#DIV/0! Part II


elliot_icon.gif nicole3_icon.gif

Scene Title #DIV/0! Part II
Synopsis Elliot visits Nicole, the person who got him his first real job in the Linderman Group.
Date February 8, 2021

Elliot is apprehensive about being here, considering Colette’s warnings about her sister’s status. This isn’t a conversation he wants to have over the phone, even though he’d called using a burner.

The Miller Residence
Bay Ridge

February 8, 2021
5:55 PM

He had considered approaching Nicole at Fort Jay, but decided against it. Even though he could probably bullshit up a reason to be there as a Wolfhound contractor, there’s still the problem of his name being on paper. So here he is.

Elliot can’t remember when exactly the last time he saw Nicole was. Years ago, easily. Since meeting 14 years ago, Nicole had assured Elliot two jobs: the second with the Ferry, the first … allegedly. Even with the knowledge that things aren’t going well for Nicole, he’s running out of time to chase down one of his two leads. The date of his exodus from this timeline draws nearer. He needs to know before he possibly never comes back. He rings the doorbell.

Normally, Nicole is still dressed for work — or at least presentably — even after work hours. Today, she’s answering the door in a cream-colored sweater that’s too large for her sleight frame, fraying at its edges, laddering in places and simply forming small holes, gaps in the knitted weave after years of wear and tear. At least her black leggings are clean and free of holes.

Expected or not, Elliot Hitchens on her doorstep may as well be a ghost. Lifting the dark designer sunglasses off of her face, Nicole leaves them perched atop her head instead. “Holy shit,” she whispers, then blinks rapidly to clear her head. “Hi.

What else do you say to that?

“Hi,” Elliot says, looking chagrined, he gazes off at nothing for a moment. He looks back to Nicole, smiling as his eyes briefly flicker over her appearance. “Good to see you, I realize it’s been a while.”

He can’t think of any small talk that won’t just make this conversation more awkward, so he cuts to the chase. “Sorry to call out of the blue. I was hoping you could help me in a non-official capacity with an investigation. Need to get ahold of somebody with connections to my…” he grimaces. “Ark shit. They’re off the grid. Thought you might still know the movers and shakers in our old profession.”

“As it happens,” Nicole responds easily, “I’m a fan of non-official capacities.” So she steps back from the door and ushers Elliot from the front step. “You better come inside if you’re going to ask questions like that.”

Once he’s walked past her, she lingers in the open door a moment, staring out at the parked cars that line her street, counting them in her head. Remembering the sequence of colors. License plates…

The door closes.

“Take a seat at the island, if you like.” The kitchen lies straight on from the foyer, just past a large dining room table that’s clearly hosted a large Thanksgiving with the aid of a leaf or two. Low-backed bar stools are set up in front of the quartz island countertop. “Or we can sit in the living room instead.” That space is to his right. A long, plush sofa. A pair of matching armchairs and an ottoman. Ubiquitous coffee table. All of it looks expensive, or at least well-made, which has nearly always translated to expensive. Her office had always looked similar. Either that was down to her choice, or Linderman’s rubbed off on her.

For her part, Nicole continues on into the kitchen, where she pours herself a glass of pink lemonade from a pitcher in the fridge. She made it out of habit. The little girl who enjoys it isn’t even here to partake, but she isn’t about to let it go to waste. “Can I get you anything?”

In the lighting of the kitchen — one that Elliot could easily feel as at home in as his own for all that she’s got hers decked out — highlights the dark circles under her eyes. The paleness of her skin. The sunken quality of her cheeks. Nicole is someone who isn’t getting enough restful sleep, enough to eat, and wears the pallor of someone in pain. “Who’re you looking for? Or what sort of person are you looking for?”

Elliot gives the street another glance before entering, then walks as far into the space as is polite before being offered a place to sit. The kitchen seems less like settling in, so he makes his way to the island. “I’d love a lemonade, actually,” he says.

Passing through the living space he seems about to respond to the latter questions before catching something out of the corner of his eye, doing a double-take. “Huh,” he says, stopping to look at a framed photo of Nicole and her husband. “Small world, I didn’t realize you were married to the Biology Department.” He looks up to Nicole, anticipating her confusion before saying, “That’s a joke, he’ll love it. We met recently to help someone do LSD at Raytech.”

More wheels start spinning in his head as he puts all of this together with Nicole’s appearance. Oh. He draws a stool out from the island far enough the half sit, half lean on it. Impermanent. He doesn’t want to dive into that subject unless Nicole feels the urge. But for his own curiosity he indexes the connections he’s just made and tags the memories for Wright.

Where someone else might turn sharply and ask I’m sorry, what?, Nicole is not most people. “That does sound like something my husband would get up to,” she says instead while she pours a second glass of lemonade for her guest. Both are set out on the island, one in front of Elliot and the other in front of the seat next to him. The sunglasses are left to sit on the counter before she comes around to the seating side to join him.

