House Always Wins


alister_icon.gif etienne_icon.gif sibyl_icon.gif

Scene Title House Always Wins
Synopsis Alister and Etienne finalize their arrangement.
Date March 10, 2018

Great Kills Harbor

Even in the enclosed circle of the Great Kills harbor bay, the waves coming in from the ocean lift the Salve Regina where it sits at the docks in a steady sway of movement. It might even send Sibyl into true sleep, having only half-roused somewhere between being lifted off the floor of the Crooked Point, carried through the rain, down the pier, and onto the aging lobster boat secured there.

Inside the cabin, lit with lamps, the girl has been set down into the hanging hammock that smells deeply of the man who decided to entangle himself in their evening. It sways in place, offering more calm and tranquility than the bucking of the water.

Etienne Saint James is, of course, unphased by tidal fussing, dragging out a bottle of amber liquor and pouring helpings into two cloudy lowball glasses. He's offered Alister Black a seat at the table bolted to the floor, the booth curled around the corner of the cabin, and now slides him the glass of whiskey, where it swerves a little as the boat rocks one way and then the other in a gentle lull and swell of movement. Here, it's almost impossible to see outside, where the black of the evening obscures their surroundings, and rain streaks silver rivulets down the glass outside.

Also outside, Eileen the ocelot has been secured, and she wails unhappily from wherever she's found cover from the rain.

"Shouldn't name pets after women," Etienne says, as he sets about pouring his own drink, moving to sit down. His hair comes down in damp tangles, and silver shines in scratched up rings looped around a knuckle or two. His voice is all smoke and grit, well travelled in his own throat, that accent listing more towards its English heritage in fits and starts. "No wonder she's clawing the shit out of you."

"Eileen is a creature devoid of happiness, a void of darkness that I somehow find myself lost in, despite her occasionally off-putting tendencies. So… obviously I named her after the woman of those same qualities." Alister shrugs, taking a small, polite sip of his drink. "I'll have to thank you for your intervention. And apologize for misinterpreting your warning. I'm glad I didn't shoot you."

He, however, can't help but look over at Sibyl. "You know, I've never had a child, but I think I understand the compulsion that parents perhaps feel, to protect and nurture. I never imagined myself feeling things like that."

The girl in question is awake; it shows in the pale, blue-gray crescents of her eyes slowly lidding open and shut like a cat halfway dreaming. She breathes in slow and deep, filling her nose and the cavity of her chest with the smells of the cabin and the hammock that conforms to the curve of her back and long legs. It makes a pleasant creaking sound that’s comforting in the same strange way that the drumming of the rain on the windows is.

Her fingers curl in the hammock’s spun mesh. She rests her cheek against the inside of her arm, and watches the two men on the other side of the cabin without contributing her opinion on women — or cats. When Alister looks over at her, she meets his gaze and holds it for the duration of another breath, then moves her focus past him to the stranger with the straggle of dark hair plastered to his cheeks and shoulders.

She takes Etienne in with her eyes, absorbing what she can see of his shape in the dark at the same time her other senses soak up the unfamiliar timbre of his voice and the scent clinging to his hammock.

Etienne drags attention from the man adjacent to him, to the girl he set down on the hammock, as if attempting to calculate what connects them both. There are more children on Staten Island than, he reckons, mainlanders would feel comfortable with knowing about, but not enough to seem common. Still. Of the qualities on Staten Island, it doesn't appear to him like this one needs saving from this man, if Etienne happened to be in the children saving business.

Maybe in the Alister Black saving business, as he apology is rewarded with a subtle, crooked smile, silent acknowledgment. "You surprised me," he says. "Even out here, most men hesitate before they go about swinging guns like you did, let alone shooting them."

Coming from him, this doesn't sound like he's offering criticism.

"Shame it didn't take."

"I've rarely been a man for hesitation. My parents always told me that when a wild animal is approaching you, you shoot it the very moment it even seems to be thinking of bearings its claws. I believe this to be true in business and in life." Alister smiles at Sibyl, then feels around his suit, frowning at his lack of a gun. "I'll have to get a new gun, perhaps something a little better than a revolver this time."

"But yes, as I was saying, I was in the Civil War, as many of us were." he nods with the acknowledgment that the man in front of him probably was too. "I didn't hesitate for a moment. I killed men and women with my bears hands, with guns, with rocks, a sharp stick if I had to. They chose their side, I refused to humor the Ferry's bullshit about 'going too far'. It was war, the only rule is kill or be killed."

