Just Black


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Scene Title Just Black
Synopsis On a journey in a blizzard to Buffalo New York, Catherine Chesterfield and Barbara Simms look to confront a man who creates visions of the future…
Date January 28, 2011

New York

Sun Tzu spoke once of the use of nature to a General's advantage in war. If what has happened in New York City has turned the conflict of the Evolved into a war, what mother nature is doing to the northeast today is nothing short of an act of aggression.

A seven hour drive from New York City to Buffalo is looking more like eight and a half hours, judging by the clock in the center console of the 1984 Chevrolet pickup truck loned to Barbara Simms and Catherine Chesterfield by the Ferrymen. Rust brown colored, beat up and without proper heat, it's a miserable way to travel, but it's also reliable in the snow. It would figure, ont he day that both Simms and Chesterfield decide to head up to follow a lead on a retired precognitive artist named Thomas Redhouse.

The drive up from the city has been slow going, with unplowed roads, traffic accidents and the driving snow itself hindering travel. An opportunity like this, where a blizzard can serve as cover for a pair of women sneaking out of the city, is too good to pass up, however. Also too good, is a chance to get awayfrom the clutter, chaos and noise of New York City. The further northwest the pair travel from the city, the more calm things become. No roadblocks, no checkpoints, no military patroling the streets. The further away from New York they get, is sort of like traveling backwards in time to a more innocent era.

By the time signage for Buffalo starts showing up, there's snowbanks on the roadside some four feet high. Nothing compared to the snowfall of the Great Storm, but for natural weather an impressive sight. The roads are salted and sanded, a ark brown strip of the mix up the middle of every lane.

It gets more rural the further west they travel, through Binghamton, Rochester, and finally on into Buffalo. Some of the green highway signs along the way resonate with Barbara, any mention of the Canadian Border brings back old memories. Painful, old memories.

By the time the Buffalo city limits are reached, signs for Niagra Falls are everywhere, along with closed tourist locations shut down for the day because of the blizzard coming in off of the water. It isn't into the heart of Buffalo that the two Ferrymen councilwomen arew bound for, however, but rather the outskirts of Buffalo in wooded seclusion where Redhouse has chosen to eke out his twilight years.

A few miles outside of the city, on State Highway 442 near Lancaster is a narrow single-lane dirt driveway winding into snow-laden woods. The old Chevy has no problem ploughing thorugh the thick snow, tires spinning in four-wheel drive and jostling the passengers around in the cabin. On the narrow road, the canopy is so thick from pine branches and snow that it feels like night, headlights cutting through the snowy dark, thick and large flakes still managing to fall down from above.

With the sun in the process of setting, night is coming soon to Buffalo, and the distant lights through the woods of a home out here in the rural outskirts of the city seem to follow the directions to Thomas Redhouse's residence. They won't be driving home tonight, not in this weather, but hopefully Barbara Simms and Catherine Chesterfield won't be going home empty handed.

Features are obscured in the way she's made standard since early November, with a parka and layers to both provide warmth and conceal curvature. Hands are protected by thick gloves, the hood is up and drawn tight so only part of her face can be seen, but she doesn't seem much troubled by the lack of decent heat in the truck. Maybe it's because her clothing is effective, or because even in this snowstorm it's still so very much warmer than other places Cat's been, including Nuked York City when Simon Brum let things continue to freeze harder just because he felt like it.

Opening the door after reaching their destination, she sets one sturdily booted foot on the ground then the other and turns toward the home. Food and drink she provided will be left in the vehicle, there's no worry about it spoiling. Natural refrigeration for the win.

Saying that Barbara is dressed for warmth is a vast understatement - there's probably about five layers covering her, and that's not accounting for the jacket two(!) scarves, or the hat. But a long drive throug know in the cold is something she got enough of on Staten Island. Enduring it for as long as the trip to Buffalo had been tough, and certainly something she wouldn't have done if it hadn't been witout a purpose as potentially important as this could be.

