Strangled By The Strings Attached


bella_icon.gif harper_icon.gif

Scene Title Strangled By The Strings Attached
Synopsis Bella Sheridan finds the Institute winding its fingers around the strings attached to her old employment on Staten Island…
Date September 10, 2010

Suresh Center

That the Suresh Center is open seven days a week is convenience for the government agency operating quietly out of its upper floors. Most elements of the Company were never aware that the Suresh Center was owned by a shell corporation set up by the Company's founders, and now that the ReGenesis Foundation has found its way into the properties of the united States Government in silent transaction, so few are the wiser that anything had changed at all.

On the third floor of the Suresh Center, the office of Desmond Harper views the western skyline of Manhattan from the building's perch on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, auspiciously built over the ruins of the old smallpox hospital. Harper's office is presumptuous in its placement, looking out over a vista that prominently displays the ruins of Midtown, with its jagged, concrete fingerbones reaching up into the sky, clawing at the clouds and soaked in the falling rain.

The vertical blinds are pulled all the way open, letting in that diffuse gray light of a rainy morning at Harper's back. The clock on the wall reads some minutes after nine in the morning, and the arrival of one Doctor Bella Sheridan is ultimately impending, likely why Desmond can be found seated behind his desk, sifting through a stack of paperwork while keeping one eye on a smartphone situated at his side on the corner of the desk.

His appointment with Doctor Sheridan is an entirely professional one, though a professional relationship that has been strained by difficult choices, poor work associates, and a conspiratorial relationship with one Richard Cardinal. It's not that relationship that's had Bella in a lawyer's office several hours a day this week, but rather ensuring that her practice, identity and record remains clear of association with Primatech, Biomere, or any of the other shells the Company had that went up in smoke and flames. The Company itself has been sanitized from Bella's records, transferred over to Institute-oriented businesses and practices with emphasis on the Suresh Center.

They want to reassure her, confirm for her, that she won't be finding herself in prison for treason any time soon.

Of course, that's the way any guillotine hangs.

It's perverse that relief should be so run through with dread. Then again, when felt by a woman who gave recovering addicts a limitless supply of their drug of choice, it is really just Dr. Sheridan getting a taste of her own emotional medicine. It's only her well honed control of her affect that prevents her from appearing pale and nervous in front of the attorney, and she avoids expressing more than simple gratitude for the assistance of the Institute in keeping her out from the fallout resulting from the Company's critical failure and meltdown. She acts, to some extent, as if its her due - she has done good work after all. She makes it clear, or at least she tries, that she knows her value. Bluffing at Indian poker.

The meeting with Harper is approached with something more like relaxation. She dislikes the man, despite only limited contact, and with excess loathing left in the wake of Dr. Gregor's experimental conclusion she's more than ready to heap it upon her summoner given the slightest reason. She actually sort of looks forward to it. Though this gives her yet another emotion to hide, though one she less suppressed and more redirects.

As such, she arrives, dressed in a well pressed skirt suit of charcoal, and she arrives right on time. Brisk, authoritative, a self-conscious resource ready to be put to use. When she enters his office, Bella pauses behind the chair set out for visitors, a hand alighting onto its back. She dips her head in greeting before wordlessly taking her seat, legs crossing knee on knee, hands clasping the one that rests on top.

He called on her. He can start them off. She waits, head tilted at a very slight angle, an incline of expectation.

Folder and paperwork adide, Harper looks like a pan pulled at from too many directions these days. "Alright, this," he looks up and over her shoulder to make sure the door is shut, "isn't really going to take too long, but it's something I'd rather handle face to face than over the phone." Closing the folder, harper slowly leans back and laces his fingers in his lap, looking with one raised brow to the redheaded psychiatrist.

"The legal department tells me that they've managed to sanitize your background of Company connections, which is going to keep you and your finances clear of legal trouble given what you've obviously seen going on in the news. However there's some loose ends left dangling in the wind that I'm unfortunately going to need to discuss here." Unlacing his fingers, Harper reaches up to scratch at one side of his cheek.

