J. T. Underwood
Underwood giving his best Cary Grant smile
Underwood on the job
J. T. Underwood, formerly Jack Thomas, born Jan Thomashefsky
Justice. Underwood was a crusading reporter before his durance, and a crusading reporter after it. Whether it’s a corrupt executive that needs to be exposed, a group of privateers that need to be flushed out of Sunset Park, or an encrypted communiqué that needs to be delivered to the proper party, it’s his duty to make sure that the right information is there to help the right people.
Envy. Damn it, the guy was in transdimensional stir for fifty-six years. He missed the 1950’s. Underwood thinks he would have liked the 1950’s; he even would have settled for some of the early ‘90’s. As it is, he’s skipped right from the aftermath of a devastating world war to some kind of politically stultified economic meltdown parade. Also: everyone he ever knew is dead now! Whoopee. If you got to live your life the normal way, Underwood will find you very easy to resent.
Also, Underwood does not like getting shown up at his own job. Unfortunately, despite the fact that he is good at his job, this happens more often than one would think.
Apparent Age: Early thirties
Eye Color: Gray
Hair Color: Sandy blond, of the sort that tends to look grayish-yellow instead of brownish-yellow.
Skin Tone/Complexion: Very, very pale. Not studied goth-emo-pale, but just very Northern European and rather washed-out-looking. Somehow refuses to either tan or burn in direct sunlight.
Hair Notes: Straight, mid-century clean-cut, with a side part. Underwood’s sole tonsorial concession to modernity is using less Brylcreem than he used to.
Figure Notes: Underwood is taller than average and a bit lanky, with a long stride. He’s not in amazing shape, but he’s not out of it either: he’s just a moderately built, solid-looking mesomorph for whom physical exertion is not always the highest priority. Has a bluff, longish face that’s actually pretty good-looking in a white-bread sort of way; tends to look friendly or sympathetic without really having to try at it.
Underwood usually doesn’t type himself when non-Changelings are around, but when he does, it just looks as if he produces the finished piece of paper from an inside jacket pocket (or something similar). If he was wearing a bathing suit or something, this might look like a particularly elaborate sleight of hand, but the nature of the mask means that people don’t think too hard about it.
Clothing Notes: Underwood is as much of a throwback as he can get in this regard without coming across as blatantly unusual. Whenever possible, he’s in a suit: usually some shade of grey, though sometimes black, with a white shirt. Ties range from muted pastels to muted earthtones to patterned monochrome, but never pure, flashy colors. When the situation unavoidably demands it, Underwood may casual it up: usually Dockers and a sweater or polo, or tennis whites if he’s working out. Even in this case, though, he avoids intensely colored clothes – the closest he can seem to get is “washed-out LIFE Magazine advertisement with a half-century of sun exposure”.
Accessory Notes: As per fashion, Underwood can’t really get away with hats anymore, and customarily goes without -- he has a trilby or two for appropriate occasions, though. On a more regular basis, he wears a silver, upper-mid-range wristwatch, purchased way back in 1945. In his pockets, you’ll find his keys, a neat, black leather billfold, and a BlackBerry that somehow has a greyscale display despite being a very recent model. Underwood calls it Sparky. You’ll occasionally hear him maintaining what looks like a one-sided conversation with it; you just can’t hear the phone’s side of things.
Age: Born 1918, and in durance from 1947-2004, so technically 89. Not that he looks it.
Eye Color: Gray
Hair Color: What sandy blond hair would look like in grayscale.
Skin Tone/Complexion: Where he has skin, it’s what an average Northern European complexion would look like in grayscale. So, pale for different reasons, really.
Hair Notes: The same as above, stylewise.
Figure and Clothing Notes: Whew, daisy. Short answer: he is a typewriter man. Long answer...
Some changelings get abducted. Others apply for the job.
