Taken for a Ride


etienne_icon.gif sibyl_icon.gif

Scene Title Taken for a Ride
Synopsis Etienne and Sibyl cross paths in the wilds of Staten Island, well outside their respective positions at the Staten Island Trade Commission.
Date March 28, 2018

A Derelict Building in the Ruins of Staten Island

Somewhere on the river that snakes its way into the Staten Island Greenbelt, a lobster boat has been anchored in silent shadows and rotting piers. From there, a man has roamed deeper and deeper into the heart of the wilds, night song overhead in the trees in the form of owls and wind and sporadic, pattering rain. In contrast to the busy, sometimes raucous nature of Great Kills Harbour, the banks of Arthur Kills are often abandoned as denizens of Staten Island take to any number of derelict suburban areas beyond overgrown parkland, safe from things like wild dogs and the wet cold.

Shelter comes in the form of a free-standing building by the river. Adjusting a bag slung over his shoulder, Etienne climbs up rickety wooden steps, locating the front door, and heaving it open from its damp-swollen frame. Quieter, he unsheathes his knife from his belt, and disappears inside.

It doesn't take him long to ensure that each dark room is empty of unwanted guests. Crouching in the living room, he occupies himself in building and feeding a small fire in the hearth, dry wood gathered into his bag, kindling coaxed into flames with a heavy silver lighter. Orange glow never seems to extend much further than the stonework that shelters it, outlining his leonine crouch in hues of orange and gold. It gives off about as much warmth, too, but one can imagine that a man with skin that's soaked as much sun as it has salt in its life is more intolerant than others when it comes to this American east coast chill.

He eases down to sit, attention on flames with the same attentiveness one might give a television.

People lived here, once upon a time. Buildings that once held people contain an energy that never truly dissipates; Etienne can feel it in the walls and under the floorboards under his feet, but also see the abandoned remnants belonging to the structure's last residents. Damp tins of old coffee, tea, and other non-perishables line the kitchen cabinets, rendered inedible over the years and by the mice that have nibbled their way inside the sacks of sugar and flour in the cupboard under the rusted sink.

They've burrowed into the mattresses in the bedrooms upstairs, too, but he might have been able to sleep on one of them anyway, if the roof hadn't already partially collapsed, drenching moth-eaten sheets and comforters with stale rainwater. Summer will bring mold.

He discovers other surprises during his survey of the building: women's clothes in a locked wardrobe he's able to jimmy open with the aid of his knife, including a sequined dress in silver that reminds him of a sleek little fish with scales that wink flashily when it darts through the shallows.

None of it is of any use to him, or to anyone else who might have stumbled on this hideaway before he did — which might be why it appears untouched.

The flames crackle in the hearth, slowly eating away at the firewood. When Etienne hears something snap, it would be easy to mistake the sound for a log splitting open under the blistering heat, but instinct tells him that it isn't. He listens and hears footsteps upstairs.

Rising to his feet, Etienne slides the knife out from its sheath, and moves towards the stairwell. Shadows within it and above it, and also rushes of cold draft filling the narrow corridor. He listens a little longer to the sound of circling footsteps above his head, as if whoever they belonged to were taking the same scoping tour he took through the drafty, damp rooms, discovering the same useless remains of a past life.

Leaves his position, finally, prowling upstairs on silent feet. In the same way that lions are large, heavy creatures, he is likewise adept at stalking and he goes to close in on invader, knife held in his fist, low and concealed at his side.

He traces the sound to one of the bedrooms on the second floor.

It's the one with the armoire, its doors still hanging open, although the intruder appears to have been a great deal more thorough in their exploration of its drawers. Women's clothes are scattered about the floor — a pair of flats here, a silk slip with black lace trim there — and hung over the back of the sagging bed frame. Two of the floorboards he'd noted previously as being in place are missing until he spies them propped up against the wall in the corner beside a standalone porcelain basin and shattered mirror with an ornate copper frame.

Click, is the sound of a pistol's hammer being drawn back. It comes from somewhere in the dark.

It's the kind of sound that should normally evoke fear. In Etienne, it's more like a shift in landscape, a new and dangerous element to consider, but he does let out an exhale, funneled through broad nasal passages, that denotes momentary annoyance.

The urge to duck right back out and take cover comes and goes. Too late.

