Interesting Choice of Words


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Scene Title Interesting Choice of Words
Synopsis An evening of drinking, self-loathing, and a little womanising is derailed and made into a very tense situation. For one party.
Date December 14, 2010


A flashy little strip club, its name advertised in bright neon pink above the door in swooping cursive, with the figure of a woman outlined in the same seeming to kick a leg with each flash of the light. Two bouncers stand by the door, which is a reflective chrome and stays closed unless opened by the security duo, with a red carpeting extending out onto the pavement. They will check you for I.D. before permitting you entrance. You'll be greeted by a woman in full burlesque regalia, with exaggerated makeup, a corset that barely keeps everything in, fishnets and feathers. Provided you can pay the cover charge, she will show you to a table, offer to get your first drink of the evening, and leave you alone to enjoy what Burlesque has to offer.

The main room's focal point is the generous stage, a circular platform with Broadway lights around the edges, and a catwalk that extends further out into the scattered round tables where patrons can sit and drink. The lights that shine down on it are never particularly clear, often shards of pink, green, blue, which hide as much as they reveal. There is almost always a dancer on the stage, even as even more girls move around the room to give more intimate shows on tabletops. There's a long bar that crawls along one side of the room, with a couple of bartenders behind it, a counter of black glass with rows and rows of liquor on display on glass shelves. Leather booths are tucked away towards the back, offering some privacy for whatever purpose.

Despite the proposed theme of the club, impressions of burlesque only factor in with the permanent staff and particular shows of featured dancers. Otherwise, the tunes are standard for any kind of strip club, and the girls will wear what they like. There are private lounges for more expensive, personal shows, and a darkly lit, obscured staircase leading up to both dressing rooms and the manager's office.

It’s not her favourite haunt. Not without one of her favourite drinking partners on her arm. But it’s up there. A close second to Desperado. But nobody rides anything at Burlesque, despite how close it comes to being simulated. (As opposed to the mechanical bull at the aforementioned gay bar that puts it on the top of Nicole’s favourite places to grab a drink.)

The girl on the stage is cute, though, which is a bonus. From this distance, she almost looks like Jessica Sanders, though. Maybe not so much of a bonus after all. The shiver that runs down Nicole’s spine doesn’t feel like any sort of bonus, at any rate.

A tall Long Island Iced Tea sits in front of her, and in strict opposition to New York City’s smoking ban, a menthol cigarette is smouldering in an ash tray just to her left. It isn’t the same without her acerbic partner in crime at her side.

Since the eighth of November, New York City has found itself inundated with soldiers, not just in its streets, but in its bars as well. Strip clubs, too, and Burlesque is no exception — it's classier than some of the other businesses in Brooklyn with names like Stretch & Marks, Moulin Spouge and Skanx.

They're usually in uniform, and with the city under martial law no one makes any noise when they walk in with their sidearms plainly visible. The group sitting close to the stage and making drunken catcalls has been there for almost an hour — longer than Nicole — but their behaviour could be much worse.

They haven't, after all, started breaking things yet.

Nicole leans back in her seat, tearing her gaze away from the almost-familiar blonde on the stage and instead watches the men that watch the dancer. Her drink is brought to her lips first, then her cigarette, leaving tasteful mauve lipstick on the filter, layered over previous marks. She doesn’t think to hide her disdain at first. Drunken, rowdy men are nothing new for a club like this, but the uniforms make her (understandably) uneasy.

It’s a reminder of what’s gone wrong with the city over the past month. It makes her mind wander, and she wonders if her little sister is safe tonight. If she’s somewhere warm. If she has food in her stomach.

It makes Nicole’s stomach churn a bit. Here she is, drowning her sorrow in alcohol and women, when her sister may be somewhere on the streets of New York, living in a box for all she knows. She’d like to believe that Colette has the resources to be somewhere better than that.

The answer is to drink more. Alcohol to numb thoughts. Dreaming has been artfully avoided by using her ability to stay awake longer than any human being reasonably should. It’s taking its toll. Tonight, she should try to actually sleep. As frightening as the prospect is.

The man who comes down the stairs from the second floor where Logan's office is located is in uniform, too, but he wears a heavy greatcoat made of dense wool in darkest green over it. He, like the soldiers by the stage, has been inside long enough that the snow that had gathered under his collar and in his hair has melted, leaving him feeling flushed and damp, but so does everyone else.

Winter has that effect. Although his legs are long enough to take them two at a time, he moves at a leisurely pace, and in spite of his size and the power behind it, he makes the descent appear easy, fluid. Whether or not he's handsome depends on personal standards; by society's, he isn't unpleasant to look at, but his hair is thinning and his lips are possibly a little too full.