Jan Thomashevsky was born in Maspeth, Queens on March 8th, 1918; his mom and dad had come over from Poland with their respective parents, when they were still children. His was a close-knit, working-class Roman Catholic family; Jan was the second of five brothers, and one of the most outgoing. Graduating from high school in the top third of his class, he parleyed his newsboy part time work into a junior reporter position at the local Queens Gazette, quickly establishing a reputation as a one of their most driven correspondents. World War II saw a lift in his fortunes. Not much of a fighter but plenty patriotic, he signed up for the Stars and Stripes to cover the home front: while rarely overseas, he trawled the boot camps and D.C.’s corridors of power like a pro, and there wasn’t a military appropriations matter that he wasn’t an expert on. It was also at about this time that he changed his name to Jack Thomas – the better to get a more noticeable byline.
Jack’s father died of a stroke in early 1945; homesick for NYC and his remaining family, the newsman moved back to the city at the war’s end. Renting an upwardly mobile apartment in Lower Manhattan, his reputation was enough to get him an excellent position at the Manhattan Courier’s city desk. It was a great newspaper, and he was a great fit for it, accruing a good deal of respect in the local journalism community for his top-notch investigative skills and snappy prose style.
Here’s the story that took him down. It was early July of 1948, and one of Jack’s childhood friends called him up. Piotr Nowaczyk grew up in the old neighborhood, and was too skinny for the army; instead, he got a chemical engineering degree and went into pharmaceutical research. The two of them were close. They met at a diner in Long Island City; Piotr sounded nervous. There was something weird going on at Drummond-Prentiss & Co., the company he worked for. Jack would have to see it for himself – but on Sunday, when the plant was closed and nobody else was around. Jack said “Sure.”
On Friday, the Courier’s top story was filed by Jack’s 18-year-old photographer, a cheery Scottish expat named “Buddy” Sutherland. Fifth Columnists Infest Drummond-Prentiss! You may recall that the Berlin Blockade was going on at about this time. At any rate, the evidence was sound. Half of Drummond-Prentice’s management were taken into custody, under suspicion of being Soviet agents; the full details of the case were never released, and the company was shuttered. Piotr Nowaczyk went home and shot himself in the head.
Shortly thereafter, the Courier’s editors called Jack into their office. They had received a few pictures of him talking with Nowaczyk in a diner – Nowaczyk, who had been born in Poland, now an Eastern Bloc country. Hadn’t Jack known Nowaczyk all his life? Didn’t Jack know an awful lot of Russians?
It was strongly recommended that Jack resign his position. Buddy gave him a big smile as Jack passed his desk. Buddy had just been promoted.
Smarting under the accusations, mad as hell, and fresh out of a job, Mr. Thomas wasn’t thinking all too clearly when he read that ad in the classifieds. The office building was a dignified stone-and-glass tower in Midtown; the lobby was clean marble. The up elevator had a sort of “stylized intertwining art deco vines” motif, or something, in brass on the walls. Jack thought it was a nice touch. And while the stately mahogany boardroom wasn’t very well lit, the five men behind the table were very interested in him. They said they needed a writer. Jack said “Sure”.
The elevator did not go back to the lobby.
If there’s a hell for white-collar professionals, The Firm is it. Equal parts Franz Kafka, Gilliam’s Brazil, and Office Space, the realm is a labyrinth of windowless workspaces built on a non-Euclidean blueprint: keep following the same flight of stairs in an exactly vertical trajectory, and after a very long while you’ll probably be right back where you started. The corporation itself is structured in similar fashion. There are a truly dizzying number of departments, they’re all deluged in work, and they’re all interlinked by a offensively Byzantine organizational system, but none of them actually produces anything external: like an Ouroboros, The Firm consumes everything it creates. Sales pitches contracts directly to Purchasing, with Legal to write the paperwork; R&D develops a new financial instrument and uses the Marketing department to get Accounting interested; PR, without an exterior public to relate to, writes the company newsletter. Most of the employees cling to the illusion that they’re engaging in actual business with actual customers; given the prevalence of telephones, it’s almost possible to believe.
