Cold Case



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colette_icon.gif logan_icon.gif nicole_icon.gif sasha_icon.gif tania_icon.gif tavisha_icon.gif

Scene Title Cold Case
Synopsis In the aftermath of a police briefing, Detective Demsky digs back into unfinished business from years past.
Date April 20, 2021

Steam winds its way up through the gaps in a garbage-clogged gutter where street meets curb. Several rats skitter past, darting out of the darkness of the alleyway to snatch up the mold-blotched crust of a spoiled loaf of bread that fell out of a nearby trash bin. Neon lights reflect bright against the wet asphalt and the smell of recent rain isn’t a nostalgic aroma, but the stink of sweat and garbage.

This neighborhood—back when it was known as the Rookery—was Staten Island’s dirty crown jewel in the years after the bomb, when nuclear fallout drove everyone off Staten Island except the desperate and the destitute. Those heydays are so far gone as to be distant memories and the gentrified carcass of what remains still has enough meat on its bones to be picked clean by predators.

These days the biggest predator is Gideon d’Sarthe, lurking within the industries and residences that cling to life on the reanimated corpse of Staten Island. But not that long ago, one of those predators was just a man:

Erling Olsen.

New Chinatown
Staten Island

April 20th
7:41 pm

The streets are packed at this hour of night. Between the sounds of music spilling out of bars and the smell of street food it can sometimes be hard to realize Staten Island isn’t a part of the Safe Zone, but it’s getting there. The small slices of New Chinatown that aren’t rotting down to the bone are lit by newly installed street lights and graffiti standing proud over defaced corporate storefronts. In spite of all of this, Colette Demsky finds Staten Island charming when you get far enough away from the stink of gentrification. Because, for the longest time, Staten Island was home.

Her black boots cut across the wet pavement riddled with cracks and sprouts of brown grass as she crosses a road mostly trafficked by pedestrians and the occasional horse. Hardly anyone drives out here, even today. Colette crosses the street to the Vietnamese restaurant that pours steam out its foggy windows and does not ever seem to close. The smell of flash-fried meat clings to the building like a savory perfume made of charcoal and fat drippings, mixed with spices and the faint but distinct smell of discarded fish parts left to rot in the adjacent alley dumpster.

It isn’t altogether unpleasant. On the other side of the glass, the restaurant’s cramped interior is crowded with people gathered around small tables covered in an array of mismatched plates and pots. It hasn’t changed much in the intervening years since she started coming here, once a month, since the building’s owner discreetly changed hands in a psychic shell game only a handful of people have ever been privy to.

Heading into the alley, Colette leaps up to grab onto the adjacent fire escape and then climb her way up a couple stories, then bound across to the rooftop balcony across the alley gap. She could take the stairs, come in through the restaurant, but now more so than ever it’s probably best if the current occupant isn’t seen dealing with her — not since she joined the police.

But it isn’t just police work that brings her back to Staten Island. It’s the dull ache of unfinished business.

Three Years Earlier

Herkimer Apartments
NYC Safe Zone

August 18th


Hundreds of bodies, in varying states of decomposition and undress, each with its own page and series of photographs, depicting the location and date found, and any identifying features.

They aren’t limited to any one gender or age. Just socioeconomic class. A memorial to the disenfranchised dead whose only common denominator is that their lives all ended in the same place during the same period of time: Staten Island, between 2015 and 2018.

The contents of the binder Nicole lifted from the basement office of the meat packaging plant is a strange piece of evidence for two reasons:

It seems highly unlikely that any of the corpses contained therein were victims of the human trafficking ring she and the others liberated Logan from.
It isn’t immediately clear why the ring’s organizers would be in possession of such a collection in the first place.

Sasha, as usual, has little to contribute to the conversation. He’s busy occupying his mother’s attention at the stove of their shared flat in the dilapidated Herkimer Apartments building, allowing Nicole, Colette, Tania and Logan to speak freely at the adjacent table.

Yustina doesn’t understand English.

What she does understand are the basic rules of hospitality. The room smells of savory pastries warming in the oven, strong black tea steeped twenty minutes too long, and vinegar. But also: cats. Because there are five of them, weaving their way in between chair legs and exposed calves beneath the kitchen table.

