Better Qualities


eileen_icon.gif heller_icon.gif logan_icon.gif

Scene Title Better Qualities
Synopsis Logan meets with Eileen to discuss a potential solution to her Humanis First! problem only to be ambushed by an unanticipated job offer.
Date January 27, 2011


New York has seen a steady decline in its number of secondhand bookstores over the last few years with the emergence of e-books and then e-readers, but used books can still be found on the shelves of the city's numerous antique shops, including the Brooklyn hole-in-the-wall that Eileen used to pass every night on her way to and from Burlesque. Glass lamps and dusty old chandeliers hang in the storefront's window, illuminating hand painted porcelain figures on side tables carved from dark, rich mahogany and accented with precious metal in desperate need of polishing. The walls inside are covered in artwork with battered old frames, price tags affixed to the glass in the form of plain white stickers the size of somebody's thumbnail, the numbers written in sharp black ink. Victorian portraits and Audubon prints, ancient black-and-white photographs of the city while large portions of it were still under construction — someone could spend hours perusing the gallery here, which is like a poorly organized museum where everything is for sale.

The Englishwoman isn't here to purchase anything, and not because she can't afford the jewelry glittering behind the shop's glass cabinets, but rather to meet with an old acquaintance and business associate. He could have been a friend, she sometimes has to remind herself, if she'd accepted the offer he made her while she was still in possession of Julian Kuhr's ability and desperately wanting to be wanted.

The man on the other side of the counter is turning a knife between his grubby hands when Logan opens the door and it announces his arrival with jangling brass several feet above his head. There's so much dirt under his nails that they appear almost black, and the expression Eileen wears on her face is mildly— politely disconcerted when he uses the weapon's point to dig some of the grime out, then wipe it on the sleeve of his shirt. He says something to her that Logan doesn't quite catch, and she tightens her fingers around the sheath she holds in her hands.

Perched on the ear of a snarling Siberian tiger in mid-leap, once a mount on a child's miniature carousel, a grackle greets him with a sharp, metallic hiss and a click of its obsidian beak.

There was a neat little shop like this in the Rookery. Logan couldn't say if he remembers if it's still running— probably not, but maybe— but he does remember spending time, purchasing pieces for his office, for his little dingy apartment, or acessories in the forms of cufflinks, white leather spats, garish paintings of nude Greek women, antiquated revolvers like in the movies, and once, a cane with a sword in it. Though that had been the pawnshop down the road, which had its own little wealth of treasures. So it's no real wonder that there is some genuine interest in his own scoping out of the hole-in-the-wall that's close enough to his own strip club that Logan is almost annoyed he hadn't found it sooner.

He'd rather there were more clothing than books, but this is one of those stores. Glancing at the grackle, Logan then picks up a peacock feathered fan, gently opening it so that it doesn't fall apart in his hands, and twitching his wrist enough so that the large blue and green eyes of the feathers tremble. Like a warning. About what happens to uppity birds.

A grey woolen coat is a sedate thing, tight around the waist and generously proportioned in its cut around the shoulders. The cheetah print shirt beneath is only partially obscured, collar open enough for the black wife-beater beneath that to show through, and the skin of his neck is slightly rosy from the chill outside, having neglected the affectation and pragmatism both of a scarf. There is a decent lack of electronics, in this building, and though that doesn't really mean much, it's a nice idea that Logan even gives Eileen an iota of patience of finish her business.

It doesn't take long. Only a few seconds at most, in which the shopkeeper surrenders the knife and Eileen slides it back into its sheath with grim purpose. It vanishes into her own coat, which is several shades removed from Logan's but similarly lacking real colour. A white gardenia tangled in the long, loose curls of her dark hair matches the pale of her skin but not her mouth, which is brushed with lipstick so close to its natural hue that he might not even notice she's wearing it unless he's looking.

Gloves made of lambskin settle on the counter and fold there, patient, while the shopkeeper disappears into the back room to resume reviewing his inventory as he was few minutes ago when Eileen first set foot inside. If it was spring, the dress she wears beneath her coat would expose her slender calves the same way Logan's collar shows off his throat, but it's winter still and the wool knit of her stockings and flat leather boots fail to evoke memories of what her body looks like without them.

"Proud as," she says, chin tipped and indicating the fan. The smile she offers him is, as usual, tight.

Tipping his weight to lean against a writing desk that serves to display and be displayed, Logan fidgets with his new prop, straightening the sit of some of the feathers and allowing the corner of his mouth to pull in half-smile at her comparison. "Bit gay," he quips, closing the fan up and setting it aside, letting his hands knot together as he gives her a customary once over, eyes husky-pale and a little sleepless, blood close to the surface and last night's makeup not doing a lot to be kind to this effect, a smeary hint of black penciling.