Oh: the décor looks like monochrome and tasteless had an ugly, ugly child; the appliances lag the real world by a good quarter-century; the lighting is too harsh; the atmosphere is either annoyingly warm or annoyingly cold; the coffee tastes like lead poisoning; and nobody ever sleeps. Ever. They are too busy.
In the mahogany executive suite, the lights are kept low. Five grey men in five black suits sit around a table, and supervise. When The Board speaks, it speaks in unison.
Jack worked in Content Development until 1974. He made too much noise. The Board decided that it needed a new typewriter for the executive suite.
In 2004, the first wave of word processors finally swept through The Firm. Underwood was already an antique, and now he was obsolete. Obsolete things – and obsolete people, the steady stream of catatonic or psychotic changelings that snap on the job – get dropped in the Shredder. Underwood was dated, but he wasn’t crazy, and firsthand mechanical experience makes a great saboteur. The steel thorns took a lot out of him on the long way down, but they weren’t spinning.
New York City in 2004 can be rough. Underwood did some digging, after he fixed himself up and got his head right. Apparently, “Jack Thomas” married rich and well-connected, managed to network his way through the Red Scare unscathed, and made a fine living as an opera columnist for 40 more years before dying peacefully in his sleep. Opera. Underwood can’t stand opera.
Now, though, Underwood is doing okay. Met the Winter Queen on the Bronx-bound 6. The freehold helped with a new identity, new friends, and a new purpose. Now, he lives in Astoria, freelancing for low-profile mortal publications by day and acting as the Winter Court’s information broker by night. If you need a message couriered, or a lead investigated, or public opinion nudged in the right direction, or a coded notice placed in an unobtrusive corner of the local alt-weekly – or you just want moderator access to the Hudson’s Rest message boards – J.T. Underwood is your man. Just don’t ask him to review your band.
Underwood is a friendly kind of guy. Thrives in a crowd; entertains your buddies; shows interest in your hobbies; asks a lot of leading questions. He’ll quickly turn sympathetic if you’ve got troubles, though: if you’re a sad drunk at the end of the bar or a waitress with family problems, he’s glad to be your sounding board for an hour. Now, if a really big story’s in the offing, he’ll follow it to Hell and back – when he’s on assignment, nothing gets between J. T. and the truth. He’s not looking for advertisers or pageviews, mind you: it’s the principle of the thing.
Underwood’s had these traits since before his durance, and there’s not much that’s ulterior about them: just a combination of natural amiability and good newsman’s sense. Since his time with The Firm, though, they’re a little more…focused. He’s more or less an undercover agent in his own life, after all – information-gathering can be a life-or-death prospect, now, and a sob story is always good for a shot of Glamour. You wouldn’t think such an outgoing guy could do Winter Court stealthy, either, but you’d be surprised. When he’s quiet, you could pass him on the street without noticing, and when he’s talking, he has a grifter’s talent for social misdirection: you may remember the hilarious guy at the party who got you swapping old police stories, but you’ll be damned if you can remember his name. Underwood may seem a lot like the old Jack Thomas, but look close enough, and you’ll be able to see the hard edges.
A few final notes:
-Underwood has done a good job of adjusting to the 2000’s, but not a perfect job. He still talks like Philip Marlowe, for one. Also, he was a liberal, unprejudiced person for the 1940’s, but he was also a liberal, unprejudiced person for the 1940’s. To his credit, he's consciously adapted himself to this aspect of modern society very well, though it's clearly taken some deliberate mental effort.
-Underwood talks to machines. Like, small talk. He’s most comfortable with purely mechanical items; according to him, computers sound like they’re showing off. Sparky is a notable exception to this rule.
-He smokes (Camels) with some frequency, and prefers bourbon on his nights out. Neither of them do much to him physically, as he doesn’t really have lungs or a liver anymore.
-In his spare time, he’s a dab hand at poker, an action movie buff, and a die-hard fan of the San Francisco Giants, having been a follower of the franchise since they were based in Harlem. He also has a surprisingly decent singing voice – of all things, Karaoke is one of the few modern innovations that he wholeheartedly supports.