eileen_icon.gif gillian_icon.gif raith_icon.gif

Scene Title Smokescreen
Synopsis Gillian, Raith and Eileen take a chartered tug fifty miles up the Hudson River.
Date February 27, 2010

Pollepel Island, New York

Fifty miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, a sturdy little tugboat with a diesel engine powers through the water at a slow but steady chug. Its captain, an older gentleman with an accent none of the boat's passengers can place, likes to boast that she has the muscle of an icebreaker twice her size.

So far, she hasn't disappointed. At Eileen's insistence, Gillian and Raith embarked on their journey several hours before daybreak when the sky was still dark and the city slumbering. Her rationalization had something to do with the amount of time it's supposed to take them to reach their destination, but her evasiveness about the subject also suggests that more than a tight schedule factored into the decision.

True to her word, the Briton packed chopped liver sandwiches for the expedition — the kind cooked with onions in schmaltz and ground into a fine paste with hardboiled eggs on rye bread — as well as an extra large thermos of piping hot breakfast tea to be consumed straight. There is no milk or sugar out here, only cigarettes, and only because one of Eileen's worst habits is eating and smoking at the same time.

She stands at the tug's rail looking out across the shore, lit cigarette in one hand and a half-eaten sandwich partially wrapped in plastic in the other. It's a still morning. The only breeze to catch her hair and blow it around her face is the one generated by the boat as it carves its way upriver and drowns out sloshing ice and water with the roar of its old diesel engine.

From the way she tentatively bites into the sandwich, it was not the food that brought Gillian along on this expedition. Wrapped warmly in a coat under a lifevest, which she probably didn't have to wear, but chose to anyway. Chances are if she gets knocked into the cold water, she'll freeze to death instead of drown now! But from her two experiences with falling into water, she seems to have decided that a vest is a good way to go. The cigarette isn't shared while eating, though the younger woman did get joined for a moment in her smoking, while they all still needed to wake up.

Like much of the morning, her mind wanders off midbite, as she stares at what's visible of the water they're tearing through. There's so much she could be thinking about, both known and unknown among this group. A smile breaks through, suddenly, even causing a dimple to appear.

"If I haven't thrown up yet, I guess I don't get sea sick. I doubt this would taste any good at all going the other way," she says with an amused tone. Either it's what suddenly came to mind, or she's covering with small talk.

It's the sort of boat that Raith hasn't been on for some time, primarily because he hasn't needed to be. It is also the kind he is interested in learning much more about, if only for pretend. While Eileen and Gillian are out looking at the shore, Raith is engaging the captain in conversation (struggling slightly through the man's accent), asking question after question about the vessel, and perhaps surprisingly, doing so with just the right vocabulary to pass for a ship engineer who washed out trade school before he got very far into the program. If asked, this is of course what he asserts he is: Casual lying that makes for good practice.

Casual lying that gives him an excuse to be near the captain, allowing him the best viewpoint to survey the surrounding sea. They're going out to look. Maybe Eileen will decide it's a good place to set up shop. But if she doesn't, Raith may want to use it for himself, and he'll need to know how to get back here. "Lanes ever get crowded this time of year, or is it usually this desolate?"

While Raith makes conversation with the tug's captain, whose responses are gradually becoming more and more terse, Eileen flashes a look over at Gillian beside her and exhales thin streams of sharp-smelling smoke through her nostrils. Excess ash from the tip of her cigarette is tapped off over the rail and disappears into the churning waters, its colour and texture indistinguishable from the frozen sludge.

Calling attention to the other woman's good mood might detract from it, so she doesn't. Instead, Eileen returns Gillian's smile around the cigarette's filter. "You're sure you don't want a light?" she asks. "It'll warm you right up."

Fleeting as good moods can be, this one seems to border between being thoughtful and distracted, to being happy. Which is better than most moods that they've seen from Gillian. Raith especially, since he knew her mostly in Argentina, when she was in a perpetual bad mood, with a big brand on one cheek that she was reminded of every time she did smile…

The offer of a cigarette catches her attention, and she looks down at the sandwich, as if wondering whether to do both at once. "Maybe once I finish eating." Which to move along she takes a generous sized bite, while standing up a bit to look at the sludgey churning waters below. Once she's swallowed, she adds on, "I don't really smoke much, anymore. But I like the smell of them."

It reminds her of someone.