She's been silent most of the trip, particularly once the approach to Buffalo had begun. She remains as such once she steps out of the truck, letting out a sigh. The snow comes up higher than she expected, causing her to stumble a bit as she follows after Cat. "You'd tink Global Warming would be handling this," she mumers as they approach the door, offering the joke with a smile.

Thomas' house isn't an outstanding thing, in fact the two floor cabin evokes memories of the Garden on Staten Island. Its roof is laden heavily with snow, surrounded close by thick forest and shifting, untouched snow. An old, red pickup truck rests in the driveway, covered in sonw and untouched. There's no sign that anyone has been outside today, though the thick plume of smoke rising up out of the chimney and the smell of the woodsmoke indicates that Thomas is likely home.

Where Cat is making a speedy approach through the knee deep snow, is a small front porch lit by a pair of front lamps flanking the front door. Ice glistens on the porch and down the wooden posts supporting the overhang above. An empty easel sits on the far side of the porch with a paint-stained cloth draped over it, though there's no canvas beneath.

On the front door hangs a simple, hand-carved wooden sign on a hemp rope that reads Home Spirit and has a woodburned image of an American Southwest desert scene, with plateaus and pillar rocks.

Steps through the deep piles slows, speed adjusted to allow Barbara keeping up better when she stumbles, but Cat's progress is steady. On reaching the porch she converts a thickly padded hand into a fist for knocking at the door and a chuckle escapes. "Global warming's got nothing on some of the people I've helped beat."

Three times in succession the closed hand impacts door in such a way as to be easily heard inside, but not so much as to seem insistent or hostile. "One has to wonder," she muses while waiting, "if he might have painted us standing here at his door. I have to imagine he knows my name, too, since I know the man's daughter."

"If he had, I imagine he might already be waiting by the door," Barbara replies dryly, shaking her head. Stopping short of the door, the postcog backs up a bit, looking over the house for a moment. "It's hard to say if he's even home, though. THe lamps… perhaps he saw us coming and decided it was best to take off before the snow got too bad." She grimaces, heaving out a sigh as Cat nocks. "I hope not. I will be pissed if we drove all the way up here for nothing."

The knock at the door comes with a distant sound of barking, a large dog, and from the laisse-faire nature of the whuf coming from the other side of a door, a tired, old dog. If Thomas is home, he's in no hurry to come to the front door. A light comes on upstairs, shining out across the snow. A couple minutes later, heavy footfalls sound across a solid floor towards the door, accompanied by the scrape of claws on wood and another low whuf of some large hound.

A shade is pulled aside, just enough that Cat can see someone with a broad frame standing on the other side of the frosted window. When the shade falls back down to close over the window, there's a clicking noise of the deadbolt sliding out, and then a creak of hinges and a hush of air as the front door to Thomas' cabin opens into the foyer.

The first thing Cat sees is a huge, shaggy dog with chocolate brown fur. He practically springs out of the door on his hind legs, held in place by a large, weathered hand around his collar. "Juno," a gruff, old voice rebukes, and the big dog settles down on his haunches, offering a slobbering smile up at Cat as he pants breathlessly in hot puffs of steam.

Restraining his dog, the man who reveals himself to Cat and Barbara is old. His hair has gone silver, worn long and down past his chin. A camouflage baseball cap rests atop his head, and his flannel-shirt and jeans attire gives him a rustic and earnest presence. He's heavy set, a large and burly man with kind, dark eyes.

Before he greets anyone, Redhouse's stare passes between Cat and Barbara to their truck, then finally back to the two young women. "S'there something I can help you with?" Suspicion in his voice and unfamiliarity seems to fly in the face of Cat's predictions.

We know who's not a precognitive.

Eyes settle on the man's face first when he opens the door, then his restrained dog, Cat holding out one of her gloved hands for the beast to sniff as he will. "Mr. Redhouse," she begins, "we've come hoping to speak with you about some artwork created many years ago, sir. Are you willing to meet with us?" Her back is straight, posture erect, the way she carries herself a testament to education and society training.

It's a disappointment he doesn't seem to recognize her, one she conceals, having perhaps thought the man's daughter would at least have mentioned her. But at the same time she doesn't share her name, one never knows what reaction it might bring.