That stare ticks over her shoulder towards where the shopkeeper's left, and though he pulls his mouth in a thoughtful expression, he doesn't go for a smoke, not in here. "So where're we up to?" he asks, by way of prompt.

"I need your help."

Eileen's strategy involves getting the most difficult part of the conversation out of the way first, and although she feels some relief at having said the words, she makes a point to keep her mouth neutral, and her gaze where her grackle indicates Logan's eyes should be, unflinching. She steps away from the counter, strides carrying her across creaky floorboards muffled with old, frayed carpets holding so much meltwater that they stink up the store and make everything smell like must. "Or if not your help," she says, "then your advice. Daniel Walsh wants to do business with my people again. Normally, I'd be open to renegotiating our old contract, but I suspect it's only just to spin me around so he can shove a knife into my back."

It isn't shocking. Needing his help. What would be shocking is, I thought we might peruse antique shops together or I just wanted to catch up, and not only because Logan once beat her into a coma in response to the fact that Eileen once tried to kill him. People pretty much only come to him for help, generally, and it's only in this city that the people in positions to do so are notoriously assholeish. He meets her eyes despite the fact that her eyes never really meet his anymore— he's noticed— and listens with a bit of a squint. The tangled web that is Walsh keeps developing.

"Does he?" sounds almost amused, a jovial lift to the question. She can hear the smile more than see it. "Then I've got a rather convenient solution. Walsh firebombed the business of these two Irish gunrunners and they're looking for a way to eliminate the problem. If you help them set something up, then I reckon you won't be losing any business, and they won't be backstabbing any time soon."

He moves past her to go and play with stuff, while they're here, with a creak of ground beneath his feet and the smell of stale smoke and cologne both filling her nostrils as he goes. A card deck stored in a wooden box, with the lid slid back to inspect the yellowed faces of the back.

"That is convenient," Eileen agrees. So is the fact that he lacks sufficient motivation to pin anything between her shoulder blades himself. Her tone, although wary, is more cautious than it is distrusting, often though these two descriptors go hand-in-hand. Her grackle flutters over in Logan's wake, and she offers the bird a slim wrist to perch on, its claws hooking into the soft material of her glove where her hand becomes the sleeve of her coat.

"You can arrange a meeting for me, then?" she asks as she delicately transfers the bird to her shoulder with the amount of care reserved for glass. "I know my personal comfort ranks at the very bottom of your priorities, but I'd appreciate it if you were there to moderate the discussion."

"It isn't to do with your personal comfort, but yes." The cards are slid out from their trappings. Logan is only a half-decent poker player, enough to sit at the table and negotiate the real currency while money is pushed around, so there is a tentative handling of the cards that lacks sufficient grace. Still, he is interested as only a potential customer can be, fanning out the cards with the ink a little faded, the corners a little frayed. "I have every intention on tagging along and seeing through the arrangement I have with these two, or else I might as well throw in with the Humanis fucking First armsdealer, is that right?"

This city always needs guns, after all. He absently shuffles the deck, looking back at her. "It's a brother and sister pair, or— something. The sister was in the same garage as me when the military gunned down your comrades. Vive la resistance, or whatever. Dunno if that means anything to you, but it had you thanking me."

At the end of the day, nothing Logan said changes what would have otherwise happened in the moments that immediately follow, but nevertheless he might experience the sense that he's just tempted fate. The bells above the door are set into motion again and another figure steps inside, tall and lean with thinning hair and a long overcoat that's part of his uniform. Blue eyes search the store's interior, skipping past Logan and Eileen on the first pass as the man Logan recognizes as the official who gave the order to gun down her comrades gravitates toward a display that houses a collection of military ribbons and medals dating back to the Second World War.

He shows Logan his back, hands forming a loose clasp behind him. It can't be a coincidence that he and Colonel Heller chose the same antique shop to visit.

He's been followed. Eileen tenses, recognizing the colour and style of his dress but probably not his identity because all she says is, "And I'll thank you again when this is over."

Logan goes quite still, as is his natural instinct when uncertain, no longer shuffling the cards in his hands because, you know. They're just fucking cards, and poker players can brag all they like, but it's just luck and fucking cards, just as negotiation is just words. Five people dead. Spin the table the wrong way and it could have been him. Still, there is a cattish kind of analysis for the back of Heller's head, before Eileen's words draw his attention back. He's replacing cards back into their box, and setting it aside, no matter that he was trying to decide who might like it more, Tania or Sasha.

