Stretched Too Thin


elisabeth_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Stretched Too Thin
Synopsis To be fair, there's a lot to bitch about. Even when you're barely allowed say half of it to each other.
Date February 16, 2009


Though it's less than two miles square, Chinatown is home to some quarter of a million residents. Cramped, ancient tenements are the norm, though the fourty-four story Confucious Plaza standing at the corner of Bowery and Division does boast luxurious accommodations by comparison. Mulberry Street, Canal Street, and East Broadway are home to streetside green grocers and fishmongers, and Canal Street also boasts an impressive array of Chinese jewelry shops.

The sun has been only up an hour and curfew scarcely lifted with it, leaving Manhattan's streets largely deserted but for a handful of taxicabs racing at breakneck pace toward the airports as businessmen try to find some sort of practical mathematical average between legal constraints and personal demands, and some particularly ambitious storekeepers sending around a clangor of sliding metal as they unbarricade their wares for the day. There isn't much of a crowd to blend in with yet, but at the same time, there are fewer prying eyes to catch one's mistakes.

Teo is skulking. He's pretty good at it by the standards of most: football rioters are considered criminals by most law enforcement, and terrorists most certainly, so he has enough experience under his wide leather belt to pass off the shaven head surgery left him with as a thug's aesthetic and his scrappy mixture of denim and layered canvas offers a convincing costume, insofar as that's actually what he feels safest wearing. He's hanging in the maw of an alleyway half a block from where he said he'd meet her. Waiting, newspaper in hand, pleasantly blank expression on his face.

Well, he invited her to meet and truth to tell, Liz needs to see Teo anyway. So she dresses casually, jeans a loose New York Yankees sweatshirt, a heavy black jacket and a hat. And out the door she goes, just another New Yorker on the streets. Just in case someone's watching, which ….. well, it's somewhat unlikely, but one can't know that for sure. And she stops at the news stand, picks up a paper, stops at another and gets a coffee. Eventually making her way to the meeting place.

As she lopes past, a man falls into step with her. Instantly recognizable by the cadence of his stride, the height of him, and the fact that he opens with a genial, "Buongiorno, signora." Teo has his hands embedded in his pockets, a hangdog slouch lengthening the line of his back and shoulders. His expression went promptly from indifference to the warmth of pleasure. "Thanks for keeping in touch. Texts and shit. And I like your new look." Likely not in terms of figure-flattery. Constructive or not, however, that commentary promptly gives away to an open-ended query that sounds about as casual as it fundamentally isn't: "What's up?"

As he falls into step, Elisabeth merely grins. She's been expecting him to just appear somewhere along her route — it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you. And she keeps on walking, the newspaper under the arm that carries her coffee. "Glad you like it," she comments mildly. "I told you I'd keep in touch. Although you're not doing quite as good a job, my friend." She slants him a half-smile, blue eyes thoughtful. "So what's on your mind? I was surprised you'd ask me me to meet up."

"Cat told me you were hiding Norton Trask's absence from the rest of the PD," Teo replies, out of a slight stoop of his head — apologetic, regarding his radio silence. If nothing else, he regrets that he was missed in any capacity. "If you haven't already, I think you should stop that. Concealing his status missing. I hadn't realized you were doing that after he took his shore leave. Mi dispiace. My fuckup. I would've asked you earlier if I'd known. At this point, I think his cover is secondary to his life. The former, he can patch up with a couple more lies. The latter is taking a Hell of a lot more work." A quaver-beat's pause; he twists his head over to the right, spits into the gutter. "And like I said— I believe he's still alive."

Elisabeth looks at him and says quietly, "It doesn't matter what you *believe*, Teo. It matters what you can prove. If Norton were alive, he'd have already made his way back or gotten a message to me if he could have." She turns her face forward so that she's not looking at him now, walking at a pace that would be called 'casual but with purpose', like she has a destination. It keeps people from looking too close at the two of them — first trick of being not noticed, always look like you know where you're going and what you're doing. "I covered for him because explaining a missing persons report of a cop who got lost off the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and landed in the water would have been a sure way to get his ass sent to jail. Still is. I'm about to have Hana forge an email from him requesting an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons."

