vf_dave_icon.gif vf_cardinal_icon.gif

Scene Title Thieves
Synopsis They're not all that different, when you get right down to it.
Date May 12, 2011

The Hub

It hasn’t been long since Isabelle Ashford set up her bar in an empty storage room in the labyrinthine sprawl that the inhabitants call ‘The Hub’. So there aren’t many ‘clients’ so far, the dim-lit room scattered with mismatched chairs and bar stools and a makeshift bar that mostly stocks moonshine and whatever liquor might have been bartered off scavengers lately.

One of those few customers is also one of the newest people in the Hub, and the proprietor’s oldest friend. Richard Cardinal’s lounging in the back of the bar, booted feet kicked up on a table made from an old door and body sprawled back into a chair comfortably. Worn denim jeans and a grey t-shirt are his uniform today, a beer bottle with the label peeled off cradled in hand (and probably not holding beer at all) as he relaxes, sunglasses hiding his eyes completely from view.

Hell, he might even be asleep, for all anyone can tell.

Music’s playing on a tinny tape deck that someone’s shoved an old Jane’s Addiction cassette into — ‘Nothing’s Shocking’ to be specific — that bounces off the walls of the makeshift bar, adding a soundtrack to the drinking being done therin. The occasional rhythmic tap of Richard’s fingers against the glass of his beer bottle might be the only sign that he’s at least not fully asleep.

The lanky shadow in the doorway isn’t a customer. His drab jacket is slate gray and a little too big for him, with elastic fabric at the cuffs and a brown wool-insulated collar. Richard recognizes a prison-yard jacket, recognizes the tan work boots, the ill-fitting jeans. He doesn’t recognize the man in the clothes, though, but he knows an escaped inmate when he sees one. “You know,” the stranger offers to announce his presence, “I’ve been in some dive bars in my time but…” he punctuates the observation with a low whistle, sauntering in with clomping, unlaced bootfalls.

On his meandering way over to the bar, hands tucked into his pockets, the scraggly and disheveled man surveys the bar, most appraisingly the sole man lounging at the back who he’s approaching rather than the bar itself. “So,” pale eyes sweep from floor to Richard. “This is awkward, huh?” He has no idea.

A single eye cracks open behind the polarized black shield of Richard Cardinal's shades, considering the man for a long moment. It trails up, then down, giving the ex-con approaching a once-over appraisal.

"Why," he inquires, pausing mid-sentence to bring that beer bottle up and take a swig of whatever terrible brew is contained within it, "Do I owe you money or something? We get in a dust-up at Riker's? That was a lifetime ago, and I don't even remember your face, pal."

"Best keep on walking over to the bar if you're talking some old grudge."

The blue-eyed man in front of Richard does look vaguely familiar. Their grudge is old. “Yeah, uh…” he scrubs a hand at the back of his head and draws in a deep breath, then slowly exhales. “You're Richard Cardinal, right?” It's a rhetorical question, he'd already been shown his photo. Eyes cast to the side, he looks at the empty bar for a while.

“Actually, uh, I guess this does count as an old grudge.” Sniffing and looking away from the bar, those cold eyes settle on Richard with a slowly exhales sigh. “Edward told me you were down here. Told me, uh…” the stranger scrubs a hand over his mouth slowly.

“He told me, uh.” David Cardinal looks down at his feet “told me I should go see my son.” When he looks back up there's an awkward and forced smile on his face. “That's awkward, isn't it?”

It’s just a little awkward, yes.

Richard brings a hand up, tugging the sunglasses down on the bridge of his nose to peer at the older man over them with a dubious expression, pupils nearly eclipsing his iris as they always do.

“My old man died the day I was born,” he points out dryly, “Not sure who Edward is, or who you are, or what his and your game is, but— “ The beer bottle’s lifted to point at the man, “I’m not here to buy any bridges.”

Still, there is something familiar about the man, and it’s enough to keep him from outright laughing at the idea, giving David a longer once-over even after dismissing that claim.

Making a noise in the back of his throat, David scratches awkwardly at the back of his neck. “Is… that what you— ” he looks away, turns away, starts walking a few paces away. There’s a tension in his shoulders, then finally he looks back with a haunted expression in his eyes. “Ricky— Richard,” David tenses at the slip. “Look, it… that’s not what happened.”

