Assuredly Indelible


vf_kain3_icon.gif raul_icon.gif

Scene Title Assuredly Indelible
Synopsis Working a familiar odd job to make ends meet, Kain finds he's changed.
Date July 11, 2019

Sheepshead Bay — Gerritsen Beach

At the southeastern corner of Sheepshead Bay, on a peninsula partly given over to the wilderness of Marine Park, lies the densely-packed community of Gerritsen Beach, founded in 1921 as the brainchild of William M. Greve — 1500 single-story bungalows constructed from standardized kits in assembly-line fashion, the very first application of mass production to housing.

Once upon a time, the combination of a concentrated working-class population and relative isolation from the rest of the metro made for a tightly-knit community, a veritable town within a town; Gerritsen Beach had its own water plant, Chamber of Commerce, Civic Association, and elected "unofficials". Even after urbanization extended its inevitable reach out to the edges of the island, the neighborhood held on to its sense of identity through block parties, street fairs, summer afternoons on the beach, and the tendency of children to keep the houses they inherited. Gerritsen Beach also boasted the last volunteer fire department in Brooklyn, the "Vollies".

2012 changed everything for Gerritsen Beach. Not just because of the war, but because of the weather, with flooding over ten feet deep in places courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. The war meant no one cleaned up afterwards, not on the neighborhood scale — and the community that had been was left to stagnate and decay. With the prospect of reconstruction on the horizon, however, Gerritsen Beach has distinct points in favor — for one, its original self-contained, all but self-sufficient community offers a natural nucleus on which to focus.

But before any reconstruction can commence, the ground needs to be cleared, at least of whatever buildings are not worth rehabilitating in place.

The houses most damaged by water — most overtaken by mold — have been taped off as unsafe, and are outside C & R's scope. Admittedly, those are many. But the remainder are fair game, and scouting first picks is what brings Raul into the neighborhood today. Some houses are still original construction — inexpensive construction, perhaps, and renovated since, but the bones of the buildings hail from a time when the optimization of "economy" had only just begun. Also, there is history in the bricks and timbers, glass and doors — a history that has some cachet all its own. Not to mention four yacht clubs; a 150-year-old mansion converted into a racing lodge; the carriage house once belonging to the Whitney mansion, made a residence in its own right; and the dead-end canals and basements that once harbored rum-runners and speakeasies during Prohibition, and could harbor any number of forgotten hidden things even now. Perhaps even especially now.

Not that Raul's looking per se. But salvage is its own kind of treasure hunt.

“So, they’re bickerin’ back and forth…”

And what's a treasure hunt without a partner?

“…an’ meanwhile, Ah’m just walkin’ backwards, countin’ mah steps, till Ah’m about ten paces away. Now mind you, these scavver types were just ruthless. Mostly wanted medicine — not that it'd help ‘em — and a good lot more were just opportunistic assholes that're dumber’n a sack’a rocks.”

Walking with a confident stride down one of the unchecked streets, roll of duct tape hanging off of his belt and a pair of boltcutters slung over his shoulder, Kain Leblanc mixes fact and fiction into a yarn born of one timeline, but adapted for another.

“So these yahoos,” Kain says with a flash of a smile, “they get t’arguin’ about the stash of meds Ah’d led them to, that they forget they were gonna shoot mah ass. An’ they also forget we had reconnect the power before we'd gone in — or maybe they just didn't care.” Kain shrugs. “Either way, Ah’ slap the button t’drop the shutters on the storefront, an’ by the time Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum realized what the sound was, Ah’was high-tailin’ it down the street like mah life depended on it.”

In spite of the apparent tone of the story, Kain is smiling and laughing to himself. “Hid out from them in a dumpster three blocks away. An’ that's,” he points over at Raul then flashes a ring on his middle finger, “how Ah’ found this ring.”

In the dumpster.


The nonverbal response is noncommittal, humoring. Raul's heard more than a few yarns in his time, and recognizes what's at work here — a little truth, a little embellishment, a substantive dose of spit and polish, all in the name of a good story.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, being a pastime as old as humanity itself.

