The Call


avi_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title The Call
Synopsis Nick interrupts Epstein's beauty sleep with an important request.
Date June 5, 2018


Avi Epstein’s sleep is fitful.

So are his dreams.

Taylor’s broad-shouldered silhouette fills the door in one, but when Avi goes to meet him, his figure remains a faceless shadow lacking any identifying features, not unlike the body that the U.S. government returned to his family in a closed casket and accompanying flag.

There are things he wants to say, words he’s held inside his mouth and heart for decades. When given the opportunity to finally speak them out loud, he discovers that he has neither a voice nor the capacity to move his lips.

Outside the house in Nebraska where he grew up, and where both his own father and mother died, a war is raging. It rattles the structure’s bones and all the memories contained in it. He thinks he hears the shriek of an incoming missile, or maybe it’s Emily crying, or even the lonely call of the small bird he knows is trapped in the upstairs attic.

Avi opens his eyes.

It’s his cell phone vibrating on the nightstand beside his bed.

“Fuckoff,” is mumbled into a pillow, a disoriented hand lacking depth perception slaps the phone off of the nightstand onto the floor with a clatter. It's hard to tell whether or not that was intentional, and in his half-waking state, Epstein isn't sure himself either. The breath he exhales into his pillow is a weary one, and the room is thrown back into total darkness what with the illuminated phone screen face down on the floor.

It takes a moment for Avi to crawl to the side of the bed, bristly whiskers scuffing his pillow case as he extends one arm down to the floor, fingertips blindly search and find an errant sock, an empty bottle, a belt buckle, then the phone. Turning it around over in his palm, he brushes his fingertips over the screen trying to feel if it's cracked or not. The gesture also is a swipe to accept the call that he didn't intent to perform. The sudden lack of vibration and the awkward silence that follows is uncomfortable.

Hmmmnh?” Epstein’s vocalization sounds not unlike that of a bear stirred from a nap. He lifts up the phone, fumbles it to his ear while rolling onto his back. At some point he's switched it to speakerphone, but doesn't realize. “What.” Avi adds after the grunt, for clarity’s sake.

There’s a couple of seconds of delay, the type that might alert someone to a telemarketer connecting to a live pick-up a few seconds late, though there’s no telltale click of moving off of speaker.

“Good to hear your voice, too, pal,” comes a voice that might be hard to place for a moment or two — because rather than the East-End accent of Nick Ruskin’s unaffected speaking voice, he’s using that banal, hard-to-place American accent, the kind so common with broadcast anchors heralding from the midwest.

It’s an accent he hasn’t heard Nick use in years.

“You awake enough to listen or need to grab your hearing aids?”

It’s a joke. Maybe.

Avi’s hearing seems fine; summer rain drums on the roof of the compound, far off and unimportant. He thinks there might be thunder somewhere else, on the other side of the county line.

“Yeah, yeah,” Avi grouses into his pillow, the rough sound of fabric on the receiver audible to Nick on the other end of the phone. “Let me get my fucking old-timey ear trumpet so I can hear you talk about tea and jam or whatever the fuck you’re on about.” Pushed up onto his elbow, Avi looks to the window with uncertainty and lacking vision.

“Is this something that can wait until…” Avi flips the phone around to look at the time, then puts it back to his ear. “Fuck you. Is this something that can wait a couple of hours until morning?” Avi is sitting up by this point, bare shoulders and back reflecting a little bit of light that comes under his bedroom door from the hall outside. The shadows hide the scars.

There’s a silence on the other end and Avi can almost hear Nick’s eyes roll, before he speaks again.

“You know it’s not at all like me to call you in at this time of night.” There’s a beat of silence on the other end before Nick continues. “So it must be something very pressing, right?”

A sharp huff of breath is compounded by the closeness of mouth to phone. “It’s about Sedro-Woolley. We need to meet.” Another second, before he adds, “And about Eileen.”

For a while, Avi is quiet. Then, slouching down as though he were declaring, Avi let's out a slow sigh. “Okay,” he mumbles into the receiver. It takes Avi a moment to push himself up from his bed and walk over to the small, round table in the middle of his quarters. A bottle of whiskey is retrieved and opened, and he takes a swig straight from the bottle before sitting down in a chair.

“You having nightmares again?” Avi asks softly. “Because I mean… I do too. Usually around November. I know it hasn't been easy for you, and… I mean I wish I could be more help. But if you wanna talk about it,” Epstein looks down at the bottle. “There's not many people I think of as family, but you're on the list.”

Avi takes another sip from the bottle and slouches back in the chair. “Talk to me, I'm listening.”

There’s a soft fff that might be the beginning of the word ‘fuck,’ meant to be under the breath and then another pause. It’s too long, long enough Avi might expect that the call was dropped, but the timer on the screen is still going, and there’s the barest hint of ambient noise. Breathing. The hum of what might be an air conditioner.

“‘Again’ implies they ever stop, mate,” is spoken softly, and back in the Brit’s native accent. “I know it’s been hard for you, too.”

There’s another sigh, and Nick adds, “I know about the girl.” The words are clipped and flat.

There's silence on Avi’s end of the phone, and Nick can't see the slow transformation of his expression. For a time, Avi just shuts his one good eye and breathes in deeply, then exhales a steady breath into the receiver. He lifts the bottle up again, finishing what whiskey was left. “What girl?” He asks in deferential monotone. Nick knows, Avi suspects, but the last thing he wants to do is confirm it.

“I'm in Rochester,” Avi explains, as if that's answer enough. “How far away are you?” Which implies he wants Nick to come to him, rather than the alternative. Slowly, Avi sets the bottle down on the table, then stands up and starts to search for clean-enough clothes in the otherwise disheveled heaps scattered across the floor.

