The Hustle, Part II


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Scene Title The Hustle, Part III
Synopsis After receiving her lateral promotion, Nicole stumbles on the former SESA Director drowning his sorrows.
Date April 18, 2019

The capital is burning.

The night sky is tinted a shade of orange from the way firelight reflects off of billowing clouds of smoke. Anti-aircraft fire streaks through the air, accompanied by the bone-shaking shockwaves of distant explosions. From the flat expanse of the mall, the fires seem like they're burning in every single direction, encircling the heart of a dying nation.

Flames from the wreckage of a crashed C130 cargo plane illuminate the cracked length of the Washington Monument, broken halfway up with a tangled fringe of rebar bristling from the break point. In the shadow of that demolished monument, shouting voices fill the air amid choking smoke and agonized cries. Dozens of soldiers lay scattered around the plane wreckage, most of them dismembered and only recognizable by their camouflage. Twelve army infantry soldiers, stripped of body armor and weapons stand with their backs up against the monument, firelight reflected in their eyes.

Donald Kenner stands opposite of them, blood spattered across his face and rifle trained at his shoulder. Behind him, several teenagers in orange jumpsuits and a few soot-blackened civilians are watching the scene play out. Kenner stares the soldiers down, unarmed as they are, some wounded. They hadn't even been involved in the crash, this was just where their own personal battle concluded.

“This is Delta Charlie,” Kenner calls into a radio at his shoulder. “Repeat: I have soldiers detained. Please advise.” A garbled and static-filled response crackles over his comm. Kenner’s expression contorts into a distraught picture of uncertainty.

One soldier starts to say something, but never finishes. The civilians all scream in unison as Kenner starts to fire into the soldiers. He couldn't let them go.

He had no other choice.

Seven Years Later


Red Hook

NYC Safe Zone

April 18th

5:37 pm

“Scotch, neat.”

Donald Kenner has been coming to this dive bar just out of the Red Hook harbor for a month now. It's been three months since he was let go from his position as Director of SESA’s New York branch and only now is the weight of that event finally hitting him. Kenner’s let himself go, even if only just. He still wears a three piece suit, but no tie, shirt unbuttoned at the top, and his five o’clock shadow has turned into a full beard.

The bartender slides his Scotch over, and Kenner lifts up and glass and looks into it with an uncertain and longing expression. He tips his attention up to the television next, squinting at the news broadcast showing Frederick Medina’s smug smile.

Kenner tips the Scotch back, neat and empty.

Sliding smoothly into the seat next to him is Nicole Varlane. She’s dressed for work in her practical pumps and a sheath dress in a shade of green that would match her sister’s eyes. “Another round for my friend, please,” she murmurs to the bartender. “And I’ll have a gin martini, extra dirty.”

She wipes the bartop in front of her with a cocktail napkin before setting her tasteful black Coach purse on its battered surface. “Hello, Don.” Calling him Director wouldn’t be appropriate anymore. “Was hoping I’d run into you eventually.” Lips painted the color of coral part around a smile that’s genuine in its affection. She doesn’t ask how he is, how he’s been. The locale says everything she needs to know on that topic.

“Jesus Christ,” Kenner draws out the expression, looking up from his Scotch with a flick of attention to the bartender but the latter end settled on Nicole. He looks older than she remembers, as if a decade of work caught up to him in the last four months. “You take a wrong turn in Albuquerque, or did they can you too?”

While Kenner is glib, there’s only sympathy in his eyes. Sympathy for someone that he genuinely suspects was let go from the office. The redundancy of Nicole’s former position had to be in the workings since before Kenner was let go, and the shadow of guilt behind his awkward smile says as much. A man who knows too much, but not quite enough.

There’s a mirthless chuckle from Nicole at the question. “No, they just demoted me to the field. A lateral move, they called it. I call it bullshit, but at least…” I still have a job. She shrugs apologetically, turning in her seat to properly regard the man.

“It’s not the same without you.” Her sincerity isn’t feigned. She expects he can tell the difference by now. “I’m sorry I didn’t reach out sooner. I figured you’d want your space.” She’d be sitting right where he is right now if the same thing had happened to her. She sort of is, actually.