"You can take whatever you found," he says. One hand splayed, he slowly goes ahead and puts his knife back into the sheath at his belt, staring level into the shadowy corner. "Just get the fuck out when you're done."

The clouds shift and new moonlight illuminates the curve of a small shoulder and half of the girl's face, blue eye gleaming so bright that it appears to glow like a cat's with a torch pointed at it. Sibyl is pointing the weapon at him, but everything about her body language tells Etienne that she isn't going to pull the trigger.

She lacks resolve. "I was here first," she answers, and her voice is marginally less shaky than it would have be if he hadn't put the knife away.

When he sees who it is, his hand leaves the knife's hilt, and Etienne sets his shoulder against the door frame. He seems to fill it, and despite its old, wasted away interior, the house is still house enough that he looks very out of place there, something wild let in.

"That right?"

He takes in the sight of clothing gathered and set aside, at the trench made in the floor from the removed floorboards, then back at her. "Mr Black put it in your mind you own the place, now."

"No," says Sibyl, lowering the pistol. She moves deeper into the column of light that cuts wide across the center of the room, and paces toward the gap where the two floorboards used to be. Etienne can see that she isn't used to the weight of the weapon in her hand; there's a sort of clumsiness about her grip as she drops into a crouch beside the hidden compartment in the floor, which is presumably where it came from.

There's apparently more. She pulls out an old jangling box of ammunition and a thin journal with a leather cover that looks like it would feel both soft and worn under his fingers, shoving both into the satchel she wears slung over her opposite shoulder. "I'm not the sort of person he thinks I am," she tells him, and even though her focus appears to be on the task in front of her, Etienne never leaves her periphery. "Or the sort of person he wants me to be."

"No one decides that about a person."

This isn't sage wisdom so much as agreement, and fact from a person who was clearly only roughly sculpted himself. Etienne watches from the doorway, observes the journal, the box of ammunition, observes them disappear into her bag. His curiousity isn't something he feels the need to transmit with words, but she can feel his attention like that same heat in the hearth, in the living room below. "So what," he says, other hand resting on the opposite frame of the door, blunt fingernails working free a long sliver of peeling paint, "you takin' him for a ride?"

Sibyl glances over her shoulder at Etienne. Her expression doesn't look like she's been struck, but there's something wounded in her eyes and the shape of her mouth. She interprets his question as an accusation, prickling. Guilt, next, as she realizes that maybe there's something to it.

"No," she says again, this time without sounding entirely convinced of her own innocence. "He's going to do good things. He just doesn't know how to yet."

Clunk. She sets the pistol down on the floor, freeing up both hands to fasten the satchel's buckles. "I thought you might, too," she adds, "but that was before what you did to poor Mr. Burrows."

If his question is accusation, it is, at least, entirely free of judgment; maybe Mr Black is the kind of man who deserves to be taken for a few rides. Etienne himself was a graceless, elbowing presence into Alister's inner circle, helped along by the girl residing over her loot currently. But now his attention peels off aging paint work and lands back on her, somehow both hollow as well as full of warning.

Of course, Mr Burrows could be any number of people he didn't catch the names of.

"You're gonna rule the island. He's gonna do good things. Sounds like you got big plans for one another."

"I don't like big plans," Sibyl snaps back at Etienne. "I like small plans, plans with— with measurable results." Her cheeks flush pink and she fumbles with the buckle, pulling one side a little too tight so the satchel skews right. The result is a frustrated noise at the back of her throat.

She's flustered.

Correction: He is flustering her.

"Stop looking at me," she demands, suddenly self-conscious, and maybe Alister is wrong. How can he expect her to rule an entire island when she can't even control a room with one other person in it?

Etienne doesn't do as asked. Tips his head a little as if puzzling out her responses, trying to match them with the girl holding the revolver in the darkness, with the one who stared down the crime lord while curled up on his hammock. These things aren't exclusive to one another, but they don't fit perfectly either, edges overlapping just enough to bother him.

But he pulls back. Seems to diminish, in the shadows of the hallway. Good opportunity to part ways.

Instead, he says, "Fire's downstairs," and then leaves. An invitation that could easily be taken as an excuse for him to sever off the conversation where it is, frayed edges and all.

As Etienne is creaking his way back down the stairs, light floods into the living room below that is too bright, too focused, and too flat to be explained away by yet another shift in the clouds. It’s accompanied by the abrupt roar of an approaching engine as a vehicle turns the corner on the opposite side of the building and crests the hill.