There's a slight cant to Teo's head, a furrow to his brow. "Hana was the first person who told me that there are any of a hundred different people on Staten Island who could have taken him if he were alive. Case in point: ex-roommate of mine. This tall, blond, lanky," his hand wafts through the air at the level Abigail's strandy head once stood at, dwarfed by his own height. "I'm not a fucking idiot, signora, which I'll admit to as easily as arrogance. If he could have? What makes you think life were suddenly about to get easy?

"A cop who was abducted, then. Has gone missing, last seen trying to help out at Verrazano-Narrows after it went down, or searching for survivors on the shore of Staten Island. Lie. I can help you figure something out if you're not going to be able to do it with a straight face. Give them something. It's better than nothing." He glances down at the paper under his arm, sees the slice of printed photograph around the paper curve. "I understand something about keeping realistic expectations, Elisabeth, but the more room we give him to stay dead, the worse his chances are of being alive."

Elisabeth stops walking at that and turns to look at him. "I don't think you're an idiot. I think you're an optimist, and I don't have the emotional reserves right now to be that. It's been almost three weeks, Teo. Do you think I *want* to have this going on? Do you even remotely think I *want* him dead? I am the closest friend and the *only family* that man has. And *if* you find him — bearing in mind the longer he is gone, the less likely that is — he is going to need a reason to have been gone so long. The cops are not going to look for him anyway," she stresses it for him. "They are going to assume that his body has been washed out to sea at this point and declare him dead. So. You can have this one of two ways… we can leave him out there somewhere, taking care of personal issues, or we can let them know that for whatever reason — and yes, I can come up with one — I didn't know he'd never made his plane and he's missing… and they can spend man-hours and time looking for him in all the wrong places, taking the resources away from dealing with the realities on the streets right now. Because they're NOT going to go to Staten Island. We've all basically been told to leave that place be until we get things her squared away. Staten's on its own for a bit longer."

At that, Liz is rewarded by a change in Teo's expression. Neither shame nor embarrassment, this time, but a certain level indisputable disgust. Not at her, self-evidently. Not really. But Jesus fucking Christ. They can't prioritize, canvas, rationalize, protect their own. Are the police truly so incompetent?

Teo doesn't bother asking that loud or even expend a thought toward answering it. A cord stands out in his jaw, briefly, the beginning of another vehement loogie hocked into the street, but he doesn't do it. He'd mean it, this time, but he's selective about enjoying the indulgence of his own temper. "Okay." He almost spits that word instead, but it's caged carefully behind his teeth, his gaze level, before he turns his head to glance down the street, drawn to the noise of running feet. Somebody's shop boy carrying a bucket of water. "That's fine.

"I'll find emotional reserves and people to do the PD's fucking job somewhere else. Situation fucking normal, and not a problem. We aren't supposed to be fucking vigilantes, you know?" His voice has dropped to a rasp, halfway between a whisper for privacy and a guttural snap. "There's just no one else. There's never any-fucking-body else. Fuck. Do your thing. I'll tell you if we find him." His boot grates the pavement, resuming his gait; waiting either to field a salutation or anything she has to bring to the table.

Reaching up to rub her forehead, Elisabeth just looks plain tired. She snaps a bubble into place because the next thing she says, she doesn't want to risk *anyone* overhearing, and she grabs his arm tightly to keep him from walking off. "There are a *lot* of fucking things I could say to the attitude you just gave me and to the implications of what you just said to me, Teo, and I'm going to bite my tongue on every single one of them because I know you're just as fucking stressed out and tired as I am. But hear me loud and clear on this. Do you see the fucking HumVees and the soldiers on every street corner right now? Do you see the blanket destruction and the riots that are taking place every night? I am working 18- and 20-hour shifts because the PD is *not* equipped to handle a city gone fucking wild. One lone man missing off the bridge, even a cop, just doesn't have priority right now. Keeping people alive when criminals are looting everything in sight during a blackout is. Keeping the vast majority of the population safe when three Evo assholes decide to rampage through a shopping complex to make a few quick bucks is. Keeping a 15-year-old kid who just erupted with powers he doesn't understand from jumping off a roof and killing himself is. And Norton would be the first fucking person to *tell* you that those are exactly the priorities I need to have. That the police as a whole need to have. Because at the bottom of it all, Teo? He was a soldier and a cop, trying to do the right thing. So *do not* presume to treat me like I am either incompetant *or* lazy for not going out there and doing this job myself. Because you have *no* idea how badly I want to do exactly that. And if I do it? It compromises everything."

