Some of the People, Some of the Time


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Scene Title Some of the People, Some of the Time
Synopsis Nick is offered a future from his surprise guest while told his past is alive and well in New York City.
Date October 3, 2010

Fort Greene Nick's Apartment

«What I want to know is, if we're spending so much money on the stabilization of the Malagasy government when are they going to pay us back in return?»

Maybe the volume on the television is too loud, there's no neighbors to either side of the studio apartment, however, and even if there were the surly old man sitting at the small breakfast table in his kitchenette wouoldn't likely care what they have to say. While he can't see the CNN news report going on in the living room, hearing it is really all he needs. Even then, it's just for background noise. Any quiet apartment is too quiet.

«We've funneled seven billion dollars into the war effort on Madagascar. Last year's liberation and now humanitarian aid in restructuring. They're saying— and Stephen tell me if I'm mistaken— but they're saying that US troops could be in Madagascar until the end of 2019?»

A spoon clinks against a ceramic bowl, lips slurp, and with one hand held on a box of Cereal as he reads the side-panel nutrition facts, Avi Epstein is working hard. Beer and Captain Crunch may not be the start of a balanced breakfast, but the bottle of Octoberfest next to his bowl wasn't going to drink itself in the refrigerator, even if it being the last beer was indicative that it didn't have much time left to waste.

«No, you're absolutely right. I've heard reports coming out of Washington that says that US troops — in one form or another — will be in Madagascar through to the end of the decade. Now this, this is on top of our protracted involvement in the Middle East. Where does that leave our country?»

Aviator sunglasses hang from the front pocket of Avi's button-down shirt, too dark in the pre-dawn hours to really warrant wearing them, even if it is going to be cloudy all day. With a tick of his attention up to the clock on the wall, Avi exhales a sharp breath and reaches for the remote, pointing it over his shoulder at the television as he cranks the volume even higher.

«It leaves us in a precarious place, is where it leaves us. We have a serious threat in our own country— »

And also changes the channel.

« —he FDA estimates that clinical trials of Adynotyline may be resolved by as soon as March 2011.»

Now the volume is too loud. Too loud to not be able to hear through the closed bedroom door. Were this actually Avi's apartment, even he'd probably be uncomfortable. The point in this exercise is something other than listening to the television.

It's more about waking Nick up.

The living room coffee table is littered with the other five bottles of the six-pack of beer, which is probably why Nick is hard to rouse. Due to night terrors and insomnia, he's usually a light sleeper, but the sedation that comes with intoxication ensured a few hours of repose before the blaring volume of the television shakes him from slumber.

A hand scuffs over the bridge of his nose to his forehead and through his hair as the young man takes a groggy and bleary-eyed moment to figure out what woke him - when it's clear he's not the only one in his apartment, he's all kinetic energy thrown into motion, suddenly up on bare feet and reaching for the gun on the other side of his futon, holding it low as he moves toward the door. His free hand turns the knob as quietly as he is able, peering out into the sliver of light with eyes squinted until he makes out the form of Epstein at his table.

In the past, that might have been enough for him to release the breath held in his lungs, to set aside the gun held in his hands, but instead, his heart beats a little harder. Which Epstein is this? His still sleepy mind grasps at the things Raith told him — that the fake Epstein wears suits, the real one is like the cheap skunky beer Raith likes to drink: unpretentious but honest.

He pushes the door open and steps out, the gun still in his hand but not aimed at the older man. "Something come up?" he says wryly. "Or were you just out of Cap'n Crunch of your own?"

Click. The television turns off with a press of Avi's thumb over the power button. "I mistakenly bought crunch berries and I can't stand that shit," Avi grumbles with his back to Nick, setting the remote down on the tabletop. "I was also out of beer," he admits with a tilt of his head to the side, reaching down to his pocket to withdraw his sunglasses, his thumb folding out the arms before they're slid up and onto his face. "I also may have been bored, or told to come talk to you. You know, that job you do?"

Turning to offer Nick a look over his shoulder with one brow raised over mirrored sunglasses, Avi cracks a smile and looks back down to his cereal. "Pull up a chair, kid, you'n me have some talking t'do." It's only thanks to the the dim light of dawn in the otherwise lightless kitchen that Nick can make out something else on his table, a manilla envelope that looks to have gone thorugh postage already.