He sees the truck through the window: some American make that would have been on its last legs even before the war, but has managed to cling on in spite of its corroded hull and peeling paint job. It might have once been dark blue, or maybe black — now it just looks patchy and metallic, one headlight sputtering before the man behind the wheel pops the key out of the ignition.

The overgrown driveway plunges back into the dark.

Something white like moonlight floods in through the windows, and Etienne startles into a reverse before a secondary instinct kicks in and locks his joints in place to go, instead, still. Too late, anyway, the bright glare showing up every smudge of earth on his skin, the oddly pretty shade of sky blue eyes in his coarse features, and he sees them right back until everyone is hidden once more in the shadows.

And silence.

The front door faces the stairwell, and the light of the fire in the living room sends fitful tones of dim orange and gold into the immediate foyer. A moment passes where he considers a retreat into the shadowy, separate kitchen, considers a quick exit through the door that leads into what constitutes a backyard, considers disappearing into the wilds altogether, before he reverses back upstairs on quiet feet.

Knife back in hand. It isn't a tool of utility, although it could be. The steel comes to an upturned point and leather wraps its hilt, and he holds it low at his side as he steps back into the dark corridor he'd just left behind.

"You should go," he suggests, quietly, trusting his voice will reach the girl if she's not immediately fled herself.

Sibyl stands in the middle of the hallway, having left the bedroom on her way out— or on her way to pursue Etienne downstairs. She seems to be looking past him while simultaneously aware of his presence, which she acknowledges with what is probably meant to be an apologetic tilt of her chin. When she blinks next, some of the sheen in her eyes appears to have been scrubbed out of them; they’re just a little less bright than they were a moment ago, and her expression more rooted in the here-and-now.

“Five,” she answers in a low whisper, mindful to match his tone, because now they can both hear several sets of boots crunching over gravel. “There are five.”

She’d disclosed her ability to Etienne and Alister not too long ago, without detailing any of its specifics. It’s a safe assumption that whatever it is, it’s in at least partial effect. “Rifles,” she adds. “I can see shapes under their clothes, and one of them is talking about—”

Sibyl strains to listen. Etienne’s ears pick up distant murmurs, some uneasy laughter, the kind that’s shared by people who are only pretending to be friends. He hears it a lot here on the island. “Talking about negation gas,” she finishes. “There’s a crate in the back of the truck. Saw the smoke in the chimney.”

She remembers, then, his suggestion to go. Except: “I don’t want them to have it.”

He gives no external reaction for her to respond to — but her attention is elsewhere anyway. As is his, divided, listening to what he can of five men closing in on the den he'd chosen for the night, folding himself into the shadows of the corridor as he listens for the sounds of inevitable invasion. His tension is palpable as she continues to relay intel, turning the knife in his hand for optimal stabbing.

And then she says that, and Etienne looks down past his shoulder at her. As if now absorbing both her information as well as its source, and silently, he nods.

Fair enough.

With a hand, he ushers her back towards the dark door of the bathroom. "Shoot once," he says, "then move." She hadn't had the conviction, when he'd appeared in the doorway — but maybe he senses a little steel now. He leaves her side, finding a position near the top of the stairs, and out of immediate sight. There's always the possibility that they won't roam up them, but then they'd be stupider than the average denizen of Staten Island, most of which know to check every corner.

The scavengers, if that’s what they are, gravitate toward the fire in the hearth downstairs. It’s a source of both warmth and light, and even Etienne can make out someone’s suggestion to take advantage of it after they’ve dealt with whoever is hiding inside.

Sibyl backs into the bathroom’s doorway and angles her body so the frame protects most of her small mass. As footsteps ascend the stairs, her breath takes on a shuddery quality that has her chest jumping against the pistol she’s holding close to her body, arms drawn in to make herself as narrow a target as possible.

That’s fear. He doesn’t need to be Evolved to sense it.

A man appears at the top of the stairs, easily an entire head taller than Etienne, with shoulders he has to tuck forward in order to squeeze into the corridor where he and the girl are lying in wait.

Shoot once, he’d said. Then move.

The giant swivels in the direction of the bathroom and begins ambling toward it on feet that make less sound than they have any right to, given his size, but the lives these people have chosen to lead sometimes demand stealth, and this individual has risen to meet that challenge.