"Firstly, however, an apology needs to be delivered. I— words really aren't quite capable of conveying just how horrified I was when I discovered exactly what was going on at the Staten Island Hospital. We took steps to clean the site up but ran into some resistance along the way, and putting Cong and gregor together was— it was irresponsible and no one there deserved to go thorugh what they did. I don't know what you may have directly experienced, but…"

Harper offers a slow shake of his head. "The Director of the Institute wanted me to extend his heartfeld apologies for what happened and any part you had to play in that entire… debacle. What little we know about what went on inside on its final days is terrible enough."

For the whole of Harper's elucidation, Bella's nose is alert for the smell of rat. She knows a verbal gloss job when she sees one - it's a hobby of her own, what with having to explain away her involvement in the failed Refrain project to various people who, finding out, felt 'betrayed' or whatever. It's not so complicated as that, though, Bella figures. Feels like a standard 'that didn't happen' 'what didn't happen?' 'exactly' exchange. Pure formality, but the sort of thing institutions and Institutes, apparently, rely on.

"It was a sad result, I think anyone with any basic decency would agree," Bella replies, politely regretful but not bothering with the pretense of real mourning. No one she vaguely cared about actually perished in the incident, and whatever fates those involved experienced, on either side, Bella imagines their fates were well deserved. Aforementioned Richard Cardinal and associates eroded all sympathy she might have entertained, however abstractly, for the Institute's enemies. "I tried my best to focus on more humane practices and more responsible forms of experimentation, but it was too little too late. I appreciate the concern and consideration, but I am simply happy that you made sure I was kept well away from it in the end."

"Damage control," Harper clarifies as he offers an askance look to the phone on the desk, checking for an alert that isn't there, then looks back up to Bella. "You're still a valuable asset to the Institute, all things considered, and we wanted to know what your agenda from here on out is. There's a place for you, here, at the Suresh Center. We have a medical team we've assembled, non-experimental, that would be servicing our field agents. Your talents as a psychologist could be helpful, what you've done for the people I've sent your way already has been highly regarded. You are, if not unconventional, very talented."

This is of course the part where all buttering up and smoothing of ruffled feathers is leading to, the unfortunate drop of the second shoe. "There is one matter, before you clarify that, which needs to be brought to your attention." Opening that folder he'd been looking in earlier, Harper fishes out a photograph, evidence only by the glossy quality of the blank back, at least until he throws the outdated old mugshot of Flint Deckard down on the desk in front of Bella.

"We'd like to know where he is," implies nothing but asks everything, "Professional and personal relationships prior to the severance of the Company indicates that you and a handful of others may be aware of where he is, presently. If you could furnish us with that information, we'd be most grateful."

Bella can take a compliment when it comes her way. Even if his words seem mildly honeyed, by virtue of his easygoing manner and Bella's already entrenched bias, she certainly won't argue with the truth. She is very talented. She's always known it herself. Nice to see it acknowledged, though any idiot ought to be able to tell.

But she can take a compliment, and her smile is almost bashful as she does. "Unconventional methods for unconventional clients. You set me to work with borderline psychopaths. I'm glad my techniques were well received," Bella says, with the nerve to sound gracious and appreciative when she does so.

The question of her willingness to proceed under the Institute's auspices, one that is not faced without considerable debate just within Bella's own mind just on the level of self-preservation, is postponed by a much more immediate, but potentially even more treacherous quandary. Confronted with a picture of her roommate, Bella must appear only surprised in just the right sort of way, a feat of self control that leaves only so much attention to the request made of her. They'd like to know where Flint Deckard is? They've asked just the person in the know.

But what will she say?

"I can only guess, given my knowledge of his psychological history," is what she ends up saying, eyes still on the photograph, easier that way to hide any traitorous eye motions or slips of expression, "but if he is on the run? I imagine he'd hide with known associates. Teodoro Laundini would be a good place to start, I'd say."

Yes. She wouldn't mind them starting with him.

"He's not with Teodoro," Harper flatly states with some measure of certainty, "if he was we wouldn't be looking for him." Brows furrowed, Harper stares down at the black and white mugshot, breathing in eeply before exhaling a deep sigh through his nose. "Alright, your council on that is somewhat helpful. We have a few more personal leads we can lean on regarding mister Deckard… If he does show up around you, however? I mean, given that you think he'd spend time with known associates, could you let us know? In fact that goes for most of your former co-workers who are now fugitives."