The apartment probably has one litterbox too few.

Hunched over at the table, jacket still on and posture just a touch awkward. Colette slants a look across the table at Sasha, brows knit together, then over to Yustina. There's an awkward smile, and for the life of her Colette can't remember any of the handful of Russian words she picked up during the war from Avi. Nothing. Not a one. The one time it would be useful.

Without saying a word, she slides down in her seat, right out of sight, and returns with a cat cradled in her arms. Rather than comment, she takes her fingers through the cat’s fur, then glances back at Sasha. “Aaaare, uh, any of these yours?”

One of the cats sits on Tania's lap, enjoying— for the moment— the attention. Even if Tania seems disinterested by expression, she knows where this one likes to get petted. None of these cats quite live up to her childhood pet and companion, but Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna left big shoes to fill.

Doing her best not to listen to her mother and brother, Tania looks over at Colette when she returns with her own choice of cat with a crooked smile. "Our mother enjoys having something to care for," she says. At this table, only Logan knows her well enough to see from her expression that she left half of that statement unspoken. But he's no stranger to the Kozlows and how well— or rather, how poorly— they get along.

Nicole is glad she decided to dress down today. Cat hair clings to denim rather than linen and the lint brush in her purse will take care of it before she heads home. She lets out a quiet sigh as she pages absently through the binder in front of her. The pictures are familiar by now. She’s spent enough time looking at them and wondering what connects these people beyond death.

“I don’t even know what SESA would do with this if we hand it over,” the agent admits in a soft voice. “It’s not going to lead down the path I hoped it would.” If she’d had a chance to look at what she was taking before all hell broke loose, it isn’t as though anything would have changed. They’d still be at this point, wondering what to make of what may as well be a serial killer’s scrapbook.

There is half-finished tea at Logan's elbow and a mostly empty ashtray at the other, chin resting on an open palm, elbow resting on table top. His eyes are set on the folder in front of Nicole, suspicious and interested and reluctant all at once. Cats go ignored, even as one tries to mark his denim-clad calf with the curling length of its body.

He'd emerged from the basement of the trafficker's operations a little wild eyed, blood spattered, otherwise healthy if a little vampiric thanks to certain deprivations. Since then, he's only undergone a few improvements — he's cleaned up, certainly, taken up beloved habits like smoking and exposure to the open sky and fresh air, but a little sharper and leaner than he was before, which is saying something. Bristle grows in around his mouth and the hard slope of his jaw, peppered in grey here and there.

He still bothers with the pretension of a bandage wrapped around his healed hand, placed only to obscure the deformity of a missing finger.

"The press would have some ideas," he says, droll.

Sasha, who is only half-listening to the conversation, steers a look back over his shoulder at the mention of press. It’s one of those English words with multiple meanings, but one he’s heard often enough since Albany that his ears are always pricked for it. Like his own name.

Yustina turns, a handful of apron in her hands as she transfers flour from her fingers onto the designated fabric. She lifts her chin, trying to steal a glimpse at the binder’s contents over the top of Tania’s head.

No luck. Sasha grabs his mother’s arm by the bicep and redirects her attention back to the stove with a few tersely spoken words in Russian that hike up at the end, suggesting a question. Tania will know that he’s asking her how to do something, if not by listening then by the effort required to ignore the explanation she launches into next.

She doesn’t need to see that.

“We have options,” Colette moves the cat out of her lap and apparently decides to get down to business. “If we put this out to the press all it's going to do is drive whoever’s responsible further underground and freak people the fuck out.” Blind eyes track the folders’ contents.

“SESA has two postcognitives. One who focuses on crime scene and object forensics: Cassandra Baumann. She's the one who helped clear me of—” Mixed company makes her backpedal. “Some shit. Anyway, the other’s Rhys Bluthner,” and she doesn't seem to realize the connection that name has to Logan. “Bluthner has some kind of… interpersonal connection… sense? I don't know, really, how it works. But it digs out people's past bullshit. If we get a living suspect he could build an accomplice list.”