Etienne won’t be sure whether or not Sibyl’s resolve is firm enough until he hears that first shot, which is miraculous considering how long the pistol had been collecting dust and moisture beneath the floorboards.

Less astounding is where it lands. She’s no marksman; the giant staggers only half a step backwards and swings a hand up to clutch meaty fingers at his shoulder where the bullet is embedded beneath his collarbone, then hurls himself toward the doorway Sibyl occupies.

His companions downstairs undoubtedly hear it, too.

Etienne doesn't move until the giant staggers under impact of the shot, and then races forward, centre of gravity low enough so as to muffle — but not completely dampen — the sounds of his feet striking the floor. Regardless, up here, both the giant and the girl can probably feel as well as hear him as he closes in, driving a kick to the back of one knee before the giant begins to turn back around.

He stumbles. It's enough. Etienne's hand comes around and clasps over his face, yanking him backwards and into the knife positioned at the soft indentation at the back of his skull, steel sliding through, wrestling the rest of the way down as he twists his knife. Pulls it out.

Puts it back in for good measure with a vicious overarm jab, before he turns his attention to the corridor, the inevitable back up. Trusting the girl knows what she's about — he'd argued that same point to meester Black — he throws himself out of easy shooting range, not picky about where that happens to be.

Sibyl appears in the space between the giant’s legs for lack of anywhere else to move to. She darts with a cat’s quickness out into the hallway, nails scrabbling on wood, and springs back to her feet as the he lurches sideways and makes a grab for the bathroom’s door frame in a misguided attempt to right himself.

The wood is rotten and crumbles in his hands. One leg buckles beneath him, and then the other. Sibyl’s shoulder slams into the wall in her rush to get out of the way of the falling body before it crushes her. Safely aside, she’s reminded that death is not always as quick as it is in books; the giant continues to make low, indecipherable sounds in his throat after he hits the ground, and his hand leaves a bloodied smear on the hardwood during his final efforts to right himself.

She jerks her foot away, out of reach, and shrinks back toward Etienne.

It’s a good thing, too, because the spot her boot had been resting a moment before abruptly explodes into a cloud of pulverized wood. Gunshots echo in the room downstairs below them and are much louder when they punch through the floor on the other side.

The entire room — the entire house — fills with gunfire blasts. The gunman might as well be in the same room. Etienne reaches that short distance to grab a fistful of Sibyl's coat, dragging her ahead of him to clear the corridor. As quickly as it began, the sound of gunfire stops, leaving the two with the sound of a door slamming on its hinges behind them, the thump of their feet as they exit the corridor and crash into another larger bedroom. Here, the window has no glass, and the tattered remains of curtains flutter out into the open air.

Etienne's hand on her shoulder grips, urging her stillness. Behind them, two more shots ring around, but nothing pierces the ground.

He ought to have snatched a gun off the man in the hallway, who by now will be unconscious from blood loss, and soon dead, if his heart hasn't already given up. But it's likely that if Etienne preferred his chances with a gun in his hand, he would have a gun in his hand. He prefers Sibyl's chances, anyway, with a gun in her hand. He leaves her side, then, moving to the door of the room they've entered, slipping into the blindspot it offers where it attaches to the wall.

He settles his hand on the handle, the other readied with his knife, and listens keenly.

Most immediate is the shaky rasp of Sibyl’s breathing. A man died in the hallway and she was complicit in it. Her small hands grip the windowsill — and the pistol — knuckles gone white in an attempt to still the tremors she feels in her fingers all the way through her arms and shoulders.

Downstairs, a voice asks, “Do you hear anything?”

Etienne is listening. The four survivors are listening. Sibyl likely can’t hear much except for her own blood pounding in her ears. Her heart feels like it’s about to explode out of her chest.

Every atom in her body wants to propel itself through the open window and into the nighttime air. She swings one leg over the side, and then the other, the heels of her boots coming into contact with the exterior ledge crusted in bird droppings. Its inhabitants have long since vacated, disappeared at the first burst of gunfire with a decisive snap and flutter of their wings.

“No,” another voice answers the first at the foot of the stairs. “That doesn’t mean shit.”

So Sibyl jumps.

