone thing?”

“I don’t know why. I just know it was gone and the impound lot confirmed they had it.”

Sut nodded. “Okay. Yeah. C’mon in.”

“Could… I get something to drink?

Sutton nodded, then looked at the receptionist. She slipped off her headphones. “Please grab us a couple ginger ales?” he asked.

“Yes, Mister Sheldon,” she said, giving Tad a look before getting up and walking into the other room.

“…she… was… ignoring me,” Tad said, carefully.

“Yeah. She fell kind of way down the Tad Gilstone misogyny rabbit hole earlier today. I’d tell you I’d have a talk with her, but c’mon, Tad. We’re way past me blowing smoke up your ass, right?” He stepped into his office, and walked around the desk. “Shut the door. Sit down.”

“Thanks… thanks. Sut. I… I didn’t…”

“Didn’t?” Sutton asked. “Didn’t what? Verbally abuse Serenity multiple times? Go off a few times in clubs? Set fire to your own house? Embezzle from your own company? Drunkenly use the words ‘turgid’ and ‘girth’ to fifteen-year-old Alyssa Gonzales on a press junket?”

“Yes! I mean… I mean… okay. The Serenity… things… that… okay. I’ve made mistakes. We all make mistakes! We all – the rules change, and I was drinking more back then, and… and Sutton. Please. You have to believe me. Leather’s… doing all this. Faking records. Breaking my mirror. She… I think she spiked my gin with that shit they put on Switch cartridges. And… oh God…”

Sutton looked at Tad.

“I know how it sounds, okay?”

“Yeah,” Sut said.

There was a knock.

“C’mon in!” Sut called out. His receptionist came in with a couple of cans of ginger ale. She set one in front of Sut and the other in front of Tad, then walked out without a word.

Tad reached for the can, then paused. “Uh…”

Sut opened his own. “Yeah, I’d bank on her having shaken it up.”

“Sut, I swear. I swear, Sut. Leather is—”

“Tad, I already said ‘yeah.’ I know. I believe you.”

Tad blinked. “You do?”

“Of course. I believe you.” Sutton shrugged. “No joke. Not being patronizing. I think it’s pretty obvious Leather’s doing all this.”

Tad took a deep breath. “Oh my God thank you.”

“Yeah, well. This is pretty bad, Tad.”

“…but you believe me. You — Sut… I don’t. I don’t understand. Why’s she doing this? Why’s she doing this to me? I-I mean… is she doing this to Collette, or Eddie, or you?”

“No. She’s not. And she won’t.”

“…then why me?”

“Tad, we’ve known each other a long time…”

Why me, Sut?

“Because you invited her to,” Sut snapped, his frustration finally breaking through.

Tad blinked. “What?”

Sut closed his eyes. “Tad? I felt horrible that whole day. I still do. Collette? Collette was stuck between what was right and still having a career. Eddie — Eddie, the biggest bastard I know? He refused to even make most of the jokes in the first place. He did Bowery Boys impressions and joked about the fucking park bathroom. He literally didn’t punch down. And all of us, we all talked about the shit we did wrong and were doing wrong all the time, and we all made it clear that we brought it on ourselves. God, Collette was right. I wrote some of that shit, and I can’t wash my hands of that. And we all felt that way. All of us, except you. Hell, you didn’t even fess up to writing the damn period metaphor joke. You just let Collette take the heat for saying it! Or did you think she forgot. Or me, for that matter?”

“What? Sut, I said flat out it was my fault!”

“No. You said it was ‘our’ fault. Everyone on that stage. Everyone in your crew. Everyone as one big collective pile. And you still kept tossing in little jokes. Little barbs. Even your direct ‘apology…’ you didn’t apologize. You joked about how she could rob you blind, remember? Huh? ‘Poetic justice?’ Okay, you said you were sorry the show ever happened, like she’d miss that fucking cop-out! Of course you were sorry it happened. You got in trouble and for once you couldn’t intimidate or weasel your way back out of it! Everyone knew you didn’t give a shit about how you hurt Leather.

“She… but why… Sut, she stole money, sure — but all the rest of this? Everything? What is she even doing?!”

“What is she doing?” Sut shook his head. “She’s punching down, Tad. You offended her, as if you began to be in her league, and now she doesn’t care how pathetic you really are. She’s punching down and you just get to live through it.”