Barbara, on the other hand, stands a bit behind her, trying to look as relaxed as she can in the cold. But when the man emerges, she quiks an eyebrow, turning and taking steps up behind Cat. "I hope we're not interrupting," she offfers with a weak smile, hands buried deep in he pockets. "But if you have a moment to spare, we'd appareciate the opprotunity to spea with you." She, too, is a bit suspect of not being recognised, and wears it more obviously on her face.

Thomas' expression sours the moment the artwork is mentioned, his dark brows furrowing together and lips sagging into a frown. "I— don't talkabout my artwork anymore. I'm retired." The easel on his porch seems to suggest otherwise, though that he's defensive seems also out of suspicion. Easing the door closed a little, Thomas tries to urge his dog back so that he can more properly close the door.

"I don't know anything about any paintings, so just— leave me alone. I just want t'live in peace." Desite his urging, Thomas gray in the muzzle old St.Bernard stares up with wide eyes at Cat, excitedly shifting around where he sits, trying to retain his position despite being tugged back by the collar.

"That's unfortunate," Cat replies with some measure of sympathy entering her voice, "and we certainly don't wish to disturb you more than necessary, Mr. Redhouse. But curiosity persists, there was one piece in particular which holds our interest, it was made on the back of a menu at the Nite Owl diner, featuring a woman with a man's face on her back, the partial profile of a woman, and a grasping hand."

No interference with his attempt to close the door is offered, as she also defers to Barbara on whether or not to share content from her postcognitive visions.

Casting her eyes off to the side a bit, Barbara first sighs - she feels bad about disturbing a man who clearly doesn't want to be. But she moves up beside Cat, and then past her enough to bed down level with the St. Bernard, smiling at it, and if allowed by both the dog and it's owned, reaching out to pet him.

"If that's the case, we sincerely apologise for disturbing you sir, but…" She pauses, looking up at him. "If… what I believe is correct, I… I do the opposite of what you do. I see that past. And I saw the picture my friend here mentioned. It has a friend of mine in it, which… is why we're here to bother you."

What Barbara says changes Thomas' demeanor entirely.

Except that his attention shoots to Catherine first and foremost. "Juno," Thomas barks as he looks down to his dog again, nudging his knee against her snout, "inside." Finally listening, the big dog lumbers away from the door, leaving Thomas to step away and look out over his shoulder, then back to Cat and Barbara. "Come in…" he quietly offers, stepping away from the door with a dour expression. It isn't happiness to see all this brought back up again that has him letting them in, but a need to put the past to rest.

"Shut the door, if you would too, and take off your shoes." One of Redhouse's hands brandishes down towards the floor where there's a few pair of boots and sneakers, all roughly the same size. Umbrellas sit in a round bin near the door, and a few coats hang on a rack not that much further away. Everything in trhe cabin smells of dog and woodsmoke.

"Thank you," Cat replies, moving inward in the wake of dog and man, then working to remove those sturdy boots once there. Off come the gloves, bare hands needed to work at getting boots off, this matter being attended to before she even thinks to remove the parka and expose her face.

Surprised by the change in behaviour, Barbara is slow to rise to her feet but quick to follow inside. "Thank you," is echoed after Cat, her boots painstakingly removed and set aside, Barbara rolling her shoulders as she moves a bit further into entrance, door shut behind and coat hung up with the others.

"I haven't thought about that picture I drew in the diner in over forty years," Thomas admits with a reluctant shake of his head. "As matter'f fact I didn't think that I'd ever see it again, let alone hear about it." Warily offering Barbara a look, Thomas' stare sweeps up and down her, then Cat. Neither of them appear to be armed, which is a step up from the last time that picture came up in conversation, the day he drew it.