He'd rather have his hands free, suddenly. And he can always come back for them. "Well. You've my number," is a comment made wry, and suddenly spoken quieter — which is fair enough, their lonely meeting place is now three's-a-crowd, and their business is highly illegal. His tone holds all the poise from before, but distraction's set in, and anemic tension defines his expression.

It's like with angry dogs. Are you supposed to run or—? "You just keep tabs on your Irish."

"I will," Eileen promises, and it's Logan's abrupt change in demeanor that confirms the danger they're both in, the grackle's pale eyes darting around the shop in search of the best path to take. Unfortunately, there's only one that exists, and it goes right past the display cabinet. She removes the scarf knotted at her neck, opens it up and pulls it over her hair. This crushes her gardenia, but she can always get a new flower. Slashed throats and caved in skulls with dime-sized bullet holes are harder to replace.

By the time Heller is losing interest in the medals, and perhaps his reflection as well, she's retreated to the back corner of the store and feigning interest in a mink coat several sizes too large for her diminutive frame. "Mister Logan," he says, calling out to the other man before he locates him, but as soon as he does he's moving to close the short distance that exists between them. "You're a harder man to track down than I anticipated."

Grey wool is pulled tighter around him, and not because he's cold, but because it's illegal— Logan is pretty sure, anyway— to bear concealed firearms, and he has at least one beneath his frock coat. One fin of cheetah print collar still manages to escape, fanned against sedate woolen cloth as Logan gives Heller an unabashedly wary once over. He trusts it makes sense in context, because he isn't sure he could otherwise disguise it or feign unrecognition. Eileen is a shape in his periphery he tries to keep track of without doing anything to help himself.

He smiles, then, without strain, teeth white, no thanks to cigarettes. "It's one of my better qualities, colonel," he says. His eyes remain stark in the midst of bloodshot white and slept in eyeliner. They would be much greener, if he had the option — or maybe not yet. "But I had no idea you were looking."

Heller affords Eileen a brief glance and later she will be glad she chose to wear her hair down today, because he does not catch the glimmer of iridescent feathers through the curls her scarf doesn't cover. His dismissal of her is almost instantaneous. "You wouldn't," he tells Logan. "That's one of mine."

He takes more notice of the dark smudges around Logan's eyes than he does the terrorist in the corner, and if he picks up on the fact that the other man is making an attempt to watch her, then he probably chalks it up to casual interest and nothing more. She's small. Female. Smells a little like roses. Insignificant.

A hand dips into his coat pocket and comes back out with a folded handkerchief, unused, which he offers to Logan without explanation, only a slow, heavy blink. "Did a little digging into your place of business. I'm not surprised that you're eating out of Linderman's hand, but I wanted to make you a better offer."

Now it's more of an attempt to figure out if Eileen's listening, because some traitorous spark of interest flares, old and honest, at the prospect of better ones. It's a tiny flicker of something in the midst of more wariness than he can really put to words, and it's not the only reason Logan raises a hand to take the handkerchief. He considers denying that first part. Decides that it, like playing stupid, would be an error. "Like what?" comes more clipped than Logan means it to sound, rocking a step back until his spine hits the edge of counter enough to lean.

Fingers pick open the item he was given, a darting glance downwards.

"New York City's landscape is changing," says Heller. "Population density, geography, climate. You're familiar with Summer Meadows on Roosevelt Island. The DoEA does good work." That last part's a little sly, like the punchline of a joke that only he and Logan are sharp enough to get. His eyes drop to the abandoned box of cards, considering, then move across the counter to a stack of fliers near its corner. He picks up the topmost sheet of paper and flips it between gloved fingers, looking at the front, then the back.

Something about registration and where to do it, now many many, months out of date. The corners of his mouth crinkle with something disguised as mirth. "The United States Armed Forces has its hands full, and I'll be honest: there's only so much that men with guns can do without scaring people. I don't want people scared, or at least not of the men and women trying to protect them. We're going to start setting up new communities soon to help accommodate what the city's undergoing. Our job will be to keep their borders safe and secure. What we need, Mister Logan, are civilians like yourself to organize and run them."

'kerchief crinkles in fingers, like Heller gave Logan something he could worry as he listens, unable to not let his stare narrow and sharpen on the punchline and where it leads to. He glances at the flier in the military man's hands, a renewed anxiety about what it says on his Registration card versus what it is he actually does, and what it is he actually has now, but working for Daniel Linderman gives one a sense of security from things like the Registry.