Nick's shirtless form shows that the bullet wound of their last meeting to be mostly healed, though the scarring on his chest and back will last a lifetime. He moves toward the sofa to pick up a sweatshirt left there, tugging it over his head before moving into the small kitchen. Plaid flannel pajama bottoms and the gray hoodie make him look more his age of 23 years than he usually does. The touseled bedhead hair and sleepy eyes add to his apparent youth. He takes the other chair, turning it around to rest his forearms across the back as he faces Avi.

"Sorry I don't have more beer," he says, with a nod toward the bottle Avi holds. "As far as the job, so far still doing the guns. Walsh hasn't opened up about anything more. You got any news?"

"Dick," Avi notes with a clink of his spoon down into the bowl, "and I don't mean a cock either, or a rooster or— I mean a guy named Richard." One of Avi's brows narrow, his attention angled to Nick momentarily. "Not really a case for you though, but it's what I'm working on. Just some background digging into an old war buddy of mine. As far as you go?"

Avi's shoulders rise and then sink into a heavily sighed slouch. "Dunno, I was hoping you had some news for me. This job's bullshit though, they've got you doing undercover work without any formal training and fuck-all of a mindset on things. Which," Avi notes with a furrow of his brows as he reaches for the envelope, wagging it back and forth in one hand, "is why I have this."

Avi's mirrored stare lingers on Nick for a while before he offers the envelope out to Nick. The return address on the front reads Directorate of Operations, Clandestine Services with an address in Virginia. "I pulled some strings. Uncle Sam's gonna send you back to school in the fall." There's a sarcastic quirk of a smile that spreads across Avi's lips. "We can go clothes shopping an' pick you out a nice lunchbox with the Lady Gaga on it or whatever it is you kids are into these days."

Nick's brows furrow together as he reaches for the envelope, bringing it close enough to read. "Wait… what?" is a response that probably doesn't instill a lot of faith that Avi's done the right thing in pulling his strings. Nick gives a shake of his head.

"You're sending me for, what, like CIA training? I got some training back in France — I don't think training's the problem, to be honest. I don't fucking know what I'm doing because I'm not book smart, you know? I can fit into a buncha low life thugs shooting the breeze because I was a low life thug, you know? I don't think teaching me to talk to a phone in my shoe is gonna keep me from making dumbass mistakes that almost get me killed," Nick says, turning the envelope in his hands to see if it's been opened. "That's just me being daft."

He shrugs one shoulder, though his brows crease unhappily, like a kid being told he isn't good enough to make the cut on the football team. "The injury mighta gotten in the way a bit. I haven't been back to the general dock work, which is where you hear some of this shit, and Walsh isn't letting me in on things, just using me to count ammunition and run the guns to the clientele. I can try to get back into the dock circles now I can lift again."

Avi snorts in response, arms crossing over his chest as he slouches back with a creak of wood against the back of his chair. "CIA ain't about book learning. I mean, okay, part of it is, but you have that shit covered. Foreign languages? Check. Know how to shoot a gun?" There's a long, awkward pause, "Well everybody has to start somewhere, right? Look, what you need isn't government training, not the kind they give analyists and techs anyway. No, you need to learn shit that no Frenchman's going to teach you and nothing that a boy fresh into his suit is going to know."

"That paperwork is real world," Avi says with a firm tone of voice, looking back up to Nick. "The only training worth a god-damn penny in this world, experience. When this shit with Walsh is done, provided you'n me both aren't sucking dirt, I pulled strings to get you an official position with covert intelligence."

Avi looks away, over to his cereal and down to his lap. "All you have to do is sign on the dotted line, and when we're done with this job, you'll have legitimate employment with the Special Activities Division." Dark brows furrow and Avi offers Nick an askance look out of the corner of his glasses. "You need a future, kid. That's a sight beter than most people in your position get."

A future is one thing he doesn't think he deserves, but he also thinks taking himself out of it is the cowardly way out. Nick frowns and opens the envelope, staring at the bureaucratic jargon as he listens to Avi speak. His scowl and obvious dislike for himself make him seem older once more, the lines in his forehead wrought with too many lifetimes of pain and hardship.

