Boy Is the Wrong Word


benji_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title Boy Is the Wrong Word
Synopsis Eileen tracks down a missing person with mixed success.
Date November 27, 2010

All Around New York City

Red Hook Waterfront, 6:18 a.m.

She did not expect to find the tugboat, or to even see it again.

She certainly did not expect to find it moored.

Gnarled fingers tipped with brittle glass nails belonging to a crone trail along the thick length of rope that ties it to the docks and prevents it from floating away, claimed by the current with the same arrogant ease as the young man who took it from the island. Her hand looks like it should belong to a corpse, not a woman dressed in leather and heavy wool, her dark hair cinched at the nape of her neck with only a few stray strands swept sideways by the wind across a pale face with a pinched mouth.

The flat black cormorant squatting on the edge of the boat tells her everything. In exchange, of course, for the bloodied bait fish she offers it, silver and winking when snapped from her fingers. The bird does not care what her appendage looks like. It tells her this:

Water shifts and ripples like liquid lead, taking on a sluggish, thick quality in the cold. It doesn't interfere with the speed of the boat, a strong little vessel that once pulled barges into harbour before the Ferry took it for their own use. The tugboat is a strong thing, making a swift journey down the Hudson when it's not hauling ships ten times its size. Quiet, too, perhaps surprisingly. Benji is listening to the growl of its engine within the comfort of the wheelhouse, protected from the elements, and a little sleepy.

It's still dark. Dawn will be thinking about entering into the equation by the time they're half an hour off the coast of a mainland island. Right now, the world is rendered navy and grey.

There's a thud of feet landing somewhere that makes Benji flinch, hands gripping the wheel, but he keeps protest to himself. Better not to engage, after all. Out the windows, he sees Joshua's thuggish shape shadow by as he leaps from the top of bridge, onto upper deck, and go restlessly monkeying down the bridge ladder. Jumps, lands a foot onto capstan and lands hard enough for Benji to feel the impact.

Even inside, a sigh streams silvery, vapour-like passed Benji's lips. He blinks, dully, and watches the slate-grey horizon.

Queensbridge Park, 1:43 p.m.

Moisture beads in her hair and in the weave of her clothes, turns to crystal, and she is grateful that she had the sense to layer in the morning after claiming his mouth and telling him there was something important she needed to do. It occurs to her only now that she needn't have used that word. Important. It would have to be, to take her away from them.

Sunlight reflects off the narrow band of water that separates Roosevelt Island from this patch of earth, brittle and brown with trees edged in frost. An oriole advised her to follow his trail to Harlem. A pair of mated robins saw him on his way to the bridge. The story of two birds is almost always more reliable than one, and this is fortunate for Astor Loukas and his Lin. It's a mockingbird that she's communing with now, drab and gray with sharp black markings that remind her of a charcoal drawing before the smudge. Although she has no rank sardine to offer it, it is content with the perch that is her wrist and the shimmer of gratitude she expresses with a thought.

If the mockingbird could talk, it would tell her Yes. I've seen him. The boy you're looking for.

Let me show you:

Sleet doesn't fall hard, but it brings with it a chill that seems to be made of the icier reaches of the atmosphere. It encourages Benji to move fast, his boots ringing against the concrete, not quite running, not even jogging, but it's faster than the average stroll. He's a small shape from a bird's eye view, and moving slowly in comparison to fleet wings or the rumbling trucks coming down the Roosevelt Island Bridge, militaristic vehicles that get the raven-haired young man's attention in a glance, but little more than that. Confident, or cold-induced apathy.

The checkpoint is still makeshift. Bright construction equipment and warning tape seals off where the sinkhole is being fixed. He fumbles for identification, exchange words with the police officers in their rain jackets. No one is happy to be out here, but they follow protocol anyway. He smiles; they let him through.

Roosevelt Island Bridge, 4:12 p.m.

Boy, she decides some time later, was the wrong word. There's deliberation in the pattern of his movements, very conscious and adult for all his demureness, shy blue eyes and a voice like crushed velvet. He chose the one place to go where she could not follow even though he has no way of knowing that she's following him at all.

Or maybe he does, and that should discourage her like a doe's stamping hooves drive a fox off a fawn. She's a hunter, but she's also very small, and the boy— man that she's looking for has the potential to have very sharp feet. In the pocket of her coat is a registration card with the name Eileen Spurling on it. Before the eighth of November, she would have cautiously slid it from the silk and shown it to the island's gatekeeper. Now, she does not get within two hundred feet of the checkpoint because she, like the fox, is afraid.

The pigeon cooing on the rail had been afraid, too. Its story goes:

There's a commotion going on, at Westview Apartments.

It sounds like a fight, the amount of noise going on, but it's just a case of a pigeon flapping hard enough for two, cooing at nothing. Long, needle-like spikes tilt inwards like an underbite, designed to pierce feathery bodies or, arguably, dissuade them from landing above the door at the apartment. The former is true, this time, as black-red dampness flings off the ends of frantic flapping, only just ruining a woman's coat as she moves by. Benji is getting more on him by proximity.

Climbing sturdy drain pipe and tentatively hooking fingers between the spokes, he is quite sure he has better things to do. Still. A boot plants precious against wrought iron, and he reaches. To the pigeon's perspective, a gloved hand looms like a dinosaur rising from a lagoon, reaching fingers, and panic supersedes injury. Bloodied feathers explode, and the bird goes flapping for the sky, an unhealthy waver in its flight, but— free.

A yelp. A thud. Benji tips over the other side of the fence, landing in wet scraggly bush. Probably the better outcome of a potential three.

Red Hook Waterfront, 8:19 p.m.

The tugboat is where she left it. So, she discovers, is the cormorant — as round and greasy as ever. Its demands go ignored, the vessel explored and searched for any sign of him starting with the wheelhouse, which is empty except for a length of rope and a toolbox. Very briefly she has notions of stringing him up with the former and letting him dangle until his feet stop kicking, but she is neither strong nor rash enough to consider a hanging… in front of the network or not.

Sumter will call for evidence. Rowan's voice will join his. Simms. It's difficult, sometimes, being the only one on the council who understands how powerful a deterrent a public execution can be—

Mist streams from her mouth. Eileen would rather it be smoke, and as she stands at the edge of the dock, wind tangling her hair, she reaches into her coat. Less than a minute later, there's a lit cigarette bobbing between her lips and she flicks a spent match into the water. Hears it hiss and fizzle. The cormorant notes that it does not sink.

She should have gone to Harlem.

"You tell him," she says to the bird, "that if he ever comes back, then he and I are going to have a few words."

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