The Cool Table


bella_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title The Cool Table
Synopsis The ghost extends an olive branch with Francois Allegre's phlegm-choked head stuck on the other end basically.
Date June 14, 2011

Jamaica Bay — Safehouse

It's dingy and full of babies in here.

There were days when you could pick up a phone and any sort of food from any corner of the world would be at your door within forty five minutes or you wouldn't have to pay for it. There were days when, if you should hanker for a fresh baked bagel heaped with pastrami, you could walk out at any hour of the night and a man in an apron with an accent would serve it to you on a styrofoam plate. There were days when the luminous palsy of Times Square lit the snacking of tourists through night after sleepless city night.
But no more. Tonight, and for nights to come, Isabella Sheridan eats in, and what she eats is at least forty five percent derived from something canned. Home cooked meals were an avid fantasy by the fourth month of med school, but now that all her meals are definitionally home cooked, the what she feels about the (brick oven!) pizza she once thanklessly ate while cramming for neuro can only be described as longing.

June noon has turned the Bay House into a brick oven, but Bella is eating casserole again. Corn kernels float like yellowed lily pads in the starchy swamp, while green beans lurk like languid crocodiles, and as assiduously avoided - their taste and texture objectionable in a way Bella cannot begin to sufficiently articulate. Her distaste for the food is sufficient to strengthen her already ambient sense of aggressive aloofness, a repulser field that, coupled with her kitchen corner perch, manages to keep her well separated from the pre- and simply pubescent savages resupplying themselves for calorie-taxing afternoon mischief. She isn't sure if - in this particular social context - hers is the cool table, or the uncool table.

Probably the uncool table.

In sails Teodoro Laudani! He is pretty popular because two of him aren't sociopaths and most people hate their critics anyway. Also he's handsome and spent several years being of great utility to heroic causes so, you know.

He pauses to stare at the children, though, over the tops of their little heads. Decides to avert his eyes and make steady his breathing, navigating around the edge of the room toward that— reasonably familiar mop of ginger and her funny sweat patches and casserole full of bits that look like colored rubber and styrofoam. He slows down for a few steps, thinking of nothing in particular, and you can blame that on the heat too; the air feels like it pushes back, diluting the clarity offfff whatever his objective had been when he'd set out for this Godforsaken armpit of Long Island.

— oh yeah. It comes back to him about a second before he settles into the chair to Bella's right, squeezing a creak out of rust-pocked bolts. "Hey," he says. With other women, he'd have other lines, prey on different pathologies. With Sheridan, his best guess at achieving copacetic is: "Need your help."

They've never actually met before, in the flesh. He's the same height as the one who'd put led in her leg, broader, newer clothes, the acknowledgment of his eyes the same cold weight.

You have to understand, she's tried her best to forsake revenge fantasy. She even made a symbolic gesture, once - she had this cane for a while you see, and she gave it up, and if you were paying attention you'd realize that character development was happening in that moment; that, at least, had been what Bella was after when she handed off that lurid souvenir. But old habits die hard and it was disappointment and resignation that marked Francois double dealing, not acceptance or growth. Acceptance is something you come to when you're ready to die, which she isn't, and growing is something you do when you aren't already perfect, so-

So Teo gets façade blanc for a splint second before Bella scans the room, notes that they are not alone, and hitches a crystalline smile to her face, bright and brittle. It's a snow heave look, some forceful pressure away from collapse, and essentially cold.

"I'm afraid I'm no longer practicing."

At least he doesn't lean over and fling an arm over the back of her chair, which would be super obnoxious. Instead, he props an elbow up on the corner of it so they're near enough to confer a vague illusion of privacy. Somewhere across the room there is some child ripping fingerfuls of hair out along with stray bits of sugar in another one's hair, her lips pursed, eyebrows wrinkled at a maternal anger.

Teo glances across the little ones without really meaning anything about them when he says, "Well I'm sure you still have core talent. It isn't about that, anyway." Normally, Teodoro Laudani doesn't seem to have an accent reminiscent of his native country, but it does quicken his consonants and planes his vowels subtly, mix into his slang— with the two younger ones, anyway. This one truly has none, masked by carefully choreographed cadence or simply having been alive and talking shit a lot longer.

