A Staleness In The Air



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Scene Title A Staleness in the Air
Synopsis When searching for a father, Colette Nichols instead finds her life further spiraling out of control.
Date December 8, 2010

Le Rivage

Out of Order.

The sign is an unsurprising familiarity to Colette Nichols. Beyond the entrance of the Le Rivage apartment building, a notice about the elevators remains tilted at the same angle Colette remembers seeing it when last she was here. In part, it makes it feel as though no time at all has passed since she dared come to see her father. In reality, it has been months since anything other than fleeting phone calls or a passing text message have come between the two. Her birthday was the last day Colette saw Judah, and so many has happened since Halloween.

Already unzipping her leather jacket, Colette loosens her scarf and tries to take as much advantage of the heated halls as she can. It's been so cold as of late, and crossing from Staten Island to the mainland was a firm reminder of why she hates traveling on the water in winter months. Nose and ears redened, shoulders hunched forward and fingers cold even within the leather sheathe of her gloves she's hoping for at the very least a warm reception by Judah Demsky.

Warm enough at least, until she tells him what happened on the 8th of November.

Turning the corner down the hall towards apartment 109, Colette's booted feet clunk softly across the tiled floor, past rows of quiet doors and unoccupied tenements. Ultimately, its her arrival at the door at the end of the hall that has her stomach tightening into a knot. Telling Sable what happened to Tamara was hard enough, and she wielded that explanation with the intent to hurt, with the intent to push her away. Colette doesn't have that option with Judah, would never have that option. He's one of the few people in her life that — even in her darkest moods — she wouldn't try to push out entirely.

Keys jingle when she takes them out of her pocket, click and rattle in the lock of the door. Coming home is supposed to be easy, but when that key turns in the door Colette can't help but feel a twist of anxiety in her stomach. She failed Tamara, and herself, in her own eyes.

Would Judah see her as a failure too?

This is a question that Colette may never receive an answer to.

The first thing she notices is the stale quality of the air in her father's apartment, and there's a moment or two where she's standing on the threshold where she might be able to pass it off as her not being able to remember what the apartment smells like, but the sequence of realizations that come next eliminate any doubt.

Something here is very wrong.

The calender on the side of the fridge still reads November, the little square box with the number eight in the corner circled in thick black marker with the initials C.D. and N.N. written across the bottom with an arrow joining them.

A fine layer of dust has settled over the television screen, and Judah's leather jacket is draped over the back of the couch. In this weather, he would not leave home without it. His bed is unmade, sheets tousled, comforter in a loose pile at its foot.

A little red light blinks on his answering machine in the kitchen, indicating that it is full.

Uncertainty immediately paints itself across Colette's face. Mismatched eyes flick left and right inside of the apartment as her narrow frame begins to pale, color fading away to what starts to look like a black and white impression of her, before losing all value of light and dark too as she bleeds invisibly into the background of the apartment.

The door slowly, quietly, swings shut and the lock is turned along with the deadbolt. The sound of her own breath sudders noisily in her ears as she treads across the floor with more caution now, trying to minimize the report of her normally noisy footfalls.

She hesitates, glancing over the answering machine, then turns to look around the living room. A catch of the reflection on the television screen, her own image absent in the scenery. Her fingers curl up, tight, against her palms with creak of glove leather.

Turning back around, Colette warily treads over to the answering machine, that strobe of red creating an anxious knot in her stomach. One quick look is shot over her shoulder, as if she were expecting to see Judah there at any moment, before she turns back to the blinking light, and presses play.

The first message is dated the eighth, and starts out with the sound of a television playing in the background, tinny sirens audible over voices straining to be heard over one another, and although the one that's loudest Colette does not recognize because she's never heard it before, there's something familiar about it's rough, gravelly quality. "Of course he's all right, he was always a smart boy— Judah? Judah! Pick up the phone. If anybody's there— Colette— please— someone. Your mother and I have the news on. If you're there, pick up the fucking phone for God's sake."