Nicole’s attention is captured by movement on the second floor. Her heart jumps just once for reasons she isn’t quite certain of. She watches the man descend, assuming he must have rank. He carries himself like she assumes a man of some rank must do. One doesn’t achieve stature without acting like they belong there. She’s experienced this enough in her own line of work to recognise it when presented with the image.

Her drink is polished off, and the glass set to the edge of the table to be picked up by a passing member of the staff. And when they ask if she wants another, the answer is of course, yes. But she’ll be having an amaretto sour. Too many soldiers for her comfort to be properly shitfaced, much as she wants it. Nicole will have to temper her consumption. Just enough to shut up her mind.

It isn’t working.

It never really does.

At the bottom of the stairs, the man exchanges a few brief words with one of the bouncers on duty, who gestures to Nicole with a lift of his chin. Long strides carry him the distance between them, and he approaches the table with a dark expression that's difficult to read, though there's no apparent threat in it.

"Nicole Nichols?"

A fresh drink cannot arrive fast enough. Despite the cold knot forming in her stomach, Nicole’s stared down her fair share of sharks in the political arena and so when she smiles, it looks genuine, if a bit cordial. “You’re looking at her.” After a last drag from her cigarette, the smoke from which she exhales over her shoulder and pointedly away from the military man come to stand at her table, she crushes it out in the ash tray.

Faintly luminescent blue gaze flits to the man’s uniform, counting pips and bars. “Colonel, is it?” She scoots over in her seat and gestures to where she had sat. “Would you care to join me?” In the rounded booth, this means she’s just put herself on the inside. Cut off her easy escape. She hopes it looks better if she doesn’t appear to think she needs an easy escape.

And perhaps she won’t. If there’s one thing the Nichols sisters share, it’s a healthy dose of paranoia. Founded, or unfounded.

"No," says the colonel, "but thank you. I have a few questions, if I may." He does not, however, give her the opportunity to respond before he's reaching into his coat and retrieving a series of photographs from one of the inside pockets. In doing so, the shimmer of his pistol is briefly visible under the club's lights, but he pays it no more attention that he does the slush melting on the floor.

He remains standing when he flicks the photographs onto the table. The first depicts a tall, slender woman with shockingly red hair and eyes that are either a very dark green or a murky brown bordering on hazel. Skin like porcelain. A stubborn chin. Ethnicity is sometimes difficult to judge, but if anyone looks classically Irish, it's— "Lexington Lane. I have reason to believe she may be affiliated with the owner of this club, and I'm told you and Mr. Logan know each other fairly well. Do you recognize her?"

Nicole lifts the photo from the table and examines it in the less than ideal lighting of the club. Her smile fades. “Lexington Lane? No. Not a name or face I’m familiar with.” She turns her gaze up as she puts the picture of the woman in question back down. “If she’s one of Mister Logan’s acquaintances, I’m not aware of her.”

That this might be about Logan has Nicole resisting the urge to sit up a little straighter. Her worries have been exclusively for her sister as of late. It never once occurred to her that her closest friend (if what Logan and Nicole have can be considered a close friendship) may be in danger, too. But with the warnings she’s received from Catherine Chesterfield, Nicole has to wonder if they aren’t all under scrutiny.

“Am I allowed to ask what sort of business these two might have?” Dark hair spills across one shoulder as Nicole tips her head to the side. The lighting at the bar plays off the blue interspersed in dark chocolate brown.

"They were seen together on Staten Island at a triage center on the afternoon on the eighth," the colonel — Heller — says. "No solid evidence of a connection, which is why I'm asking, but she and her partner are suspected of running guns for an insurgent group we've been tangling with up north. All I want to know, Miss Nichols, is where they're getting their firearms and ammunition from."

A smile tightens his mouth. "Don't worry: your friend isn't in any trouble. Quite the opposite, actually."

“Wait. I’ve seen her face before.” Nicole’s brows knit together and she taps the photograph. “She was in the paper not long ago, right? Something about her business being destroyed in an explosion or a fire or something?” She shakes her head. “Sorry. That obviously isn’t helpful. I’ve never seen her before, other than that. Not with Mister Logan.”

One shoulder comes up in a shrug and Nicole sits back again, trying to look relieved. Relaxed. “Guns aren’t really his thing. I’m not even sure that he owns one.” It’s a lie. Even if she didn’t have knowledge of it, he’d be stupid not to. Even she owns two handguns. She’s smart enough to carry the one she has a permit for in her purse. The other hasn’t been touched in nearly two years. Not since she emptied the clip into her father.

