Seeking Opinions


eileen_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Seeking Opinions
Synopsis Francois comes to Eileen about Carlisle Dreyfus' Vanguard. Eileen, in return, has some work she requests the Frenchman to review.
Date March 20, 2010

Red Hook

In the time Francois has spent in New York City since coming back from the dead and/or Mexico, there's been plenty of opportunity to get his hands on literature and read it. A lot of it is shamefully, shamelessly recent, glossy publications with the ink still drying, from Pulitzer winners through to Oprah's recommended. There's a fascination for the decade he's missed, distinctive in ways that those who have just recently finished living it might not recognise until a few years have passed. People only realised how many boy bands existed in the '90s until kids started wearing their bangs long.

This book is different, published though it is in 2004, written in 1942. Suite Francaise writes itself on the cover, and people might want their money back if they discovery too late that it contains two stories when it's meant to contain five. That's what happens when the author dies before their time.

Dawn is still dark, but not so much that Francois can't read by it. The paperback is smallish, enough to squeeze into the pocket of his bulky jacket. He probably wouldn't admit that reading French letters scrawled on the page are more practice than comfort, as much as he drops silky syllables of the same language in every day speech, jots his notes in it, is named for it. It's been a very long time since Francois has even seen France, but this, at least, is a familiar France he's reading about by the incoming light of day. The cover bends in his hands and his forehead crinkles a little, seated on the edge of the wooden bench to avoid its dampness.

Beyond is the steel grey Narrows river, boats and workers moving at this hour like no one else does until the sun is fixed in the sky a little higher. Francois doesn't mind the hour, the brisk chill of the morning staving off the slight hangover he didn't imagine he'd have, but, red wine will do that. Every now and then, he looks up, scans the setting, and returns to flick a page over.

Chartering fishing boats remains one of the quickest ways to cross from Staten Island to Brooklyn's Red Hook district, but unless you're familiar with the ship's captain it's also very dangerous. During her time with the Ferry, Eileen has made the acquaintance of many seafaring folk, including the man behind the wheel of the Candle in the Wind, a rusty old seiner painted matte gray to camouflage it against the water and the fog rolling off the waves that lap at the concrete shore.

His longstanding agreement with the Ferry aside, the seiner's captain expects a small fee paid in cash for every operative he carries from one side of the water to the other. Fortunately, it's still a lot less than what many people in New York City fork over in cab fare every day and does not put an undue amount of strain on Eileen's budget as far as transportation costs are concerned. As the boat pulls up alongside the cement pier, she uses a length of thick cord wrapped around her forearm to swing the short distance down, then tosses the rope back onto the deck with a curt farewell to the captain in his native Russian.

Whatever her plans are for today beyond meeting with Francois, it's unlikely that they involve social interaction with anyone she might be aiming to impress. A pair of washed-out skinny jeans, leather boots and baggy gray sweater worn over a much darker overcoat are clothes designed for comfort rather than style, and as she approaches the bench the Frenchman has claimed for himself, the ocean breeze billows through her flyaway brown-black hair, giving her an almost feral appearance.

"Bonjour, Francois! Ça va?"

If it's rude to dog ear pages, then Francois never got the memo, a finger bending paper over and sealing its crease bent by closing the book even before Eileen pipes up with her greeting, her presence heralded by the fall of her leather boots. The paperback is being negotiated into a plaid-lined pocket by the time she is. "Ça va." I'm fine. Polite deflection can cross language boundaries, but it's not entirely untrue. All things considered, he isn't unhappy, or even that cold under lined black leather, a woolen sweater of earthy brown and jeans faded at the knees enough to show a second layer of black beneath them.

Twin gloves with the fingers sliced and stitched away hide the worst of his healed left hand. Not that she hadn't had ample opportunity to study it when he'd been sewing her's back together. "Et toi? How are you injuries healing?"

"Je vais bien," Eileen says, and she holds up her dominant hand as if to show him the progress it's made but the leather glove she wears prevents proper assessment. At the very least, it's healed enough that she's been able to cut back on the gauze and is mostly functional again in spite of some lingering stiffness in her fingers when she flexes them in coy demonstration. "Merci."

As Francois is reaching into his pocket to put his book away, Eileen is parting the front of her coat with her left hand and producing a thin parcel wrapped in brown paper that looks the sort of package one might use to store important documents, complete with a metal clasp on its top lip glinting silver in the dawn's sallow light. "I have something for you."

