Entirely Off the Record


nicole2_icon.gif russo_icon.gif

Scene Title Entirely Off the Record
Synopsis Russo and Nicole share a table at the Orchid Lounge and talk politics, registration, and roads travelled.
Date September 23, 2010

Orchid Lounge

The Orchid Lounge, owned by the mother of Senator Nathan Petrelli, is an Asian-inspired martini bar lit by candlelight and the soft glow of wall sconces spaced evenly throughout the room. Although there aren't any employees at the door to check for identification, it's unusual to find anyone in the college-aged crowd at the Lounge, which caters to young professionals with plenty of extra money to burn. During the day, the plush burgundy drapes affixed to the windows are used to filter out the sounds of traffic and at night are drawn back to allow passersby a glimpse inside.

Seating is simple: clusters of rectangular tables fashioned from white marble, each with two leather benches parallel to the longest sides. Silk pillows in varying shades of red, brown, yellow and orange lend a splash of colour to the Lounge, vivid against the pale walls and black-painted cement floor. On one wall is a giant mirror with an intricately carved frame that reflects almost everything in the room and makes the space appear twice as large as it really is. Clearly, the proprietor of this establishment wanted to get her money's worth - real estate in this part of town isn't cheap!

It's two hours until curfew and Bradley Russo sits at one of the tables in the Orchid Lounge, a Scotch on the rocks sitting in front of him, half-drunk. His grey suit and black shirt are what his team had dressed him in for today's show, but he'd ditched the tie; by this time of day, he always ditches the tie.

His gaze scans the room, always watching for that pair of policing eyes that belongs to his producer… and anyone from AA. Yet most of them wouldn't be here. Not with all of the booze hanging around.

He quirks a smile as he taps on the table before reaching into his wallet and extracting a picture of himself and his long-dead fiancée. Old habits die hard. With an odd hiss he murmurs at her pictures, "Why drink alone when I can have company?" He flashes her pictures a charming smile. This is obviously not his first drink.

It's busy tonight, and there's only two hours left to get eat, drink, and be merry where it looks like a social exercise or a treat, rather than doing it at home where it just makes one a loser with no friends. A half hour wait for a table is just unacceptable. And so a dark haired woman dressed in a simple, tasteful black dress approaches Russo's table.

"Excuse me, would you mind if I join you?" Politely, Nicole doesn't act as though she recognises the Advocate host, though she most certainly does. She's a faithful follower, given her career. "I wouldn't bother you, but… There just aren't any open tables." She flashes a hopeful smile. She looks tired. It's been a long day, and she has the dark circles beneath her eyes to show for it.

At the interruption, Brad slaps his hand over the picture before sliding it off the table and returning it to his wallet, where Karolina will stay. After this action, he flashes her a charming smile and a small nod, "Please. Join me." It's theoretically even better than drinking with Karolina and will get him less funny looks.

He straightens in his seat, and even stands to wait for her to sit down. He extends a hand to her, if they're going to drink together, he may as well know her name, "I'm Bra…" he begins before watching her for a few moments. "I know you… I know I should know you…" his eyes narrow. It's unfortunate that he's had a few already as it leaves him unclear as to how he knows her.

"Yes, I know who you are," Nicole responds kindly as she reaches out to take his hand and shake. And she does shake like a woman who relies on her handshake to make a good first impression. "Nicole Nichols," she offers in return. Surprise is briefly evident in her features at the notion that he might actually recognise her. "I'm a fan, Mister Russo. I wish I could say that I engineered this meeting, but I didn't realise who you were until after I already approached your table," she admits.

There's a tilt of Brad's head at the introduction and his lips curl into his most charming smile. "Ms. Nichols — you…" he raises a single finger to annunciate his point while his smile grows, he's putting it together "…you worked with Jenn Chesterfield on the mayoral race, right?" His eyebrows furrow slightly as he extends a hand, silently inviting her to sit down.

"I watch all politics, it's part of my livelihood. Knowing people and recognizing people is my meal ticket," he explains with a wink, waiting to sit until she does — his mama raised him right.

A blush touches Nicole's cheeks as she takes her seat, carefully tucking her dress beneath her in a smooth, practised motion. "You're correct. And I'm not only impressed, but flattered that you recognise me." When a member of the waitstaff approaches, she's quick to order a whiskey sour.