"Come on in, take a seat in the kitchen. Now I don't expect the two of you will be sticking around that long, because all I want to know is how you heard about that picture, and how you find out that it was me that did it…" As Thomas talks, he turns towards a narrow doorway right off of the shoe-cluttered foyer, leading in to a kitchen where the floor gradually slopes towards the back of the house. His socks scuff across the linoleum floor, leading the way towards a small square table set up by the windows. He pulls out a chair for himself, then motions to the others for Cat and Barbara to settle themselves down in. June occupies herself with smelling the wake of everywhere that Cat and Barbara have stepped intently, not wanting to miss an inch of tread upon floor.

"'Fore you get into that, though, you might do me the kindness of introducing yourselves. You seem to know who I am, and that ain't the right way to start off any kind of conversation."

Once the boots are removed, the parka's hood is lowered and the front opened as she follows the man into his kitchen. In doing this, Cat appears even less likely to be armed. A reply is spoken as she settles into the indicated seat. "I'm Cat," she provides, "and I also know your daughter Sparrow, sir." But she opts not to elaborate, leaving the story for Barbara to at least begin.

This time, Barbara is ahead of Cat, sliding into a seat at the kitchen table silently, watching Thomas as he walks around, a look given over to June. "Barbara,"she offers, hands on the table. "I'm afraid the story isn't- as involved as you might expect. But…" she takes a deep breath as her eyes focus on Redhouse, looking a rather bit more serious. "I see the past, Mr. Redhouse. I get- spontaneous vision of what's happened in a place, or to an opect, or person… your drawing came into Cat and I's possession with several other paintings and pictures, and whn I touched yours…" Not… exactly the turth, but it's what it boils down to once she extricates the details of the Ferry's involvement.

Folding his hands in front of his face, Thomas rests his chin on his knuckles, watching the two women with tired eyes. There's no artwork in this house as far as they can see, no paintings, no sketches, nothing. "I haven't spoken to my daughter since she was a little girl. I left her when she was young, she never made the effort to reconnect with me. I don't much blame her…" Looking down to the table, Thomas reaches up to take off his cap, setting it down in front of himself, then rakes back his fingers thorugh his white hair.

"That drawing, I did out of coercion. I don't much know what it is you saw," and he still seems dubious on that point, "but I didn't want to make it. This girl, younger than the both of you, came in and asked me to make a picture of someone who could help her find a man named Tyler Case. She knew I could… direct what I did, hell she knew what it was I did at all, even before Carlos did."

Sliding his tongue over his lips, Thomas looks worried, fretful; the past isn't a plesant topic. "So I drew it for her. She didn't take it, and I threw the damned thing in the trash when I left. That girl held a gun at me under the table, and I still don't know to this day what it is she wanted or who that man was, or the woman with the tatoo on her back. But the chap that came in after she left…"

After she left incites a riot of notions from Barbara, about the end of the vision and the parts she hadn't seen. "A fellow who introduced himself as Samuel came in, looked at the picture and told me he recognized the woman in it. He called her Lydia. He thanked me for helping, and apologized for the girl's behavior. Then… they left. I never saw either of them again."

Her words are quietly spoken, delivered after Thomas has gone silent, mostly with the intent of verifications. "Carlos," Cat muses, "Mendez? These persons you encountered, we've had some dealings with them also. They made attempts to change past events, shape outcomes to their desires, and were defeated recently. Lydia and Samuel are known to us."

"Samuel Sullivan," Barbara grumbles, looking off to the side. "I never met the man, but I've heard of him, from a friend. He… well, he is not a good man. From what I heard, he was…" she stops, waving a hand dismissively. "It's complicated. Suffice to say, his actions recently apparently put many, many people in terrible risk." She shakes her head, leaning back at hom. "Tyler Case is a friend of mine. Still is, despite recent occurances, but something… unofrtunate's happened to him."

"Carlos Mendez." Thomas concurs to Cat's earlier supposition, and it's a name familiar to Barbara. A friend of the Deveaux family, a friend of the Zimmerman's. One of the Company's founders, a wealthy businessman and strict father to his son Isaac. "He was my employer, back when I did comic book art. He had me doing covers for the 9th Wonders series…" Thomas shakes his head slowly. "I don't know whatever became of him after he closed Helix Comics down."