Making a noise in the back of her throat, Colette slouches back in her chair and crosses her arms over her chest. “Baumann might be able to get a name out of the binder, and I could have this thing entered into evidence anonymously.” She looks up to Nicole, her in for that particular trick.

“We can't do nothing, though.” Is Colette’s firm assessment, moral compass perhaps more tuned to magnetic north than present company.

"But that's the thing about postcognitivies," Tania says, her head tilting a little as she regards Colette, "they might look at the binder and see us taking it. Which might cause more trouble than we want." She casts a look toward Nicole, as she is the one here who would be in the most trouble if the events as they happened came to light.

And it's true that Tania might entertain the thought, privately, that they absolutely could do nothing, but she doesn't voice it.

"If we look into it ourselves, find that living suspect. The binder and how it came into our possession wouldn't need to come into it. This is connected to those—" Pausing, Tania furrows her brow a moment, then her features smooth and she looks back over to Colette again. "They had it for some reason. If we can find them, find that connection from these bodies to them—well, that might be a good place to start."

Her fingers reach out to close the binder, because really, their mother doesn't need to see it. And no one here needs to keep seeing it, either.

Nicole withdraws her hand as Tania moves to close the cover on the one she’s been paging through. Colette’s suggestion about turning it over to SESA’s postcognitives earns a thoughtful frown. It could be a sound move, despite the risk to her, but more rides on this than just her own livelihood.

“The press would just cause a panic, more likely than not.” Nicole agrees with Colette. Things are dark enough right now without people being worried about a serial killer among them. “There has to be something these people have in common.” Nicole sighs heavily. “I deal with politicians. Profiling like this isn’t really my forte.”

Mention of Bluthner has Logan's attention steering to the end of his lit cigarette, thoughtful and silent on the subject, but there's a curl to his lip as Colette suggests an anonymous deposit into the hands of the government.

"I wasn't talking about siccing journalists on slavers and I don't care if—people ought to be fucking panicking," Logan says, both impatient and groggy at the same time as he works an itch from his eye socket with a knuckle. "Sylvester Sandoval is an agent of SESA, and he seemed like he was running the whole fucking thing. Acted like it, anyway. If we hand it to the feds, this'll disappear." Bold words, in a room with at least one government official, and another on the man's dime, but he seems quite certain.

And as they all know — moral panic can get shit done.

But Logan shakes his head, shifting gears, ashing cigarette into tray with a casual flick. "They're dead, they died on Staten Island, they were found, identified, catalogued. Someone had a vested interest in finding out who these bodies were, so perhaps we ought to find out about a few before we go notifying the President."

“This isn’t like before,” Colette challenges Logan with a squaring of her shoulders. “The system should work for us, not work against us.” There’s an adamancy in her tone, the kind she used to use when talking about robbing flu vaccines from government shipments not long enough ago to be easily forgotten. “I’ve gotta believe SESA isn’t aware of this. I can’t imagine they’d just…” She trails off, brows furrowed in worry. Worry that maybe she’s wrong. Worry that maybe the war isn’t as over as she wants it to be. Liberty Island haunts her certainty.

Swallowing down her resistance, Colette scrubs one hand at the back of her neck as her posture slouches some. “Okay, I… I know an information broker on Staten Island, he might’ve heard or seen something we can use. He’s… really discreet, and— not that I don’t think he’d do it— but he owes me one.”

“Goes by Tavisha.”

Present Day

“It’s Colette,” she calls out to an open window, clanging her way up the fire escape. She swings her canvas satchel around from her back to her hip as she walks, opening the flap to rummage around. There’s a few worn and frayed cardboard boxes inside. “I’ve goooot Scrabble and, uh, whatever the hell Stratego is for you.”

Even if she isn’t just here to have dinner and play old board games, it pays to come prepared.

You could almost say that the man she came here to see was born here, on this island.

In the Rookery, even, in the closed fist of its hierarchy. Awakened, named, permitted to grow and learn — and all of this, well before that strange day on the rooftop of the brownstone, which could constitute in itself a second becoming. Needless to say, then, that Staten Island is the unfortunate shabby rock that he calls home. It has everything he remembers best, except for most of the people.

