Maybe Not



Scene Title Maybe Not
Synopsis Joseph is given an offer he was able to refuse… not that it mattered in the end.
Date December 8, 2009

Outside the Suresh Center

Ricky L. has kept going, which is the cardinal virtue of AA graduates. One Day at a Time, Keep Coming In. These cliches have been repeated over and over to the point where it's clear they serve less as advice and more as a mantra… or a maxim. The young teenager, Christine, stopped showing up after the first day, which is hardly surprising. After a couple days, too, the banker type doesn't show. But there are some new members too, and the girl with the hidden arms and obvious needle habit has actually stuck with it. It seems to be Working for her, she's more open, more humble… it's something to see, and Ricky is clearly very, very pleased. At the end of tonight's session, he offers her his number, and it's evident that there is nothing untoward about it. He just wants to be there to help, and he's reaching out to her. Joseph knows this because Ricky gave the priest his number on the second session. It's an AA thing, apparently. "If you think you're ready for a sponsor," he had said, "Give me a call. If it ain't me, I know some guys, great guys, who you can talk to."
So the atmosphere is quite positive tonight, a huge improvement over the first time, with its close-to-fights and in-meeting whiskey drinking (no sign of her, either, maybe she fixed her problem on her own, Ricky hasn't mentioned it, save once, when he said he'd be praying for her). Everyone's a little jittery on coffee, those that have been drinking it at least, which is hard to do since it tastes like mud. But things feel… better. There is a feeling of hope, a little desperate perhaps, but it's there, in the air. Maybe tonight will be a good night.
Maybe not.

It's a kind of energy that Joseph had come to know, long ago. After that initial awkwardness is broken through like freshly cracked ice, and people start believing they're on the right track, and smiles come easier. It's a little like church, only with an added sense of shame that acts as their cobweb tenuous alliance and connection, unlike the unifying belief of God. Although make no mistake, that's there too, and it's not an aspect Joseph is shy about, naturally. It's one of those things he can still keep a hold of.

The murmur of conversation is a dim constant, one Joseph retracts his voice from when he moves away from the woman who covers her arms, making pleasant conversation for as long as either can stand it, and he's seriously considering refilling his cup of coffee before he has to brave the winter outside, despite its pitiful taste.

Eventually, though, he goes to toss away the papercup and retrieve his coat. He hasn't had a cane on his person since, probably, the third time he's come by, although there's still the twinge that the cold manages to bring to healing muscle.

It's chilly out, that's for sure. But it's nothing compared to withdrawal chills, as Ricky is fond of noting; he tells some of the same stories and repeats some of the same sayings frequently, and it vacillates between irritating and endearing. Plus it has started raining, which increases the chill; if it were just snow it would really be better, but getting soaked is now the most likely option. Some of the people here drive, those that can afford cars, and the rest either use public transit or carpool. The former of the carless are not pleased; waiting for the bus in the rain with no umbrella is a particular kind of torture. No on is looking forward to going outside, however, car or no.

Joseph can drive. He even had a car, once, before it got totaled by a rain of rubber bullets and a couple of real ones one evening, the same one that had him limping around not so long ago, and still does. Now it's mostly parts and scrap somewhere on Staten Island, and Joseph gets to build up the will to move off towards the one working train station and trundle on back to Manhattan. Blowing out a sigh, he pulls his coat around him tighter, procrastinating against braving the wild outdoors and the New York downpour.

It's no worse, really, than the underground where he spends his days. If overtly wetter. With a passing smile to familiar people, Joseph makes his way out from the centre, head ducked.

Joseph gets halfway to the station, almost within sight, when he hears running behind him, slapping through puddles, in syncopation with the hammering sound of the rain. A man with an umbrella is heading his way, lifting a hand and calling. "Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!" He's in a suit, this guy who's flagging him down, with a sallow face and black, thinning hair. His nice leather shoes are going to be ruined at this rate, but that's his problem. He's no one Joseph recognizes, that's for sure. But it's most certainly Joseph the guy is addressing, and even more certainly Joseph that he's approaching.

At least this guy has an umbrella. Joseph seems to be tolerating the patter of icy rain on his own, considering he plans to be underground soon - his coat does much to deflect the most of it, but dark hair is beginning to streak with it, eyes squinting and chin tucked in against the scarf wrapped twice around his throat. He stops, too, turns side on enough to see if he's the sir being called to. His own shoes aren't particularly nice, though they perhaps used to be, brown leather scratched up and permanently stained with mud and dust.