The fact that he’s let himself get distracted, well… That’s not the Elliot she remembers. He may have been reticent, quiet, but never really distracted. Nicole takes her seat, letting her arm rest on the counter with her elbow out at an angle so her wrist can hang loosely over the edge. “If you want to ask, then you know you should ask,” she says gently. In many ways, she hasn’t changed from the young woman he met all those years ago.

Although maybe he recognizes better now the ways she draws people in with subtle mirroring of their posture or inflection. Or just the way she seems so damned unassuming, until she needs to be exactly the opposite. Traits he’s honed himself over the years.

Elliot takes a moment to drink some lemonade as he pulls himself back on task. He looks about the room casually to reassure himself that no one else is within earshot. Even with the urge to be businesslike, to the point, it’s hard to shake old connections. Nicole was, indirectly, the reason Elliot and Wright reunited after years spent apart, becoming worse versions of themselves.

“I know everything is…” he hesitates, “Not okay, but. Are you okay?” He reorients his glass on the countertop, seemingly aimlessly, before meeting Nicole’s eyes again.

Nicole smiles fondly at the question and shakes her head. “No. But thank you for asking anyway.” Delivered in such a way as to imply I won’t bore you with the details. Nobody ever really wants to know how someone else is doing. Not well is enough honesty for those that delude themselves enough to think they care, even.

With a weary sigh, she tilts her head to indicate the rest of the home at her back — she let him have the vantage point where he could see the foyer as well as the door to the patio at the back of the kitchen, as well as the spaces he’s otherwise unfamiliar with. “It’s just me here. Zachery’s working late.” Which might be code for out drinking at this point. The trouble that thought brings her only appears in a momentary crease of her brow.

Elliot accepts the dismissal. He drums his fingertips quietly on the island. His eyes dart toward the front door out of habit, not long enough to really focus on anything. “Last December I got intel on some of the command structure overseeing the program in the Ark I fell into.” Fell into. He doesn’t give the usual chuckle to deflect from it.

He shrugs with his hands. “I need to find Pete Varlane.”

He doesn’t chuckle and neither does she. The Ark was a terrible place. The Institute did horrible things to people — her sister included. She’d seen how he’d looked so much smaller on Pollepel Island than he had even when he was a teenager. Nicole doesn’t make light of any of that.

What she does do is lean back in her seat slowly when he makes his ask. “Fuck,” she breathes out, the vowel slightly elongated. “You and me both, kid. He’s been in the wind ever since PISEC got attacked a year ago.” Nicole shakes her head with a frown. “We only managed to recover one escapee from that mess alive. Was kind of hoping your outfit might have had a lead for us by now.” That’s a tease, but she’d take it if Wolfhound did have something they wanted to share.

“But, you came to me for a reason. And it’s not because you think I have that old bastard stashed in my basement.” Never has she been more grateful to have dropped the name she took to honor Varlane’s son. She’d sooner go back to Nichols, even if NV was killer as far as initials go. Her young punk-and-grunge self would have been impressed. “So, whose direction are you hoping I can point you in?” While she might have a notion herself, she’d like to see which way he’s leaning.

Elliot raises an eyebrow to say, Right? “My contacts in the underworld can only get me so far. Most of those bridges fell into the sea. Modern crime?” he shrugs with his hands again and shakes his head. “I don’t know where to begin. But Pete Fucking Varlane didn’t vanish into polite society. Somebody below street level has to know where he is, if he hasn’t already done the world a service via coronary.”

“I realize the Linderman days are long since gone but,” he seems apologetic as he looks away. “You seem like you’d keep an eye on that particular power vacuum.”

“You’d be right,” Nicole admits easily, but follows up just as casually, “and if you try to tell anybody that, I’ll have you killed.”

She’d probably succeed at it, too.

But she’s all smiles, apparently impressed by his boldness and the fact that he won’t allow himself to underestimate her reach, even if she is where she is now. But expecting corruption from a government official is about as groundbreaking as florals for spring. Nicole shrugs one shoulder upward. “With Linderman gone, the Triads rose up and claimed a lot of territory. The Civellas turned tail and fled — Gigi is an influencer now.”

The face she makes is halfway between a scoff and the implication that the whole notion makes her want to gag. “d’Sarthe pulled out of the country and waited to see which way the wind blew.” Dark brows lift, her smile is tight, but not pained beyond the physical that’s been the undercurrent for this entire exchange. “Now he’s back. The Ghost Shadows are little more than just that, and there’s nobody else in this city dim enough to challenge him for control.”

Nicole pauses for a sip from her own glass, sizing Elliot up briefly without any attempt made to hide it. “Let’s say you’re right and Varlane’s out there. That he wasn’t smart enough to get out of the city and go hide in the obscurity of some backwater in the Dead Zone where they don’t have televisions to flash his face all over. If that’s the case, then he’s almost certainly crawled under the rock of a d’Sarthe subsidiary.”