“Well, you weren’t wrong,” Kenner admits, tipping back his drink and setting the glass down on the cocktail napkin rather than a coaster. “It’s okay, I mean… I knew they were shuttering your role for a while, but obviously I couldn’t say anything until it happened.” He slants a sidelong look over at Nicole, then back to his drink, “I’m glad they kept you on. Your performance evaluations were always through the roof, and… I mean I guess it’s good you’re getting field experience. Madeline’s got maybe another decade in her before retirement, and even if they promote Voss up to Director instead of Anthony,” Kenner shrugs, looking across the bar to the television that hangs dark and unused on the wall, “I don’t know where I’m going with this.” He picks up his drink again. “I think you’d make a fine administrator.”

Kenner raises his glass, a faux cheers gesture, then downs the last of it and sets the glass back down on the napkin. “How’s things otherwise?” He asks without looking up from the bar.

"Hell, I think that she'd make a good Director, myself," comes the familiar voice approaching from the bar's bathroom, Richard Ray’'s hip sliding onto a seat on the other side of Kenner, "I'm not in charge of those decisions, though, more's the pity. I thought that was the three witches, but maybe my info's out of date."

He's in civilian garb; those same old BDUs, that same Chicago Air jacket, those same old sunglasses that he hadn't worn in years upon his face as he brings a hand up to casually beckon the bartender. "Bourbon, on the rocks."

“Richard Ray,” Nicole muses, unsurprised by the man’s presence. She rests a hand over her bag and takes her martini in the other hand. “You certainly know how to flatter a lady.” Which is not to say that she doesn’t believe she’d make a good director, but she’s not one to play her own horn. Not without a couple more drinks in, at least.

With a little smile, she adds, “Thank you, Don. Sometimes I feel more like an asset over there than a person…” Then again, being an asset isn’t the worst thing. A useful tool is a useful tool. “If they thought they would take me by surprise with pulling that particular rug out from under me, well, they really needed to try harder.”

Resting an elbow on the bar and holding her drink against her collar, Nicole looks past Kenner to where Richard sits on the man’s other side. Pleasantries are out of the way, and she’s giving him the floor.

“Oh good, it’s the ghost of jobs past,” Kenner says to Richard’s arrival, picking up that second drink Nicole had offered him. He looks across the bar for a moment, assessing Richard’s attitude and demeanor, but doesn’t seem able to do more than stare into the surface of his liquor.

A man several stools down, reading the Safe Zone Siren folds his copy and looks across the way to Richard, then does a double-take and flips the newspaper over looking at an article on the cover about the World’s Fair on Governor’s Island with a profile on Raytech. He looks back up again with a no shit look on his surprised face.
Fame hath its dangers.

Richard turns a bit to face the other man, resting an arm on the bar. “I figured I’d come see how you were doing,” he says, a brow lifting— seeming honestly a touch concerned, “After abruptly someone else took over your job and threw everything we’d discussed about openness in the wood chipper. Figured something hit the fan.”

As his drink’s brought over, he picks it up, raising it slightly in a toast his way, “I’d ask if you were doing alright, but given where we found you, seems to answer that question.”

“You have no idea,” Nicole murmurs in response to Richard being a ghost. She sips from her drink — nothing burns quite like rail gin — and watches the exchange with a hint of sympathy. Or maybe a touch of regret. She hadn’t meant for this to be the ambush it’s shaping up to be.

“Now, now,” Nicole chides. “There’s nothing wrong with a good dive.” She spends enough time in them with Robyn Quinn, after all. And she means it to imply that taking up residence in a bar isn’t necessarily a reflection of one’s mental state. But perhaps she needs to scrutinize her own reflection a little more seriously.

“It’s fine,” Kenner lies into his glass, taking a sip. “Sometimes I just need a place of my own to think, y’know?” He offers a look over at Nicole, then over at Richard on his other side. “This shit happens, honestly. I may’ve gone over some people’s heads when I approved your project. But… that was my mea culpa to own, and I did, and now… I don’t know, this is early retirement?”

There’s a hint of self-deprecating humor in Kenner’s tone at that, and as he sets down his glass and looks up at Richard it matches his painted smile. “But hey, at least those fucking visions stopped, right?” He looks back to his glass, wiping a bead of condensation off of it idly. “I’ll call that a win.”

Briefly, Richard’s brow knits in confusion… and then he remembers just who Kenner was on the other side of that door they ripped in space, and his brow clears in understanding. “Ah,” he murmurs, taking a sip before looking back to Kenner, “You’ve read my record, Don. You know that, of all people, I know how it feels having another you out there that’s a monster. You can’t let it eat at you too much.”

