Business or Pleasure


danko_icon.gif joseph_icon.gif

Scene Title Business or Pleasure
Synopsis "Robert Kelly" visits the Guiding Light for what seems like neither.
Date May 23, 2009

Guiding Light Baptist Church

The paint is still starkly bright against the muted stone work, offensively patriotic and garish. In some ways, it feels strange to be on this side of things. It isn't often that Joseph's beliefs, or his churches, are somehow targetted to be unAmerican - no, that's a finger he knows his own church likes to point. And around and around his thoughts go, unsure exactly of where they'll stop. Perhaps when the paint has been stripped away. The doors will probably need to be redone completely.

Which is why a new bucket of black paint is tucked against the corner of the entrance way, currently untouched. He was upstairs, explaining the situation to Frita who mostly is asking important questions like what? and why? and have you called the police? and no, he hasn't. And lied, saying that he will. Joseph believes it to be the last thing he needs.

It's a hazy midday when Joseph steps outside once more, coat left hanging in his office and shirt sleeves rolled up, closing the doors behind him where the HF! is painted brightly on the smooth black surfaces. It could stand for a few things. "Have faith," Abby had told him, for one thing, and no, Joseph isn't entirely proud to need to be reminded to have such a thing, being a church leader, but it was a nice reminder all the same.

Midday. The cloud cover is thick enough to choke the sun's efforts into a wan smudge of sterile white overhead, heavy bellies dragging soft at taller buildings rising up all around. Relatively speaking, Guiding Light is diminutive in its rustic hunch in Greenwich, lone cross left in the free and clear at its less lofty post at the roof's pinnacle.

But it's the red paint slashed bright across a grey, grey day that really draws the eye.

At the base of the steps leading up to the desecrated door, a lone man in black stands with his hands at his sides and his fuzzy head tilted at an angle just slight enough to qualify as ambiguous in its interest. He's fascinated, or puzzled, or both. It's a familiar expression for anyone who's spent time people watching in a modern art gallery, where twisted lines and asymmetrical spatters are thoughts and colors are emotions and nobody actually knows what's happening but they pretend to anyway because their friends are already doing the same thing.

His grey brows skew slightly up out of their distracted furrow when the subject of his study gives way to Joseph Sumter, who is…exactly what he was expecting. One brow angles down again, subtle judgment and fleeting contempt gone as quickly as that same movement carries on into a look of earnest inquiry. "What happened?"

In contrast, the darkly dressed stranger at the bottom of the steps is not what Joseph was expecting, if he was expecting anyone at all. A gaze that can be generally described as worried, if for no particular reason, rests on the man and his question and then back over towards the garish graffiti that has started to become familiar, like scars do, and just as unwelcome.

"Bored teenagers," Joseph suggests as an answer, shaking off the feeling of somehow being caught in the headlights upon interrupting the stranger's observation, moving down the stairs at an easy pace, onto side walk. "I hope, anyway."

Anyone older and he's less inclined to be forgiving. The acronym is accompanied by disjointed phrases and words that sum up an imitated well of hatred that Joseph isn't entirely sure what to do with, and his smile is rueful, as if trying to silently apologise to the man on behalf of the vandals. "We're gettin' all this cleaned up today, so goes the plan."

Worry mirrors worry in fainter kind across Danko's skullish countenance, sympathetic incredulity a delicate presence in the quick pass his eyes make over the rest of the building and then Sumter himself, seeking out broken windows and bruises he knows damn well aren't there. "Bored teenagers," echoed at a quiet remove, he's soon back to incredulity, like he can't quite make himself believe what he's hearing. What kind of sick son of a bitch vandalizes a church?

"I guess anyone who'd do something like this wouldn't bother going to church enough to worry about being struck down." Offhand observation and casual commisseration and blasphemy don't twine together as smoothly as the man in black might have hoped, and he winces to himself in awkward apology, as if only just remembering that Joseph might be a man of god himself. One who doesn't necessarily think that the idea of god handing out electric spankings to errant teenagers is funny. Or appropriate. Or Christianly.

