One Missed Call


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Scene Title One Missed Call
Synopsis On the night of her defeat, Jennifer Chesterfield has one last cigarette.
Date February 15, 2010

1326 Broadway

The aspirations for greater things in the world often leads men astray…

Tension in the air at Chesterfield Campaign Headquarters has died down now that the election results have come in. It's a somber closing to what could have been a successful campaign, but one so heavily mired in the scandals of days past that it could not pull itself free. By the time the employees of the Campaign are pulling themselves together and getting ready to head home for the night, the woman who stood at the heart of this political maelstrom is more than ready to call it quits.

Aspirations of both noble and ignoble intentions can convince people to lay aside their morality for the fleeting promise of some perceived gain.

The door to the north stairwell, fifty floor of 1326 Broadway opens quietly, followed by the less quiet flick of a lighter sparking in the bleached fluorescent glow of the stairwell's lighting. Stepping out into the stairwell, Jennifer Chesterfield runs a tongue of flame from her lighter over a cigarette pinched between her lips. The dark circles beneath the older woman's eyes indicates her lack of sleep, something that no amount of concealer or properly adjusted glasses can truly hide. The fact that the election results have her smoking will put a few more years yet on that face.

Some say that the ends will justify the means, when the look towards the eventual outcome of their goals, as they willingly compromise themselves so that others do not have to.

With the cigarette lit, Jennifer slouches up against the concrete block wall at the side of the door, exhaling thin jets of smoke from her nostrils. The pack in her hand crinkles slightly, Mason's last pack of cigarettes, the last thing she really has of his. "Fuck…" Jenn hushes out the words, cigarette bobbing from her bottom lip. The campaign wasn't supposed to end like this, not in her mind.

Will the end justify the means? When the time comes, when everyone must come to pay for what they've done in life, will they be able to look back on it with pride?

Reaching into her jacket, Jennifer trades the pack of cigarettes for a cell phone, flipping it open as she turns to start walking down the stairs slowly. The ringing goes on and on, voicemail reached with a heavy sigh. "Catherine," she breathes out into the phone, "It's your mother. We should probably talk, I take it you've watched the election results. Give me a call when you get this message…" She pauses at the corner of the stairwell, looking back up to the door to her campaign offices before staring back down at the floor at her feet, "I love you." The phone clicks shut, sounding loud enough in the hallway to be the slamming of a door elsewhere.

…or will they look back on their lives with regret?

The air in the stairwell is only a few degrees warmer than it is outside, but a few degrees can sometimes mean the difference between life and death during the winter in New York. With thousands upon thousands of many people displaced by the explosion that reduced Midtown to a gnarled labyrinth of wreckage, there are more homeless persons living in the city than ever before — it isn't uncommon to find them seeking shelter on private property or in buildings that are only open to the public during the day but occasionally left unlocked at night.

The older gentleman in the heavy winter coat standing in the corner of the cement landing between floors does not look out of place. He has a few years on Jenn; brown hair gone gray is mussed beneath a fedora with a brim wide enough to shadow his dark eyes. Cut off at the knuckles, gloved knit from black wool encase callused hands that are rough and weathered, though Jenn knows from experience that a vagrant's hands are a poor indication of what kind of life he might have led before. Drugs, alcohol, general despondency and despair — any number of factors could be responsible for his physical condition, either in part or in whole.

"Spare some change?"

Cigarette still pinched between tense lips, Jenn halts in mid-stride and looks over at the darkly dressed man. Her eyes flicker shut, a sigh strained out through her nostrils as she unshoulders the purse she carries, unzipping the top. "I'm not in a particularly charitable mood…" Jennifer admits with a hint of wryness in her voice, depositing the cell phone into the purse before she rummages through and pulls out a few scattered dollar bills tucked away from lunch, "but you know what, fine."

The bills are slid out, rolled between her fingers to check that there's not a twenty accidentally stuck between them, then offered out with a discerning look to the older man. "Might as well do some good for someone, right?" There's a bitterness in her voice; tempered frustration edged with cynicism. "There might still be a few rooms down at St. Luke's across town. Despite what most people think," she absent-mindedly explains, "the cops won't lock you up for violating curfew if you're homeless. You might even get a free ride down to the shelter…"

On any other day, she wouldn't have stopped.

On any other day, this particular gentleman wouldn't have been waiting.

He meets Jenn's gaze and holds it, studying what he finds reflected there in somber silence before he reaches out with his hand as if to accept the offering, fold the rumpled bills between his fingers and deposit them into his coat pocket, but rather than take the money in his hand, he seizes her by her wrist. His grip belongs to a man of forty rather than sixty and applies pressure comparable to that of a steel trap clamping down on her joint with enough force to dislocate it when he wrenches it up and over her head, using the momentum to spin her around.