"You think I can cut it? I mean… the only reason I got pulled for this gig back home was because I was already in the midst of it and could turn turncoat on their asses. I managed to get in and do the same a few times since, but that's really about all I know how to do — get in with the lowlifes and find out where the shipments are headed. This," he taps the paper, "this is a helluva lot more than just playing narc."

His blue eyes move up to stare at their own reflections in Avi's glasses. "I don't wanna let you down, man. I mean, you pulled strings for me — I'm not gonna say no to something like that, but I don't wanna embarrass you, either." It's clear Nick is not used to anyone offering him a chance.

"You've met Raith," isn't exactly an answer to Nick's question, but it seems to be the beginning of an anecdote. Leaning forward and resting his arms on the table, Avi slowly pushes his bowl of cereal ahead, then grabs for his beer, turning the bottle around in his hands until his thumbnail catches the corner of the label and begins to peel it back. "His old man had a saying, sometimes even shit floats." There's a quirk of Avi's head to the side and one brow raised at the quote. "It means fucking stick with it, and if you fuck up or if you do badly, then try harder."

Turning to look at Nick, Avi quietly peels more of the label off of his beer back. "You ain't dumb, kid. You sure as hell aren't a slouch, and if your baby sister can pull off this spy shit by hanging around a walking corpse for a few years, I think it's pretty much in your blood." There's a strained breath exhaled, a look askance to Nick and a press of Avi's tongue against the inside of his cheek.

"Look what— I mean is, don't… make this about me. Alright? I'm just— I'm doing this because you're a good kid and you deserve better than the hand you've been given in life. I don't need any help embarrassing myself anyway, and besides," there's a flash of a smile on Avi's lips, "it ain't me you'd be embarrassing anyway."

His baby sister. Nick tosses the envelope down on the table before standing, pacing over to the window to peer out at the gray-lit alley below, then turning back. "What the hell do you mean, Eileen was a spy? And she's a helluva lot smarter than me, so don't go assuming because she can do something that I can, 'cause I sure as hell can't play a violin or dance or understand poetry or any of those things that she could, even as a bitty thing."

But without really waiting for a response, as if the invocation of Eileen is a catalyst to throw him into action, Nick returns to the table, reaching down to grab a pen from where it's serving as a bookmark in the middle of his "Conversational Polish" book that he'd been studying last night before celebrating Oktoberfest all by himself. He peers down at the paperwork. "Do I sign my real name or the name I'm going by?" he asks, pen poised between his fingers.

The look Avi fixes Nick is a quiet one, but almost one of modest surprise. "I guess Jensen didn't tell you shit about what she did for Colonel Klink, did he?" A heavy breath is exhaled out through Avi's nose as he looks down to the paperwork, hands folding in front of himself. "S'not important, but what I'm saying is… she isn't book-smart either, but look how far she's been able to bring herself. Far as you're concerned, you're just another apple on that same tree— good genes and all that."

When he squares a look down to the paper, Avi breathes in deeply and then lifts up his hands, folding them in front of his mouth as he considers the document, as if this is a big step for him too somehow. "Legal name," he mumbles against his folded hands, "just— " there's hesitance in Avi's voice, brows knit and his throat works up and down.

"Just be sure you wanna' do this before you sign up. Don't… don't just do it because I broke into your apartment and told you to." There's a faint smile, hiding something more serious, hiding old wounds.

The present tense of all of the verbs related to Eileen doesn't slip past Nick's notice and he sits back down, resting his arms on his blue and green plaid knees as he stares at Epstein. "She's alive," he says, the tone halfway between a statement and a question, and he tips his head slightly, looking at Avi out of the corner of his eyes. "Eileen's alive, isn't she? Don't — don't lie to me, okay, I swear to God I won't go looking for her if she doesn't want to be found, I wouldn't do that, but just fucking tell me the truth."

Nick swallows hard, lifting his gaze to the peeling ceiling of his kitchen for a moment, glaring at it with narrowed eyes that Avi will probably know too well is just a defense mechanism aimed at keeping the grief hidden.