Danko doesn't look the part of the regular attendee, really. He doesn't look like he goes much of anywhere, if the washed out state of him is any indication, and he reeks of social seclusion all the way down to the stark black cut of his leather jacket and the lighter pinstriping struggling to create some kind of muted contrast in the dress shirt beneath.

Joseph's eyebrows, they go up, slightly startled at this statement and this is betrayed as such in a quick glance. "Not sure it works that way," Joseph says with a quiet, uncertain chuckle, his hands drifting to slide themselves into the pockets of beige-ish slacks which his clean white shirt is tucked into.

"I suppose it's too much to expect that we can all respectfully disagree with each other. I'm— " A hand comes up to gesture vaguely at the looming church that doesn't quite manage to tower as some other buildings lining this particularly street, but at this level the wall of grey brick work culminating in the cross on high casts its own significant shadow. "I'm a pastor here. Joseph Sumter."

After accidentally handing out a vision once and accidentally having it backlash on him once more, Joseph is less inclined to offer a hand to shake these days, because you never know what power is contained behind the other, but the quasi-introduction is accompanied with a nod and a fleeting, curious smile.

"So you are Sumter. Sorry — I thought you might be; I didn't want to presume — I'm Robert. …Kelly." There's an insecure pause between first name and last while he seeks out some sign of recognition in Joseph's face, pale lips slacked open on the edge of hopeful expectation. As if he'd maybe not have to segue into the reason why he isn't sure if Jo would've heard of him or not. In the end, he only waits a few seconds before an explanation spills weakly forth, brows tilted down, now. Embarrassed. "I tried sending you an email, I'm not sure if you got it. My son is great with computers — normally I would have asked him for help, but." But.

His ashen eyes set to searching again, hesitation already holding him back again. His mouth opens and closes, brows twitching down, down. "If now's a bad time…I didn't know about this when I started down here…"

Despite the fact it's his job to know and establish himself with many different faces and names, weekly, Joseph is not a master at remembering them necessarily. Better than most perhaps, but with enough margin for error that the blank unrecognition that comes with the name being hesitantly spoken is followed with apology drawn into his posture, nodding along with Robert's explanation. "Oh, no, absolutely. I don't think I— "

Handwave, handwave. Technology, right? If there's anyone who might understand a computer and the Internet not working the way it's meant to, it's a mild-mannered Southern preacher who gets the resident New Yorkers to do all that for him. "Now's more'n fine," Joseph assures the other man. Like hell, or heck, he's going to let this get in the way. "We didn't get broken into or anythin', so everythin's as it should be, if you wanted to go inside an' talk."

Joseph already has a foot up on the last stone step leading up to the darkly painted doors and its new additions of blue and red streaks.

Danko's, "Thanks," is one of quiet, tangible relief. Humility on top of tangible relief, as if a weight's been lifted off his chest and he can breathe for the first time since he parked himself outside of the church. Whew. That Pastor Sumter. What a swell guy. What a lifesaver.

A smirk winds its slender way along the line of the terrorist's mouth while he trudges up the steps in Joseph's wake, right hand trailing affectionately over bright graffiti in passage. A careful glance determines that none of the paint has lifted up after the pads of his fingers when he turns to close the door behind them, pinching off the sun's light with a careful nudge of dead wood to dead wood. His gaze skims over the lock, briefly thoughtful until they left back over the press of his right hand to the door, fingerprints and all.


He turns to follow again, casually laggard while he takes in Guiding Light's stately interior and what looks to be a humble budget. "Smaller than I thought."

"It looks bigger on the outside, don't it." There's affection in Joseph's voice, choosing to take Danko's observation as not quite the critique it could be. It is what it is and apparently the pastor likes it that way, a far cry from the megachurches of many Baptist churches sprung up across America. The rows of empty pews are polished, awaiting tomorrow morning and noon, with books of prayer tucked neatly into the backs of them, and out front, the pulpit devoid of people seems expectant of its invisible audience.

Joseph continues through the church, opting for the more casual environment of the small kitchen than the confines of his office. He's tidied it since this morning, nervously putting things away and wiping counters that didn't need to be wiped, taking out his energy on something constructive while awaiting Abby's rally of people to fix it, the source of his aggravation.