It belongs to her grandfather.

An electronic beep makes the distinction between the first message and the next, much shorter, though the voice is the same. "No, Esther," it says, "no answer," and is followed by a ringtone, then another beep.

"Judah," implores a new voice, "this is your mother. Your father and I still haven't heard from you. We tried calling the precinct, but nobody there wants to give us a straight answer about anything. Please call us back, sweetheart, even if it's to tell us you don't want to talk. You're scaring me."

The three quick beeps that follow when all the messages are completed are the last sounds that fill the apartment for a long time. It's much like Colette found it, empty. It takes a moment for a tremor in the air to finally surface, for Colette to shake herself away from the answering machine and take a few steps backwards as if it were something threatening her. As she starts to come into view, one hand is up and feverishy wiping at her eyes.

Now she knows why he wasn't answering his cell phone.

Confusion sets in next as she scans the apartment, running first over to Judah's jacket where he'd left it over the back of the couch, fishing through the pockets to see what he had left behind. Even while her hands are occupied with this task, Colette is nervously flicking a look out the sliding doors to the patio, then back to the jacket. Suddenly, the apartment doesn't feel so safe.

A cursory check of Judah's jacket pockets yields his wallet, and although his driver's license, credit cards and donor card are all in their appropriate pockets, his registration is missing.

So is his badge. There's no sign of his sidearm or the holster he keeps it in, either, and these are things that he would either hang on the back of his chair at his desk or keep on his person. One looks a lot more likely than the other.

The dining table's four chairs are tucked neatly in, their arrangement pristine and at odds with the rank smell of rotted food coming from the trashcan. It's been more than a month since someone took out the garbage, and the colony of fruit flies that have claimed the apartment's kitchen is loving it.

Colette rifles thorugh the wallet for a few moments more, then pockets it inside of her jacket. One invisible stop to an ATM later will help establish more about the situation. Fortunately, they don't keep a dead man's electricity on, so that much at least has some small measure of Colette's hope up, and that is exactly what she needs at the moment.

Pacing away from the coat, Colette circles around past the kitchen, giving the fetid stink of the garbage a wide berth and a sleeve covering her mouth and nose to try and resist the stench. Making her way to the side of Judah's bed, she pulls out the drawer beside the bed, slides it shut, then proceeds to check the other drawers with a distinct lack of finding his sidearm. That much, at least, is a relief.

Circling around the foot of the bed, Colette slides open the closet, helping herself to the pair of scarves that hang on the rack between his sweaters and suit jackets. She crouches, lifting up the flap on her messenger bag to tuck the scarves away, then reach back up to grab a few of his sweaters, fold them up and finish overstuffing the bag before rising up to stand again.

Dark brows furrow as Colette's jaw gives a tremble, and something dawns on her. Hastily, she rushes back to the telephone, skidding to a stop in front of it before picking it up and hitting redial.

The phone rings dully. Once. Twice. Three times.

It's so late that it's almost just so early. The last call may not pick up at all. Or when they do, they may be pissed about it.

But then there's that faint click! to signify connection mid-ring. At first, there's no greeting. No sound of a voice groggy, incensed or otherwise. But there isn't a dialtone, or a jingle or tell-tale hissing and pop that seems to accompany every voicemail recording ever. Just several tense seconds of silence.


The voice on the other end of the line isn't angry. It isn't sleepy. But it is familiar.

Judah Demsky's last call was placed to Colette's sister.

Awkward, disbelieving silence comes next.

Breathing on the other end of the phone, Colette might well be some perverted stalker, or worse John Logan. Instead is a weakly murmured, "Sis?" It proves, however futily, that there was no more information left to gain from Judah Demsky's apartment. Voice tight and hitching in the back of her throat, Colette can only manage that single syllable at the moment. Instead, she's turning with the phone in hand, her breathing erratic and one hand curled over her mouth as if to try and muffle the sound of her own voice on the phone to anyone else.

Mismatched eyes go to her reflection in the television, it bothers her how helpless she looks.

