“Because….” I looked off, down the street. “Because we live with you. Your kind. The heroes and the villains. We live with you and we thrill with you and sometimes we’re entertained by you and sometimes we’re terrified by you, but we don’t understand you. Not always.” I put my hands in my pockets. “Barbara Babcock’s a better reporter than I’ll ever be, but that’s just it. She reports on what Paragon and the rest of you do. Not on who you are. This… this is a chance to write about who you are.” I shrugged. “That’s too important to blow on a puff piece drooling over Leather in a PVC leotard.”
So, Leather’s just wrong?”
“Mm.” He leaned back. “She’s wrong headed. In a number of ways, really, but I’m thinking of a specific kind of thing, here. We don’t need villains to be heroes… but some villains like her? They need us to need them.”
“It’s how she sleeps at night. She wants to steal anything she likes without any consequences for it. She wants a certain standard of living. She wants to make the evening news. And she wants someone else to pay for it. But… she pretends to have a conscience. Not to you or me, mind. She’s deceiving herself. She knows that she should feel guilty unless she can find some justification. And what better justification than literally making heroes possible? If she decides she’s enabling heros to be heroic, then she can satisfy that fake conscience. Heroes inspire people and save lives but only so long as villains like her make heroes possible in the first place. Having settled that, she can go out and steal anything she wants and still sleep like a baby.” He shook his head. “That 'help?' I do not need, did not ask for, and vehemently oppose. Is that unambiguous enough for your purposes, Mister Chapman?”
"...whoever she was, she wasn’t a Steve. She clearly wasn’t a Steve. So you didn’t lie to me. I get that.” She took a breath. “Was it a good offer?”
“Amazing offer. You couldn’t match it.”
“Yeah, well. How screwed are you, now?”
He laughed, slightly. “Pretty screwed.”
“Hey spiky!” Leather shouted, tearing the box open and aside and lifting the Mountbatten Urn where it could be clearly seen. “Is this what you’re looking for? Huh?”
Darkhood skidded to a stop. “Leather! Put that down – gently! We can talk about this!”
“Yeah, about that? So not my style!” She giggled. “Think fast!”
I stared, my hands working my camera almost mechanically, as Leather did a forward in-air roll and flung the priceless urn out and away from herself, far over Darkhood’s head.
“You change your circumstances, so you change your role. You wear a different face.” The Steve took a deep breath. “I do it all the time. Every time I head into the field, I’m somebody else.”
“I can’t imagine that,” the blond said. “Just… flipping like that.”
“Sure you can,” the Steve said. “When you call your grandmother, your whole attitude changes — you even get more of a southern accent.”
“Well… sure… but—“
“We all do it. Everyone does. I just… do it more completely. And every Cowl or Cape and every Crook who keeps a secret identity does it every day. The masks are external. The change is internal.”
"I know you don’t care. I know that. You’re a Crook — you don’t have to give a damn about my feelings but you’re always just—“ He shuddered again. “I know I’m fired. I don’t care. But I can’t — not today, okay? I just can’t play along today, all right?"
“I’m sorry, maybe I never explained something to you,” Leather hissed. “You don’t add people to my plan without telling me!”
"...Chapman’s not babbling. He’s asking questions. He won’t stop asking questions.”
“Isn’t that literally what an interviewer does?” the brown haired bagman asked.
“No. An interviewer follows a script — maybe digging a bit deep here and there, but not too much. All he wants are easy answers he can write up to everyone’s satisfaction. You read a couple’a issues of Amplifer, right? Those things are PR. We talked about this. There’s never surprises.”
“And Chapman’s asking questions.” Marco was frowning. “He isn’t putting together a breezy little five page publicity exercise. He’s trying to understand. He’s actively trying to understand.”
The Steve was frowning. “Marco’s right,” he said. “He’s…”
Pieces fell into place. “Oh shit, he’s a journalist,” the Steve said, softly.
“Four henches?” Chapman looked around, then looked right at the Steve. He clearly hadn’t even noticed the Steve was in the room before now.
“Yeah, he’s on the job tonight too. He’s Steve.”
“His name’s Steve?”
“His job’s Steve. Every job needs a Steve.”
“One day?” Marco asked. He paused. “Oh shit, you got a bite.”
“A bite?” the brown haired bagman asked.
Leather beamed. “Yes I did, Marco! Yes I did! That brings me to the next item on the agenda…
“Or sometimes it’s just… it’s just what they do, and I have no idea why. I mentioned Bandolier? He loves Paramount City. And he really wants to kill the Beacon, but he’s also… he’s a friend and I don’t want to bag on him, but he’s… protective of her. He hates her but doesn’t want to hear shit about her. I know it’s not sexual or romantic or stalker-twisted-things-its-romantic. I just don’t know what it actually is. It’s like… rival baseball teams, only it’s a hero and villain and the villain builds a lot of deathtraps.”
“Look, I know it’s vigilante justice, but there’s a right way and a wrong way, you know? I can’t just go crack skulls because they might be selling drugs. I have to have more than that. If I don’t, then there’s too much of a chance of screwing up – of hurting someone because I don’t like their looks. There are words for that, and I don’t like those words at all. Nuh-uh. No thank you.”