Cleanliness is close to Godliness, and all. "We got coffee, or tea. Water too, if you want anything," is the offer as he opens the door for the other man.

"It does," agreed mostly because it seems like the thing to do, Danko keeps his hands to himself the rest of the way in, leaving it to his eyes to do all the probing they need to do. Pews are counted, measured, multiplied, allowing for fewer warm bodies than he would have thought. Maybe merely fewer than he might have hoped, so far as the maximum impact is concerned. "And…coffee sounds great, actually, if it isn't any trouble."

He smiles, hopefully. Almost apologetic again while he picks his way around the table in his faltering way. "I won't take much of your time. It's — my son, Jason. I think he might be special. Or — 'evolved.' I'm not sure which is the correct — the politically correct…" he trails off, awkward. Ashamed in the slump of his shoulders and still more apology in the peaked cant of his brows. He doesn't mean to offend, it's just—

Cupboards open, mugs sought out, milk and sugar retrieved. Joseph goes through the familiar motions and listens, which in itself is a familiar motion, nodding a little to show he's doing as such, and offering a warm smile to "Robert" when he trails off. "I like to say 'gifted'," he says, as brewed coffee, still warm on the hotplate, is poured neatly into an off-white mug, the dark liquid then tainted with milk stirred in. "Not sure about the politically correct term, myself, I was never any good at that. You take sugar?"

At a yay or a nay from the other man, the coffee eventually finds itself set down in front of Danko, Joseph coming to sit as well. The door remains open, but it would take some angling to see the rest of the building that is identifiable as a church. The kitchen, especially, is plain - the only signifiers would be the small rounded framed portraits on the wall of what may be assumed to be the Holy Mother and her son, features that have been here for longer than Joseph and his congregation.

"You think he might be?" Joseph urges, wrapping his hands around the warmth of his own coffee. "He hasn't come told you himself?"

As far as candid admissions in this conversation go, a mildly ironic, "Me either," re: political correctness may be the most genuine thing Danko's had to say so far. If somewhat understatedly so. "No sugar."

Tiny, tired, balding and withdrawn, were it not for the black leather and the black shirt and the black pants and the black boots, Emile fits comfortably in the mold of a confused and flustered father, oozing out to fill every crack and cranny like the cold, viscous slime he is. His posture in the wooden chair is uncomfortable, his head is dipped. Occasionally there's a tak-tak-tak-tak of boot rubber to tile floor until he seems to catch himself and staves it off. Then there's the coffee, for which he manages another gracious, "Thanks," and a glance that's almost as grateful. Almost. There's a persistent dissonance to what little eye contact he makes — a certain sharkish absence of something undefinable behind lifeless black and flat grey. It's worse when he smiles.

He does so for the second or third time now, however sickly. "We've made some comments around the house. Said some things. We've never really meant anything by it, but I was hoping maybe if I knew a few people, or made the effort to learn more…"

There's a degree of eye contact Joseph tries to make in conversation, and he's not meeting the quota as much. The words are all correct and he chalks it up to being tired, being distracted and frazzled from finding what he found on the face of his church, rather than the sharkish demeanor of the opposite man in greyness and lifelessness. That would be unfair, because the words

Joseph takes a lingering sip of his own coffee, wherein he did add sugar. "Sounds like you're on the right track," he offers, cheerleads in quiet, earnest tones and a determinedly searching gaze. It breaks away again, over Danko's shoulder, as if he could see through walls and eye the layers of paint they'd been staring at not moments ago. "Seein'— all that out front the church, I know it's reminded me've what people are capable of thinkin' and feelin' about…"

His eyes go a little vacant as he scrabbles for the right words, mouth drawing into a rueful smile. "About people with abilities," is his neutral choice. "I figure, if you're willin' to learn then you're already doin' the right thing. Know anyone who is? Family friend or somethin' like that?"

"No. I thought — maybe. There was a guy at work, but no." Danko shakes his head slowly, temporarily lost in private thought while he lifts his mug for a slow slip of coffee nearly as black as his attire. That guy's probably never going to be the same, actually. Oops. Good thing they have those little kits, now. No muss, no fuss.