If John Logan wanted to call Nicole Nichols in the middle of the night and breathe heavily into the receiver, well… She probably wouldn't actually be too upset about that. It isn't as though she was actually sleeping or anything. Though after a laugh and a query about what the other man might be clothed in, she would have to ask why the number's coming up as her little sister's adoptive father's.

But the sound of Colette's voice saves all parties involved from an awkward conversation like that. Though it perhaps is a catalyst for an awkward conversation in a different vein. "Sissy?" Even though Colette can't see her, she knows that Nicole's rubbing a hand over her face, pinching the bridge of her nose. "He's gone, isn't he?" She doesn't wait for a response. "Stay there. I was just getting ready for work." At this hour? "I'll come get you."

"No— " Colette quickly, abruptly breathes into the receiver. "No I— I shouldn't, you shouldn't. It's— I don't know what happened, but it's not safe here. Something— something's wrong. The electricity and phone aren't turned off, he left his wallet here. He took his gun and his Registry card. I— "

Suddenly Colette hesitates, and just hangs up.

Setting the phone down with a wary look, Colette launches herself in a sprint across the house, charging into her old bedroom, shouldering the door open the rest of the way, stumbling over a backpack on the floor. She climbs up onto the bed, pats down the covers, then crawls forward to fish around on the night stand, pulls open a drawer and retreives a battered old gray Samsung cell phone with scrapes all down one side.

Flipping it open, Colette is quick to dial Nicole again. Paranoid, further, that someone might have been eavesdropping on Judah's line. Too paranoid to be rational, admittedly.

"Don't do that!" Is Nicole's snap as soon as the line picks up again. But she seems to understand the motivation. "You need to get out of there. You need to get out of there right now. Don't come here. Go to the Corinthian. I will meet you there as soon as it's safe to travel." It seems Nicole's realised that breaking curfew isn't going to do either of them any favours. She can't make herself invisible, after all. "Okay? You have to do this for me."

"I can't go somewhere public," Colette admits over the cell phone, already in motion as her silhouette ripples like the unstill surface of water, color fading from her body before all values of light and dark fade away, and she is no more detailed than the background she has painted herself into— unseen. "If Judah's in trouble, if— if they got to him— " and she isn't even sure who the they could be, "than we need to meet somewhere else."

Striding through the living room, Colette backpedals in her invisible form, checking out the apartment one last time with a nervous look, sweeping around the living room hastily. "Do you remember how to get where we went when we left Queens on the night of the riots?" Pointedly not naming her safe-haven of choosing, Colette looks left and right at the front door, then heads back into her bedroom, pulling the door shut slowly, then crosses the room to the window beside her bed.

It's with a practiced stride that Colette swings up onto her bed blankets crinkling and twisting in her invisible progress across it. The shade is pulled aside, and Colette checks outside of the ground-floor window with an eye for the street outside.

The sigh on the other end of the phone is unmistakeable. "Why can't you ever do what I ask, when I ask you to do it?" All the same, Nicole relents. "I will meet you there after the sun's up. We… need to talk. Call me when you get there, or if anything comes up. And if you run into trouble, but you can't talk, ask me about mom by name. Do you understand?"

"Gotcha," Colette murmurs into the receiver, looking up and down the street again before gingerly pulling the shade open and then wedging the window up slowly. It's not the first time she's slipped out — or in — from this particular window, and it's down to a science by this point. One booted leg slips out unseen through the opening, followed by another. Colette's booted toe hooks on some brickwork, and she lets herself drop the five or so feet down the rest of the way, soles of her boots clapping noisily against the pavement.

"It'll take a while," Colette admits nervously, looking up and down both sides of the street, "call you when I'm there." Then, after an awkward beat of a pause. "I— I love you," sounds forced before she slaps the phone shut, tucks it into the pocket of her leather jacket and ducks off down the street away from the apartment building.

Somehow the certainty in Nicole's voice earlier was unsettling.

Her stomach will be in knots for hours.

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