Birth of the Undead – Multiple Identities 3
Written by kshoo :: [Saturday, 08 July 2023 03:31] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 08 July 2023 20:55]
“Looking for something?” A head popped out from the cafe on the left. Medium-built with shocking pink-hair, the 30-something bronze-skinned woman had on a typical barista apron over a white blouse paired with a pair of faded jeans.
“Yeah, I’m looking for Capes and Costumes? But I can’t seem to find it anywhere.” The woman grinned when she heard the name. “You’ve come to the right place. I operate that shop, but it’s hard to just run a costume-renting joint. Lisa, can you please look after this place while I pop over next door?” A university-student-like employee at the till nodded, and the woman took off the apron before going across to push at the wall. The wall immediately opened inwards.
Following up on that name card from a few days earlier, Jimmy Olson had found himself at one of the older areas of Metropolis. Part of the industrial revolution that changed the entire country, the West Bayview area was in the thick of the action decades ago during the manufacturing boom, churning out everything from garments to weapons. Having seen better days, it is undergoing a slow transformation; many of the derelict warehouses and industrial plants are now being bought out and are either renovated or rebuilt, making this area into a mix of hipster and the in-between. The gentrification saw small hip galleries, cafes, even various artisans and ateliers pop-up, with the various small and unique boutiques available very much outside of the usual Main Street fare.
It was also here that Jimmy Olson stood looking about utterly confused, with no number or signages to offer him a clue of the shop that he seeked. Utterly confused that is until the barista next door noticed him looking all about and called out to him, and brought him to the correct shop.
It was like stepping into another world. Sharing half of a full unit, the entire place looked like a standard rectangle, extending about 80 feet towards the back. The merchandise were hung on rows of racks on the ground floor that extended on both sides of the walls on two levels. With the high ceiling due to its previous origin as a warehouse, an mezzanine area was also built and functions as a simple working office space.
“Wow, this is impressive. And very apt, for the theme I might add. You run this entire place by yourself?”
“Thanks for the compliment. We have costumes, masks, accessories and the lot. What you see here out front are the clothes; the rest are towards the back.” The woman indicated all about though sidestepped one of his questions. “These here are off the rack. Standard size. Anything beyond or requiring customisation will need a bit of time, and depending on your design and eventual budget in mind. See anything you like?”
“Actually, I’m not here to rent anything, at least not for today.”
The woman’s gaze fell. “Geez. And I thought you were going to be my first customer of the day.” Leaning against the counter, she asked further with her arms crossed. “Then why are you here?”
“I’m actually here to do a story actually…” The woman raised an eyebrow.
Jimmy quickly continued. “The Daily Planet is working on a piece about the latest boom of the ancilliaries linked to the capes. Heroes and otherwise. I’m helping to do the ground work.” Jimmy had wisely tapped onto one of the continuing debates that has been raging on both sides of the aisle, on regular and online media for the longest time. Ever since Superman and Batman came onto the scene, they too have brought along a fair share of allies and villains. For better or worse, this actually led to the creation of a whole new industry and used their presence and personality to market and sell their products. Based on the latest estimates by the biggest investment banks, this is now a multi-billion business with no end in sight. While a definite boon to the commercial and economic aspects of things, others have regarded this to be a double-edge sword, given that such merchandising actually marketed both heroes AND villains.
A fact that was quickly confirmed by Jimmy with a cursory glance over the various costumes available on the racks in this shop.
While a few larger businesses have tried to legitimise (or rather, exploited) the capes by both inviting heroes to events and even donating to their own supported charities, many more skeptical members from the police force have also voiced the possibility that the profit could also easily have been channeled into the coffers of villains. A new money-laundering scheme out in the open, some even claimed.
“I figured that doing some on-site visits to get the actual point-of-views from both the small business owners and the consumers would help. Your card was given by a friend of a friend who thought that this might be a good place to start.” The woman’s frown softened. Looks like a good referral is always welcomed. And the marketing too. “Actually, I can actually picture you standing over at this side of the wooden panel between all the costumes…if you’re up for it, can you please let me take a few pictures of you?”
“Really? Gosh…I’m not prepared though…” Despite her hesitation Jimmy saw the small glean between her eyes. No one can reject a good photoshoot, especially from a pro. Jimmy Olson prides himself for being one of the best in the business.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. The best shots used are always the ones that are most natural and candid. Here, let me…”
Fifteen minutes of following Jimmy’s direction and posing around the place, soon the woman was sharing about the industry, and her opinions on the going-ons.