Breathing in deeply, David looks torn as to whether he should walk back over or not. He’s silent for a moment, eyes distant. “I was black-bagged by the government, or… somebody. Locked up without trial, I don’t know what happened to your mother. Michelle.” His jaw sets, works from side to side, and David is full of small, nervous movements.

“I’ve spent the last twenty five years in prison. The last two fighting to survive.” Coldness is all that exists in David’s eyes. “The guy who runs this place… Edward? He was a friend of me and your mother. I asked him t’take care of you if anything ever happened to me or your mom, because of the stuff she was involved in.” His blue eyes sweep to the side, staring at a space on the floor. “He made sure… you got adopted, or something like that.”

Then, quieter, David mumbles. “We were just kids.”

It's not until the name of Cardinal's mother is mentioned that he reacts. One foot drops down to the floor, and then the other in a heavy landing, and he leans forward slowly, arms resting on the table's edge. His jaw tenses up as he listens to the man's… story. Ironically, not dissimilar to the way David's own jaw works.

"You were black-bagged by the government," he says, flatly, "In some secret prison for twenty-five years. The guy who runs this place was supposed to take care of me, but instead left me to some nuns."

"You know, I'm— " He laughs, leaning back, "I'm trying to figure out your angle here, but there's no fucking angle to have. We're all dying in a goddamn hole, and money isn't even worth paper anymore. So if there's no angle…"

A rock forward again, and he's on his feet and swinging for the man's jaw with a good right hook.

Square into his jaw.

David goes down like a sack of bricks, taking out a folding table while he does. Hitting the floor, he rolls onto his side, touches his hand to his jaw and mouth, and then looks up over his shoulder to Richard. “Yeah,” his tongue slides across the inside of his cheek, comes back red. “Ok, that’s fair. Not gonna say I didn’t take a swing at my old man once or twice.”

Pushing himself up into a seated position, David works his jaw from side to side. “Nuns?” Blue eyes roll back into his head. “You wanna’ give me a second punch for that? I mean, I didn’t exactly give Ed a bunch of instructions. It was… we were drunk and he asked if he could be the baby’s godfather when you were born and…”

David rakes a hand through his hair, then pulls himself up to his feet. “The fact he ever fucking did anything for you kind of blows my mind. I… honestly, don’t even know what happened to you. Chelle was still pregnant when I got grabbed.” He looks down at the floor, eyes distant. “Ed says he doesn’t know what happened to her.”

If there's no angle, David has to be telling the truth. There's no point not to be. Richard's eyes smolder with anger growing off years of resentment suddenly kindled, staring down at the man sitting on the floor for a moment.

"I don't… I don't care if you were kids, or drunk, or…" His fingers relax and curl into a fist again a few times, and he's clearly debating going from a single punch to a full-out bar brawl. It's not like any of the furniture here is particularly valuable if they break it.

"I grew up in a fucking orphanage. Nobody wanted some criminal's kid," he spits out, "Lived through the system, ended up in Riker's, so I guess blood tells after all. And you're trying to tell me that this Edward asshole knew where I was to hand me over to the nuns but doesn't know what happened to my mother? Are you feeding me a line of bullshit or are you actually that stupid?"

He's a little angry.

A wee bit.

It’s all understandable, admittedly. “Look, all I know is what Ed told me. I’m— sorry. For what it’s worth. I didn’t exactly want to be bagged by the fucking Feds. Because I didn’t actually do anything.” Slowly rubbing his jaw with one hand while keeping the other raised as if a gun was pointed at him, David looks down to the floor.

“I mean, nothing they caught me for.” Blue eyes track to the side, and David doesn’t quite restrain a smirk despite the situation. “I was a card counter. The best.” Blue eyes alight to his son. “I got bagged by some spooks who put me in a fucking concrete well without due process, ok? They weren’t cops, they were just… thugs in suits, with badges.

Finally working off most of the immediate pain, David looks at Richard and wrinkles his nose. “You… did a stint at Rikers?” Blue eyes dip to the floor. “Fuck, I’m… sorry. Are you…” when he looks back up, David’s expression has shifted to guilt moreso than it was before. “Are you… different, too?” It’s weird to dance around the idea of the superhuman, here at the end of the world, and yet David does anyway.