"Just sitting there on top of the trash, was it? Waiting just for you?" A little good-humored disbelief there, affected rather than serious, the listener playing along with the tale at face value. It's ridiculous enough to be true — and whether it isn't doesn't matter one bit. "Well, if you trip out here, fall in the water, and drown, I'll make sure that's the ring that gets buried with you."

There's certainly an abundance of tripping hazards in the debris along the waterfront — but that's all the way down at the end of the street. Not an immediate hazard. Not really a likely hazard, either… though perhaps as likely as the storyteller's yarn.

The rest of the street is clear of all but a few rusting automobiles and windblown debris. Raul nods in the direction of a small cottage sided with a stone-mosaic facade, polished wood front door behind a storm door of broken glass; its look is distinct, even unique for the blocks they've traversed. "What do you think of that one?"

Kain flashes a smile to Raul, one both telling and furtive all in one. It's the only response he gives to any measure of incredulity about where he got the ring. Slowly, he shifts his attention over to the cottage, pausing to shift the weight of his bolt cutters on his shoulder. “Ain't terrible,” he admits, “better’n th’ stuff that got flattened by Sweet Sandy.” There’s more than enough of those collapsed cellarholes further south.

“Like mah’ daddy used t’say,” Kain begins his personal aphorism, strolling toward the cottage, “ain't no knowing, not seein’.” Which is a charmingly southern way of saying that you can't win if you don't play. Kain’s father never said that, but like all of Kain’s other fabrications they're attempts at using this new life to build something partly real. A life he would've liked to live.

As Kain approaches the front door, he looks back over his shoulder at Raul. “Y’know, Ah’ knew this girl once… like a sister t’me. Loved her more'n any blood family.” He tests the lock, then looks back to Raul. “She could see things, like th’ inside’a buildings from th’ outside. Used t’help me scavenge…” he looks down at his feet, then back up to Raul. “Y’know, durin’ th’ war.”

Kain smiles, awkwardly. “Sure could use peepers like that now.”

Raul is quiet while the other man fills the silence about them with chatter — aphorisms, anecdotes, accessory comments. How perspective changes from moment to moment: the tall tale was an amusement while they walked, but now that there's a prospect to explore, that's what anchors the brunt of his attention. The projected internal architecture of the house, when it was built, when it might have been renovated. The kind of people who'd do these renovations, and what the corresponding interior might look like.

It's a bit of a game, such calculated guessing sight-unseen. But that's not why Raul glances to Kain at his ramblings, his awkward smile sliding off the opacity that meets it. "Well, we'll just have to make do," is all he says, not particularly agreeing with Kain's sentiment.

He can see how the ability would be useful — all the more so from a business perspective. The idea still makes his skin crawl.

"Guess they left before the storm," Raul remarks a moment later, moving back to the subject of the house in front of them and its locked door. Before the war. "I'm surprised — doesn't even look like anyone's broken in," he adds, moving to the corner to look down the other side of the structure.

“Maybe the dog’s still here,” Kain jokes, propping his bolt cutters up against the side of the house, then walks along the front of the building, searching through windows and checking them one-by-one to see which ones are locked and unlocked. “How long you been at this anyway…” Kain asks, the palpable slow halt at the end of his sentence an awkward void where something as simple as a nickname would fit. He hadn’t found one that fit Raul right, yet.

But as Kain turns from one of the windows, he follows Raul’s silhouette with a quick glance, then looks idly across the street. “Might be easier just t’knock nice’n hard,” he admits with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder at the front door.

Now there's a macabre thought. Raul can't help but wince at Kain's rather dark joke, though he says nothing, and the reaction likely goes unnoticed as Kain walks along. He leaves the inspection to Kain, feeling no need to micromanage. He usually doesn't.

"Salvage, three years," Raul answers as the conversational subject shifts. "Making and breaking, oh, lots." Too many to be bothered to count through, although it's not that hard to figure when reckoned with respect to his son's age. That's not what's on his mind now, though.

He takes a long look at the door, weighing the chance that a 'hard knock' will render it worthless (high) against whether it's even worth salvaging (low). "Go for it," Raul accedes, jerking his chin in the direction of the house.

"Not worth getting hung up on pennies right now." Where pennies is metaphorical, but not by all that much.