"Truly, it's a pleasure to meet you, Mister Russo," she says with a genuine smile. "Do you come here often? I haven't been here in quite some time, myself."

"Not often, but I've been here before," Brad quirks back with a lift of his eyebrow as he reseats himself. The smile curls upward into a dimpled grin. He brings his drink to his lips and takes a sip, allowing the amber fluid to roll over his taste buds and linger there before swallowing moments later.

"What brings you here Ms Nichols?" His eyebrows furrow before he adds, as a kind of afterthought, "Brad. Please call me Brad. No one calls me Mister Russo outside my staff and on panel on the show. Mister Russo makes me think of my grandfather."

"Your grandfather," Nicole chuckles. "That's not one I hear too often." She smirks, "All right, Brad. Then I'm going to have to insist you call me Nicole, or I'll feel like some sort of self-important bitch." Little crow's feet show at the corners of her eyes, a sign of her mirth.

"I won't lie, I usually hang out at Desperado." She rolls her eyes a little at that. Yes, she just admitted to spending time at a popular gay bar. "They have this mechanical bull there as one of their kitschy little things? And it is just too funny watching people get thrown off." Nicole's lips purse for a moment, a thoughtful expression. "I suppose that means I'm a little cruel." She shrugs and chuckles again.

"Yeah," Brad runs a hand through his hair, "My grandfather." His grin finds permanence on his face in an almost ironically while he shakes his head slowly. His mouth opens to explain, but merely shuts moments later, content leaving her wondering that one.

"Desperado. Yeah… can't say I'm familiar," although it's not his crowd, even if Raquelle assumed he was gay yesterday, he's heterosexual. "One thing I've learned in television is people enjoy other peoples' pain." He winks before finishing off his drink and pointing across the room to his glass after catching the waiter's gaze.

"So. What're you doing these days? More politics? More work? Or just more the same?" His dimples crater deeper into his cheeks as he leans forward and pushes the glass away.

"I think you have to be a little cruel to survive in the political arena," Nicole reasons unapologetically. "Cruel to others, or cruel to yourself." When he leans forward, she does the same. Despite having rubbed elbows with some very powerful political entities, Brad Russo has left Nicole a little starstruck still. He doesn't know she isn't usually quite such an eager conversationalist, thankfully.

Nicole tilts her head to one side and then the other. "I'm back working for the Linderman Group." Her background isn't exactly a secret, but it's always work she puts on hold to make her political forays. "But I'm hoping to find some work when the bids for the 2012 elections get serious."

"Ah. The Linderman Group," Brad is all too familiar thanks to his shows random connection to the association. After the statement the waiter appears with their drinks and retrieves Russo's empty glass from the table, bringing a fresh scotch on the rocks.

"What kind of work? Anyone you're particularly hoping to back? I imagine there will be lots to be had. Lots of aspiring politicos out there needing some support and resources."

Nicole brings her whiskey sour up, murmuring a toast of cheers just before she brings it to her lips for a sip. The alcohol at the Orchid is always good. This was a good idea. "I don't get behind anyone whose ideals I don't support," she explains, a small smile touching her lips. "Off the record," because when you're talking to someone who runs a television show bringing to light the very things you're talking about, you always want to make sure you're off the record, "Jenn Chesterfield had some skeletons in her closet."

More than a few, if we're honest. All the same, Nicole is offering a shrug as she settles her drink back down on the table. "But I trusted her. And I believed in what she stood for, and I believe she believed in it. There will never be another woman as strong as Jenn. And that you can quote me on."

Brad raises his scotch in the air and shoots her a lopsided smirk. "I'll drink to good bosses." He winks at her before bringing his drink to his lips. "Is there anyone you support this time around?" his eyes twinkle with unspoken mischief, all too aware of the loaded question.

"Or… just the same old? Honestly, everyone's ideals are kind of getting pulled into this continuum where most politicians actually purport many of the same things; no one is willing to come in and shake up the status quo any more." The glass is lowered to the with a heavy yawn. "And everyone has skeletons. I think these United States would be pressed to find someone without skeletons…"

"Jenn would have shaken things up," Nicole insists solemnly. It's obvious she still takes hard the loss of her colleague and friend. "But politics being what it is, the eleventh hour mudslinging…" She sighs. "You know what I'm talking about."

