Old Troubles in New Little China


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Scene Title Old Troubles in New Little China
Synopsis Looking for a lead to her ghost, Kay finds herself at a loss on Staten Island. Until she meets a man in a bar.
Date May 2, 2021

Staten Island: New Chinatown

There are nicer places to get a drink in Staten Island, but they come with bigger bar tabs and other prices to pay, at least in August Yeats’ experience. So it’s a little bar in New Chinatown that he’s trying to drown his worries in round after round of probably watered-down whiskey.

The slumped shoulders and world-weary expression he wears are common enough sights in such a place. At a glance he fits in – the careworn eyes, scruffy face, a faded t-shirt, a battered leather jacket. What is far less common is the fact he’s reading, and earnestly at that, what looks like a robotics textbook – an advanced one at that, but well-worn and probably a little out of date.

A pencil lies dormant in the gutter of the book, waiting to be used. Small notes can be seen here and there, marginalia that probably was made when the man was a little more sober, as the handwriting is tidy, in tiny but wide capital letters of all the same height and width.

There’s a woman in a booth who’s been staring at a glass of dark beer with a melancholic disdain for some time now. Very little’s been drank off the top, like the flavor hasn’t suited her.

Converse to other patrons of the establishment, her clothes are newer. Sure, the brown leather bomber jacket left next to her on the bench seat has seen far better days, and the grey skinny jeans are ripped, but that’s fashionably so. Neither distracts from the fact that her sweater — a deep shade of black currant — is too clean and too new for her to live around here. Which either means she’s a tourist, or she does business on the island. One possibility likely results in her getting shanked in a dark alley, robbed and left for dead. The other may result in someone else getting shanked in a dark alley, left for dead after a botched robbery.

Whatever the case, her jaw works from side to side with some frustration as she darts disimpassioned looks to the screen on her phone between baleful glances at her drink. After tipping the glass on its axis gently and rolling it about on the bottom’s edge in a slow circle clockwise, then counter, she finally lets out a quiet sound of frustration. Once settled back on the table, the jacket snatched up and draped over one arm, phone shoved in her pocket, and then she picks the beer up again and approaches the bar.

No, she isn’t about to go Full Karen on a bar in New Chinatown. Instead, she sets her drink on the bartop with a stool between herself and August, and waits to be noticed. “Take that away,” she murmurs once she has the tender’s attention. “Just wasn’t what I wanted. Like to try a vodka rocks instead. Thanks.” Maybe she’s not quite brusque enough for the locale either, but surely manners can be part of the Staten Island renaissance.

Another tally for the Tourist column it is.

While she waits, she glances over and spies the book, more interested in it than the person studying from it. Her eyes scan over a couple lines, begun mid-paragraph, as though that will make any sense out of context. (It doesn’t.) Her lips purse thoughtfully and she shifts her coat from the crook of one arm to the other absently before carefully spreading it over the seat adjacent, setting herself down on top of that as her drink is slid in front of her. “Thanks,” she murmurs absently, adjusting the lay of her slouchy black knit beanie.

Again, she finds herself looking at that book. After a long moment, her eyes come up to the man reading and taking notations in it. “Lofty material,” she murmurs without judgement.

As he continues to read the paragraph he’s on, a soft sound of amusement comes from somewhere deep in August’s chest. The long fingers of one hand reach to flip the page, while the other slides the pencil out, only to set it in the center of the open book once the new page is flattened. There are only a few lines left in the paragraph, and once he’s through, the man finally looks up at her.

“For a dive bar on Staten Island, you mean?” he asks lightly, gray eyes studying her face for a moment. One brow lifts and, once again, there’s that low rumble of amusement that’s not quite a laugh again, before August reaches for his glass of whiskey and takes a slow sip from it. “You’re right, though – there’s not a lot of people reading up on low-level joint-force torque control in here.”

When the bartender passes him, he taps his own glass twice for a refill. It’s definitely not the top shelf brand that he’s drinking. There’s only one shelf level here, really, and it’s all the cheap stuff.

“You, uh, have a tour guide? This isn’t the safest place to hang out for visitors.” With a quick grin, he adds, “It’s not the safest place for non-visitors, for that matter.”

The amusement is returned with a rueful sort of smile and a tip of the blonde’s head. “For anywhere, really. Wouldn’t expect to see it at Biddy Flannigan’s either.” That place has been gone for years. “Most people just really don’t go to bars to read.” By the time she’s done ribbing him, a southern accent has distinguished itself from the early mush of the buzzed he may have expected to encounter.

And maybe there should be a dip in spirits at being called out for not being from here, or blending in well enough to pass, but there’s a sparkle in her eye instead. “M’I that rusty then? Shoot.” She shakes her head in the negative. “No guides here. I’m looking for someone. Worried a guide might spook ‘em, but I’m not getting much of anywhere by myself, if I’m honest.”