Contrary to her earlier posture, Nicole leans forward, making sure he understands the severity of the warning she means to impart. “You do not fuck with Gideon.”

Elliot makes no indication that he believes Nicole’s threat to protect secrecy is a joke. He listens carefully. While his posture is relaxed, Nicole can see in it practice. It’s the calm he cultivated before putting himself forward as a man of action, not merely one of logistical support. The character he created who could handle the stresses of interaction required to make a real difference in Ferry Intelligence.

“I’m just looking for information, not revenge.” Revenge would be, unfortunately, less constructive than he would prefer. “Putting some things in order in my head more than anything.”

“Relax,” Nicole says softly, as though she hasn’t been the one to put him in this state. “It’s me. I… It’s just me.” This isn’t the old days. She doesn’t want to watch him learn to toughen up. She knows he’s capable of it already. She’d rather see Elliot for who he is. More than that, though, she’d like to help him.

Her tongue runs over the front of her teeth and catches on the tip of a canine. “Gideon owns a lot of legitimate business in the city. He’s got a nice little nest in Staten Island, though. He runs a lot of business out of the old Howland Hook Terminal, but… that’s not where you want to try and talk to him. You’re not looking to get on his books.”

There’s a knowing sort of smile. The steps in this dance are ones Nicole remembers well even after all these years. “Get dressed up — pomade in your hair, shine your shoes, wear a blazer — and go enjoy an evening at the jazz club overlooking the restoration efforts. It’s called Rossignol.” Her brows lift, punctuating how that name needs to stick in his mind.

“Consider listening to a number or two before you make your ask. Your best bet is to catch him on a weekend, when the most popular performer is in residence.” Nicole leans against the counter. Knowing the best way inside is something she can help with, he won’t need her once he gets there.

“If you need to drop my name… Do it. But only for d’Sarthe himself.” There’s a wry smile at that. “He’ll probably say I’ll owe him a favor, but that’s inevitable anyway.” It’s the peril of the business she won’t turn her back on, after all. “If it turns out to be a bust, and you can’t meet with him… Ask for the songbird. My name will work with her too.” What a lounge singer could possibly know about someone like Pete Varlane is left vague, but presumably there’s something there Nicole’s just not saying.

“If he does require a favor you can feel free to pass that off to me,” Elliot says seriously, then seems to recall something. “Though I’m going to be out of the country for an unspecified amount of time starting a few months from now, so let me know if you need something on the nearer end of that.”

Elliot quirks an eyebrow and chuckles, seeming to loosen up a bit. “I also don’t drink,” he says, “Do you think they’ll kick me out if I tell them I’m just there for the jazz?”

“Well, that’s rather convenient for you, isn’t it?” Nicole’s smirking as she says that, so they’re probably cool on the I’ll handle your favor, but only between the hours of noon and 2pm on Thursdays bit.

“You wouldn’t be the first teetotaler to hit up a venue in this city. Tell them to make you something fancy and without alcohol, then be sure you tip them well. You’ll be fine.” One shoulder comes up in a shrug. “It’s what I did while I was pregnant.”

That smile immediately fades, gaze going hollow, but she comes back to herself before long. “Do me a favor and don’t tell them I said you could find Pete there. Just… say you heard that Gideon would be your best shot at cutting through the rumor mill bullshit. If there’s a way to find anything in this city, he’s the one to bet on.” Anyone falls under that umbrella, it seems.

There’s still something haunted about Nicole, but she’s not letting it stop her now. “I’d be utilizing that particular resource myself, but having to explain how I managed to track down certain objects, assets, or people… Not a fun conversation to have at work.” Her smile is tight, thin. “But you… That sandbox is all yours.”

“I promise to be discerning with the information I give out,” Elliot says. “I’ll probably use a fake ID, so if anyone starts sniffing around old LG contacts about a Rosen, that’ll be me. I’m going to try not to give them anything more than I can get away with.” Which is definitely not going to be nothing.

He takes another sip of his lemonade, which he enjoys. “Well, if you ever find yourself in a situation where the chain of custody on information isn’t the number one priority, let me know,” he says, laying the groundwork for not overstaying his welcome. “I still have a lot of utility in that area.”

Nicole smirks, her appreciation more than just faint. “You’re a good kid, Elliot.” Her head cants to one side, then the other. She decides not to amend that statement. It feels true to their history, somehow.

Lifting her glass from the counter, she taps it gently to his. “Good to see you again. You don’t have to be a stranger.” The smirk widens to a grin.

“Unless you want to be.”

Elliot gratefully accepts the toast, finishing them lemonade. Waste not. He doesn’t seem to mind the kid. “Thanks again,” he says, setting the glass on the counter. “I’ll see you around.”

He shrugs with his hands as he stands. Out of the country. “Hopefully.”

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