He can't help but laugh a little. "Hah! The Geneva convention. I'd urinate on it if I could. The things the matter to me in this world are my asshole cat, my young charge over there, and I suppose my sister. Everything else works for me, buys from me, is a potential customer or business partner, or someone in grave danger of being shot by me."

He sounds quite proud, and either anything like shame or honor, always laughing such things off where most men might suddenly bring up the hardship and cruelty of war or life in general. "Sibyl over there, her potential is great. She has the willingness to learn, the strength to survive. I'll be damned if she isn't the most powerful young woman on this island one day. Perhaps sooner than she herself would imagine, if she properly pays attention during her lessons."

“You’re talking too much,” says Sibyl from the hammock. It’s a gentle reminder from someone who’s being spoken of in the third person while she sways just a few feet away, although she doesn’t seem to be taking much umbrage. “And I am paying attention. Right now.”

She reaches up and touches the tips of her fingers to her cheek, picking at a half-dried smudge of somebody else’s blood that’s begun to go tacky in the drier climate of Etienne’s cabin. “I don’t want power,” she adds, curling those same fingers back into a small, relaxed fist. Her eyes roam over her knuckles. “It does things to people that I don’t like.”

That seems to be as much space in the conversation that she’s comfortable taking up, too. She returns to watching Etienne, who is the unknown quantity in the room. Although she isn’t very familiar with Alister yet, she thinks of him a little like an immaculately-polished glass window through which she can see everything that she needs to.

The boat’s captain, on the other hand, is considerably more opaque.

He's also silent, as Alister speaks. If he thinks the man talks too much, it doesn't transmit across — his silence is a listening, patient silence, even if midway through he finds something for his hands to do by taking out his knife, and using a rag to clean it down properly, leaning back in his seat. Information is absorbed, and where it goes after that is nothing that Etienne indicates, inscrutable but unthreatening, here, even if he's holding a knife with another man's blood being worked out of its groove. When Alister includes him in America's war, he doesn't correct him.

He does smile, just a little, at the girl's interruption. "De meester here has power," he says, to her. "Power's freedom. Go where you like, do as you like. Those men back there wanted a bit of that for themselves, so it would seem."

Now Etienne looks back to Alister. "I bet, more where they come from."

"Hah, I've lived my entire life with men and women trying to gain my power. What they don't understand is that the power is in my mind, and there is little to know limit to how much dirt I can crawl back up from and rebuild an empire." Alister points to Sibyl and nods toward her. "While I understand your concerns, on some level, this man here is correct. Power is freedom. If you don't want power to corrupt, then you have to deeply consider why you want power, but also, power can't only be in the things that you have."

He taps the side of his head. "I will give you the power that I have, the power of my mind, and you will do with that whatever you see fit. If you use that power to build an empire, good, if you use it to outthink me and take everything from me, I'll be proud of you and I'll take it back tenfold, unlike my father before me."

Sibyl’s tongue darts against her teeth. “If I do,” she says without thinking, “will you name a cat after me too?” Or maybe she does think and says it anyway. Teenagers like to test boundaries, and this particular teenager is feeling a extra brazen in light of their brush with disaster not too long ago.

There’s nothing like a near death experience to make you believe you’re invincible. This is the part where she should duck her head, avert her eyes, or try to do something, anything in an attempt to look even a little contrite.

She doesn’t.

Etienne drinks his helping of whiskey in one neat tipping back.

The word 'empire' isn't one that comes up in casual conversation, usually, and here it is used twice. It gives him some measure of the man he chose to assist this evening, when really all he knew of him was the potential to earn some money.

And this time, Etienne chooses silence while the inexplicable girl has a stare off with the man sitting with him at the table. Around them, his presence is in the way his boat rises and falls on waves, and creaks and groans, and lamps swing their shadows. All of it is his empire, tiny though it is. He picks up the whiskey bottle and uncaps it again with a spin between his rough fingers, watching them both.

"I loved Eileen as a woman, I poured my heart and soul into her, a risky gamble. Gambling is what I do, in all aspects of life. I see things that represent what I want, and then I put everything on the line, for the chance to have more. I was deeply wounded, this I admit, and that ocelot was one last bit of spite for her…" Alister has to take a long sip after that bit of revelation, but stares hard, and very serious at Sibyl.