Brown eyes take a moment to roll over August’s frame, assessing. To what end remains uncertain. “You offerin’?”

“Touche,” he says with a crooked smirk when she calls him out on reading in a bar. “I suppose even in Yamagato, it might be considered heavy reading in one of the bars.” It’s said lightly, but his brow ticks up as he watches her face for any reaction at being made.

Most people here wouldn’t recognize a Yamagato executive, even if they might peg her for a tourist.

The man closes the book, the pencil still in the gutter creating a small arc in the pages surrounding it once it’s shut. “I’m not sure how good of a tour guide I’d be, but I can stand around looking like a brute so no one messes with you,” August offers with a chuckle. “I’d say I could tell you where to avoid, but it’s probably a far shorter list to tell you what’s safe – well, safeish. Who is it you’re hoping to meet? Or is that asking too much too soon?”

“Ooh. Y’all have workin’ television out here?” Kay razzes, rather than play coy about her identity. She smirks and shrugs a shoulder, rougher around the edges here than her polished corporate persona. She’d have to be. “This whole place should be avoided,” she admits with a sense of humor and without a sense that it’s going to deter her. “Still. Ol’ Giddy-Up Buttercup’s makin’ a go of it. Too bad I’m not here for the jazz.”

Her eyes crinkle at the corners. “I’d let you be my chaperone,” she grants. Whether she feels she needs one or not isn’t a factor. “I’m lookin’ for an old friend who did me a good turn.” There’s something a little more serious about her when she says it. “I’d like to say thank you — the New Orleans way, not the New York way.” The latter probably involves a baseball bat. Maybe the former involves a cocktail. “Fellow goes by the name of Leblanc. Accent like mine, but fried a little crispier.”

August chuckles at the nickname given to D’Sarthe, and nods in his agreement. “I haven’t been. Not sure if they have a dress code, but I’m pretty sure I don’t fit the aesthetic, and I’m more of a Nirvana type than a Duke Ellington type, if I’m honest. Respect for the art form, of course.”

When Kay confides the name of the man she’s looking for, he nods once, then lifts up a finger to indicate she should wait for a moment. He rises, and he’s probably taller than he seemed, slouched as he was, though he moves in a way that suggests he never fully grew into that lofty height on the inside – hands shoved in his pockets and head slightly ducked, like he’s trying not to break something just by being near it. There’s something of the kicked mutt in the posture.

Long legs lope toward an older but tough-looking man who’s taken up residence at the pool table, and August leans in to exchange a few words. A moment or two passes, and then something is exchanged – it’s hard to see what, if she’s watching, but something comes from August’s pocket and a moment later the other man says something. August gives what seems like a nod of thanks, and returns to his seat.

After a pull from the refilled glass of whiskey, he glances over his shoulder, then over at Kay. “Last seen over on Clove, near PS 35. You know the area?”

Kay nods with a small smirk of a smile, noting the tells in the younger man’s form and gait as she follows his movements with open interest. She’s playing tourist tonight, not the canny detective wondering what brought him up that way. Old injury recently healed? Or maybe the type that isn’t physical, the type that doesn’t heal. A quiet huff of air pushes through the meager resistance of her lips, puffing them out momentarily to allow that passage. Her suppositions are just a timewaster, and he seems to have a bead.

None of her contacts are the right kind of people to be asking about someone as important to her as this.

There’s no secret made of her quiet eagerness to know what he’s heard as she watches him return and settle back in next to her. However, Kaydence Lee doesn’t press for the details, letting him share them on his own time. That tune would change if he didn’t choose to be so accommodating, but fortunately neither of them has to cross that bridge.

With a sigh and a distant sort of glance away as she pores through her memories, Kay shakes her head. “Christ. I did once, but… pre-war. I could find it, but I wouldn’t know what I’m walking into.”

“It’s a bit of a jungle these days that way, in more ways than one. I wouldn’t recommend going alone,” August says, his expression solemn. “A rough crowd’s turned the school into their homebase. I don’t know if he’s running with them or just in the area. They probably don’t follow Yamagato news like I do, but they’ll still smell you out as an outsider.”

Swallowing another gulp of the freshly-poured whiskey, August nods her way. “You can probably handle yourself better than most tourists, but it’s a place I wouldn’t go without backup. Safety in numbers. I guess it depends on what all you can do.”

He doesn’t explain he means an ability, but it’s implied. One shoulder rises and falls. “I can draw you a map, but I suggest bringing a friend if you go looking out there. Or I can take you. I do have some clients that way, and they at least recognize me and tend to leave me alone. But if it comes to push and shove, I’m just an ordinary guy when it comes down to it. No laser fingers or lightning bolts here.”