As Avi is picking through his laundry, there’s another lapse of silence on the other end of the line. This time it’s measured. Considering.

He can still hear the ambient background noise, that low hum, the steady, slightly strained intake and slow exhalation of Nick’s breath.

“Yeah,” is not a good answer to either of those questions. “I’m in Staten. She’s in danger and won’t leave with anyone else. You and I have some catching up to do it seems. I’ll buy you a coffee and we can chat when we’re both free.”

There’s a brief pause, and then Nick adds, “Boat graveyard, tomorrow. Sorry to wake you.”

There's a moment where Epstein is silent again, and as he's throwing on a shirt he moves back to the table and retrieves something that he feels will be equally important from it. “When?” He asks with exasperation, with all the frustration expected of someone half awake.

Lifting his holstered sidearm from the table, Avi slips it on around his shoulders and tightens the buckles. Then, he ambles over to his desk, fishing through a drawer.

There’s another brief pause before Nick supplies, “Eight p.m. I’m sorry to wake you. It probably could’ve waited an hour or two, like you said.” His own tone echoes the exasperation in his mentor’s voice.

He adds, more somberly, “See ya, Avi.” The words are tinged with resignation.

The line goes dead.

There’s a dead-eyed look as Avi lowers the phone from his ear, then plucks a burned photograph of a young girl from his desk and tucks it into his pocket. With a swipe of his thumb, Epstein activates the screen and composes a text message.

Nambiza: Nick Ruskin is compromised. Wants me to go out to Staten. He says he knows about Eileen.

Then, closing his eyes and struggling, he composes one more text.

Nambiza: I need help.

Jackson Heights

“I knew I could count on you, Nicholas.”

In the back seat of Nick’s car, Eileen gives her brother’s shoulder a firm but gentle squeeze with one hand. The other keeps the flat side of her knife angled against his throat.

Because they’re not done here.

Her perfume, musky and floral, envelops his senses. The smell of her skin and hair is also familiar, leaving no doubt as to her identity; some things can’t be faked, no matter how talented the shapeshifter, or the illusionist, or whatever other possibilities might have been running wild through his head during his call with Epstein.

“Thank you.”


Blue eyes find hers in the rearview mirror, brows tipping upward questioningly, even as tears well up in the surface.

“How are you here?” is the first question that he’s able to articulate, followed by a shake of his head. The tears are blinked back and his jaw tenses, that telltale sign of his anger and frustration.

“He’s like family, Lee. It’s only because it’s you I didn’t say fuck off. What d’you mean to do to him? Why not just ask him to meet you? He’d come in a heartbeat. Jesus, we watched you-”

He looks away, to the side mirror, then back again. “You could’ve asked either of us, and you know we’d die for you. So answer me: what the fuck is this about, and how the hell are you here?”

“It’s complicated,” Eileen answers, if it’s complicated can even be called an answer. Maybe she feels a little guilty for sidestepping the question, because she makes a effort to elaborate, tone gentling. “The less you know, the safer you’ll be.”

She turns the knife, using its edge to angle Nick’s chin upward in order to get a better look at him in the rear view mirror. “He’s not the person you think he is,” she says. “He’s a predator, a manipulator, an opportunist who will move on you if he gets even a sniff of weakness from your general direction.”

Her eyes search his in the reflection, and it could be a trick of the light, but as she studies his expression in the mirror, Nick notices the first incongruity: His sister’s eyes are blue.

“The three of us are going to have a conversation. And you’ll see him for what he really is.”

Nick’s brows draw together as he studies her face in the mirror. “I can’t imagine what’s happened to you since I last saw you that would make your opinion change so drastically,” he says, before lifting a brow. “Actually, I can’t imagine what’s happened to you since I last saw you, period. But if Epstein had anything to do with it…”

He shakes his head. “I was at Sedro-Woolley. How many of you’ve come back from the dead? How? And why the hell are your eyes blue?”

Any of that joy from seeing his sister’s face has evaporated. Now he’s just angry.

“Four,” says Eileen, keeping her voice soft, and level. “The Horsemen analogy wasn’t our idea, but it stuck, regardless. Lang likes it. I think it’s a little overdramatic.”

So is holding someone at knifepoint and forcing them to make cryptic phone calls in the dead of night, however

“People change, love. Lang, Danko, Ramirez— it’s for the better, a fresh start. They’re good men with conflicted hearts, whether or not you believe it. All they need is a gentle hand to guide them in the right direction. That’s West.” That’s Sedro-Woolley.

Eileen’s hand slides from Nick’s shoulder, across his chest, a slender arm curling around his throat to accompany the knife still poised there. “The colony is an anchor. We built it to keep people from floating adrift, but like any anchor it needs weight. Only those men are heavy enough, strong enough to hold it down.”

His shoulders stiffen and his scowl deepens, despite that soft, quiet voice.

Perhaps because of that soft, quiet voice.

“I’m not one to question that people can change. And Ramirez was a pretty hospitable host,” he says. “If you wanna play wild west with them, go for it. But a phone call would’ve been nice. Or, maybe not using me as some sort of tool to get at Epstein. A combination of those, really, would be brilliant.”

His eyes narrow as he considers her in the mirror. “Who’s the girl?”

“I’ll introduce you,” Eileen promises.

Her grip on his neck constricts. “I am sorry,” she hisses into his ear, on account of the physical exertion required to apply enough force to his carotid sinus that his blood pressure abruptly plummets, “about all of this.”

Darkness floods into the corners of his vision, then overtakes it.

“I love you very much.”

And Nick’s world goes black.

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