The sound of Jenn's arm breaking cracks through the stairwell like a gunshot and covers the wetter pop created by tearing cartilage. He traps her limb behind her back, bent at the elbow like a baby bird with a deformed wing, and slips his opposite hand into the interior of his coat.

No words are necessary. He does not berate or taunt her, or provide even a cursory explanation for what's happening. It is not important she knows. All that matters is the completion of this task.

Jenn's scream rises up through the stairwell at the snap of her arm, knees buckling and purse dropping to the ground. Her cell phone goes bouncing across the floor, sliding to the edge of the stairs and then bouncing down over and over until it impacts with the wall at the next landing. A morass of pencils, lipstick, eyeliner, loose pieces of paper and even a small Walther hold-out revolver and a bottle of pepper spray go clattering to the floor in a hopeless collection of things she could've used to save herself.

More worrisome is the flash of gold-white light around Jenn's palms, pads of her fingertips shining brightly as she reflexively loses control of her ability, but with one arm bend behind her back and the other flailing wildly in the air in front of her from the pain, she's no flesh to grasp on to, no way to use that gift to do anything other than create a strobing effect in the air.

"Wh— What— " The ragged, hoarse breathing slips past her lips, "stop— stop!" Jenn croaks out the words, her free arm reaching behind herself frantically as tears well in her eyes from the pain and roll down her cheek. Her fingers find purchase ever so briefly on the sleeve of the stranger's coat, but slip away. "Stop! Stop!"

It's not the first time he's done this. If Jenn's head wasn't so thoroughly overwhelmed by her gut and the panic twisting through her bowels, she would be able to critically analyze what's happening. The man's movements are sharp and precise, no motions wasted, no energy expended that doesn't have to be. His breathing, although strained, is as even as the ground they stand on, each inhalation carefully measured and let out at the moment his instincts dictate is most beneficial.

Either her screaming is going to draw someone's attention or it's going to be silenced before Jenn gets the opportunity. Her broken arm numbs her to the abrupt release of her wrist. No amount of physical anguish, however, can distract her from the fact that there is now a length of piano wire across her throat, its ends wound round wool gloves.

The line flashes silver in the stairwell's florescent lights in the instant before it cuts into the skin of Jenn's neck, brings blood to its surface and constricts her trachea to the point of crushing — she can't scream if she can't breathe.

It slices like a knife thorugh the first few layers of skin as the corded metal lacerates across her throat, then becomes more a method of strangulation than simply exsanguination. Jennifer's legs kick out, one broken and useless arm help limp at her side, mouth opening and gasping for air like a fish out of water, choking sounds struggling to make it free from behind her tongue. She claws at her throat, tries to get fingers beneath the strand of metal, her hand comes up, pats futily at the arm and glove of the man attacking her, she can't reach his hand, cant find skin, can't feel much of anything as splotches of color and light bloom out in her vision.

A blood vessel ruptures in one of Jenn's eyes, her glasses fall off from the struggling and her legs continue to kick. It is a horrifying, gruesome way to die, and as her fingers claw wildly with her unbroken hand at the sleeve of her attacker, she's trying to breathe, trying to scream, tears rolling down the sides of her cheek.

Her face turns red, splotches of purple around her neck where the wire digs in to her flesh and blood runs in thick rivulets down the front of her throat. Jenn's nails scratch and scrape at the cut, trying to find the wire, and it's an absolutely futile attempt at self-preservation. Her pupils dilate, jaw works open and closed and lips flex before she chokes out a weak and wet noise and her hand starts to falter from her neck, legs stop kicking, chest stops frantically trying to rise and fall to draw in breaths it cannot take.

Daiyu Feng had said once, 'you never see it coming.' It's still true.

From start to finish, it takes only ten seconds for Jenn to lose consciousness and three full minutes to expel the life from her body. When he's sure that enough time has elapsed, the man behind her relaxes his grip and lifts the garrote away the same way a hunter might maneuver a snare off a rabbit's head before taking it up by its back legs. Rather than letting her body slump to the ground, he eases her down with one arm wrapped around her midsection, his chin hooked over her shoulder, and the other supporting her head with the large, coarse palm of his hand.

He does not leave the murder weapon behind for the authorities to find. Cause of death can easily be determined by the first person who stumbles upon her slouched in the landing's far corner with her head bowed and her hands neatly folded in her lap.

It will be a closed casket funeral. Just as no amount of make-up could hide the dark circles under her eyes, the morticians will be able to do very little about the ugly ligature mark around her neck.

Booted footsteps reverberate through the stairwell as he descends the steps, bloodied wire coiled around his right hand, and makes his way down to the next level. There is a purse to collect.

At the bottom of the stairs, a brick red cell-phone vibrates quietly on the tile floor, caller identification scrolling across the screen to alert its owner. She'd never call her by this name to her face, that was always Mason's job, but the name Kitty flashes on the incoming calls list. Then, when the phone isn't answered, it shows a simple and solemn punctuation to this grim meeting.

One Missed Call.

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