"What can I do for you?" is automatic and friendly, dark eyes quickly scanning the appearance of this one, perhaps expecting to recognise him as a Ferryman, a man helped by the Ferryman, or perhaps more humiliatingly so, someone from his prior flock he's managed to forget.

The umbrella swings over Joseph, extended to cover him even though it places the sallow faced man a little bit the rain himself. His thin hair is patted down by droplets. "You're part of the Refrain group, right?" he says, "The one that just got out?" It's Refrain Anonymous, so it's maybe a little weird that he's getting approached, but who else would be leaving the Center at this time? It's after main hours.

Almost timid enough to step back from the offer of shelter, but not quite, Joseph forces his feet to remain solid against the pavement as much as some heat rises to his face at the words out of the man's mouth. He doesn't see enough daylight for the pink that darkens at his cheeks to be really be disguised, but perhaps it can be dismissed as the nip of chill in the air, as he lifts an arm to brush rain water from his brow with a partially damp sleeve.

He considers lying for a tenth of a second. "Yeah, that would be me. I don't recognise you from the meetings," is stated politely, and more than a little pointedly.

"Sorry," the man says, apparently understanding at least in part how intrusive this is, though it's not clear he cares overmuch, "Just had to be sure. I'm not with the group. Do you have to be somewhere? I'm here on behalf of some people who are working on trying to manage the effects of Refrain addiction, and we need some volunteers. It's important work. We hoped maybe you could help."
This is a pitch, and not one that's delivered with a great deal of force and conviction. This guy is doing a job, and he's doing it in the rain, with his umbrella covering some other guy. The 'important work' line was probably something he memorized and recites to everyone he approaches. Doesn't mean it's not true, though.

"Uh." Awkward, Joseph shifts a look off to the side to crawl his gaze up a building as opposed to meeting eye contact or any of those. Telling things. His arms fold around him, less out of defense and more to combat the child, watery wind that stubbornly angles through the street and tugs at both of them in the direction back towards the centre. "No, I'm not due anywhere," he admits, without particular reluctance, even.

If unconvinced that he shouldn't be, if the uncertainty at which he studies the other man signals such. "Addicts come in all shapes and sizes. What are you lookin' for, exactly? And who're you here on behalf of, sorry?"

"I'm not authorized to say," the sallow faced man replies, almost automatically. Maybe he gets asked that a lot. Maybe he does this a lot. "We just need people who are recovering addicts, that want to help other recovering addicts. We just a different way of doing that than your group at the center," he sounds like he's getting a bit impatient. "Look, my partner has a car parked around the corner. How about we get out of the rain, talk about this a bit? You don't have to say yes right away. We want your informed consent." Well isn't that nice?

Not suspicious by nature— or rather, he never did used to be— Joseph still lets his gaze narrow a little sharper, and it's almost the quickness at which the no is lining up behind his teeth that has him holding it back and listening to what all the man in front of him has to say. Hands up to fidget with his scarf, the old nervous compulsion of requiring his hands to do something, anything, while he thinks easily returning to them.

"Well, I'll hear y'all out," he finally states. He'd come to the Suresh Centre to help himself, after all. With a glance down towards the building, he manages a quick smile along with the nod, taking a step to follow.

"Good," the sallow faced mad says, and then, as an afterthought, "Thanks. This way." He keeps the umbrella over Joseph, the one polite gesture that seems to be offered without effort. The car really is just around the corner, an old boat of a Lincoln. There is a big man behind the wheel, who lifts a hand as Joseph and his companion come into view. The sallow faced man lifts a hand in return, and moves to the curbside, leaning down to open the back door for Joseph.

The door being opened is regarded passively, nodding once to the driver and rolling his shoulders beneath his coat as if to relax himself. "Thanks," is similarly belated, an afterthought for keeping him out of the rain around the corner as much as rain water is dripping off his hair all the same and soaking into the collar of his sweater beneath the more rugged brown weather-proof material drawn over. He tells himself he's not nervous.

Which doesn't mean Joseph doesn't plant a foot where the door would have shut, sitting down on the very edge of his seat as if ready to get up and go. "So what kind of help are you lookin' into? Therapy?"