The woman shakes her head, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I haven't had anyone really jump out at me yet, but I admit I haven't taken the time to speak with any of the potential candidates on a more personal level. I don't work for just anyone." Nicole takes some comfort in this, the corners of her lips turning upward in a faint smile. "Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just be the change I want to see in the world. And fuck I wish I'd have penned that as a slogan myself." Gandhi's wisdom applied to politics. Terribly clever.

"I'm all too aware of what you're talking about. You have to admit though, that mudslinging makes damn good television," Brad winks at this statement, the grin on his face exposing a flash of white teeth. With a shake of his head he takes another sip of the scotch. "Not that we want them to be uncivil. It's just the way it goes."

"Thinking about running then, Ms. Nick— Nicole?" He corrects himself midsentence with a shrug of his shoulders. "I think the candidates all have a lot of potential, but like I said they're all centralizing on the continuum."

Nicole has to laugh at the notion. She has considered it, but, "Not this go around." Her eyes narrow a touch, amusement in dark blue. "I don't think I'm quite old and wise enough yet. But I'll tell you, if I do put my support behind someone's campaign? They will be a person to watch. I guarantee it."

Some of that youthful exuberance fades from her, brows coming together momentarily. "Allen Rickham would have made a fine president. Nathan Petrelli is a fine man, with a certain legacy, of course…" There's a but left unspoken.

Brad's reply comes out smooth, easy, and confirmatory, "I'll remember that. If you back someone, I'll be hitting them up to get on the show. Hopefully we get all candidates on the show. Hopefully. Although I doubt anyone would let me near the president." The pause in speech isn't lost on him as Russo tilts his head. His wonder increases with a slight flush of his cheeks. His tone is non-judgmental, but certainly edges on curious, "But?" There's another pause before he stipulates, "Entirely off the record…"

"But… I don't agree with the direction he's taking this country," Nicole admits in a soft voice. Like she feels guilty for admitting that she doesn't have complete faith in their president. As if she were in some sort of minority. Though it isn't laced with the undercurrent of bitterness one might expect from someone who beat Petrelli's campaign fair and square, only to have it all come tumbling down.

"You're very careful about keeping your own opinions under wraps," Nicole observes. "You're good. It's one of those things people don't notice until someone starts a sentence with Bradley Russo thinks, and they realise they don't actually know how to finish it." Compliment paid, she leans in very conspiratorially. "Since we're entirely off the record, what's your opinion, Brad?"

"That's part of the job. If I used the show to spread my opinions or back someone that would just be more hopeless mudslinging. Even worse as most people shut off their brains when they watch television, although we aim to help people think." Brad winks at her, his grey-blue eyes glimmering with that same mischief. His palms flatten across the table as he hmmms, "Just wouldn't be fair — " although, if he were honest, he used to, mostly by making anyone who thinks differently from look downright ridiculous.

He shrugs slightly before leaning back in his seat. "And there's nothing wrong with disagreeing with the President. Not everyone supports his policies, although, I suspect, very few would enact different ones at this point. Fear seems to have worked its magic with the average American."

Nicole grins. He still hasn't told her what he really thinks about the current situation, just that he doesn't see it being handled differently. She can appreciate his guarded nature. "There's something to be said about a healthy dose of fear, but this country is overdosing. Fear is being used to justify some extreme measures that have been dressed up to look like they're for our protection.

"But it's these measures we should really be scared of."

"Any measures to control and suppress public opinion are something to be afraid of, and instilling fear does just that," Brad shrugs, still dancing around the issue like the expert her is. He clears his throat before finishing off another scotch. The glass is replaced on the table, given a single longing glance before he shoots her a dimpled grin. "What specifically do you think the American public has to be afraid of?" His eyebrows furrow before he stipulates again, "Entirely off the record, of course."

"If I hear any of this on the show as coming from my mouth," Nicole warns, "I will come find you and… I don't know. I'll probably… punch you in the gut or something." It's not a very convincing threat, but she doesn't truly suspect she has much to worry about. She doesn't, however, prohibit him from citing her sentiment, just so long as it doesn't get tied back to her.

The whiskey sour is polished off and set next to Russo's empty glass. Nicole's making a gesture for the waiter to bring refills for the both of them. There's no guilt when the lady across from you is saying you can have one more, right? "This registration thing is bogus." Incidentally, Nicole isn't registered. She'll have to deal with that if she wants to actually get back into politics, but not today. "It's wrong. Collecting the DNA of every American citizen like that? I don't like it."