There’s a sturdy crack of splintering wood and the clatter of metal down on the floor. Houses built around the 1950s (of which Kain was fairly certain this was, if not older) have softer wood frames and are much more susceptible to a well-placed kick than modern homes. The door comes flying open into the house, cracks against the interior wall followed by an — unexpected — crash of something glass shattering.

“Sorry,” Kain grumbles from by the door, picking up his bolt cutters as he steps inside. His brows are furrowed as he moves into the house, warily scanning for signs of squatters or inhabitation. Shutters are drawn on the outside, making the interior of the house dimmer than it would be otherwise. Long shafts of dim light filter through the horizontal slats, catching particles of dust disturbed by Kain’s forced entry. The living room directly off of the entrance is cluttered; old plastic jugs of water that have (over more than seven years) collected dust, frozen, swollen, split, and leaked out. The floorboards around them are discolored from the water, jugs now empty.

Kain steps in further, walking past a table with a copy of the New York Times laid out atop it beside an empty plate and grime-filled coffee mug. Kain scans the headline, IS THIS THE END OF AMERICA? then flicks his attention to the date, December 21, 2012. “S’quiet…” he finally says, setting his bolt cutters down atop the table, looking past the living room and through an open doorway into the kitchen. “Nobody’s been here for a while.” He rankles his nose, looking back to Raul. “You smell that?”

After as many years as Raul has spent salvaging, he can identify the difference between the faint musty smell in the air and the once pungent musk clinging to the walls and the dust. Too faint to be recent, but the smell of decay clings to the house like a tomb. The resident is still home, so to speak.

Raul winces slightly as one loud noise turns into multiple, giving Kain a dry look. Not remonstrance, exactly — neither of them could have predicted the glass — and not without some measure of amusement. He lets the other man take the lead into the house, surveying the contents in turn as he steps within. The clutter isn't a particularly good sign; neither are the now-empty jugs, the flooring beneath them mildly discolored. Maybe that patch hasn't spent years growing some form of mold. He wouldn't bet on it.

Quiet is a good thing. Raul's lips quirk in a wry smile as Kain continues. "All that dumpster-diving, never run across un muerto?" Likely not one so dessicated as this, past rot and decay into weathered and dry.

Whatever it's lying on will be beyond salvaging, too, be it a bed or chair or patch of floor.

"Like biting into a shiny red apple," Raul remarks, "and finding a worm inside." He bypasses the table, giving the headline hardly a glance. Leaves the kitchen to Kain, poking into the hallway that leads to more personal space — might as well, after all, they're already inside.

"Question is, is it a whole worm?" Or perhaps the better question, how much apple did the metaphorical worm eat?

The look Kain fixes Raul is both a confused and alarmed one. Confused in the way the apple and worm metaphor fits into this scenario, which has Kain turning around to try and regard Raul more head-on. The alarm comes from when the pieces of the puzzle finally rattle into place, but the solution seems far too macabre for Kain to take at face value. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but dismisses both that and the worrisome thought with a scrunched up look and a brandishing of one hand as though wafting a foul odor away.

“We got this whole here house,” Kain remarks as he takes a step back, looking around the building, “an’ yer’ worried about whether or not Grandma got completely run over by th’ reindeer?” A little exasperated, it’s clear to Raul that for all Kain’s talk about getting his hands dirty, there are some aspects of salvaging he may have never had any exposure to. The kinds which pragmatic people will exploit.

“Ah’m… gonna go check the bedrooms fer jewelry an’ cash,” Kain says with a jerk of his thumb toward the stairs, “an’ if you wanna tag along an’ play undertaker, n’by all means go’n knock yerself out.” With that, he heads for the stairs up, toward the faint smell.

Raul smiles slightly as the subtext of his metaphor flies entirely past Kain. His own fault for being opaque; but then, he'd really been talking to himself, unthinkingly using outside voice. He doesn't bother trying to remedy it now, just lets Kain step past him and lead the way to the stairs.

Whether there's just one body, what's been contaminated by its decay — they'll find out soon enough.

Kain’s progress up the stairs is slow, one hand on the wall as he moves up. Dust covers old picture frames with unfamiliar, smiling faces within. At the top of the stairs a pair of winter boots lay on their side next to a shovel that leans against the wall. It's an awkward space for both things and Kain is left giving it a sideeye as he reaches the top of the stairs. There's one, quick look back at Raul, just to make sure he hasn't left entirely.