Other obviously choreographed elements: Teodoro looks very relaxed and mildly interested in her green beans. An improbable degree of sincerity. "It's about the plague that's been fucking up the mundane little monkeys like you. I was wondering if you knew anything about a cure."

"Ah," because that changes everything, and provokes a battery of assumptions, "may I note, that they sent you seems like phenomenally bad taste. Should I interpret this as a threat? I just want to be clear. I'm not much one for the implied violence. I like my violence very explicit, thank you."

Bella is chattering, and her grip on the fork - which has speared one of the hateful green beans in an act of explicit violence that might, in turn, also imply - is a little too tight. It's adrenaline, plus nerves, and they sings in her ears like the steaming whistles of fifteen gleaming espresso machines, whump whump bass of heartbeat underneath.

"My best suggestion for a cure is to put a gun to the head of Elvira Blite, and make her work non-stop lest you pull the trigger. That seems like a solution that would fall within your skill set, hm?"
[Pose Order Object(#154){Builder}<-(#1397)] ORDER: It is now your pose.

Casper peers at the woman askance for a few long moments, examining those assumptions with an expression that doesn't look critical, exactly. He supposes that makes sense. Considering their history or, at least, the various stupid things that his analogue did that were apparently blamed on his fine self because Francois likes putting his penis in the other one. Deckard is probably bitter too.

That last thought occurs to him incurring a slight slump that he doesn't bother to disguise. He stops leaning on her chair and sets his jaw on his hand instead, leaning on his elbow. The table is not exceedingly well-made, and the transfer of his weight sets the rickety thing at a faint but discernible diagonal tilt between its opposite legs. "I can also speak a lot of languages," he says. "And I'm pretty good at making pasta and rowing boats, but I don't really want to take Blite out on a date. I don't even know who the fuck that is.

"I thought you were making a pun or joke about a movie character for some reason but your face still looks like someone overdid a—" He cuts himself off. It's a bad habit, batting a lady around like a kitty with yarn when one's trying to ingratiate oneself. At least, with this lady. Teodoro straightens slightly, puts his big feet under his chair, a very orderly fashion. "Francois is sick.

"I don't know anyone else in the Ferry who has it, but I've heard it's catching," he finishes neatly, in a very even, very nice tone that almost makes that not so much a threat to Bella's current circumstances, non-Evolved, having about as much hygiene as any house containing a gruesome pack of 9-12-year-olds could be expected to maintain. "Any information you have would help. Including a disambiguation on this 'Blite' character. If she isn't from a cartoon."

That he cuts himself off is insufficient to avoid censure. Because Bella wants to make very clear that "My interest in your CV is non-existent. Please keep your comments brief and to the point. I don't care for cute patter any more than I do smartassery and evasion."

Which is really to say, leave the clever comments to the one who feels cornered - it's all they've got. Though, as Bella picks up on just a little to late, maybe she isn't the only one here who feels that way.

"And yes, I know he's sick," she made him wear a mask, "a lot of people are sick. More will get sick. Most of them will die, because that's evidently what this thing does. Why does this specific life matter to you?"

A narrowing of the eyes. "You're here on a personal errand, aren't you? You haven't been sent by anyone at all. Because I know you're not appealing to my better nature, bringing up something personal. That was obviously out the door when you were chosen as appellite."

The way Bella's betrays so openly and easily her belief in the upper hand she's just been dealt is extremely unflattering. It's also extremely bad poker. Still, nothing forthcoming on the matter of Elvira Blite, possible resident of Pottsylvania. She's not giving away more leverage than is absolutely necessary.

Feeling a little like he just spent half an hour waiting for her to reach a conclusion he'd wanted to, but couldn't have simply led her to because she's so paranoid, Teo has to fight the urge to undo it all with a careless word of impatience. Some women. Fucking control-freaks. It's like having to hold his breath in a musty old attic that hasn't been opened in forty-years or he'll sneeze and rupture something that thinks itself precious when all the dust is bizarre hang-ups on having been shot once. By someone else.