Except the landscape is changing. "Communities," is out of his mouth before he can keep it back in, the word metallic along the consonants with flat British cynicism. He's familiar, after all, with Summer Meadows on Roosevelt Island. Never been there, but. "What sort've civilians am I like exactly."

"My line of work requires that we keep things simple, so I'll put it to you this way." Heller folds the flier in half and pinches the crease with his thumb to ensure a clean line. "There are two types of people. Those who need to be told what to do, and those who are telling them to do it. It's not quite that straightforward, of course — I'm a little bit of both, but I give more orders than I take and this is strictly to prove a point."

The flier is tucked into the same coat pocket the handkerchief originated from, limp in Logan's fingers. "You were a little bit of both at the triage center. Calm under pressure and in possession of a useful Evolved ability. You're a good candidate — I'd argue exactly what we're looking for, and that's without taking your managerial experience into consideration, which I have.

"Interested in giving more orders than you take?"

The last man who presented Logan with this option in life wound up murdered.

But there is something slightly more secure in Heller's hellerness than there ever was in Kain's kainness, and there is nothing to say that it shouldn't have the same appeal the second time, and the Brit takes his weight off the counter. As if testing exactly how much of the colonel he legitimately fears, starting with proximity, an allowing himself to edge forward by an inch or two. "I've always felt that was my calling," he states, enunciation delicate, and also loud enough that any avian telepaths who happen to be in range might catch it. So she knows, at least, he isn't trying to be sneaky.

That he doesn't have his useful ability is more whitenoise to the panic going on in some other corner of his brain. Deal with it later. Calm under pressure. "I don't suppose you want an answer right this second, do you? I'd love more time to consider it. Your offer."

"You have a few weeks to think it over," would sound like more of a threat if it wasn't Heller's attempt at reassuring Logan and alleviating some of that pressure, if only for the time being. "We're still in the planning stages right now, but we can't afford to keep sitting on things for much longer. When we're ready to start making our preliminary selections, you'll be one of the first to hear about it."

His nostrils flare around the vaguely earthy stink of the antique shop and the sodden carpets under their feet. Some minor irritation at having wiped off his feet at the front door when about thirty years of other customers have been tracking snow and dirt inside without the same consideration. "Stay out of trouble until then. I wouldn't want to eliminate you."

Presumably from the pool of individuals that Heller considers qualified for the job, but you never know.

A few unnecessary, over-darkened blinks occur, but Logan does smile. And maintains eye contact, too, even as he passes (more or less forgotten) handkerchief from one hand to the other and offers out the empty one, fingers together, palm facing the front of the store. Let's shake on it, then — the promise of a few weeks, and presumably, the promise to stay out of trouble. Which is tempting to laugh at, but Logan can school some of his more instantaneous reactions when he has to.

"Understood, colonel," he says, to make it verbal. "I'll be in touch."

A curt nod serves as Heller's farewell following the shake, which is both brisk and firm, and he takes his leave of the shop for where the air is clearer and the scent of women's perfume doesn't mingle with what his nose finds offensive. The door clatters shut behind him, but Eileen waits until the bells are still and silent before she stops toying with the tiny little paw attached to a mink stole on the same rack as the coat. Her fingers had been fussing with the price tag before that.

If they were standing closer together, he'd be able to hear the unsteadiness in her breath. Instead, there's the crackle of her bird's wings as it gives a full-body shudder to release some of the anxiety built up inside it. Eileen would do the same if that wouldn't make her feelings obvious.

Superstition has Logan not really saying anything for a good few seconds after Colonel Heller has left, and even then, he mostly just breathes out the oxygen he'd kept in the wake of the other man leaving, in one short shape exhale. "Well. I'll leave first," he offers, with any such anxiety or worry picked clean of it. "Just in case." A glance to the deck of cards, and— fuckit. His hands aren't shaky but they are a little damp around the palms, so he doesn't stall with taking out his wallet to peel out the adequate bank notes, the handle of his holstered gun shifting with the movement.

He lays the money down, picks up the deck to slide into a pocket, eyes already distant and mouth already shut while wheels in his skull squeak to turn and process. Things like how much Heller would appreciate a witness as a loose thread versus a witness as an employee.

Eileen must not object, because she acknowledges him with a nod, her head turned enough for him to glimpse the familiar profile of her face before she's shifting behind the rack to wait for the appropriate amount of time to pass before leaving through the front door herself.

That may be as short as twenty minutes or that may be as long as an hour. All Logan will know is that when he's greeted with the roar of wind in his ears and the biting chill of winter, the only sign that Colonel Heller was ever there at all is his footprints in the snow woven through the distinct signature of Logan and Eileen's.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License