Above her, from the rooftop, Colette can hear the sounds of pigeons cooing, but will know that they live within cages without doors. Soft tufty feathers that have fallen down to the balcony skitter away from the air displacement of her landing — inevitably, there will be more inside.

The door swings open, Tavisha—resident in Erling Olson’s body—leaning out with a customary crooked smile. The indistinct colour of his red-brown hair has gotten even less defined with grey pushing through at his hairline, the remaining texture from yesterday's shaving taking on a decidedly silver cast. Nearly a decade older, in body, than the year stamped on Gabriel Gray's birth certificate, but Colette has never caught him complaining. He narrows his eyes, raises an expressive eyebrow.

"I thought we discussed this," he says. "Hungry Hungry Hippos or bust."

He pushes the door open wider, steps back. He is in all gray, in comfortable but well made clothing, his feet in flip flops, hair combed back and a little damp from a recent shower. Inside, the interior is only marginally cooler than the exterior, but is a relief anyway from the sensory overload of New Chinatown outside. It always smells clean in here, vaguely herbal, a little smokey, and these days, sometimes the faintest trace of perfume. Wherever he conducts his business, it's not from home, almost entirely negotiated in liminal spaces and over telecommunications or by bird — no, this is a space that belongs to him.

Small quarters, but well organised. The kitchenette is tidy, dishes drying in racks. The bedroom door is open, and through it, Colette can see a made bed, and a suit still in its dry cleaning wrappings hanging off the wardrobe exterior. No television, just a radio.

There's a shotgun on the highest shelf, and a pistol secured beneath a table.

"Or a friend," he belatedly adds, reaching out to help her offload her haul. "'Cause I got a hold of Catan."

Raising one dark brow, Colette’s lips crook up into a show of appreciative amusement. “That's the sheep and roads one, right?” She doesn't dare bring up the specter of Hungry Hungry Hippo, it's hard enough to find complete games, let alone that specific one. “Guy at the market tried to sell me Monopoly,” she says dismissively, setting her bag down on the couch as she comes in, then turns around and rocks back and forth on her heels, appraising the apartment. “I told him I wanted to keep my friend, not get rid of him.” Her smile grows.

“Got you some tea too, from Yamagato Park,” Colette adds, hunching over to pull that from her battered old bag that's survived political regime changes and civil war. “It's uh, I forget and the label isn't in English.” She drops it down on the coffee table and stands up, looking back over her shoulder at Tavisa, her smile irrepressible.

“How's tricks?” Colette asks, impishly.

"Catan is more bloodthirsty than Monopoly if you play it right," Tavisha is saying as he picks up the tea, inspecting it, and then automatically moving off towards the kitchen to place a silver kettle onto the stovetop. "But I like games where you're meant to be winning, not, you know. Making people lose."

Which, he thinks, is why Monopoly gets such a bad rap—while also being immensely popular. He flicks on the stovetop, blue flame flaring to life. Smiles, knifeish, at tricks. "I'm not sure I should answer that question wholesale anymore," he says, turning back to her, and folding his arms. A pattern of small dark shapes curl up from his wrist, curved up around his forearm — silhouettes of birds, or perhaps just the one repeated, in various stages of flight. No one should be surprised — he once dated a girl who was into tattoos, after all.

"How's the mainland?"

“Could be worse,” Colette says, settling down onto the floor beside the coffee table. “Actually it—there’s some shit. Old shit. Figured I’d ask you about it, actually, while I was here. But it can wait.” She admits with a wrinkle of her nose, considering the flame, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs. She squints, an entirely inessential affectation, tilting her chin up as she steals a better look at Tavisha’s wrist from across the room.

“S’fuckin’ cool you’re getting some ink work done. I haven’t done anything since I left Wolfhound,” Colette admits, contentedly resting her chin on the backs of her knees, observing the subtle changes to the interior decor the way someone might appreciate perfume, by immersing themselves in it. The way neon light plays off of the walls, refracts diffuse through the windows, the low ambient light inside. It paints a picture, familiar and comfortable like an old sweater. “Where’re you going for yours?” She thinks to ask. “There’s a new place on the mainland, Expressive artist. Been meaning t’go see her. She used t’live out here a long time ago.”