"What the hell is her ability?" he adds. "I thought she was a fucking ghost."
"I think it has something to do with eyebrows, I forget," Avi says off-handedly as a joke, a smile crackingo n his lips that is entirely painted. The raise of one of his hands as if to say don't give me any shit comes right before he huffs out a breath of resignation and dips his head into a slow nod. "Yeah, yeah she's alive. I'm— I was her parole officer. Sort've. If you could call it that. I guess that's the other me's job now, so— " one of Avi's hands whips in the air dismissively.

"Your sister talks to birds, and not like one of the crazy old ladies at the park. It's like… I dunno, telepathy or some shit. You seriously don't know word one about what she did or who she is, do you?" There's a subtle narrowing of Avi's eyes, his head canting to the side. "I thought you might've just been dicking me around, or Jensen was…"

Exhaling a slow sigh, Avi closes his eyes and shakes his head. "She's here, kid. Here in the fucking city."

Nick rakes a hand through his hair and looks like he might be angry — he built her a memorial the other day, for God's sake — but there is a relief that is sighed out, a tension released from his shoulders. He huffs out a bitter laugh and shakes his head. "Nah, I don't know shit, I keep telling you. Not even about my own family. We ain't seen each other in six years, or at least I haven't seen her. She's apparently been watching me from some bird-eye view, talking to me from some bird's brain or something, telling me she's a ghost."

His lips quirk into a crooked smile and he shrugs the better of his two shoulders. "I told you she was smarter'n me, Epstein. And I don't got an ability to pull off the shit she can, but I'll do my best." He scrawls out the name Nicholas Ruskin on the paperwork.

"Don't tell her you told me she's alive. She wants me to think she's dead, and she can have that wish, all right?" He stares back at his signature. "So what kinda work am I gonna do with this — more training, same shit, different title?"

"She an' I don't exactly talk," Avi explains with a murmured tone of voice, "me'n her aren't what you'd call close." Looking down to the paperwork, Epstein's brows furrow and his lips sag down into a frown, eyes shut behind thelenses of his sunglasses and a sigh escapes his nose. Reaching down to pick up the slip of paper and envelope, Avi begins to tuck the form away, sliding up from his seat to stand slowly.

"Probably best," he admits quietly without a great deal of context, letting the notion hang limply in the air until he's fully standing. "Thinking she's dead, you know? I dunno what went on between the two've you, but there's some things I think you're better off not knowing, and what Eileen Ruskin does with her time is one of them."

Then, looking down to the envelope, he feels compelled to add. "She used to live in this building, up… until a couple of months ago," his voice is hushed, as if almost respectful. "504," is added like an afterthought as Avi turns to look to Nick. "I should go."

If Nick hadn't decided God was dead a long time ago, he'd believe he had a sick sense of humor. The coincidences that he's run into since he's been in this country would lead most sane men to consider a higher deity — Nick chalks it up to his perpetual bad luck. "Of course she did," he says with a bitter smirk. "'Cause that makes fucking sense, right? That she and me would leave home and somehow end up in the same place thousands of miles away — why wouldn't that happen?"

He rises, and gives a nod toward the paperwork as Avi tucks it away. "Thanks for whatever that's about. For thinking I'm worthy of a future, I guess. You're right, it's more than most people'd get, with my background, and I appreciate it. I'll try to make good on it, ya know?"

The younger man reaches across the table to offer a handshake. "I'll start back at the dock when I'm not with Walsh, keep my ears to the ground, maybe see what comes up that way."

Avi's response is a guarded one, reflecting Nick's stare in the mirrored lenses of his glasses as he looks down to his feet, then away, tucking the folder under one arm. "Everybody deserves a chance, I might not've realized that till recently, but… you seem like a good kid, and you saved my ass back there," back on the docks, "not a lot've people would've done that for me, you know?"

Something's wrong, and it shows. Avi Epstein isn't a very emotional man, but something about this particular meeting has him a little on edge, a little off-balance. "Keep your head down out there, okay?" There's a faint smile from the old spy as he waves the envelope at Nick, "don't need you gettin' yourself put in traction before you start getting yourself some real field experience." As much as it sounds like a joke, and as much as he tries to make it sound like one, Avi can only fool some of the people some of the time.

"Thanks for the beer and the cereal," Avi adds as he turns around, zipping the front of his hooded sweatshirt up as he turns for the door, snakeskin boots clunking across the apartment floor.

Only some of the people, only some of the time.

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