"The love that I've quickly grown for you, and I call it love because, to put it simply, I have nothing to gain from you except perhaps the idea of a legacy, the idea that I can care for something more than myself. But I digress…" Another sip. "The love that I've grown for you, I would compare it to the love that a father feels for a daughter. And, much like my parents before me, what you do to or for me would be the result of either my strength or weakness."

He places a meaningful free hand onto his chest, feeling the slow, deliberate beat of his own heart. "I admired my father's power, but I did not entirely respect him as a person. If you can't respect me as a person, and you see weakness in me, then you will probably take what bit of power that I have, once I'm done teaching you."

There's a long, deep breath, and he closes his eyes. "But my true wish is to earn your respect, earn your admiration as a human being, show you what the world could be, watch you grow into whatever you'll grow into. Perhaps you're not even an orphan, but that doesn't matter to me. I want to see if I'm truly capable of this, this is the gamble that I choose to engage in."

Sibyl is showing Alister neither much respect nor admiration. Whether this is because he hasn’t earned it yet or because she has an issue with authority figures outside of Epstein isn’t clear. She’s taken Etienne’s lead and has let her expression grow cloudy, intentions becoming less clear the longer she lets a new silence fill the space between the three of them.

She has no whiskey to preoccupy her hands with, unfortunately, and her patience doesn’t last for as long as she probably wishes it would.

“Hire him then,” she suggests, and make no mistake: it is a suggestion. Her tone has shifted to one of offhanded deference that’s softer around the edges than the barb she’d attempted to stick him with a few moments ago. “I don’t need a bodyguard, but you do.”

Tink. That's the sound of the whiskey bottle neck tapping the edge of Alister's glass, and depositing a modest top up.

Etienne slides a look to Sibyl, equal parts assessing to see how she's taking all this talk, as well as some sly acknowledgment for her easy deflection. He wonders how much talking she did to get within this man's area of influence and his interest or, apparently, his heart, or whether it was something she's allowed to have happen to her. Whether there was some ineffable quality that put the idea in his own head.

Somehow, telling Alister Black what he needs strikes him as counterintuitive. He did, after all, buy an ocelot.

"Maybe Mister Black's only interested in buying off enemies," he says, "instead've friends."

"Enemies are a tricky thing. There's always a trick to dealing with someone. Usually that trick is to strangle them. But there are some enemies who have to be outthought, manipulated, destroyed." Alister raises his glass to Etienne, then takes a careful sip. "However, I will hire you. I'd like to test Sibyl's early judgement."

Then, looking to Sibyl, he wonders, "What makes you think you don't need a bodyguard?"

Trust goes both ways, it turns out, and Sibyl decided awhile ago that she’d need to make some concessions along the way if this it to work — whatever this is. This means doing things she doesn’t want to, like telling the truth.

“I have an ability,” she says. “It— protects me, in ways that other people can’t.” She hesitates, then, assembling and disassembling words into different configurations in her head before she’s able to construct something that she’s comfortable of giving a voice.

Finally: “Nobody can sneak up on me while it’s paying attention. It shows me things that have already happened, sometimes, or tells me the safest way to go. And it’s strong.” She glances at Etienne. “Like the ocean is. It could destroy everyone on this boat, if it wanted to. If I wanted to.”

"She's small, still. Slips between the cracks, vanishes in the shadows. Like a little knife."

That's how children survive in these places, that Etienne can tell — and this one is growing up into a woman, for whom it will be much the same. "Someone protecting her would slow her down. You," and he points his blade at Alister, "need someone to watch your back when you're doing a big show like in there."

"You surprise me more and more, Sibyl. You don't have to say anything more than you want to." Alister says this in a tone that cautiously suggests she not say anymore, rather than one that is truly offering her the choice not to. It's more protective than anything else. "But we can discuss it later."

Then, back to Etienne, he shrugs a little helplessly. "I'll hire you, you'll help me ensure the success of my gambles."

Alister's tone suggests that Sibyl not say anymore, and so she doesn’t. She slips, knifelike, back into the silence that is her sheath.

Etienne's own knife returns to his sheath, now shining steel instead of drying blood. He doesn't feel the need to offer Alister his hand and shake on it — he has enough, for the time being, to consider a deal signed away over whiskey and the rocking of the Salve Regina.

"House always wins," he says, and lifts his glass in cheers.

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