Nicole's twisting her lips now into a frown, a serious expression that doesn't look pretty on her face. "At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist… How long do you suppose it will be before someone speaks out against registration and there's suddenly DNA evidence to something that can get that person thrown into a deep, dark hole?"

The smile grows at the motion to the waiter, Nicole is a woman after his own heart — all he longed for was another scotch. He loves scotch. And tequila. And vodka. And liquor in all its forms. Dimples crater his cheeks as his grin grows. He tugs on his sleeves and adjusts in his seat before leaning forward.

"But then registration is, essentially, a done deal, isn't it?" His jawline tightens while he watches her intently, his own opinions bubbling to the surface, even as he attempts to suppress it. "I… I… " his gaze flits to the empty glass of liquor, pining for its amber fluid. Finally he shrugs, "I registered. It was the only way to stay on the air and keep the guests coming; financial and career necessity." He clears his throat, "The issues are numerous. But that's the problem, isn't it? There couldn't be easy solutions with everyone knowing. The public demanded retribution for a crime that couldn't really be understood. Even if it wasn't an outright cry, it was there…"

Nicole's enthusiasm is beginning to return as Brad starts to be more honest with her, even if she's still terribly serious. "It would seem so." That registration is a done deal. "But that doesn't make it anywhere approaching right. Unless we count being thrown at us from the ri-" She stops herself and holds up a hand. "Sorry. That wasn't fair."

When fresh drinks arrive, Nicole turns her gaze up toward the waiter, twirling a finger to make a sort of encompassing motion to indicate her and Brad's drinks. "Just get the next round ready to go now. Thanks." And like that, she's turning back to her conversation partner and leaning in close again. "I've been dodging registration myself. I'm just far too busy, you understand. But it's only a matter of time before someone realises I'm not carrying a red or blue card."

Dark blue eyes roll in tandem with a disgusted ugh from the back of Nicole's throat. "I'll probably get fined for it, too. I don't even fuckin' care."

"Fined?" Brad arches an eyebrow before clucking his tongue and shaking his head. "Registration was semi-ridiculous from the start and damn impossible to police. I'm a card carrying non-evolved, and not afraid to admit it rather publicly." He shrugs slightly, "Just one of those things we had to do to stay in business, but I get it. I probably would've put it off if I were doing anything else with my life." He winks at her and also leans in for the conversation.

"I'm almost positive my producer wouldn't let me get away with not registering. That's just how K rolls. She wants what's best for the show and that's just what she does." The tone is matter-of-fact, "The show needs me to stay on as host. For me to stay on, I needed to register. Plain and simple." He brings the liquor to his lips before offering her another shrug.

"Of course… that doesn't make registration right."

Nicole actually blushes about her comment, bringing her drink up to cover it. A sip to steady her nerves. A gulp for good measure. It seems Nicole may be a woman after Russo's own heart after all. "Off the record, I'm lucky I have an understanding employer that isn't enforcing his employee's registration just yet." She sighs. "Evolved, or non-Evolved, it shouldn't matter. It isn't the public's business.

"I'll buy into some argument that maybe the government should know who can do what, but it's being treated like the sex offenders database or something. The Evolved aren't criminal by virtue of their genetics. That's like saying all African Americans should be in a publicly viewable database because they might commit a crime." Nicole's brows hike up. Do you see how ridiculous it sounds?

"Touché," Brad mumbles bitterly after taking another gulp of the scotch. "It's an issue. A variable issue." His grey-blue eyes flit from Nicole to the waiter and back again. "There's no way to police people without a registry. A registry, that, like you said, can be misused or abused."

"And you're right, it's treating people like criminals. Evolveds. Non-evolveds. And all in the name of equality." Even if he's neutral on most things, this much he can say. "But people are fearing the wrong thing. They should be fearing a system that silences them; that represses their voice." And there's his fear. A different kind of repression.

"You are so right," Nicole agrees with an emphatic nod of her head. But after a sip of her sour, she has the grace to look sheepish. "I'm sorry, if I'm making you feel judged or uncomfortable. It's not my intention. I'm… passionate about this issue." That much is obvious. "I have a lot of good friends who've been vilified over this. It can't not hit close to home for me."