Sut leaned back in his chair. “Tad, you invited her to rob you blind. You flat-out called it justice! So what’s she gonna do? Steal all your money? Sure, but who cares? Money’s nothing. You make an insurance claim and consider yourself absolved even while you file the police report. But she didn’t do that, Tad. She took you at your word. She robbed you. She robbed you blind! She stole your facade. Your persona. Your self-delusion. Your career. Your sanity. Your… fucking house! Tad, you put on an apology show after we mocked her risking her life to save innocent people, and you still made it a joke! You couldn’t even – you weren’t brave enough to actually go off-brand! You had to get the laugh and affect both caring and not caring at the same time. That’s what you always do when you’re supposedly being progressive, so I don’t know why I was surprised you did it now.”

“Sut – that doesn’t mean…”

“I don’t care what you think it means, Tad! This is what it is. And to cap it all off, in that same breath you ‘jokingly’ offered her exactly one way to settle the score, because you just knew she’d never do it, because hey – just a joke, right? It’s not like she’d actually do anything to you. You’re Tad Gilstone! You’re important.” He shook his head, again. “You called it justice, Tad. And even that was a joke. Justice was part of the joke. Well, guess what. Leather doesn’t think you’re important. Leather doesn’t think you’re funny. Leather doesn’t think you’re shit, because you’re a pissant television producer and she’s a fucking second tier villain!”

“Third tier,” Tad murmured.

“Not any more!” Sut shook his head. “Tad? Staying in some producer’s good graces literally doesn’t matter to her, so she didn’t have to swallow it. She could take offense, and when she took offense she took your life. But you know what’s crazy? Absolutely crazy?”

“What?” Tad half-whispered.

“You! You made justice a joke, so Leather picked that joke up and ran with it. She fucking yes-anded your life into the toilet, Tad! Now that’s fucking show business.”

“Sut – what… how am I supposed to… what do I do?

Sutton shrugged. “Nothing. I’m sorry. I really am. But yeah. She’s destroying your life, and I don’t think there’s a damn thing you can do about it. Not now. If you’d actually… I dunno. There’s just too much crap in your past.” Sut sighed. “And mine. And in all of ours. You think Eddie Dell’s past isn’t rife with this shit? This is what comedy’s always been. You said it yourself. No one cared if you were shitty to Serenity so long as you made them laugh on stage.” 

Sut leaned forward. “But they do care, Tad! They always cared. They just never knew. We’ve all spent our careers telling a huge lie about the way our industry works, and we all kept quiet about it. Maybe people heard rumors, or backstage shit, but if you had the look and the persona? You were important and so people kept their mouths shut. But now, ‘backstage shit’ becomes Quipper crap and Scrapr gifsets in like a day. Me? I admitted I fucked up, and not just with Leather. Eddie’s got tons of this baggage but he owns it. He really owns it, not fake damage control owns it, so that’s something. Collette? Collette can’t win any more than Serenity! But you? This was all just damage control and trying to get more quips calling you a feminist in the face of an egregious sin. And Leather knew it.” He paused. “And you should have known that. But then,  you didn’t even recognize her, did you?”

Tad paused. “What do you—”

“Great show!” one girl shouted. She was – what? Early twenties? Maybe.

“Thanks!” Tad shouted back. “I hope next time we won’t be fixing our own mistakes!”

“Oh holy shit,” Tad said, almost in a whisper. “And you recognized her? How? She… wears a mask!”

“It’s not gimmicked like those obfuscation glasses,” Sut said. “That was in the article. Out of curiosity, did you read any part of that article that didn’t directly impact your life?”

Tad rubbed his temples. “It was just fucking comedy, Sut.”

“I know.” Sut snorted. “And it turns out? Leather’s pretty funny.”

Tad paused, then looked up. “Funny?

“Are you kidding? Tad, how much money have you made off schadenfreude? Don’t pretend this isn’t funny. Leather’s a fucking super villain who robs banks and picks fights with super heroes as a media strategy, and right now everyone who hears about this ends up on her side. She’s destroying your life, and you’re still the bad guy! This shit is hilarious.”

Tad stared, then began chuckling. “You’re right,” he said, finally. “I’m sorry, Sut.”

“Of course you are. I’ve always been the guy who could actually make you realize you were being a dick, and you always end up apologizing to me, not to whoever you dicked over. Every time, I tell you it doesn’t matter if you apologize to me. Well, guess what, Tad. It doesn’t matter if you tell me you’re sorry. Leather’s still destroying your life.”

“I told Larry we needed damage control—”

“Damage control. Right. I dunno, Tad. If you hadn’t been you all this time? Maybe we could do something. But whether or not she’s framing you over fraud or SEC violations or attempted arson… she didn’t have to frame you for the shit everyone actually cares about. Mom and Pop Public don’t care if you stole money from your own production company or tried to burn your own house down. That’s just ‘rich people are stupid’ level shit. They love that.”