Etienne looks to the space where she once occupied, and gives a full-bodied twitch like his compulsion would be to follow her, but the instinct to maintain his silence overrides it, even as voices from below confirm that they remain unconvinced. Some quick calculations take up the next few silent seconds, although he has already formed some conclusions: below is immediate death, and upstairs is his advantage.

And the girl, outside, in the wilderness, all seeing and in the shadows.

He moves, then, back from his hiding spot, into the corridor with its bullet holes, up towards the corner around which leads the stairwell, and then into the stairwell. He and the man at the bottom see the whites of each others eyes, and the blam blam blam of pistol fire is the kind of thunder that Sibyl can't ignore, from wherever she is. Bullets disappear into splintered plaster as Etienne leaps aside.

Footsteps follow, of Etienne's attacker pursuing where his target has disappeared back into the shadows upstairs, perhaps imagining finishing off the tiger it spotted in the tall grass, even as a shouted warning of caution comes guttural from one of his companions. As soon as the gunman makes the landing, Etienne grabs him, and the solid thump of a body slammed into the wall relieves dust from the fixtures in the ceilings.

The gunman’s breath leaves him in a mighty chuff and his weapon falls to the floor with a heavier, more hollow blow but does not discharge on impact. He tries to squirm away from Etienne, but with the wall at his back and the mercenary pirate pinning him there, he has nowhere left to go.

There are two scavengers unaccounted for, and it might seem strange to Etienne that neither of them are rushing to their companion’s aid. The reason for this becomes clear when the glare of the truck’s headlights empty into the downstairs once more, this time accompanied by the deep, booming bass of the vehicle’s radio.

Every breath you take

Every move you make

Every bond you break

Every step you take

I'll be watching you

At some point, between pulling the trigger and scrambling to escape between the giant’s legs, Sibyl lifted the keys from his coat pocket. Etienne hears the sound of pistol fire pinging against the truck’s exterior, followed by the guttural howl of its engine. Tires spin in the mud, kicking up a chummy mixture of loose gravel and filth.

She’s abandoning him. Or.

Pulling their focus? It’s impossible for Etienne to know which. The gunman’s hands clutch at his wrists and he draws his lips back around a snarl. “Ffffuck you,” he slurs out, heaving for breath.

Etienne's reply is just growl, white teeth bared in a snarl that brings him an inch close to the face of the man he has in his grasp as he pushes back, keeping him pressed to the wall. Cold steel comes up under the man's throat, its sharp curve tucking against the rise of his adam's apple. The sound of the truck is impossible to ignore, but maybe Etienne has a little faith in the intent of whoever's behind the wheel.

Maybe he doesn't, and doesn't have much of a choice. His breath is hot and beery on the other man's face as he speaks low and quiet, almost intimate; "Tell me about the crate in the truck. The negation gas. Who's it for, where it came from. Tell me that I'll release you. Don't tell me that, I'll feed you to the river."

The edge of his blade makes a shallow seam of red in the other man's skin.

It isn’t a bad bargain. The gunman turns his face away from Etienne’s blade even though this does nothing to protect the softer, vulnerable underside of his throat. Blood leaves a thin line where it carves a straight path down his neck and darkens the collar of his sweat-stained shirt.

Fear has a smell. It’s all over him.

Every single day

Every word you say

Every game you play

Every night you stay

I'll be watching you

“Sss-” the gunman starts. He’s distracted by the commotion in the driveway, or pretends to be. A bullet shatters one of the truck’s windows, doubling the volume of the radio and The Police’s Every Breath You Take. There’s the crunch of the vehicle’s rear bumper colliding with one of the trees that line the property’s driveway as Sibyl throttles it into reverse. Someone is screaming.

It isn’t Sibyl.

“Scavenged,” the gunman spits. Even two syllables are very difficult for him. So he tries harder. “Military graveyard. Bronx. Found it in a chopper— under the rubble.” As for their buyer: “D-Dunno. Wesson, maybe. Trade Commission. Pure Earth. Who-the-fuck-ever.”

Etienne is listening. Both to the words being stammered out under his grip, and also to the pandemonium transpiring outside, blue eyes skating their gaze aside with his head tipped. Just visible, proximity and low light what it is, is the start of a smile. The blade beneath this man's chin presses in, blunt-side.

"I'll be taking that off your hands," he says, as he veers his attention back to him, "on behalf've the Staten Island Trade Commission." His teeth show ivory between consonants, words all growl that the other man can feel. "Pleasure doing business, vriend."