No accidentally torturing other normals.

He sniffs, focus fuzzed out over the counter opposite the table until he sets his mug down again. "I was hoping you might know a few people. Gifted people. It's different, when you see someone face to face. When you can put a face and a voice on something you thought was unnatural." Unnatural. The word falls neatly in with the rest, single file, with no particular emphasis or change of tone. 'Robert,' could be talking to himself for all that he outwardly considers the impact it might have. The ripples. He isn't even looking at Sumter when he says it, grey eyes searching distractedly over Mary and Jesus in their rounded frame. The overlapping, ghostly presence of Joseph's reflection across them both is decidedly coincidental.

His head tilts a little at the word choice, objection on the tip of his tongue, but pity has Joseph swallowing it. Guy's already having a rough enough time of it, no need to nitpick, as sore as his nerves have been rubbed with aerosol cans of paint and boredom.

"I do," Joseph settles on, plastering on a smile, ever-present as it is. "I, uh. Well, there's myself, I'm a Registered Evolved, as they call it. Nothin' dangerous— " is what he feels the need to add— "I just give people visions."

The sound of the mug meeting the table is a subtle punctuation, Joseph's fingernails tapping the porcelain thoughtfully. "I know a couple of other names too. One of our musicians is pretty sure he's like me, that he has an ability. He just doesn't know for sure. He's… friendly. And o' course the congregation attracts the Evolved some. We try t'be welcoming, a lot of other churches, even Baptists ones, got a different view on things than we do."

No complaint, no argument, no protest. He even looks like he's smiling. Danko's full attention cuts lazily back to Joseph, a well timed push of his hand up over the side of his face effectively disrupting skepticism's encroach. He is smiling. Jesus Christ.

"I knew you were. I read about the church a couple've weeks ago, but I didn't get into the details. It didn't seem important at the time." His flingers splay wide in their press through the hollow of his cheek, massaging away the misery of his suspicion. His own pretend son, a mutant freak of nature just like the retarded zealot across the table. "You're drawing in a lot of them, then? Gifted people?" It's all he can do not to smirk again, brows levelling past an unnatural twist into a more serious question mark. "Maybe I should have him come here on his own. We've never been religious, but I know he's had some trouble holding onto friends lately."

Careful study of the other man is derailing. Joseph avoids it, some, preferring fleeting bouts of eye contact in between studying the surface of creamy coffee. He takes a mouthful of the tepid drink, head tilts and then nods in confirmation. "I think so. Understandably, not a lot've 'em exactly advertise it or anythin', but it's not so hard to— know, you know? Lots aren't even believers, like yourself, they just like to come an' listen to the message.

"Somethin' slightly more positive than what they're surrounded by usually. So sure." Another uncertain smile is attempted, beaming across at Danko hopefully. "That sounds like a good idea. Look— " His hand twitches as if he might, God forbid, try to take the other man's hand or less invasively, offer a comradely arm pat, but he never makes it even that far, settling back against the mug of coffee.

It doesn't stop the unadulterated earnestness, though, with which Joseph tries to appeal to someone who might need convincing. "If you're worried for your son— that's probably fair. But don't be scared of him."

There's a catch in Danko's chest at the twitch of Joseph's fingers, adrenaline pulsing premature and leashed again before his eyes have time to dilate in the kitchen's warm light. He swallows against the sudden dryness in his throat, nodding out his concession to the pastor's superior wisdom when it comes to things like 'positive energy' and the breed of stock he's been managing to fill out his pews with.

"Sounds like…some of them are breaking the law." Refusing to give up their names and abilities. Refusing to register. Judgment passes there in the form of mild disapproval, literal punctuation falling just short of a question mark. The confused knit of his brow makes the rest of the transition. Are you saying you condone criminal activity, Pastor Sumter? Maybe he heard wrong. He sips his coffee again as if to mollify his own concerns there when there are more personal things to be worried about here. Like Jason. Justin? …No it was definitely Jason.