“Sure, but–”

“Shut up. I’m telling you something.”

“…right. Sorry.”

“Yeah. Tad? Hearing you drunkenly call your girlfriend a ‘glorified booth babe’ you were carrying and threatening to cut her off if she didn’t bow to you? Going on Cameron Murray and affronting up a storm because offensive language or slurs don’t count if they’re British!? And – I don’t even want to talk about Alyssa Gonzales. Literally. I never want to discuss that shit again, because ‘I was drunk’ doesn’t count as an excuse. That’s the shit Mom and Pop Public care about, and there’s no walking it back, Tad. You can’t even do the talk show self-castigation tour. This started with an apology show! No one’ll even book you for an apology set. Think about that guy in the bar! Your two choices were take a beating everyone would enjoy watching or getting called chickenshit!

“What? Wait, how did you—”

“How do you think, Tad? That video hit twenty minutes before you showed up here. I’ve already seen two different remixes autotuning ‘chickenshit’ while speeding up the footage of you hauling ass!” He shook his head. “It’d play on Page View Review. I can tell you that much. We’d get five solid minutes off it.”

Tad looked down. “I… she’ll get bored, right? Sooner or later?”

“How should I know? She flat out says she has no sense of perspective. I mean, Jesus. Hey, remember the Jack O’Knaves joke we did on that same apology show? You got Star to draw it and everything? You know if he took offense there’d be how many dead bodies on the floor, now?”

“We… we’ve done Jack O’Knaves jokes for years.”

“Yeah. We have. Because as weird as it is to say? It’s safe to do those jokes, because no matter how nuts he is? He thinks he’s show business, so us making fun’s part of what he’s looking for. But that still just means we were lucky.” Sut shook his head. “You know Eddie was right. A fuckton of old ‘SuperCellSignal’ and ‘SuperTubes’ supercuts are making VidTune right now. All edited to really punch up all the times we punched down. Hell, I was in the middle of drafting a statement of my own when you got here. I need to finish that so my agent, manager, and lawyer can review it and we can get it out there.”


“I’m not mentioning your name, Tad. I’m releasing a statement about all the dumbass shit I’ve done in the name of comedy.” He sighed. “But they’re going to ask me about you, Tad. I’m getting it on Quipper right now. I gotta answer them, Tad. You know I do. If I don’t, I fall in the exact same pit you did, and for that matter your own name goes another forty-eight hours in the news cycle. You know how this works.” Sut shrugged. “I really am sorry.”

“Sut, I need help.”

“Yeah.” He sighed. “But Tad, I have a wife. A family. And my own career. Honestly, there’s nothing I can do that can actually help you.” He sighed again. “I can front you some cash. And… I have a slot at Giggler’s. You can have it. Rayne won’t give a shit about the stuff you’re going through. It just means a crowd will pay extra to boo you. That’ll get you some more cash, and maybe give you a regular gig while… whatever happens happens.”

Tad looked at Sutton for a long moment.

“That’s what I’ve got, Tad. And… I’m sorry to ask this, but please… don’t come back here again. We’ll get you a burner phone or something, but… look. I’m already fielding too many questions about you. Like I just told you, I’m about to field a bunch more.”

Tad swallowed. “How… are you going to answer them?”


Tad looked down. “Fuck.”

Sut shrugged. “It’s what I can do, Tad. It’s all I can do.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” He looked up. “Seriously. Thanks, Sut.”

Sut nodded. “Don’t mention it.” He paused. “Please.”

Giggler’s was downmarket at best. Sut had his ‘standing slot,’ like he said, but even that had been a favor to Rayne, who was an old burnout from the road days. If he couldn’t use it, Sut let Rayne know in time to have someone else there, and the rest of the time it was a third-rate venue that let Sut try out new material as a live fire exercise.

Rayne, true to Sut’s thoughts, had been more than happy to have a scandal-ridden act, especially in a crappy slot. As far as he was concerned, an angry crowd was still a ticket buying crowd. His one complaint was that he hadn’t been given enough time for promotion.

Rayne hardly needed to promote. The joint was packed. And admittedly, it had been a while since Tad had worked this hostile a room, but if there was one thing Tad could do — it was work a room. He could get them on his side. He knew it.

Okay, he had to cut his relationship material. And probably celebrity shit and ‘the youth’ and stuff, but he had his Airplane Food set like everyone else, and a decent block of self-deprecation. That would go over okay.

So, there he was. Up on stage with a cup full of black coffee, a glass of water, a mike, a spotlight, a full house, and absolutely no one who liked him.

“So how’s your day been?” he asked, smiling a bit as he sipped coffee. “Mine? Actually not the best day I’ve had.”