Moving down the upstairs hall, Kain passes by a bathroom with a wide open door. There's an old first aid kit sitting on the side of the sink, open and covered with a thick layer of dust. He squints against the gloom of the dimly-lit bathroom, then continues toward the musky stink at the end of the hall. The solitary bedroom door there is only partly ajar, and Kain braces himself as he pushes it open.

A noisy clatter of something falling over causes Kain to jump, hand at his chest and exasperation painted across his face. What he finds laying on the floor is a shotgun, one that was once propped up against the door. “Ah’ shit…” he murmurs, covering his mouth with one hand and stepping out of the bedroom and shaking his head.

What Kain refuses to go first into is a tableau left over from the war. There is a corpse laid out on the bed, partly covered by rotten blankets. The body has been sitting for six or seven years based on how significantly the flesh has decomposed. What wasn't clear from the ground are several holes in the second floor wall facing the harbor. Sunlight shines in dusty rays through them, likely water-borne machine gun fire that peppered the second story during the battle of New York. Old, stained bandages sit on the floor beside the bed. Signs that someone was here trying to tend to the wounded and then…


“Ah’ ain't sure Ah’m ever gonna get used t’that,” Kain says to Raul, swallowing awkwardly as he tries to regain his composure.

Forewarned by Kain's reaction — and, well, by the cloying scent of death long past that has haunted them since their breaking in — Raul is spared the shock of surprise as he steps past Kain and looks into the room. It's pity instead that strikes his heart, an empathy, the sentimentality of having once stood in similar shoes. Not as of the corpse on the bed, but the one tending the wounded — perhaps also those of the person who shot up the building's wall.

"You will," Raul replies quietly, more resignation than reassurance. Getting used to it isn't necessarily a good thing… but one does, given time, given exposure.

"You decide this isn't the thing for you," Raul adds offhandedly, as he steps further into the room, "I won't blame you for it." This house. This project. This career path.

He inspects the body, the blankets, the tableau beside the bed. Perhaps from nothing more than morbid curiosity, the question that rises first in Raul's mind refuses to be dislodged: who is this? Sliding on gloves better-suited to manual labor than the business of death, he moves to gently tug the blankets back just far enough to check what the corpse is wearing — whether there are pockets, or anything like military dog tags that might give an id.

“Maybe,” is the vague answer Kain gives to Raul, watching over his hand at his mouth as the blankets are pulled back from the corpse. The fabric is old and in some places fused to the dry remains of the body, cracking and splitting as it’s peeled away from clothing that is treated in much the same fashion. The deceased did not look to be military, or even paramilitary, no sign of dog tags or body armor. Civilian’s clothes all the way down. A faded blue and white striped t-shirt, jeans, socks covering withered feet. All of it stained dark by the liquefaction of the human body.

Breathing through his palm, Kain uses his unoccupied hand to pull open dresser drawers. Everything was left behind; clothes, jewelry, one drawer containing a mish-mash of tie clips, buttons, and tabs that inset into the collars of men’s dress shirts. He leaves the drawers open, save for the one containing inexpensive jewelry that he sets atop the dresser. “It’s work,” Kain feels the need to say. “Back in the day, Ah’ wasn’t… so squeamish ‘bout this stuff. But eventually Ah’ had other people doin’ the salvaging for me.” And most of the dead were just puddles, but Kain doesn’t delve into that particular detail.

As he finishes pulling the blanket back, Raul’s attention is caught the clink of something hitting the floor. Falling out from between the blanket and the bed is a syringe, the liquid it once held inside long since dried, but dried ink black. The corpse also has a rubber hose — now crumbling and brittle — tied around one arm. Kain eyes the syringe, brows furrowed, then looks around the room and gradually makes his way back inside.

Going back to the door, Kain picks up the shotgun and lays it across a small chair by the bed after checking the safety. “Gun’s still good, once it gets an oilin’,” he mumbles, for the sake of the room not being silent. Near that chair, beside the bed, there’s a faded photograph in a frame of three people. A man and a woman probably in their forties and a teenage boy. Kain’s brows furrow, and he looks away from the picture, circling the bed to check the closet.