Sliding his tongue over his teeth, Thomas wrings his hands together. "I'm sorry I… don't know what you came here hoping to find, but I've been trying to put what I can do behind me. I haven't done anything for a year or so… and the last pieces I did, don't…" Thomas shakes his head, exhaling a heavy sigh.

"I apologize if you came here expecting to find the mysteries of the universe or… the future." Thomas' voice has a distant, disconnected quality to it. "There's nothing like that here."

"Our abilities are both blessing and curse," Cat quietly opines, with a sense of being haunted coming over her, "but I wouldn't dispose of mine for any price. We found you when we came across another piece of your art at a gallery in Greenwich Village, the owner told us where to find you, sir. We don't expect to find all the mysteries of the universe, or the future, anywhere. At best, precognition offers a road sign about something to come, and often raises more questions than it answers, but I'm here to tell you signs of that nature have been read and used to stop some very dire events from unfolding. Focused attention on such matters, made people prepared to act." She pauses here to mull over something the man said briefly.

Then she follows that pattern of thought. "What you will or won't show us, sir, is up to you. Perhaps what your last pieces show don't make sense to you, but they may to others. I'm interested in seeing them."

"Carlos Mendez?" Barbara echos, grimacing a bit. 'I know the name. He- worked with some people my father used to." One of those things where it's likely best to avoid specifics, for everyone's benefit. "I… came her hoping mostly for a bit more information about the drawing, but I knew it might b a longshot. What.. you have told us is more than we started with, so the trip has been worth it. I didn't know the woman in the picture was this… Lydia. So, I thank you fo that." She looks over at Cat, frowning a bit. "We're not asking you to show or telll us anything else, unless you desire to. Otherwise we can be on our way."

There's something challenging in Redhouse's expression. "You want to see?" Both of Thomas' hands rise up from the table, and slowly he pushes himself up to stand. "Fine, maybe you can make more sense of them than I ever could…" Stepping away from his chair, Thomas offers a look down to Juno, who has laid herself down atop one of the forced-air heating vents in the floor, chin on her paws and eyes alight as if to say don't make me get up please. There's the faintest hint of a smile on the weary old man's lips, before he turns towards a back door out of the kitchen.

"They're in my workshop," Thomas murmurs, walking towards a closed door down a short, narrow hall. He doesn't wait for either woman to catch up, and seems in some small measure excited to perhaps get another perspective on the last things he painted before giving up the ghost on his work.

It's dark through the door, dark and cold. No heat has been on in here, and both Barbara and Cat can feel the cold air radiating out of the room. Fumbling around in the dark, Thomas searches for the light switch.

Hesitation isn't a thing that happens here, Cat rises to her feet and follows the aged native to his workshop, closing the front of her parka along the way and raising the hood again on contact with cold air.

Barbara looks a bit suprised, both as Redhouse reluctantly agrees to let them see the paintings, as well as when Cat shows no hesitation in following. "I don't want to improse," she responds, grimacing as she starts after Cat, a curious look on her face.

The light clicks on, "No imposing here…" Thomas intones, revealing the small and cluttered studio consisting of a few easels folded up and set up against a wall. Shelving filled with old cans and bottles of paint, brushes, pencils. A drafting table covered with boxes sits unused, a few pencil boards and old sketches of vintage 9th Wonders covers sit wrinkled and collecting dust.

Leaning up against one wall, there's several cloth covered canvases, five in total. As Thomas moves over to them, he starts pulling them out one by one and leaning them up against the shelves. But what he reveals to Cat and Barbara isn't like anything either of the women had seen or heard of before. "I made these two days after the explosion in Midtown… I was angry, emotional. When I paint… I ask a question of myself, to… focus my work. I usually try to keep my work settled on the short term, but I wanted to see what was out there— I wanted to paint a picture of hope for the future."

Looking up to Cat and Barbara, Thomas moves away from the paintings, his expression as haunted as it was the day he made these five pieces; his final pieces.

Five black canvases are all Thomas Redhouse painted that day.

"All I painted was black…"

"Nothing but black."

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