Tavisha unfolds that arm to turn it, glance down at the patterns. "Someone local," he says. "Do you remember Filatov's clinic? It's still a clinic, minus Filatov, but an artist works out of there now."

He moves, then, to collect some items for the purposes of making tea. Two mugs, mismatched — as most of his belongings seem like flea market finds — and a teapot, which he goes ahead and charges with the tea Colette's brought him. Not before sticking his nose in to ascertain its scent. "Thanks for thinking it's cool, by the way. I got some shit for it being obvious."

And he is curious, of course, about the kind of business, police or otherwise, that Colette is bringing to his door, but patient enough to let her circle back around as she cares to. "Are you staying the night?"

“Can't,” Colette says with a slow shake of her head, “I've gotta be at work in the morning. It’s that old shit I mentioned.” There's reluctance in the way Colette brings it up. She's been cagey about discussing work, out of politeness to Tavisha, even if he'd never ask her to be that way.

“Been worrying myself sick about a lot of unfinished business. That and, y’know, motherhood.” Colette unwinds her legs, moving to sit on her side, watching Tavisha from the floor, even if at the angle she doesn't have a direct line of sight to him, nor he to her. They've never needed that mundane accommodation to see one-another before. “I'm not gonna lie, I could use your help with both. But the old shit is probably more your speed.”

As she says that, Colette looks down at the tattoo of a pine forest visible under the cuff of her flannel shirt’s left sleeve, the dark birds in flight from the treetops. Tavisha has her wondering if it's too obvious. Her heart has her wondering if it isn't obvious enough. The anniversary is coming up. Again.

"So that's what the tea's for."

Hot water made hotter, Tavisha takes it off the stove and fills the pot. It'll take some several minutes to steep, but the immediate flurry of steam out through its open top carries with it the very faint scent of peony. "Appealing to my better nature," he adds. Missing children is not joke material, even for a distant echo of a serial killer, and so these lines come out a little droll. Tentative, nearly. He doesn't do much in the way heroism.

Or even assisting it. Men cheating on their wives. The daily habits of low lifes. The secret meeting places of a drug dealer. Whatever interesting morsel of information that comes with a price tag.

He returns to her with the pot in hand and two cups. No milk or sugar, after noting the floral notes of the brewing infusion. "The work sounds high profile," he adds, as he sets these things down. "Congratulations. On that and the family"

Colette’s brows rise at the same time as her shoulders do in response to that congratulations. With an angle of her head to the side, she regards both the mugs and pot thoughtfully. “The uh, mundane cops are kind of pissed, honestly. I can’t blame them,” she says in a small voice. “Everyone in SCOUT got a detective’s badge, more or less. There’s administrative differences, especially for folks like me, but…” She sighs, exhaling a deep breath through her nose as she unwinds her body and folds her legs under the table, turning to face Tavisha properly. “I think it’s where I’m supposed to be. If anyone’s supposed t’be anywhere.”

She picks up one of the mugs, turning it over in her hand to look at the pattern on the ceramic, even if her eyes aren’t really focused on it. She pretends less around Tavisha, doesn’t bother as much with affected use of her vestigial eyes. “It’s all a lot,” she admits after a long silence, setting the mug down. “How’re you doing? Because don’t think I didn’t notice the perfume when I came in.” There’s a faintly teasing tone to her voice, her posture, everything.

"What a keen nose," Tavisha says. "Probably from putting it in places it doesn't belong."

This chastisement doesn't sound like it — as an info broker, he must, on some level, approve. As someone who has benefited from Colette's capacity to transgress, even more so. "But if you must know, you detect the lingering presence of my favourite fortune teller. She was in here a few hours ago throwing ox bones in turtle blood to divine whether or not I might meet a lady and get laid, finally."

He curls his lip, rotates around his empty tea cup. "Outlook is bleak. Maybe the tea leaves will have something to say."