Still it would probably appear a little strange not to nut up a little at this point. Thus Teo does. "Seeing as I'm a monstrous psychopath with a military background, you could guess that all errands I run are personal. I run around shooting women, possibly terrorizing children, stealing, getting split up into lots of bodies. I do whatever I want, not because somebody told me to jump. Probably not even for money most of the time." He reaches over and almost steals a bean but aborts before his fingers make contact with her food items, his hand snatching away, exaggeratedly, the physical equivalent of cute patter but probably more tolerable because the net effect is: he didn't give her cooties.

"No threats," Teo says instead, spreading his hands in the air, dimly aware that they make floppy white-palmed targets for her to drive her fork into. "I know he did you a good turn and you're still waiting to see how the rest of the Ferry's gonna land on it. Any number of reasons it'd better for you if he didn't die. And I," hopefully it'll sound more dramatic than an afterthought, "care about him. What do you say?"

Bella's eerily ill-defined eyebrows inch up her pale forehead by degrees as Teo speaks. She tries her best to affect flat, indifferent reception, but her poker face is limited to that region; the rest of her body is tense and both motions of Teo's hand - reach and sudden retraction - cause a flux in her poise that does her preference for appearing aloof no favors. She doesn't even like those beans. This fact is hedged in terms of elaborate distaste, like most things that peeve her, heavy-gilt warning signs demarcating personal sore spots.

This excess verbosity still helps her talk a decent game, at least. And talk she does, tone tight but not taught, a piano string left untuned too long. "Ironic confessions do no count as confessions. Whoever told you that a blasé liturgy of your sins and their lack of socialized human motivation would move me to sympathy or compliance gave you very bad advice. And that's the least of the misapprehensions you're laboring under."

Fork and knife - the latter of no real use, only grabbed out of habit - arrange themselves in neat parallel at the edge of her dish, mercifully un-weaponized. "To be clear: he did not do me a good turn. He hastily bargained with me after I had him rounded up for reneging on a previous deal.

"He promised to deliver you to me," something - granted - she thinks since he just alleged to be what she has to guess is the 'bad' Laudini, "and he didn't- which is awfully sweet of him, I'm sure. But that may give you some better idea of what I feel I owe him. And what I feel I owe you."

So what does she say? "I say you are going to have to do a lot better than that." Bella's on her feet, plate in both hands. On her way towards the sink, she bids over her shoulder-

"Feel free to go fuck yourself until further notice."

Perhaps predictably, he follows her. No, it couldn't have been one of the doe-eyed children, it had to be the big-shouldered terrorist time-traveler thing stumping over with his head ducked as if to intercept her cat's-clawed hissfsst and its horrible curses. "There's nothing ironic about it," he says. "Assuming no one sent me, and no one gave me advice, I'm here because I'm concerned about Francois. I could put a good word in for you when the guillotine comes rattling down. It'd probably count for something.

"I'm inexplicably popular." Teo's elbows bonk down on the counter and he leans over them, slouching, like he is flirting with her over the sink. "It was stupid to ask for my head on a plate anyway. I mean you've never met my head before now. I don't think we've even talked on the phone. Fortunately you aren't the only one who makes that attribution error. I'm actually a lot better at getting shit done than the other Teodoro Laudanis haring around New York." He doesn't make any jokes about having sex with his analogues, doesn't twitch, doesn't do her resentment that extra insult. He doesn't find himself very frightening, but he isn't about to complain at the injustice of it; not even being coy.

"Which important Ferry people do you know?" he regards her steadily. "I probably know them too. You don't think money will work. You kind of hope forgetting might. I guess you don't really trust Francois. Come on, Dr. Sheridan. I need you."

"It's explicible. It's also odious." Admission before accusation. Because it is amazing, really, what a pretty face and a set of piercing eyes can do, especially when accompanied by a tongue with sufficiently sterling content. Teo gets the cold fish stare, Bella's malice turning chillier with restraint. She's heard him, that's clear at the very least. Her chatter spaces out to leave more time for actual thought.

Because the violence of her rejection was founded in fear - a sense of being ambushed, a surge of acute anxiety that is, from a clinical perspective, perfectly normal - rather than being founded in reason. Reason really meaning long term self interest, survival. A step beyond fight or flight.