“How long you been at this, anyway?” Kain asks, hoping to keep the rhythm of conversation and the silence at bay. It helps him to not think about this too much.

The syringe receives a second glance, a thoughtful perusal. Raul can't think of anything worth injecting that comes up black, and that makes him doubly cautious. Tearing a strip from the degraded blanket, he carefully bundles it around the sharp end of the needle, setting the whole thing on the dresser where there's no chance of either of the living stepping on it. The last thing they need is for one of them to get HIV or whatever from some dead guy's drug habit.

He looks over at Kain as the other man moves, nodding slightly to the remark about the gun. Raul doesn't much care about it — not his business, and the market's fairly flooded besides — but everything gets picked up in the first pass. There isn't anything obvious in the corpse's pockets, so he draws the blankets back over, inasmuch as he can, stepping away from the bed.

"You asked that already," Raul points out amusedly, taking the repeat as a sign of his employee's rattlement. He doesn't repeat his answer. Leaving Kain to rummage through the bric-a-brac, he steps back into the center of the room, surveying the damage done by decay. "Well. Seems like most of this is in decent shape." Only a little bit tainted by death. "Figure we can tag this one for teardown."

Just not rehabilitation.

Grimacing at Raul, Kain scrubs one hand against the back of his head. He tries not to draw too much attention to the fact that he'd been repeating himself, managing something of an earnest smile at the prospect of this house being torn down, but it raises a question Kain isn't entirely sure of the answer to.

“What d’we do with, uh,” Kain jerks a thumb in the direction of the bed. No glib nicknames. He's surprised by his own inability to make light of the situation. “There somebody we usually call t’take care’f this sorta’ stuff?” There's a hopefulness in that inquiry. He hopes it isn't just left behind. It's that thought that prevents him from being able to pull his eyes away from the body.

"Yeah," Raul replies, no doubt exactly the answer Kain wanted to hear. "Bureaucracy and all." Immediate property ownership may be a non-issue due to eminent domain, but there's still government record to update, next of kin to notify, and so on to at least be given a best-effort attempt. "Just one body, I might get that ball rolling myself, but…" He jerks his head towards the street outside. "This's just one stop."

There's a whole neighborhood out there, and they won't even get through it all. They'll surely have a list of things needing cleanup before they're done.

Raul casts another look at the covered corpse on the bed, still feeling that vague itch of wishing he could put a name to the poor soul. Meaningless though that might be in the grand scheme of things. "There anything else you want to check out here?"

Kain briefly looks to the syringe on the dresser, his brows furrowed and stare somewhat distant. It isn't that he's really looking at it, just focusing on that point in space. “Nah, this…” he blinks his attention away from the needle back to Raul, “Ah’ve just got a bad feelin’ about this place. Like standin’ on somebody's grave, y’know?” Instead, he reaches down for the old shotgun and holds it by the middle.

“Y’all ain't much fer’ superstition, are ya?” Kain asks over his shoulder as he shows himself out of the bedroom and into the hall. “M’dad wasn’t either. Was a time not that long ago that Ah’d be in your shoes— perspective— somethin’. Ain't easy fer’ me t’pinpoint what happened, but somewhere along th’ way Ah’ got soft.” Though the way he says it seems like he's unsure whether that’s a detrimental change.

"Mm." Raul looks back at the corpse as Kain moves to exit, his immediate thoughts penned behind closed lips, any change in expression going unseen behind Kain's back. "Everyone's superstitious," he observes at last, turning his steps to follow after. "Just not in the same ways."

What superstitions Raul holds, he does not volunteer. Nor does he remark on softness — which silence itself might be tacit endorsement, or at least not disparagement.

Their footsteps are quiet as they tread downstairs, so much so as the aged house allows. The closing of the door is softer yet, bereft of latch as it now is; more a pulling-to than a closing, in truth. Quieter still is the house left behind in their absence, relic of a time long since lapsed, mute guardian over the scene of a forgotten tragedy.

If a ghost haunts this space, it too is silent, its presence only made known through the soundless brush of charnel wind across visiting soul — invisible, intangible, and yet assuredly indelible.

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