Colette barks out a laugh at that, practically knocking her tea over from the spasm that accompanies it. Covering her mouth with one hand, she smiles broadly, cheeks full of color and eyes full of amusement. “Jesus Christ,” she rasps, swallowing her half-inhaled tea, letting her hand gently touch the front of her throat in the process, “I didn’t realize things were that bleak, V.”

V, like the middle syllable in his name. Ta-vee-sha.

“Look I mean, if you’re on the market I know some people,” Colette asides, eyes halfway lidded and smile practically feline. “I also know some that I can promise I won’t give your number to, which I guess is kind of like friendly extortion.” She leans in toward her mug, blowing across the top and watching the way the steam dances with a sense of the lightplay only Tavisha can appreciate.

Tavisha pours his own tea, amusement comparatively understated. "That won't be necessary," he says. Assures. Please don't pass out any of his several phone numbers. "I got a good thing going with my fortune teller.

"I'm supposed to ask you about your love life, now," he adds, bringing his cup in closer, dipping his head to pick up its scent. It's hardly there, but such is the case for the first cup. "Speaking of fortune tellers, I guess." At least one of them is like that. All his memories prior to being Tavisha and the ones that came after are all a touch hazier than his time on Staten Island, as the man that befriended the girl in front of him, but he thinks he remembers Tamara beyond just Colette's mentions.

Colette raises her left hand, three-part ring still interlocked on her middle finger. “Going strong,” she says with a quiet grace, propping herself up on one elbow at the coffee table. “I’ve been meaning to actually introduce you to them, but you know how life gets. You look down for one minute and a decade’s gone by. Tamara’s doing good, she ran this PI gig for a while, before she…” Colette makes a little fluttering motion with her hand, “got caught on the wind by something else. Tasha’s been busy with her law practice, and we’ve all been busy with—y’know, raising a family..”

Wrinkling the bridge of her nose, Colette slides her tea between her hands, leaning in to blow on the steam again. “I’ve got it better than I ever hoped for, honestly. I feel like I cheated the Devil. Beat him fiddling, or whatever. Our kid, Hugo, and m’taking care’f Nicole’s daughter while she… focuses on some stuff.” Blind eyes filled with trouble lift up to Tavisha, the affectation sometimes purposeful, sometimes reflexive when she shifts her focus.

“I feel like I got off better’n a a lot of the other veterans… the ones down at the church for the meetings?” Colette shakes her head and cradles the mug between her palms. “Most of them are living in the settler’s park, some’re homeless.” She closes her eyes, voice small. “I’m rambling.”

Ah, the war. That thing that changed the world, again, but also changed the people he knew, took some away, ushered others in. Every day, Tavisha had maintained his sanity, one foot in front of the other, until the entirety of the several years he spent detached from a human form vanished into a haze of uncertainty. When did he stop remembering? When did he start? Was the war that ravaged the country around him so different, to him, than the utter chaos of his existence until he was saved? The animals in the woods, in the mountains, probably didn't notice either.

So when she speaks of other veterans, he reassesses her anew from the girl he remembers so powerfully from that segment of time that belongs to him alone, as he does every time, and gives her a thin, sympathetic smile.

"Hanging on the edge," he says. "I know what that's like."

“I bet,” Colette affirms, shifting her posture so that she’s sitting straight up with her legs crossed beneath herself. She needn’t go into further detail, his chaos became hers for the briefest of moments, and they both came out the other side of that exchange changed. Cradling her tea with both hands, Colette takes a tentative sip now that it’s had a moment to cool, then a larger one once she’s sure it isn’t scalding.

“So, how much are your rates these days, V?” Colette asks with a rise of her brows, blind eyes unfocused on the steam rising from her teacup. “Investigative work, I mean. I wouldn’t want to confuse any other side hustles you might have going on.” Though there’s a gentle curiosity in that tone as well. Does Tavisha have any side hustles? Her imagination wanders amid the possibilities someone with Tavisha’s manifold gifts has at their disposal.

“Because this thing I need help with?” Colette draws in a deep breath and looks over to the shadow of a bird perched on the nearby window sill. “It’s got a long shadow…” she says in a hushed tone of voice, looking back to Tavisha. “Long an’ dark.”

Tavisha is silent for a time, then sits forward and says simply:

Start from the beginning.

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