“You fucking suck!” someone shouted.

“You killed Dynamo Girl!” someone else shouted.

Tad fought down the instinct to banter. Right now, he sincerely doubted anyone wanted to hear him explain that no, he mocked Dynamo Girl. “Yeah, that’s a good summation of how stuff’s going for me,” he said. “Understand, I’ve had rough patches before. Really, I feel kind of like I did when I was twenty-two. You know, broke, scruffy, despised, and desperately hoping RTW needed a talking head for I Remember That Crap—”

“Women are people, you sick fuck!”

“They absolutely are,” Tad said, pointing to the heckler and smiling a bit. “And let’s talk about that. Because honestly, you learn a thing or two when you’re suddenly the most hated man in America.”

“Don’t you fucking say the word America, you fucking chickenshit flag-burner!”

“Wait a second,” Tad said, suddenly cocking his head. Despite everything, the crowd shut up for a moment. “Something’s missing… Rayne! I told you to hand out tomatoes! Jesus, I wore my nice suit and everything, but these guys can’t pelt me with fruit? They deserve better!”

The reaction was mixed, but there were a couple laughs. Tad didn’t smile – not on the outside, anyway – but he knew that feeling. That feeling when a crowd began to turn, just a little.

“Yeah, I think maybe I should make something clear. All you guys out there who hate me? Hate everything I’ve done? Hate everything I stand for? Hate my stupid fucking haircut?” He ran his hand over his hair. “What is this shit? A stable time loop of school picture day?”

Still mixed, but turning – just a little.

“Anyway, yeah. I know you hate me. You know why?” He pointed out beyond the lights. “Because you’re smart.” He played off the reaction. “No, I’m not kidding – of course you hate me! I hate me! Dogs hate me! So hey, we have common ground! We all know I’m a dick–”

Tad felt a sudden spike of pain in his stomach.

“Sorry — I—”

Another. No. Not the stomach. The intestines.

“Oh God,” Tad whispered.


TAD GILSTONE: Explosive Diarrhea on stage (CW: explicit language, feces)
You won’t believe your eyes! This happened today at Gigglers! 2:14 if you want to skip right there!

“Yeah?” the guy at the desk said. He was sitting behind bulletproof glass. That was a first for Tad. Usually, when he checked into a hotel, the lobby’s decor didn’t use ‘demilitarized zone’ as a theme.

“I… have a reservation,” Tad said.

“We got rooms, so whatever. They’re all the same.”

“I… don’t have a credit card right now… or ID. My wallet—”

“Guy? We’re not that kind of place. Hourly, nightly, or weekly?”

“Just… for tonight,” Tad said. At least, Tad hoped he’d figure something else out by then.

“Fine. Forty-nine ninety five. Paid in advance.”

Tad pulled out a wad of crumpled cash. It didn’t smell the freshest. He peeled off three twenties and passed them under the window slot.

The guy nodded, pulling down a key on a plastic ring. He didn’t offer change. “Room One Thirty-Seven,” he said.


The guy didn’t bother to answer.

Tad walked down the hall. 137 was there on the first floor. He found it, fumbled a bit with the key, and opened the door.

A room. A bed. An old tube-style television. Brown and avocado 70s wallpaper. Bathroom to the right. Air conditioning.

Tad closed his eyes. He was trembling a bit. He stepped inside then, opening his eyes and closing and locking the door. He walked past the bathroom to the bed—

It hadn’t been visible from the door, but on the near side of the bed there was a large, battered cardboard box.

Tad stared at it. After a moment, he walked over, and lifted the cardboard flap.

Right on top… a vintage Super Famicon. An Odyssey II, in excellent condition. Two Dreamcasts. A Gamecenter 2 and Gamecenter 3. The gold cart Zelda. The gold cart Nintendo World Championships. A Sega CD. A Super Nintendo. Eternal Saga 5, along with the limited edition tchotchkes. Lots more game cartridges and disks alike…

Tad stared at the contents of the box for a moment longer. He dug down a bit in the stuff. There was… an envelope?

He pulled it out. There was some kind of thing inside. It wasn’t sealed, so he opened it…

Inside was a brand new adapter cable. One that would work on the television in this room.

Tad sat on the bed, looking at the cable.

“Go go Dynamo.”

Tad leapt up, whirling—

But of course, no one was there. No one at all.

As always? While some public events may have inspired certain aspects of this story, this is a work of fiction. No characters are based on any single person, no specific real life situations are intentionally being referenced, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is either unintentional or intended as satire and parody.
Try not to be mean to people. I’ll try, too. Thanks.
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