Leaving the picture there to stare up at Bella, Harper leans forward and rests his elbows on his desk, hands folded and chin on his laced fingers. "That aside, we'd like you to stay on with us. Doctor Harve Brennan is going to be heading our medical department and we have some talented people down there that I think would benefit from your expertise. You'd be working on-site on Roosevelt Island and offering psychological analysis to our agents in regards to potential case work as a consultant with comisserate pay for consultant fees in addition to your lab work…"

A shame. She'd really liked to have gotten two birds with one stone there. This is all quite perilous though, and she's not going to push a thing, lest she risk it pushing back and toppling her over. She keeps her response to a nod and an, "of course," and leaves it at that. 'That aside' sounds good to her. It can stay there, a matter for the audience, unheard in the rest of the drama.

"I would be more than happy to return to the comforts of my traditional practice," Bella answers, and this is not a lie, but rather a convenient truth, "and I feel as if I've already taken valuable steps with both Ms. Knutson and Ms. Bishop. Both are in critical stages… I'd like them to see me as regularly as their schedules permit."

"Good, good. Well, given your closer proximities I don't think there'll be any issues with meeting their schedules. I'll let them know that you'll be working on full-time with us now and," fishing around in the paperwork at his desk, Harper huffs out a breathy sigh and shakes his head. "Ah, I have no idea where the forms are this minute but… I'll get someone to find an office on the third floor for you that you can run your practice out of. Furthermore," Harper adds with an incline of his head, "I'll make sure Doctor Brennan knows you'll be around, maybe the two of you can catch up."

Lifting up a hand to scratch at the side of his neck, Harper eyes the picture of Flint one more time before turning his attention up towards Bella. "If Brennan needs you for anything medical you should help where available. We also have a very talented surgeon joining the ranks, I'm sure you'll run into Doctor Stevens at some point and— " lifting one finger up to note a salient point, Harper adds, "Doctor Price will also be working in the medical department. She's opted to move onto her birth name for ease of transition to Institute work, but she's still going by the name Odessa."

This of course implies there was a choice there too, though Harper leaves it at that. "Did you have any concerns you wanted addressed? I know this must seem a little stuffy after your last work environment, but— I'm trying to run a tighter ship than they did down on Staten Island."

Concerns she has aplenty, but there is no really good way to say 'I am concerned you already know or are going to find out I've double crossed you more than once and will worse than kill me' to anyone, let alone your boss that you view with conveniently self-righteous disdain. Bella opts for a small shrug. "I never know until I've settled in and felt where the seams start chafing. I trust I will have channels available for communication and concerns should they arise?"

"Of course, my office door is always open," Harper notes with a wave of one hand, "and if I'm not here you can always leave a message for me and my emergency contact number will be provided to you probably on Monday, whenever the paperwork gets sent through. We'll supply you with a work phone and the like, it'll have all that set up for you…"

Though Harper's searching expression implies that there's one last thing niggling at the back of his mind. "I did take the liberty of doing one other thing," Harper notes as he pulls out the top right desk drawer. "I had hoped that you'd stick around with us, so I had some identification badges drafted up for you. The Institute doesn't operate under its own identity in the field and there may come instances where you'll be needed to make public presence. On paper," Harper pulls out a laminated badge on a lariat, "you're now a medical counselor for the Department of Evolved Affairs." The red and gold badge is flipped down in front of Bella, an older and somewhat out of date photograph taken from her personal identification used on the front.

"Secretary Praeger and some elements of his cabinet will be aware of your connection to the Institute and you won't have any official duties therein, but as far as the United States Government is concerned— welcome to the Department of Evolved Affairs."

Bella reaches out to take the badge, regarding it with a touch of authentic surprise. The government? She was now directly a federal employee? Well, at least it assured that she'd continue to enjoy tax free income. Though she'd be pissed if they required drug testing. It would be just like the government to clear her for treason charges just to slam her on possession and use. But no, no, that sort of cynicism was silly. She turns the badge, lifts it to her jacket pocket, and fastens it.

"Point me at that paperwork," Counselor Sheridan says, "why waste time?"

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