She looks away from him, forcing back the glimmer of tears, both of anger and sadness, before she looks back again. "You want more cops on Staten Island? So do I. So does the fucking mayor. We don't have enough bodies to do that job yet. And if you think it doesn't piss every cop on the street off? Think again. *We* want to be there too."

The grip on Teo's arm halts him effectively. He's left to stand on the cold concrete. Listen to all she has to say, attentive, despite the momentary, furtive glance he lances to and fro across the pavement. Sound bubble. That warrants relaxation. Marginally. The look on her face, though. Those words. There's no calm in response to those, neither infuriating nor indifferent; his features go white and somber; he almost interrupts her half a dozen times, but bites off a silence in the end, his jaws locked and rue deepening the ordinary shallow and icy hue of his eyes. He didn't mean that.

Though he should have known, of course, that she'd read it that way. He isn't the only one sinking under the stone weight of their own inadequacy in the face of the contemporary world's havoc and strife. Numb with humility, he lowers his head, puts thumb on her jaw, rough fingers curling tentative below the point of her chin, a brief reach, slow, that fails to make contact if she doesn't want it to. "I'm sorry. Signora, that wasn't what I meant. I only felt — by priorities, that I wish your comrades could be trusted to know so that they could deci— I'm sorry. I understand.

"My stupid fucking — brain-mouth thing. There aren't enough people, and our best—" he almost lapses into a laugh of despair, then. Doesn't, somehow, fighting to keep his mouth a white line. "That's something I understand very well. I swear, that isn't what I meant. I swear."

Elisabeth doesn't move away from his hand, she merely closes her eyes a moment so that she doesn't have to see the overwhelming sadness in his face for a moment. When she opens her eyes to look at him, she whispers softly, "I'm sorry. That I took it that way. I know." She releases the grip she had on his arm and reaches up to touch the wrist of the hand he has on her chin. The tableau they present now to those walking by most likely looks like a lover's quarrel of some kind, though that's far from truth. "I know that you didn't mean it that way, and I didn't mean to rip you apart. It was a knee-jerk. I'm sorry." She forces a small smile. "I wish so many things were different right now."

"Me too." Teo says. Deckard's ricochet off the inside of his head. "Don't worry about it." He'd managed not to volunteer them aloud, but he knows he didn't need to. Our best sucks. It takes him a moment to unseat the hollow mask of grief that found his face, a fumbling struggle that ends with a white gust of a sigh through his teeth. His gaze strays through the invisible walls of the sound bubble around them, like some schmuck gone all furtive after making his beloved cry. This part of the analogy, at least, isn't so inaccurate, though it comes with another layer of anxiety and a dozen stranger, amorphous fears beside.

Can't be seen. Can't be seen. A long forefinger traces the apple of her cheek, a ghostly apology for tears that never made it past conception. "I'm sorry I haven't been keeping you closer in the loop. It's for s— you already know. I'll stop telling you things you already know. I think things are going to change soon. We have a risky opportunity. If we fuck up, a lot of familiar faces may go missing, but the Ferry can still help you get out of here if you need to go underground. Do you understand?" His stare holds, somehow, balanced carefully between clarity and necessary obfuscation.

Her expression shifts from wistful apology to a sharper, more alert expression. Elisabeth nods very slowly, nearly imperceptibly, not dropping her gaze from his. He can read the knowledge of what's coming in her eyes, and the hand on his wrist grips tightly. "Be careful, Teo," she says softly. There's so little she feels she can offer in the way of help on any of this, but Teo has come to mean a lot to her, and she'd really rather not lose anyone else.

Liz isn't alone in that boat. The worst part of contriving a plan to get the rest of his people back is the ever-increasing possibility that Teo will lose all of his others in the process. "I'm always careful," he answers, cracking a crooked grin. "Most of the time. When I'm working. You too, eh?" Their hands shift, the bones of his wrist turning in the circle of her hand, falling. He leans forward to drop a kiss on a blond lock that strayed into the breeze by his nose. He squares his shoulders. "Until then, you know how to reach me," he says, quiet despite the sanctity of her protection.

"Ciao, bella."

February 16th: WAKE UP
February 16th: Meat Market
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