"He has very little time at this point," Bella says, "considering the symptoms he was exhibiting when I last saw him. The chances of a psychiatrist conjuring a cure to an engineered, weaponized virus within the handful of days that remain?" A small, tight shrug. "You need an act of God."

She walks away, but only a few steps before she takes a seat on the stool by the kitchen table, almost within arms reach of one of the native pygmies. This can't be the weirdest adult interaction he's ever overheard. Not even the weirdest he's overheard this month.

Elbows set on knees, Bella leans over her laced fingers. "But I think I can help. Under some strict conditions." One finger springs from the clasp. "In advance - a statement commending my rescue of Tamara Brooks." Two fingers form a steeple. "A relocation of myself and Flint Deckard to a more secure site." One middle finger rises. "A letter, written and signed by Allègre, advocating for my safety and asylum."

Finally, double dukes. "And, upon success, an official commendation from the network for my assistance in procuring the cure."

Piercing eyes regard dead fishy ones for a long moment. The ghost does not try to turn his head to look at her from his best angle or anything that'd make her chuck dishes. 'I need you.' It hadn't been hard to say, but it had been unusual, for him; something he figured was important for her to know. The best of stories are written to show, not tell, but sometimes very paranoid panicky people need to be told.

"Those aren't very good conditions," the Sicilian points out. "I mean, the two letters. You live with Deckard, you know Francois. You've been living," a beat. "Here. A piece of paper with somebody's name that was obviously designed to leverage you into doing some shit for us isn't going to be a very convincing character reference. I mean if you really want it, that's fine." He lifts a hand. It is like a gesture of surrender except, of course, that regardless of whether or not he somehow shot Isabella Sheridan in the leg without actually existing, Teodoro 'the Ghost' 'super-assassin' 'I have fifty pounds on either of my analogues' Laudani doesn't look much like a white flag. Especially not his hands.

"Maybe you should ask for money or something," the man suggests. "Medicine. Something else for the Ferry that you can present personally. I know you've been hanging out with a lot of bureaucrats and scientsists, but signed papers look a little silly to people like the ones you see on the Council seat— it might hurt your case more than help it.

"I could move you though." He smiles suddenly at the child sitting with her, inducing the small one with the sudden urge to get up and move away.

So, what is this exactly? Is Laudini trying to give her good advice? Just selflessly helping her avoid bargainer's remorse? Irritation simmers, a paradoxical if maybe not totally unexpected response to having an antagonist simultaneously amend your hardline, tough nosed conditions while demonstrating their actual lack of hardline, tough nosed effectiveness. Constructive criticism is not always welcome, as Bella is preparing to inform him.

And then she thinks better of it, as she occasionally does, and just in time. The tightness in Bella's jaw is as much restraint as it is upset, and she bites back her words until she's quite sure they are the right words, assembled in the correct order. Truth, his non-chalance is taken as insolence, and insolence taken as insult, and she's rarely found anyone quite so obnoxious while moving their mouth, and this is from the perspective of someone who had to therapeutically service simultaneously badass and traumatized Company agents, to give you some idea. But truth, also, she's approaching a theoretical trial before terrorists like one would a presentation to the city council which, contrary to her precious self concept, doesn't sound terrifically smart.

Compromise, then, through the acidity of her tone, compensating for the concession of her words. "Then please, enlighten me: who is on this wise council?" If he has decided to be her consultant, so be it. "Be as detailed as you think necessary. I've got time." Implied, of course, is that the same cannot be said for all involved parties, specifically those who may be presenting increasingly severe symptoms, and an concurrently bleaker prognosis.

"Various men and women of drinking age," the Sicilian answers, in his most helpful voice, which she's probably going to construe as ~insolent~ anyway because she is difficult like that, "who've spent much of the past few weeks getting shot and shooting people, being persecuted on the basis of their genetic particulars.

"The average Council member believes justice is the recognition of civil freedoms, and the essential innocence of anyone who thinks the government is fucking up the Evolved worse than they're fucking up most things right now, and are willing to spill some blood over it. "Some former terrorists, some former Company. Friends of some former science projects of yours. They're practical people, but passions make practical people unpredictable. Umm.