Terse is not necessarily a good thing, and Raith not only takes note of it, but takes the hint, too. "Well, I should probably make sure the girls aren't getting sick out there," he says, as if the idea were ingeniously novel. Without waiting for a reply, he slips out of the cabin and onto the deck, walking across the short distance that separates him from Eileen and Gillian. "You'd think a tug captain would be happier to have company around," he says to the two women. He doesn't say it very loud. The scent of tobacco prompts him to take a cigar, half-finished as they always seem to be, from inside his coat pocket. "You ever stop and ask yourself, 'How did my life come to this point?'"

The sudden reappearance of old Argentina friend gets a grin and a laugh from Gillian, her mood lightened once again, while still being thoughtful. Even with that question that… "I ask myself all the time. I keep a journal now, and some pages are filled with 'how the fuck did this happen'. Or I used to, until I got dragged off to Argentina. I never did catch up, but my journals might have been seized by Homeland Security if I did write about that…"

There's a glance toward the place that Raith just left, as if checking to make sure boat guy isn't listening.

"But I do ask myself that a lot, and it's difficult to find an answer. I blame you guys for most of it, though. The group you used to belong to. Shook one guy's hand, and my whole world collapsed."

"Well, that's the risk you run with any group," Raith replies around the cigar held in his mouth, the sound of a wooden match sparking up serving as a need divider between his statements, "Could have just as easily been a bunch of nuts who left you alone and stuck a beauty mark on me for the inverse reason. Don't you think?" That's that, for now. Raith brings the burning tip of the match to his cigar, puffing until the tip changes from black to glowing red. The burning stick is carelessly tossed overboard.

As the boat rounds the bend, the group's destination comes into view. More than a thousand feet from the river's eastern shore, a rocky island covered in threadbare trees and low, gnarled foliage that provides cover for flocks of congregating geese looms on the horizon, but it is neither the island's flora nor fauna that has attracted Eileen's interest.

It's the skeletal ruins of what appears to be a great stone castle jutting out and rising up from the frayed vegetation. Pale red and gray stone contrasts against the ashen sky, making its architecture appear sharp and ornate, its finer details visible even at a distance while dead vines cling stubbornly to its walls and provide perches for the drab brown cowbirds that also call the island their home and nest in the castle's highest turrets with the flocks of red-winged blackbirds newly returned to New York.

At the height of summer, everything must be unimaginably lush and green.

Caught with her mouth open, about to respond to the man who's speaking to her, Gillian doesn't get to actually do that. Lips parted and mouth widening, her eyebrows raise exaggeratedly, and she can't help but start to stand up. Remember that scene in Goonies where the kids first see the pirate ship? This would be a little similar to that. "Holy shit," she exclaims, the conversations of moments ago seemingly forgotten, or perhaps not, cause she's asking herself 'how the hell did she get here?' again. "I knew that there were a bunch of cool places on the islands of the Hudson, but I never fucking imagined I'd see one this close…"

Suddenly she's scrambling under the life-vest for her pocket, and pulling out her phone. Not to make a phone call, but to tab around for the digital camera.

"Now that is a nice piece of property," Raith says to anyone who happens to be listening. "Eileen, that's, damn near ideal." And it is. It may well be ideal as long as the structure is in good shape. Large, secluded, defensible. It's an ideal spot to fallback to, if it comes down to it. As Raith considers all these facts, he takes a draw from his cigar, long and slow, rolling the smoke over his tongue before it escapes back into the air when he resumes speaking. "How, exactly, did you find out about this place? Accidentally?"

"Bannerman's Castle," Eileen says by way of explanation, even though the words Bannerman's Island Arsenal stretch across one of the structure's towering walls and can be read from the boat. "It used to be a munitions warehouse back at the turn of the twentieth century, so you know it was built with safe storage in mind. You can't see it from here, but there's a smaller one up there too that the original owner used as a private residence before he died."

The tug slows at it draws closer to the island, forced to navigate around a turret half-submerged in the water with a rumpled seagull perched on its crown, the red spot on the bottom of its beak flashing scarlet as it turns its head to regard the vessel's crawling approach. "The state bought the island in sixty-seven, and in sixty-nine there was a fire that gutted most of the main structure so it had to be placed off-limits to the public. As far as I know, nobody's set foot on the property for at least two or three years. Lost cause."

No answer as to how she found it, however.