The memory makes her feel sick again. Not because she regrets what she did, but because she wonders if stray thoughts could be used like weapons. In a world where telepaths are a very real danger, and she’s even met one, it’s a thought met with some unease. “Should I tell Mister Logan you’d like to speak with him? I think he’s off on business of some sort. Or taking a well-deserved vacation. But I can get him in touch with you, Colonel…” She squints, trying to read the name on the shiny plate pinned to the man’s uniform in the low light.

"Heller," he provides, "and that won't be necessary. I already left a message." He touches the tips of two fingers to the edge of the topmost photograph and angles it aside to reveal the one beneath it, and in no way should Nicole relax.

It's of her little sister, and taken only a few days ago judging by the clothes on Colette's back. They're the same ones she was wearing the last time they saw one another, and taken from a moving vehicle.

"What about her?"

Intelligible thought comes to a screeching halt in the confines of Nicole’s mind. And suddenly she’s glad she thought better of a second Long Island. As it stands, she brings the amaretto to her lips and sips it through the small straw provided, setting it back down and retrieving her cigarette case from where it sits next to her on the seat, plucking up a fresh smoke and lighting it.

“You know that’s my sister,” Nicole murmurs, her lips tight around the words. “When was this taken? I… I haven’t seen her since her birthday.” Pleading eyes turn up to Heller. “Have you found her? Is she in some sort of trouble? She won’t answer my calls or return my messages.” That much is even true most of the time. Her jaw trembles, masking fear of the man with fear for her sister’s safety. Though the two aren’t necessarily separate things.

"October, was it?" Heller asks with a scrunch of his brow. He's watching Nicole's face rather than glancing back down at the photograph, which he's probably spent so much time looking at that it's already ingrained in his memory, studying her features for her reaction and what can be read there.

"I've spoken with her legal guardian," he says. "Judah Demsky. He doesn't seem to know where she is, either, so naturally I thought that her only surviving family might. What about her friends, Nicole? And don't tell me she doesn't have any. They all do at that age."

“That’s right,” Nicole responds easily, though shaky enough with the concern that only surviving family must possess. “She’s a Halloween baby.” The flicker of a smile is so brief it may have been a grimace instead. Her eyes stay trained on his face longer than they should. And even then, she didn’t quite meet his eyes. She swallows a lump in her throat (one that tastes a lot like bile) and peers around the bar with worry etched in her features.

“I can’t even get Demsky to call me back. I thought it was some kind of conspiracy to cut me out of her life.” Nicole’s gaze flits back, and this time settles on the lighter blue of the colonel’s eyes. “I haven’t been the best of sisters. I work a lot. I always have. I just… I thought she was mad at me when she wouldn’t call me back. Thought her dad was backing her up.”

A heavy sigh. “She almost certainly must have friends, but she doesn’t tell me about any of them,” Nicole offers helplessly. “Please, what’s going on? Please tell me. I don’t… I don’t know what to think about this. Your questions.” It’s easy to use the emotion threatening to overflow and pour out of her to make her words seem sincere. The emotions aren’t false or conjured. They’re just painted with different motivations.

Heller plucks up the photographs from the table and tucks them back into his coat pocket. Nicole won't meet his eyes, and now he won't meet hers. "Conspiracy," he says flatly. "Now that's an interesting choice of words if I ever heard one." He straightens, adjusts his sleeves, then his lapels and twists a look back over his shoulder at his men, one of them slipping a ten dollar bill into somebody's garter.

He presses out a sigh. "If anything new turns up regarding your sister, you'll hear about it," could be either a threat or a promise, depending on whether she's just passed his test — if this was a test at all — or if she's failed it exceptionally.

"Have a good evening," concludes their conversation as he turns away from Nicole and departs the table.

Nicole manages to keep her head together for the space of several moments. Focus on one thought. Don’t let him see you — sag or tremble or break or breathe, Nicole.

She does breathe, of course, eventually. And even then only to bring her cigarette to her lips and take a long drag that burns in her lungs. Gives her something else to dwell on. One hand reaches into her pocket. She pulls out her BlackBerry. Nicole barely needs to glance at it, half-concealed beneath the table as it is, pulling up a new text message.

Sent to: John Logan

I need you. Tonight.

The phone is rested face-down in her lap then, her foot tapping anxiously against the floor at almost the same speed at which her nails tap against the back of the mobile’s casing.

When she finally decides it’s safe to do so, Nicole buries her face in her hand and shudders once. It’s closest she’ll allow herself to come to tears tonight.

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