Stealing it from her offering grasp with fingertips still a little red from their assault the other week, Francois turns the fold to study its uninformative front before going to settle back down on the bench edge once more. Fingernails snagging on the clasp, he hesitates before reaching back to remove the somewhat less clandestine folded paper from his back pocket, a couple of printed sheaths that he offers to her with a look upwards, and a quick smile. "For you," he says, in turn. "I wanted your opinion of these."

Addresses, locations from a prior life, the various properties that Kazimir once owned, variously destroyed and neglected since, from the sunken Invierno through to the warehouses in Jersey City. All of those that Phoenix had access to, at least.

"I'm going to be visiting some. I wanted to know if there was anything missing or not worth it." How much he'll listen to the latter is dubious, what with his tendency to investigate any available lead no matter how dust-coated, useless or obscure it seems. Immortality learns you patience. Hands freed of paper, Francois sets about opening up the folder she'd given to him, balancing it on his knees.

Eileen has less reservations about getting her pants wet than Francois does and joins him on the bench. Her first instinct is to ask him how he came by these, but then she remembers Teodoro and what she's looking at suddenly makes much more sense. "There's not much of Eagle Electric left," she tells him with a note of remorse in her voice, though it isn't clear whether she means it as an apology. "I've gone through some of what's left standing. A lot of paperwork survived in some of the outlying buildings, but I haven't had the time to search through it all. What are you hoping to find?"

In contrast to Francois' offering, the contents of Eileen's package will require more than just a cursory examination to make sense of. Dozens upon dozens of handwritten notes fill the pages of a thin notebook accompanied by maps of New York City, old photocopies of deeds belonging to abandoned pieces of property on Staten Island and elsewhere, including a detailed blueprint belonging to a building labeled 'Bannerman's Island Arsenal'. What's written in the notebook will presumably be more forthcoming about its purpose than Eileen is, too preoccupied by what Francois has presented her with to elaborate any further.

"Yvette Volken, Feng Daiyu, Sasha Kozlow. Eileen Ruskin." Francois glances at her, showing a slice of a smile before he's studying the papers in his lap once more. "Dreyfus doesn't seem to have reservations in his attempts at using his former organisation to further his own agenda. My logic is to approach things as he might instead of laying in wait for him to strike at us again. If there are resources for him to uncover and use, people to contact, je ne sais pait. What do you think?"

All the way through a muttered explanation, he picks his way through the paperwork handed to him, pausing on the blueprint with a hitch of curiousity before he's cracking open the notebook. "What is all of this?" he asks as he does so. He can see what it is — why is he looking at it might be a better question.

"Abigail, Teodoro and I are involved with a group committed protecting people with abilities," Eileen says, unsure of how much Francois knows about the Ferry. "I've been working on refining its structure since last November to make better use of the resources we have available. Provided you're comfortable with keeping this strictly between us, I'd appreciate your consult." Why she singled him out likely has more to do with the journal she has in her possession than it does their fledging friendship; there are few people better to ask about strengthening a resistance than someone who participated in one that's had hundreds of books written about it during the course of the last half century.

On the subject of Dreyfus' tactics, she is momentarily silent. Then; "There's a man you may want to see. He was with us in Antarctica, though I can't remember if you the two of you were ever given the opportunity to speak. Whatever help you need, we should be able to provide it."

If Francois remembers melted ice or sleet that had had him primly perched on the edge of the bench, it doesn't show as he slides back far enough to conform his spine against the curving back, legs up to fold loosely and better bracket the paperwork against the watery breeze in the air and— gravity. Ankles beneath knees and settled, he glances at her with some surprise at her request to keep things clandestine, fingertips fidgeting with the edges of paper. "I can do that," he says. "Teo has told me a little of the Ferry, sometime around when he was explaining the Registry." And the opposition lying between the two.

By now maybe a former free Frenchman should have made overtures like this, but, he's had a full schedule of murderers to find and books to read. "I've also asked him to speak to you and your associates about what we might need," he adds, turning his attention down the length of his long nose to regard notes in the girl's handwriting. "I'm glad to hear he won't have much trouble being convincing. He mentioned being adopted," he adds with a smile at the left corner of his mouth.