"A google search might have turned it up," Gillian helpfully supplies, with a dimpled smile, before looking at Eileen. Something about the glance makes her more serious, and she adds, "Or a little birdy told her." There's a shrug with that said, and she seems to like that answer best anyway. A final bite on what's left of her sandwich, chews until she can swallow, and then moves closer, possibly for said cigarette.

"That why we're here? For a new place to hide out? Down side of it would be the need for a boat, I guess…" as she looks back at the castle, she can't help but think that she wishes someone else had felt up to seeing this… But she knows how bad Refrain withdrawal can be.

The tug comes up alongside the docks attached to the island's shore, and Eileen stoops to pick up a coiled length of rope before tossing her sandwich overboard as an offering to the geese. She passes Gillian her cigarette, saying, "We're here because Emile Danko isn't going to be last man to declare war on the Ferry. You've got people like Joseph Sumter who believe the situation's going to get better, and as much as I want to believe that he's right, the things I saw in Madagascar tell me he's wrong. All it takes is another Edmond Rasoul to turn New York City into Antananarivo."

She lifts both her brows at Raith in response to his question as if to ask him if he's in a mood to find out, but already she's wrapping the rope around her hand in preparation of whatever she's about to do next regardless of his answer. "We're no MLF," she adds. "I'm going to change that."

"Things may get worse, or they may get better— it's smarter to prepare for worse and hope for better, than rely on better," Gillian admits before taking a drag on the cigarette. She seems confused by a lot of the rest going on, cause admitedly she's never been a fighter or a liberator, but if there's a place to run to if things get worse, all the better for her.

Especially if she gets to be one of the people who knows about it. "I like it," she adds, after a soft clearing of throat cough that comes in a puff of smoke.

"It's probably not comfortable this time of year, but once it gets warmer I could see it being great." Still spoiled by heat in the winter…

"Rest assured, it won't be great any time of the year. No heat, no air conditioning, probably no working plumbing. In a pinch, I guess you could fire rockets from it." As Eileen picks up the coil of rope in preparation for docking, Raith climbs over the side of the railing and then hops the short distance down onto the dock, turning around to catch the length of rope when it is tossed down to him. He is ideally suited for the job of securing their vessel so it doesn't drift anywhere, armed with wide-ranging knowledge of knots. In a matter of seconds, the tightly cinched rope will ensure, at least, that they won't be swimming back home because they were careless. "Here we are, ladies," he says, removing the cigar from his mouth just long enough to do so.

"I warned Bennet and Chesterfield that we needed to start making preparations now," Eileen says, pulling herself up and onto the rail, one hand gripping metal. The other would continue to clutch at the rope if she hadn't already thrown it down to Raith following his leap of faith. With the tug tied, her captain can turn off the engine without fear of being taken back out by the Hudson's powerful current. Never mind swimming back home — he won't budge from the deck.

Eileen offers Gillian a hand up. "I don't know if Phoenix has any plans to stockpile supplies or what Bennet's people are doing," she'll admit with only a trace of a grudge, her voice made hoarse by the cold and however many packs of cigarettes she goes through in a week. More than two and less than five. "But the Ferry needs a better fallback point than Staten."

"I'm holding out hope, but if necessary, I can go a while without good commodities," Gillian says, looking toward Raith as if hoping he'd agree with that. They did spend time together in Alpha Team, trampsing around in the jungle without any of that. She complained a few times, but usually in passing only. The wish to have a shower became like talking about the weather. A staple that everyone there could usually understand. With the exception of some of the Branded, maybe.

"Staten is definitely not a good fallback point anymore, though. It's probably okay for the Lighthouse, though. Even if I have been tempted to get Brian to move it. At least he owns the property, legally." Which is more than can be said for some Ferry locations.

"If you're concerned about legal stuff, then this isn't a very good place to be squatting. On account of being owned by the state, and all." Raith has a good point there. "I'm pretty sure we aren't really supposed to be where we are right now, let alone in the ruins proper." Speaking of, Raith starts walking down the dock towards those ruins. The girls, apparently, can take care of themselves. "It's better than Staten Island tactically. But it may be strategically unsound."

Eileen swings over the side of the tug and lands in a crouch on the dock. From a purely physical standpoint, it might have been easier for her to ask Raith for his help getting down, but there's more feline about the Briton than just the colour of her eyes and nimble way she moves. She has a fierce independent streak as well and is probably too proud to allow him to do much more than tie up the boat while the captain remains behind.