Since Joseph isn't going to scoot into the car fully, the man with the umbrella has to circle around and slide into the front passenger side, folding the umbrella and sliding it down under his feet, leaning down as he does so. Invisible to Joseph, carefully so, the sallow faced man has eased a stun gun from a shoulder holster, and placed it on his thigh, shaded by his jacket. He turns to face Joseph in the back seat.
"More like actual research. You take a week long trip to our facility, do some basic physical tests. We… uh… hold on," he smiles, not a pretty expression, sort of skeletal. He opens the glove compartment and extracts a leather folder, which he flips open. He start to recite something on the pages within. "Assist recovering addicts while gathering data on how to help future addicts recover." He looks up at Joseph again. "There's compensation, too. We're privately funded."

The sound of the rain sounds tinny on the roof of the car, and louder from where it patters against concrete just outside of Joseph's open door. There's a stiffly chill breeze coming on in, sapping away whatever work the heater has done to stave it away. The former pastor doesn't seem to care, nodding along with these words and then holding out a curious hand for the folder.

"And you're still unable to tell me your organisation? You guys must have a helluva time recruiting volunteers."

No lie. These guys are really bad salesmen. The dude behind the wheel just looks bored, and his partner, the sallow faced man, is getting more and more impatient. This is not inspiring trust. "We represent a certain pharmaceutical interest. We want to figure out a better way to help people recovering from this addiction," he says, voice tired. He wants this to be over with, that much is sure. "You could help a lot of people," he offers the leather folder to Joseph, "Take a look. It's all there. The consent form is in the back, also the confidentiality agreement. Just a week at our facility. It'll help you, and help a lot of people." The repetition of 'a lot of people' goes unnoticed by the speaker. So he's repeating his lines, so what? The message is clear. Or rather, it's extremely vague but pretending to be clear. In a remarkable show of initiative, the man adds, "It's true, it's hard to find people. Most people just don't care enough."

"Some just care too much," Joseph mutters over the opened file, having very carefully scanned the pages in front of him as the man says his rehearsed lines. Once he's done, the file is whispered closed again, and the pastor's mouth flattens into a rueful line as he serves it right back - placing it down, if it's not otherwise taken. "Like addicts comin' out of therapy. I don't got a week to spare."

The Centre isn't so far away. Even the rain won't discourage Joseph from doubling back and just checking to verify that they're perfectly aware of the car stationed around the corner, and if they weren't, well—

He intends them to be. His voice takes on a slightly skittery note when he continues to speak. "But I wish y'all the best," and darts out a hand to grip the edge of the car's roof, to lever himself out.

There are two sounds, in close succession. First is a sigh, the sallow faced man's exasperation. Well, if Joseph had enough time to think about it, he'd notice it's actually more one of resignation. Like he expected it to come to this. The 'this' that it has come to… that's what the second sound is about. The sound of a stun gun being fired at close quarters, charged cables leaping out to bridge the small gap between the former pastor and the Company agent who's being forced to work this shitty assignment for some demanding shrink who suddenly thinks she's Stanley Milgram.

Joseph doesn't make a sound, jaw suddenly clamping shut as electricity courses through his body, siezes muscles and removes from him, in one painful flash, the ability to move for however long it occurs. The snap of it fills his ears as much as his racing heart roars blood, and he twitches like a marionette on the strings of a soundly unskilled puppeteer. If he had it his way, he'd try and tumble out the car.

As it happens, he has little choice even in that, going slack against the seats, a panicky kind of breathing hisses through clenched teeth.

"Why do we even bother with the volunteer bullshit?" the man behind the wheel comments. His voice is low and gravelly, but he sounds halfway amused. The sallow faced man gives a snort, leaning over to pull Joseph's limp body fully into the car, straining for a bit before growling in irritation and stepping out into the rain, dashing around the front of the car and pushing the former pastor bodily into the car. He slams the door, shutting Joseph in and knocking one of his legs over the edge of the seat.
In a moment the slightly damper agent is back riding shotgun, closing his door and cranking his seat into recline. "Let's get him where he's going. I hope the Russian guy isn't busy. I hate how she fusses. It's not like any of them are going to see the light of day again."
The man behind the wheel shrugs, switches the car out of neutral, and rolls into the night.

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