Another thump.

The body falls. It's still breathing, if now bleeding. Because if anyone knows anything about pirates, it's that they can only exist as stories to the living.

As for the others, however— Etienne moves, collecting the fallen pistol as he goes, exchanging knife and gun between his hands as he comes down the stairs, intent on the chaos outside.

Oh can't you see

You belong to me

My poor heart aches

With every step you take

Etienne’s steps lead him outside to where smoke billows out the back of the truck and over the skidmarks left in the mud. A dead man slumps ragdoll-like against the rear bumper, crushed between the vehicle and the trunk of the tree Sibyl backed into.

The second thing he’ll notice is the truck’s driver side door thrown open, shards of glass twinkling in the glow of the headlights on the ground and interior upholstery, which is so damaged and worn down by time and the elements that it’s pieced together with duct tape.

He can track the deep grooves in the mud where the last scavenger standing has dragged Sibyl out of the truck by her hair and is now straddling her several meters away from where his companion bleeds out into the dark. One hand forms a vice around the teenager’s throat, holding her fast, while the other clutches the side of his head. Gore clumps in his beard. Sibyl bites down on half his ear between her teeth.

A few long strides carry Etienne closer, but only close enough that by the time he raises the pistol and aims it, he's confident enough to pull the trigger, and rapid fire rounds send plumes of flash-flame from the muzzle of the gun. Three bullets strike flesh and a fourth goes wild, denting metal with an ear splitting ping.

On top of Sibyl, the man suddenly convulses aside under the assault, slumping heavy into the mud, half on top and half off, and still in the process of a struggle even as his blood is quick to flow from the modest holes in his flesh, flooding his clothing.

Etienne lowers the gun, adrenaline sending his exhales out in thick, panting plumes of steam as he seeks out the sight of the girl response for shattered glass and a dead man pinned to a tree. He slides his bloodied knife back into his belt, and starts making his way over, gun held negligently, borderline forgotten, as his other, now empty hand reaches to find a grip on her, to drag her bodily to her feet.

Sibyl’s boots squelch in the mud. Like a newborn fawn, she’s a little unsteady on her legs and wobbles against Etienne for support even after she’s upright once more. Her hands go to her face, smearing away blood, wet dirt, and something that looks like it might be an oily smudge of engine grease. The hair plastered to her cheeks and brow gets swept back, tucked behind her ears — she still has two of them — or otherwise pushed aside to clear her vision as she darts a glance up at Etienne.

She knows it’s him, of course. There’s gratitude in her bleary eyes — but there’s pride, too. She jerks away from him and staggers back toward the truck, swinging her hip against its bullet-dented flank with a stubborn and audible thump. Leaning there, she takes stock of their situation: the two dead men she can see, and the ones she cannot. Her gaze steers toward the crate of negation gas strapped down in the vehicle’s bed by a net that she imagines the scavengers use for other purposes.

It’s then that she remembers to spit the ear out of her mouth.

With great care and deliberation, she braces a foot against the wheel well and levers herself into the back of the truck. She lost her pistol during the altercation, but groping around in the mud for the lost weapon on her hands and knees is lower on her list of priorities than freeing the crate from the netting.

Etienne watches, silent and curious about her next actions. Maybe it's a fair expectation that she might cry or run away, or any number of things beyond what looks a lot like getting on with it, even if he's not entirely certain about what that happens to be. Light rainfall is a continuous presence, an irritant, and he looks at the pistol in his hand as if unsure about whether he wants to keep it or throw it aside.

Ultimately, he tucks his jacket up so as to shove it into the back of his jeans, roaming closer to Sibyl, her position in the back of the truck, her hands fretting at knots and hooks.

"Fetch a pretty penny, all that," he says, leaning against rusted metal chassis. He's in better shape than she is, no mud or blood on his face, some inconsequential blood spatter on his clothing, and whatever grime layers over his skin and clothing is likely over a period of days rather than these past few moments of bloodshed. "Mr Black would be pleased."

Would, he says. It's different to will.

Sibyl is still as Etienne speaks, poised above the crate. She studies him in silence and without moving her eyes, which are a brighter blue now that he can really see them.