Truth told, Kay can handle outsider. It beats being recognized as a cop. “None here either.” While she might have an ability now, it isn’t anything that’s going to get her anywhere on this particular excursion, she expects. She ruminates a moment over her vodka rocks, debating what to do with that information he’s secured for her.

“What do I owe you for that, by the way?” She didn’t miss whatever exchange seemed to happen at the pool table.

One of his brows tics up; he’s surprised she caught that, apparently, and he gives her a sheepish smile. His face is the sort that changes entirely when he smiles, making him look boyish, trustworthy, sweet.

“Oh, that? Nothing, really. It was just a dose of Refrain.” He says it casually, clearly not all that bothered that the drug can cause an OD at any time, exponentially rising with each new trip.

“If you want to pay me back, I’ll give you the wholesale discount. But if you want to take a field trip to the school to poke around, see if anyone’s seen your Crispy Critter, I’d actually love any cast-off scrap or wiring or anything you have in your tech labs that might otherwise just end up in a landfill. Copper wiring is better than gold, for me.”

August flashes another smile. “I mean, I won’t say no to gold, either.”

Kay remembers Staten Island before the war and knows things can’t have changed too much now, even with the changing of the guard, as it were. Refrain still sells, and that’s not her problem anymore. “I’ll see what I can do about the components,” she murmurs thoughtfully. “In the meantime, I don’t have any gold, but I do have green.” She slips her hand into her pocket briefly, then surreptitiously nudges a fold of bills against his wrist.

“You wanna call that a date?” She laughs, apparently joking.

Long fingers befitting a surgeon or a pianist curl around the the cash, which disappears into his pocket neatly a moment later.

“A date, is it?” August says with a smirk. “Then let me buy you that drink.” It’s not that generous of an offer, given they’re in a dive bar in Staten Island, after all. Without looking at the wad of cash she’s slipped him, he assumes she’s overpaid him, anyway. Folks from the Safe Zone generally overpay for everything in Staten, after all.

He pulls out a couple of bills to set on the bar to pay for his tab and hers, and a generous tip. He turns back to her, gray eyes a little amused as he studies her face, then offers his hand. “August Yeats. Or Doc, though that’s technically an exaggeration.”

“That’s mighty kind of you.” Paying for the drink, no matter how infinitely cheaper it is to drink on Staten than it is the mainland. “Thank you, August.” Kay glances only briefly at the bar and the money laid out. “Nice name. Classic.” While he may recognize her from the television or some article here or there, she doesn’t make the assumption he actually remembers the name that goes with the face or the title. “Kay Damaris. Kaydence Lee, if you’re feeling particularly mouthy. My parents thought a good southern girl should have two first names.” And if she was really that bothered by that, she wouldn’t have done the same with her own daughter, probably.

“I’m originally from Virginia, so I remember kindergarten with a Hanna Rae, Tammy Jo, and Ada Rose.” August’s words slow into a slower, southern drawl for the moment, washing away any tinge of the Bronxian accent, but only for the duration of those southern girl names before bouncing back into a New Yorker’s.

“So that sounds about right. My southern heritage shows in that my full name is ridiculous. All southern mamas name their little boys as if they’re going to run for public office one day, or write the next great Southern gothic novel, am I right?” He chuckles. “The Yeats is the family’s name, on my mother’s side, though, for the record. Spelled like the poet’s, constantly mispronounced.”

He rises, picking up his book and shoving it in a leather laptop bag, sans laptop, that he slings over his shoulder, and taking a step toward the exit, but slowly, to make sure she’s accompanying him..

“So Kaydence Lee Damaris, if I’m feeling mouthy – you got another name in the middle of all that? I like Kaydence. Very musical. Do you play anything?”

“Tammy Jo,” Kay repeats with a smirk and a quiet chuckle. “A perennial favorite that one.” She’s plainly amused by August’s slant toward the southern. The pivot back to New York keeps her smirk in place. It reminds her of her daughter’s bidialectal nature.

She has no intention of revealing that she has a daughter right now.

“You first,” she counters when asked if she has another name. “I played for a minute or two back in junior high hoping to impress a boy. Ukulele wasn’t en vogue yet.” With a pleasant smile, she admits, “I’ll also sing along to the entire soundtrack of Xanadu. I’m inclined toward musicals, I guess, not musically inclined.”

“Nobody wants to hear me sing, believe me,” August says with a grin as he heads to the door, opening it for her. “I like the math of music, but I don’t have the talent for it, if that makes sense. I learned the basics and then went through a phase where I made a software program to compose music, but it sounded like music written by a software program and not by someone with a heart, I guess.”