Richard Cardinal stands there staring back at his father for a few moments, fuming, and then all of a sudden that fire seems to burn itself out. He drops back heavily in the chair with a solid creak of protesting wood, leaning back and folding both hands over his chest, lips pursed in a tight line.

"Yeah," he replies curtly, "Grand theft auto. Six years. They went easy on me 'cause I was just over the line, you know, of being a juvenile. Only spent three years behind bars, though…"

He brings one hand up, flesh briefly drifting to wavering darkness that wisps at the edges and then back to flesh and bone once more as a mirthless smile twitches to his lips, "…cause yeah, I am different. Good thing, too. Turns out you can't get sick if you don't have a body. You too, huh, old man?"

A lingering pause, "…and mom?"

David shakes his head. “Not your mom, no. She was just…” he dithers and doesn’t dwell on it. “Me? I’m a thief through-and-through. I hitch a ride on people’s senses, see what they see, feel what they feel. I figured you’d have something similar.” There’s a crease of David’s brows, and he looks down to his feet, smiling at this awkward moment of catching up.

“Bunch’a weirdos.” David half-heartedly jokes, looking Richard up and down. “Christ, I’m— glad you’re ok. This whole fucking world gone to shit, and somehow this is where I manage to find my fucking kid.” Blue eyes avert again, and David scrubs a hand over his mouth and sighs into his palm. “World’s a hell of a fucking joke, isn’t it?”

"Maybe not so different, then. I steal their shit, you steal their senses…" A smirk from Richard, and he reaches a hand to rake back through his hair and scrub at the back of his head a bit, "Yeah. It's— it's a hell of a fucking joke."

A deep breath's drawn in, and exhaled, and he looks at David for a long moment before jerking his head to a chair, "Fine. Pull up a chair and tell me who the fuck you and my mother were, then, since I don't got any damn clue."

"Brenda! Set my dad up with a glass of something that won't kill him."

Just coming in from the back, looking down at a crumpled note in her hand, Brenda eyes Richard. “Your what?” She looks at David and then cracks up laughing and shakes her head and ducks under the bar, pulling out a bottle of Isabelle’s god-awful moonshine. She pours two fingers of that and then slides it down to David.

Picking up the glass, David sniffs at it and then looks over to Richard. “I’ll drink this after, in case it’s cyanide.”

"I mean…" Cardinal looks at the shot glass for a moment, a smirk twitching to his lips, "It's probably not that far off, to be honest. I'm not sure where Izzy makes it, but it's probably in a toilet." The chance that he's being literal is likely somewhere around fifty-fifty.

He takes a swig of whatever's in his bottle, then, motioning with it towards David, "So. Talk, old man."

Brows lifted and shoulders slacked, David leans against the bar and stares down into the contents of his glass. “I’m honestly not even sure where to begin. Um,” David’s brows furrow in thought. “I was born in Chicago, family moved out to Kansas when my dad lost his job. He started work at a garage — he was a mechanic.” David looks up to Richard, momentarily quiet, then looks back down to the bartop.

“I met your mother when I was sixteen, she was two years older than me and sharp as a knife.” As David talks, he toys with his glass. “She’d just graduated, had a deferred year before college. We hit it off, somehow. She was going to go to MIT. I figured we’d have one good summer together…”

Breathing in deeply, David taps his fingers on the brim of the glass. “She went off to college, came back in the summer and it was like we never let off. We did that for four years.” David’s eyes flick left and right, vision unfocused and a haunted look crossing his face. “One year I just left my job at the garage, went out and visited her in Mass.”

“Met one of her college buddies, Ed.” David jerks his head to the door, indicating that it’s that Ed. “We all hit it off. Ed was a great guy, really huge fucking nerd, but just reliable. He was a good friend. When you mom finished school, she moved back to Kansas so we could be together. Had a research grant for some science thing or another…” David picks up the glass and downs the turpentine-flavored swill, hissing audibly afterward.

That doesn’t sound like a complete story.

