Putting on a costume and fighting crime

Listening to: Chick Corea. Miles Davis. Kind of Blue.

I had dinner Friday night with my friend, Anne, whom I hadn’t seen in more than a year. She’s a long-time member of the Seattle Police Force, and I took the opportunity to tell her a bit about my new book and ask a few questions about how the Seattle Police work.

When I explained to her why I was writing about a superhero, I told her about Phoenix Jones and the question I needed to answer: What would bring a person to the point at which he/she would put on a costume, go into the the most dangerous areas of Seattle, and confront dangerous criminals?

“That’s what we do,” she told me.

It’s not the same thing, I quickly responded. She and Phoenix Jones were planets apart. But she insisted that, yes, it was the same thing. So I had to stop for a few seconds and think about it. And I could see, yeah. Okay, yeah. Uniform. Pursuing criminals. Putting yourself in harm’s way.

So I see it. And I like the parallels, but I would still argue that it’s not the same. What my friend has always said is that she became a cop to help people. That’s why she goes to work every day. I’m not convinced, though, that every real life superhero puts on a cape because he/she wants to help people. There’s something else driving them.

That’s what I told my friend, “You do it to help people, and the by-product is heroism. A lot of these people in capes do it for heroism, and sometimes the by-product is that they help people.”

It was a fortuitous discussion, because I could see a scene forming between my two main characters. One is Mallory, a captain with the Seattle police, and the other is Beth, a mother of two whom he suspects of being “Diana,” a figure in black leather who prowls the streets at night, protecting women.

This is what Mallory tries to explain to her. Why they’re different and why what she’s doing is so dangerous. He fights crime because he wants to make the city a better place for the people who live there. She fights because she wants justice. But Mallory doesn’t expect justice. That’s something else he would want her to understand, that there isn’t any justice. The criminals she’s chasing are bad guys, animals, who will never have their reckoning. They are never going to stare into their dark hearts and see the error of their ways. And if they can’t come to terms with their crimes, they will never be truly punished, and without punishment, there is no justice.

So Beth is risking her life for nothing. That’s how Mallory sees it.

This conversation happens well into the story. After Mallory has evolved from pursuing Beth as a vigilante to pursuing her to protect her. The confrontation would happen in the hospital. Diana has gotten hurt in a street fight; Beth has had a bad fall. Bruises, sprains, maybe a few stitches. Injuries that would take her to the emergency room. That’s where Mallory finds her and tells her she has to stop.

Interesting idea to play with, though. Policeman as superhero. I’m going to keep that in mind as I develop Mallory. Especially because the story opens in medias res, with him in the foreground. Diana has been on the street for a few weeks. He’s heard rumors of her, but she’s a phantom. An irritant more than priority for Mallory. With Diana in the background, I can work with superhero tropes to shape Mallory. Because he’s definitely heroic, just as heroic as Diana, but the media celebrate her and treat what Mallory is trying to do as routine.

Who is Mallory with the badge and who is he without? Who is his alter ego? What aspects of his personality does he hide from his family but come out on the job?


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