"The president of the Maxwell Development Corporation has helped the Ferry before," Eileen says, "and the state's been sitting on Bannerman for fifty years. It may take a little convincing, but I'm sure he can be persuaded to put in a bid. If the state sells, the island goes to the company, and Mr. Maxwell himself authorizes official but quiet restoration efforts. What do you think of that for a smokescreen?"

"I was more meaning Staten is a bad place with the whole 'reclaiming' effort going on. It's where they're focusing their attention, and stuff. And since Brian legally owns his spot, they may not be inclined to shove him off while the 'reclaim' is going on…" Gillian hesitates a moment, as she realizes that if they knew what was in the basement, they would have more than enough reason to kick him out of there, and possibly arrest him for weapon hoarding… But— she'll have hope!

"And I'm glad that you're resourceful. Isn't that the guy you went to the Gala with? Even though I don't actually remember seeing you with him…" She'd spent much of the party doctoring a wine glass in the Rose Garden and avoiding a certain former Assface/Blue-Eyed Man. "Hopefully they'll be willing to buy a boat or two, too. No offense to our tugboat captain."

Unlike Gillian, Raith doesn't immediately reply to the information that Eileen doles out, and when he finally does, he actually stops walking and looks back over his shoulder to do so. "Eileen, that's a brilliant plan," he says, "And I mean that. Kills a lot of birds with one stone." And back to walking. "Gives you cover for Ferry operations. Gives you a way to employ people, especially those that're already living under your eye. Gives you a way to get people into the country, too. Say, anyone who happens to escape from Madagascar. Or Nigeria. Burma, Korea, the list goes on. Now, you're thinking like a professional. I'm proud of you.

"I may start crying. You understand."

"I was hoping you might come speak to Leonardo with me," says Eileen, but this time she isn't addressing Raith. Her rueful cat eyes have settled on the other woman, dark and assessing. Cautious, too — she doesn't know if she'll agree to this as easily as she agreed to coming out here. "I need someone reputable at my back, and your work with the Lighthouse puts you heads and shoulders above anyone else I might bring in."

There's no apologetic look given to Raith. It isn't required, and not just because she seems to otherwise be ignoring him — understanding and acknowledgement are implicit. Her focus still on Gillian, she appends her earlier statement with, "I won't hold it against you if you want to say no. I'm just not in any position to present this to the others until the property is privately owned. Kershner's watching Chesterfield. There's no one else with the funds."

While she's being addressed by Eileen, Gillian's giving Raith the 'you're a funny guy' look she can't help but avoid in this case. It may be she didn't even realize she was being spoken to, cause she suddenly blinks, looks at the smaller woman, and seems to do a mental rewind. "Wait. You were talking to me? Uh. I didn't really expect…" She trails off, the flush on her skin that may have nothing to do with the chill in the air as she glances away toward the castle that she may be helping to buy

"All right," she adds, after a few seconds. The flush has changed to a small smile. It's not quite self-pride, but maybe something close. "I'll help with that."

Contented with Gillian's answer, Eileen steers her attention toward Raith's departing back. He's getting a little too far ahead of them for her comfort. There's a reason that the island has been closed to the public since the fire, and perhaps it would have been wiser for her to bring hard hats in place of hot tea and sandwiches for the boat ride. "Come on," she murmurs to Gillian. "Let's get a move on before he knocks his fool head in."

"Someone's in a hurry," Gillian says, but doesn't seem to be disagreeing with that, because she moves to follow, even as she quickly unties her life-vest so she can toss it back into the boat before she follows after in her boots. This isn't her favorite job in the world, and suddenly it's like being back in Argentina. Complete with Jensen Raith running ahead of everyone else. As she moves to catch up, she asks a rhetorical question, "He really likes to lead the way, doesn't he?"

Were Raith within earshot when Gillian posed her rhetorical question, he'd have the perfect answer whether she wanted it or not: 'Rangers lead the way!' But he's not within earshot, and he doesn't say it. He does speak, although it's not to Gillian, nor anyone in particular. A crash of rocks, although not nearly loud enough to suggest that the structure is falling down. Two or three years since the arsenal walls have resounded with any human speech, and what is their first echo after the rumbling of rubble subsides? "That was like that when I got here! Just letting you know!" You'd think they'd already moved in and had made it their own. There's yet plenty of work to be done before they can, but even the mightiest wall begins its life as the lowliest brick.

All that wall needs is for someone to build it.

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