Richard affects a bit of disinterest in the explanation, sipping from his beer bottle of something horrible — but behind those near-opaque lenses he's watching David's face with sharp focus, devouring every word.

"Ed… that's the guy that runs things around here?" Oh, sure, there's a lot of talk about the President, but the Hub's a lot like a prison ward. Cardinal could figure out who was really in charge pretty quickly.

He tilts the bottle towards David, then, "Kansas, big state for science I take it?" There may be a bit of doubt there. He can tell there's something missing, being held back.

“It’s not.” David admits, still clearing his throat after drinking that — generously — bathtub moonshine. “Your mom left a good opportunity in Cambridge to stay in Kansas and study independently. There was a research institute that tried to recruit her out of college, but…” David shrugs. “She wanted t’be with me.” It’s as if he can’t really understand that.

Scrubbing a hand at his cheek, David breathes in deeply and starts rolling the empty shot glass around in his hands. “So, your mom did her research with Ed and this other work friend of hers, someone Ed knew. They used a facility at the University of Kansas, real Weird Science stuff. Right over my head, but,” David smiles, wearily. “Her brilliance was what I loved about her.”

Scratching the back of his head, David scrubs one hand over his mouth. “June of 82 rolled around, and that’s when I got black-bagged. I… didn’t even know your mother was pregnant.” Which is unusual, because that would’ve been the month Richard was born, and he should have been able to see she was pregnant. “Ed told me the rest. Sometime after I disappeared, the government seized their research, arrested your mother. Ed ran, never stopped running. Probably was the same people that black-bagged me.”

Eyes distant, David stares down into the empty glass. “Ed says he doesn’t know if she was alive or dead after the feds took her. That he hid you in the system, ‘cause he was afraid the feds would try and take you away. That they’d come for him.” He’s quiet again, stopped playing with the glass. Just still and distant. “Probably not what you wanted to hear.”

It's all a completely reasonable story. The older man's uncertainty why he was loved by someone he later lost. The research. The kidnapping, the arrest, the hiding of the child in the system. It's all completely reasonable.

That one detail, though…

Richard brings one hand up, fingers rubbing between his eyes, pushing those shades up slightly. "June 18th," he says quietly, "Nineteen eighty two. That's the date on my birth certificate, old man. You sure that's the story you want to go with? I mean, either my mother was so fat that you couldn't tell she was nine months pregnant, or she was one of us with the secret ability of a dimensional womb."

Somehow he doubts either of those possibilities.

David looks up at Richard, one brow raised. “Your birthdate says who?” He sets the glass down on the bartop. “The guy who hid you in a foster system to keep some fucking spooks from finding you, or the foster-system who maybe wasn’t even told when your birth date was and had to guess?

With a roll of one shoulder, David turns around and puts his back against the bar, propping his elbows up on it. “Your mom never told me she was pregnant, and she didn’t look it. So,” David looks down at the ground. “But you look like her, and I think you’ve got my nose. And it’s not like she and I weren’t— ” he stops there.

“We’re sitting under a fucking power plant, hiding from a virus that turns people into cranberry jelly,” David waves one hand in the air flippantly. “A screwed up birthdate’s the least weird thing I’ve heard in a long time…”

"Hnm." Richard Cardinal looks at David Cardinal for a long moment, before with a snort he allows, "Guess it doesn't fuckin' matter a lot. World's gone. All that shit's gone with it… and it's not like there could be any sort of game you're playing here, unless you think I can somehow keep you alive."

"So. Guess we'll just have to accept both our stories for what they are, old man, and assume it's all true. Even if you did just add almost a year to my age. Might need a walker at this rate," he quips, before finishing off the last of the drink and thumping the bottle down on the table. "So." The empty bottle's stared at for long moments, then he looks up, "What now?"

“Don't know,” David says with a distant expression. “Ed says he's working on a plan, he's got the President and that seems nice. But it all feels like smoke and fucking mirrors.” David looks back at Richard, frowning slightly. “Find a son I never knew I had at the end of the world. I guess that's just how these things fucking go.”

David looks back to the bar, pushes the glass he'd had aside. “I don't expect you wanna play catch, do you?” David arches a brow, then cracks a smile and awkwardly laughs while shaking his head.

“Fuck this whole stupid, small world.”

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