"Teodoro has been there for me when others weren't or couldn't be." The affection in Eileen's voice is plain. "He's very much the brother I wish I'd had." And not the one she was given. She offers Francois his paper back, clasped between forefinger and thumb, rippling gently in the breeze. On shipping crates, mechanical equipment built for loading and unloading supply vessels, and on the wooden telephone poles with electrical hanging frosty loose between them, seabirds have begun to gather. They are the usual suspects: drab gray gulls with flashing yellow beaks tipped red under their bill and darker shearwaters that gather in flocks.

The men working the docks won't notice anything amiss about their presence on the waterfront, even in slightly larger numbers than usual. After her last encounter with Feng Daiyu, Eileen no longer takes any chances when traveling alone. "It's important that you don't tell anyone about the contents of that envelope," she says to Francois. "There are some people in the network who aren't going to like what I'm doing, and I'd rather they hear about my ideas when I'm in a better position to defend them."

Pages taken back, Francois shifts his hips up to stuff paper back into his pocket before settling again, dragging his attention up from paperwork to square greener eyes at her greyer. It's plain that he has things to say — early opinions or words of advice, even before he's measured the entirety of the woman's thoughts written down or otherwise. A hand goes up and fidgets with the zipper tab closed high at his throat, sealing up his sweater against the cold, before he lifts his chin to her. "Tell me what you think you know of your enemies. And then perhaps I am in a better position, then, to tell you how to resist them.

"It was easier for me, I think, never mind that I did not lead. It was not as though we did not have to fight and defy Frenchmen for our cause, but it was always for France. I do not know if it is the same for you. At least, not now. There was a time, also, when the French did not think that surrender was a bad thing. We were once minor voices too."

"I saw things when Bravo was in Madagascar," Eileen says, her voice gradually turning quinine-bitter. "The government there was experimenting on people and had established slave camps, pregnancy farms. I don't think we liberated Antananarivo for Munin or even to put an end to the atrocities that General Rasoul was committing. What we uncovered in Muspelheim—"

She lets out a slow hiss of breath, and with it releases what remains of her good spirits. Fingers rake through her wind-teased hair and push the wilder strands away from her pale face. "I'm afraid of what they might do with Rasoul's research. If something happens, I want the infrastructure already in place so we can react and fight back if New York City ever starts to resemble Antananarivo. Aggression isn't my aim."

Lines of tension make shadows beneath blinking and narrowed eyes, Francois' hands unconsciously gripping the envelope as he listens. If any of this sounds familiar to him, it doesn't show, but he also doesn't balk in disbelief or act quick to doubt the young woman's words. "If what you fear comes true," he says, after a moment, "then I want to be among those that help you. You would have more than only a consultation." Speaking of which—

"I can take this with me and read it, and keep it quiet until you are ready if that is what you require. An infrastructure is not a terrible place to begin. You have your ideas in this, I presume?"

"As best I could articulate them," Eileen says. "If you have any questions about what I've written and you can't get through to my phone, Teodoro knows where to find me." And with any luck, if he does have questions they won't be along the lines of: Is this a 'p' or a 'd'?

The sky is too overcast for it to be lit gold by the rising sun. Instead, faint hints of pink cause the clouds to blush around their silver edges. In another hour or two, it will have risen so high that gray will become white and looking up will be just like looking down. "«Thank you for this,»" she tries in Francois' native tongue, perhaps to emphasize her gratitude or maybe just for the sake of practice. "«It means very much to me.»"

Slipping the folder under an arm, Francois goes to get up, other hand reaching for Eileen's arm in a fleeting gesture, some mirrored back return of gratitude. "De rien," he responds, on his feet now and glancing back over his shoulder towards where boats tie off on the industrial looking waterfront, the spotting of seabirds and the picketing of cast iron fencing caging off the city from the docks. RED HOOK TERMINAL fades on a sign battered by time and environmental erosion.

"Come, let me drive you where you are headed," Francois offers, with a nod towards where he has a car parked nearby, a vehicle she could potentially recognise as Teo's.

It is always better to be ahead of schedule than behind. Eileen allows the touch, elbow bent like the wing of a bird when he takes it and she falls into step beside him, booted feet crunching through the ice and snow under their soles as they make their way toward the car. Overhead, the glossy blue-black shape of a raven with a metal band twinkling around one of its bony legs sails carelessly after them on the morning breeze.

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