Nicole offers a smile and shifts the subject. "Don't take this the wrong way, but… I'm impressed. You really are fiercely intelligent, Brad." She tips her head forward, a pantomime of tipping her hat. "I mean, it's obvious on screen that you're very smart, but… There's a lot of people in this business whose intelligence fades when they no longer have the talking points in front of them on cue cards." Mischievously she asks, "Have you met Wolf Blitzer?"

"Thank you. And no need to apologize. I actually have a masters degree in political science, which while it might seem somewhat inconsequential actually is my saving grace in understanding the pulls for power. I mean…" Brad's smile edges on playful "…it's not like a monkey with a microphone couldn't grab ratings. We just aim to be better than that." Even if they do play the ratings game, The Advocate makes efforts at being an informed series.

The mischief is caught and extended as his smile curls further, "I have…" he fails to suppress the chuckle on his lips, the assumed joke shared between them not uttered although it's there just the same. "And I very rarely use cue cards anymore; only our first season on the air… and my first season on radio. Too intimidated by what would happen if I screwed up. Now though?" There's a pause as he finishes off another scotch. "I. Just. Don't. Care."

Nicole's head tips back as she lets a genuine peal of laughter ring in the air. She taps her fingers on the table in front of Russo. "I like you, sir. You are a man after my own heart." She brings both hands up to brush the hair away from her face. The movements are a bit more exaggerated than they probably need to be. The whiskey is catching up to her.

"I double majored, myself. I have degrees in poli-sci and philosophy," she informs him with a curl of her lip. She giggles at that. "Do you know it's the philosophy degree that caught Linderman's attention? I guess us poli-sci assholes are a dime a dozen." Nicole downs the last of her whiskey sour cleanly and again gestures for another round with a sweeping point of her finger to her empty. "But someone dumb enough to toss philosophy into the mix? I tell you, I kept Pfizer in business with my consumption of migraine medication alone while I was in school. And it was worth it."

"My undergrad was a double major too! Not philosophy though — communications. Can't hold a tune for the life of me so I was gonna be a DJ!" There's a smugness in his smile at this before he's shaking his head again. "Things turned out alright though. But politicians don't sing and don't get me any closer to bands. What was I thinking?" he winks at her.

"Well, cheers to majors that get jobs! Even if they cause headaches… and don't end up helping us meet bands!" he shrugs before leaning away again, his eyes scanning her carefully. "And don't decide you like me too early. I can be a very surprising son of a bitch — wait… I think I just insulted my mother…" he holds up a finger before correcting himself "… a surprising bastard. More fitting. More accurate. And mom doesn't deserve that. She was one of the good ones." Why deny the truth?

"I work for Daniel Linderman," Nicole responds flatly with a lift of her brows. "I know all about surprising bastards. I am surrounded by them daily." She's even sleeping with one. But Russo doesn't need to know that. "When I was in high school," she says with a far-off expression like she could actually look through the empty space over Russo's shoulder and into her own past, "I used to think I was gonna run off to L.A. and find me a band I could travel with. Like wearing a leather jacket and stonewash jeans would be all it would take." She laughs at herself. "Glad I decided on college."

"Yeah… I joined the military. Did my service, came back and did my show. But somewhere in there I figured I'd manage a band." Brad lifts his hands in the universal sign indicating what are you gonna do?. He winks at her before offering another shrug. "To the road more travelled?" he lifts his glass with an arch of his eyebrow.

Nicole lifts her glass and clinks it with Russo's. "The road more travelled." After a drink, she's reaching into the pocket of her dress and retrieving a business card which she holds up by index and middle fingers between the two of them. "If I give you my card, will you call me? And not just to talk politics?" Thankfully, the flush brought on by whiskey covers the blush brought on by her flirtation.

An eyebrow is quirked at the card as Brad's own cheeks flush a pale pink. It's flattering at the very least. His lips curl into a sheepish grin, not wholly there but not wholly absent either. His fingers reach into his pocket as he extracts his wallet and a mitt-ful of cash, enough to cover both of their drinks as he slides the card off the table. He gives her a nod, "Take it easy, Nicole." She receives another wink as he slides away from the table, he's had quite enough booze for one night. And then as a sidebar he tacks on, "I'll be in touch."

"I certainly hope so," Nicole muses. "It was nice meeting you, Brad." As he departs, she leans forward to surreptitiously follow his movements with half-lidded eyes and a ghost of a grin.

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