"I try not to think that way. I really do. It's just — twenty years ago a father's worst fear was walking in on his son in a miniskirt. Now I gotta deal with my kid burning our building down in his sleep, or using telepathy to cheat on exams."

Well. Breaking the law. Joseph has a response, but it's aborted before he can put it to words, manifesting in a defensive hitch in his throat before his mouth shuts again. There are more personal things to be worried about and Joseph allows "Robert" to worry about those, rather than whether Joseph is protecting people from the Linderman Act whether directly or not. He takes a sip of coffee at the same time Danko does.

There's a breath of a chuckle at the other man's words, nervous and hesitant and somewhat uncaring for that particular comparison being drawn. Awkward! "Well, here I try to preach the value of using these gifts with love," Joseph states, completely seriously. Better man might trip over the saccharine nature of those words, but there it is. "Because really, anyone can cheat on a test, y'know? It comes down to the moral fibre of a person. It's not a sin in itself."

Unlike, presumably, wearing miniskirts and all that might entail.

"Not every evolved ability lends itself well to tender use, Pastor. You know that as well as I do. Everyone in this city knows. It's impossible to forget. Impossible not to smell in dirty rain and see in a broken skyline." Somewhere in there a button got pressed, a switch thrown, and there is a quavering intensity to Danko's quiet address echoed in the lines drawn in taut around his cadaverous face. At the table, paired fingers tap once and then again over the rim of his mug. Above it, the flat vacancy of his narrow-eyed stare fills in with a brand of smug, twisting contempt entirely at odds with the apologetic, uncoordinated efforts of Mr. Kelly.

"Anyone can think about cheating on a test. Anyone can think about robbing a bank, or blowing up an entire city. Not everyone is capable of feeding that temptation with a special…gift." He stands as he says it, both hands bracing down against the table edge to push him up. He is not much taller standing than he was sitting.

Joseph's eyes widen a little, one nod of understanding attempted before he can't quite bring himself to under the stare he's getting that has him looking back down at his coffee. As if perhaps his own genetic condition and his opinions on others in the same boat should be something to feel guilty over. His attention only veers back up when "Robert" goes to stand, getting a glance from the pastor before he's doing the same thing with a little less grace, legs of his chair scraping against linoleum and claiming back some height vantage.

"Which is why it's so important to make 'em feel— like their abilities don't own 'em. Like they got choices." His voice is quiet, subdued, smile faded to dimness. "I think people who— blow up cities might not feel like they… like they got many."

Joseph's hand goes out to pick up his own cup of coffee again, if only for something to fidget with. "Thanks for comin', anyway. Good luck with your son."

Danko smirks again when Joseph looks down, making no effort to hide his cool, coiling disgust when the freak can't even look him in the eye. Like a broken animal. He tips his chin back when he stands, non-plussed by the loss of that tenuous advantage. It's one he's used to not having.

"You think the people who lost their families and their livelihoods to that disaster care how the man responsible feels? Do I look like I do?"

He doesn't.

In fact, he's neck-deep in his own disdain, one eye narrowed along with the question, pale grey about the most vivid color (or absence thereof) to be found on his compact person. He doesn't wait long for an answer either, cocky enough to suspect that there probably won't be one worth listening to. One last derisive up and down look later, he's pacing smoothly for the kitchen door.

"Thanks for your time, Pastor Sumter."

Mostly vowel sounds, is the answer not worth waiting for. Joseph does have an argument, which is precisely why he's silently flustered under the weight of the disdainful look he's being treated with, but he keeps his mouth shut instead. There's no arguing, really, with the grief of thousands, even when there is.

"Y'welcome," he gets out, and it's a good thing that Danko is keen to show himself out, because Joseph knows only palpable relief when he's alone in the kitchen. The chair creaks a little as he sits back down, letting out a sigh he's been keeping in. Today could be better.

He supposes it also could be worse.

There's a hint of a spring in Danko's step when he passes back out into the open church, keen eyes and a keener mind measuring out so many paces before he angles himself into a clean stoop at a pew near the front. A minute or two later, the process repeats itself closer to the back.

The key wouldn't work. Whiny pricks.

Sometimes it's better to just take care of business yourself.

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