He’s right. She watched how high Zain Syan’s clientele drove the bidding at his last auction when he offered them the opportunity to own just one syringe of Adynomine. The crate of gas she’s just pried open with her trembling hands contains a total of twelve canisters, a little dusty but no worse for wear than they day they were packaged more than six years ago. Together, she and Etienne are sitting on at least close to twenty thousand American dollars worth of contraband, never mind what Alister Black might want to do with it.

There’s a lot two people can buy with twenty thousand dollars.

There’s a lot one person can buy with ten.

Sibyl clutches one of the canisters in her hand, testing its weight, which is somehow much lighter than she thought it would be when she popped the lid. Holding Etienne’s gaze, she rises to her feet in the bed of the truck and rolls it between her palms, as if considering.

The operative term being as if. When she breaks eye contact with him, it’s to look out across the river, briefly judging the distance between the truck and the water before she hurls the canister into the night in a lopsided overhand throw.

Plunk, goes the canister. Sibyl stoops for the next.

He watches it go with the same lazy, speculative eye of a circus animal considering meat thrown beyond its reach, at first a tension, and then relaxing. As she goes to collect the second— he allows it, instead reaching into his jacket to extract a small silver flask, which he uncaps, and takes a single burning sip from it.

"Those'll float," he says. By the by. "But it's your share. Do what you want."

The implication being that she won't be doing what she wants with his share.

Sibyl is about to chuck the second canister after the first when Etienne decides to share this very important piece of information with her. Her hand drops back to her side and her arm grows slack beneath her coat. Lines appear on her face where there weren’t any previously.

She looks perturbed. “Well,” she says, blinking away rainwater. “I don’t want them to.”

"I'm taking these back to the Salve Regina," Etienne says. Imparting fact. The house behind him no longer appeals as a shelter, and even now, the fire he'd built in its hearth has faded enough that evidence of its presence is now down to a soft grey tinge in the windows as opposed to the signalling orange that drew these men here. "You still feel strongly on it, we can weight down yours and drop them to the bottom of Raritan Bay."

The appeal of wealth from the six he considers his is obvious enough; what's also obvious is that he is content in losing out on that other ten thousand dollar profit to the girl standing up in the truck bed.

"Unless you want to take a bite out've me for the rest."

Sibyl, reminded, dabs some of the blood from the corner of her mouth with her sleeve. The rainwater is in the gradual process of washing away what else remains. The rattle of it striking the truck and the newly-formed leaves in the trees disguises the unsteady hitch in her breathing, and she hopes the darkness and slanting precipitation does something similar for the tremors that wrack her thin legs and bird-boned fingers.

Every Breath You Take is winding down to a close.

But also: It’s just now beginning to sink in that she’s directly responsible for the death of one man and is complicit in the deaths of several others. She remembers the shape of Agent Lowell’s body sprawled out on the pavement, limbs askew and neck bent at a perfectly natural angle, like he chose to sleep in the middle of the street, except—

“No.” The word is short but still has to claw its way out of her throat.

She tosses Etienne the canister she’d been about to commit to the river.

He catches with a snatching swipe out of the air, his expression that of a man who's considered them both to have reached an accord. Now, Etienne's attention shifts — he gives a quick evaluation of the truck, the black smoke still hanging in the air, the contents of the front seats. The sounds of his inspection are so much creaking of metal, opening and closing, until he decides it may as well be given up to the scenery, as with the dead body it has pinned to the tree, the man with the bullet holes lying in the mud.

Rounding to the other side of the truck bed, he reaches in to grab the edge of the crate, using knife edge to cut it free completely before he drags it with a noisy clatter back towards him. A cursory inspection of its contents confirms what he knows to be there, before he's hefting it out, matter of fact but just, also, a little pleased with himself.

It's dark, still. He should probably wait until morning to make the trek back to his boat, but animal instincts move him to abandon a den when it's been invaded.


Sibyl hops down from the back of the truck. She gathers her coat tighter around her body, not immune to the chill in the air, which transforms her next exhale into a swiftly dissipating puff of fog.

That’s a sigh. It means yes, probably.

She puts one foot in front of the other and begins the slow trudge down the tangled path that leads to the water’s edge and, eventually, the Salve Regina.

She’ll take him up on his offer to sink her half of the spoils, and a ride back to the Trade Commission, where she’ll exchange her bloodied, gore-and-mud soaked clothes for a hot bath and a clean nightshirt.

They will have words about Alister Black, later, when she can find them. About what to tell him.

Or not.

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