“We’re just tapping onto the latest trend, you see. Like it or not, it IS a huge business opportunity with all the capes going about their business. For all the needs out there I am just providing the necessary products and services. However, we are very small, and competition is intense out there…” The woman who identified herself as Ellie, opened up.
“Are most of your customers these so-called cosplayers? I’ve read about many of them making their own costumes. Easier to adjust to their own size. While those materials cost a pretty penny, but the results are quite stunning…”
“Oh yes, and many still do. In fact if you ask me, many actually look even better in costume compared to the real deal. Many of them make back the money just by modeling the capes, you know. But not everyone knows how to make clothes these days. I’ve had a bit of prior training, picked it up in a vocational course previously, hence I can handle the customization which helps with return business. That, plus I tend to toss in little extras plus my charm helps me stay in business.”
“But of course there are those who prefer to dress up as those who walk on the other side of the fence…” Jimmy picked up one of the costumes that mimicked Catwoman’s latest black leathersuit, the daring plunging neckline making his heart skip a couple of beats.
Ellie merely chuckled. “Depends on what it takes to get people turned on, I suppose. It’s not uncommon for many of THOSE costumes to come back with…ahem, stains, despite me warning them to have it cleaned before returning. Now those…” Ellie rued with a sigh… “ do cost a bomb, the more I think about it…”
“I’ll say.” Jimmy was contemplating how best to ask further when Ellie turned a sly wink at him.
“So, your girlfriend into this too, huh?”
“Come on. The one who passed you the card. I assume she’s your girlfriend? I know the type. All prim and proper in their dayjob, but once they put on those costumes that’s when fantasies become reality. Or were those yours actually?” Turning around and walking towards the register, she didn’t see the confused look on Jimmy’s face. “Now, I DO remember her because she seemed to be in a hurry the other day. Had to do a little bit of magic to make sure that the suit fits her despite her shorter stature, but it still wasn’t as perfect as it would be, given the short amount of time I had…”
Jimmy was slightly surprised. “But how did you figure out that it was she who passed me the card?”
“Ah…each of our card might look the same, but whenever we send gave one out they are all unique. That way I can tell if the returns are legit, or are mere copies. We have such great replicas that many have tried to swipe and swap them with cheap knockoffs. So we have a way to identify the things the we send out and come back. And no, i’m not going to tell you how.”
“Right…” Jimmy wasn’t entirely convinced, but just decided to go with the flow.
A few punches onto the touchscreen, and then she looked up. “Well, when will you guys be returning it? That Supergirl suit was the newest that I have, and I have no extras for now.”
“Really? I thought you would have at least a few around here given her popularity.” And then some. Any red-blooded Terran males would immediately get a rise out of seeing the Girl of Steel in costume, while fantasizing about her out of it.
“Small business remember? Doesn’t pay to keep too much inventory. Still have many others around here.” She turned the tablet around and showed him the picture of the suit. Though it is a replica of the one that the real superheroine wears, but from the picture it looks good. “It’s a combination of lycra and cotton, making it stretchy and yet comfortable. I had to tighten it more around her top and hips to bring out her curves. I’m guessing it worked for you?”
“Uh…yes, yes, it did. Real swell. I think it’s going to be a while more before returning it. We kinda have a party to go to over the weekend…”
“Is it? Same advise. Get protection, and make sure you dry clean it before returning it.”
“I will. Thanks. I need to hit another place, but thanks for your time.”
“Sure. When will the article appear?”
“I aim to cover a few more this week, but normally it takes a few weeks for the writeup to be done. But there’s the editor that needs convincing…just like any other bosses I suppose. But hey, at the very least, I will send you all these shots that I’ve taken anyway, so that you can have it for your own use, for websites and flyers.”
Ellie gushed. “My my, that’s so nice of you! Let me know when it’s out. At least I can post those on Twitter and Instagram to give a shout out about the latest on my place. Anything would be of help.” Jimmy gave her a quick nod and a wave, and was soon on his way, turning the corner a block down and disappearing from Ellie’s sight.
Immediately after, Ellie’s face became serious. Closing the door behind her, she walked over to the counter and pushed a door to the side directly behind. Picking up a bag, she took it out and laid out the contents on the glass counter.
It was the same Supergirl costume that she showed Jimmy just now, the iconic bright red and yellow <S> adorning the front part of the top, complete with the blue skirt and the red boots. Quickly running her fingers around to check the costume, she didn’t see any problems with it beyond the familiar musk of sweat and some tearing along the seams. Fingering the card Jimmy had absentmindely left behind, Ellie closed her eyes, and a slight blue glow appeared where her fingers touched the card. After a while she opened her eyes, thought for a while before taking out her phone and called a number.