He shoulders his bag and lets the door thud closed behind them. “There are people who can write music on a computer, mind you. And AI that can do better than what I came up with, but I was just a nerdy high schooler with a computer Frankensteined together from second-hand parts. I bet you sounded better on your ukelele singing … Xanny-Du?” August doesn’t know it. “Sounds like a soft drink.”

As for his other name, he chuckles, a glance downward that’s almost shy. “Lindsey. August Lindsey Yeats. Clearly meant to be a politician or a Southern Gothic novelist.”

A nod indicates a run-down off-roading motorcycle, what used to be bright green and white faded from sun and age. “She’s not much to look at, but our roads aren’t great for anything better,” August says, lifting a brow to see if she’s willing to ride on the back of the machine.

Wincing, Kay lifts a hand to let it flutter over her chest. “Xanadu. It’s a musical from 1980, starring Olivia Newton-John. You may know her better from Grease.” Everyone’s heard of that one, right? She shakes her head with a hum of amusement at her own expense.

And that amusement only grows when he reveals his own middle name. “Hey now, I think that’s perfectly respectable. August Lindsey Yeats,” she repeats, thickening her drawl to make it sound more appropriate. “That’s the name of the gentleman of desire in a romance novel if ever I heard one.” Her eyes shut briefly, her smile wide enough to encourage the full expression as she laughs softly. “Sorry.” Kay waves a hand to dismiss her teasing, her accent lightening up again. “I’ll stop.” And she’ll make good on her promise to provide her own middle name in return.

Which she never does.

“November,” she reveals, her smile turning wry. “Kaydence Lee November Delacroix.” She snorts. “There were not lines long enough to write my full name. I went by Kay Lee for a while just for the brevity.” Her head dips as she ruminates on that. “I greatly prefer Kaydence or just Kay.”

The musing is abandoned entirely when she lays eyes on the bike. She straightens up, eyes wide, and for a moment, it looks like Kay might be about to refuse to have any part of that. But then her expression is broken by a large grin. “I love it.” Not only willing to ride, but excited.

“Oh,” says August with a sheepish smile at the correction of the movie’s name. Does he tell her he was born in 1987? No, he sure does not. He nods though at the mention of Grease. “I remember some of the kids at the orphanage snuck in a VHS of Grease and we watched it in secret. I was sad she had to change who she was to make him happy. A girl shouldn’t have to do that,” he says quietly. “No one should,” he amends, then shakes his head again. “I mean, they should change if they’re a shitty person.”

His cheeks flush a little as she says he sounds like a gentleman of desire in a romance novel. “I suppose I should be glad it’s not Ashley, but it’s about on the same level. And then August is so…august. I got teased with kids calling me Augustus Gloop, even though I was about the opposite of that in every way.”

When she reveals the middle last name, his brows draw together and then he laughs. “Well, we just need a September and an October and we’ll have a whole section of the calendar between us,” August says. “I think it’s a lovely name, though that is definitely more of a mouthful than mine.” His fingers tap the syllables out against the seam of his jeans on his outer thigh. “Almost twice as long.”

The reaction to the dirt bike makes him laugh, and his brows lift as he pulls out his keys attached to a royal blue Tamagotchi to offer to her. “You know how to drive one? If so, you can drive and I’ll sit behind you, if you like.”

“Shit. Are you serious?” He’d better be, because Kay is already grabbing the offered keys. She takes a moment to eye the virtual pet and catches herself again before she can say that’s something her kid also used to have. While she may be a very proud mother, she’d prefer not to show her age sometimes.

That melancholy of his wasn’t missed. The mention of changing for others, the orphanage… She doesn’t press either matter. That’s something for someone who knows him better. If she gets to know him better, she’ll ask then. This turn of events looks promising. Provided she has any follow-through and pursues it. She’s not the best at that, given her very shallow pool of friendships.

Climbing onto the bike, she fits the key into the ignition lock. Her stomach flutters. If his lead pans out… The smile fades as Kay pulls her hair back into a low ponytail, distracted by her thoughts.

“Kaydence Lee November Delacroix, I never joke about dirt bikes,” he says with a smirk that belies the statement entirely. He can only hope she knows what she’s doing, and is experienced enough to ride the thing with a passenger on the back.

Once she’s on the supermoto, which would be street legal if it was registered – or if he was licensed – August climbs on the back. There are no helmets here. It’s Staten Island. He’d be bullied all over again if he wore a helmet here.

As politely as a person can do such a thing, he reaches around her middle to hold on. “Straight for four blocks, then left at the old Sunoco.”

Kaydence shifts her weight slightly after August takes his cautionary hold. “Oh my gahwd,” she enunciates with a thick exaggeration of her accent. “Even my mother hasn’t full named me in almost a decade.” A chuckle breaks from her as she twists the key and revs up the bike. Giving a glance over her shoulder, she smirks. “Hang on, mister.”

Then she speeds off on ahead.

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