"If you can't make yourself look useful, you might have to pass yourself off as regretful," he offers, after a moment. Finally, he drifts over to take a seat near her, his long hand deft on the back of the chair, little effort in the tug of his arm. Teo seats himself with a faint creak.

"Building a case for my innocence based on penitance- that's a trial of character," Bella tone has the founded quality of reassertion, which is just what follows, "I want my endorsements, and I want them post haste. I cannot guarantee that Allegre will live, but if you want my help, I need a guarantee on his vouch. Have him pen a letter, or have him sign one you write. When I present myself, a changed woman, I'll need more than the further proof of my self-interested survival. Allegre brought me here - have him explain his excellent reasons for doing so.

"I am regretful, you understand-" the bifocular, just-for-your-edification cadance of her words do little to distract from the defensiveness implicit in her words, "and I'll bend the knee to show it. It's simply difficult to accept judgment on humane conduct from the people who ordered your kidnapping and torture. I got traded into the wrong hands, harmed the wrong person - the blackness of my hat was the result of a die-toss." Only maybe (just maybe) this sounds like self pity, so she adds, "I'd happily make myself useful, but mostly I just want to make myself gone. I want out. Whatever it is - whatever makes you people seek this sort of thing out - I lack it. Lack that specific psychosis."

The ghost makes a vague effort at bridling with defensiveness, or else he bridles vaguely without knowing why. Glancing down at his hands, he shrugs one shoulder. "I think there are a range of psychoses that make people do this shit," he answers after a moment. "But I'll get you your papers as you want them, and if your intel checks out, that's more strength for your case. I know there are no guarantees you can save him."

Perhaps he says that meaning to sound generous. Probably fails a bit, but he's already thinking about logistics, or the grammatical concerns of writing a letter that sounds like it comes from Francois, filling in between segments that presumably the Frenchman will be hacking and spitting up blood between dictating. His pale eyes go adrift across the scarred top of the table, unblinking, indifferent to the noise and bluster of babies colliding and trying to eat each others' hair or whatever. He only remembers to be human enough to tug his sleeve from his armpit after he snaps out of it, wagging the sweat-patched cloth. "Do you think this 'Elvira' lady could kill me?" he asks after a moment, a little more brightly.

The appropriate answer is not 'I'm willing to find out'. Even from Bella's perspective, from her vantage out of the depths of her need to blame anyone and everything else but him first, him first, she understands the disadvantage she faces living in post-apochalyptia. Indomitable gun toting mutant twenty-somethings might do just fine for themselves, but will there be a place in that brave new world for a pill pusher over thirty when Pfizer's board of directors lay, fever wasted, in their millionaire mansion-mausolea? She doesn't imagine so, no. Not so much.

"She's arrogant, enormously vain, and has the social graces and mental stability of an ambassador's daughter, but she can infect you with whatever virii she has on hand with a touch so- proceed with all due caution. Approach her at whatever crystal and platinum cage she preens in, wear something evening-formal," her mind's eyes paints a tuxedo on him, a black bow tie - "Buy her a drink and drug it heavily, and then bag her. She may be a wunderkind but she's a twit at the end of the day.

"She didn't work on it alone, of course," Bella alludes, namelessly, "but I have a feeling only someone with her particular quirk can really set this to rights. Torture her, if you'd like. I'm willing to accept that as a recourse for dealing with the genocidal."

Even Teo has the good grace to look over his shoulder and check the children didn't hear that last bit. Torture!! why he never. "I'll put you in a more theatrical safehouse soon," he promises in his best approximation of a kindly voice, scraping his chair back, rising, again suddenly the biggest thing in the room if only at six feet, stepping around a neat little triangle of distance of floor so he can scoot his chair back in, mulling over Dr. Sheridan's description of the latest witch in question in his head.

He decides that he feels an appropriate level of suspicion.

"Hey when Flint gets laconic and growly about your talking to me," he starts to say, then thinks about the fact that he really doesn't want to get shot and doesn't finish that sentence as he starts to navigate across the floor again. Pauses to allow small-person-traffic to trickle by, the children evacuating the dining room to play on outside. He keeps walking. "Give me a call if you two want any books," he finishes, instead.

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