The pad of his thumb taps against the edge of the glass, and he notes quietly, “It was a win. And you shouldn’t’ve taken flak for it, all the same. I’m a little worried, honestly, about how all that went down. Things were supposed to be open, stable, understanding, and I’m seeing a lot more…”

He pauses, “Even some of Wolfhound’s people have expressed worries about things to me.”

“Jesus,” Nicole mutters under her breath. Not to say that she doesn’t have some notion about discontent within Wolfhound’s ranks, given her connections, but she wouldn’t say that openly. She shakes her head, dismissing her own misgivings about the situation.

“You did what you thought was best,” she agrees. “Just like Choi will do what she thinks is best.” Like Zimmerman did what she thought was best. Like she’s done many times herself. “The visions were… I’m glad they’re over.” Now it’s her turn to take a healthy drink from her glass. She eyes what’s left and downs the last of it with a scowl.

One finger points downward into the empty receptacle, a blue painted nail tapping against the rim. Yeah, another one of these, please. That finger then draws a circle to encompass their little gathering. Keep ‘em coming.

Kenner is careful how he responds, when he finally does. “There's a fine line between transparency and naïveté…” he says into his glass, looking up and down the bar before setting it down beside the other empty. “Yes, I leaned in another direction from the way the administration did, but… that's how it goes sometimes. I don't… agree with how Claudia ruled, but— I see her side of things just the same. The truth is a weapon, Richard.” Kenner looks over at him. “You of all people know that. You either wield it, or it's wielded against you.”

Looking over to Nicole, Kenner furrows his brows and is silent for a moment before looking down at the bar top. “You'd do best to forget a lot of what you heard there just now. I know they were cutting you out of a lot of official channels and… there's some things that are buried deeper than the abyss.”

Kenner looks down to the ring his glass’ condensation made on the cocktail napkin. “Buried with the best of intentions.”

“If you’re going to make the mistake of assuming that Nicole is ignorant of the larger game-board at play, Kenner,” Richard murmurs to the edge of his glass, “Then you don’t know her anywhere near as well as you think you do.”

A sip of liquor’s taken, and he sets it down. “You and I both know where roads paved in best intentions go,” he says, leaning in slightly and keeping his voice low, “They’re changing the whole board, and I don’t know why. I don’t trust them to do what’s best for the world at the end of the day.”

One brow lifts a little over the edge of shades he hasn’t worn in years, “Do you?”

There’s a sardonic smirk elicited from Nicole. “I know all about keeping things buried.” It’s practically her life’s work. Somehow, this feels shadier than when she was in politics proper. That’s to say nothing of her time with the Linderman Group.

Blue eyes settle on Richard again, her brows raising in a mirror of his expression. “He’s right,” she sighs resignedly to Kenner. “They say I’m wasted behind a desk, but I can’t help but feel like I’m being distanced from something.”

“You’re being paranoid,” Kenner says with a wave of his hand, not even acknowledging the potential that Nicole knows something that was supposed to be classified. “This isn’t about how Choi likes something run, but if it was — even if I felt animosity about her taking my job, and I don’t — she’s the best damn person I could imagine to take over for me. She was on the right side of things when she was with the NYPD, and she’s on the right side of things now.”

Drawing in a deep breath, Kenner pushes his drink away from himself. “You’ve gotta remember that at the end of the day? This isn’t even Madeline’s call. Nothing happens in SESA without Alice Shaw and Claudia Zimmerman’s approval. Hell, you’re,” he motions to Richard, “the whole reason any of this exists. It doesn’t matter what I think about how they’re running things, because they managed to get us here — pull our asses out of a civil war.”

Frustrated, Kenner motions to his glasses. “You want to know why I’m drinking? My wife wants a divorce. Doesn’t have anything to do with my job, or some conspiracy. I haven’t been the best husband to her, and she’s decided she wants something else. So, I’m entitled to a fucking drink without every spook or spook-adjacent coming out of the woodwork with a string map and post-it notes.”

“You’re pointing out that I’m paranoid in the same breath as talking about a country-wide conspiracy, just laying that out there, Don,” Richard observes in quiet, wry tones, dragging a finger along the side of the glass, “You’re right, though. I started this, and I let them run it. I needed time away, and I trusted them to put things right.”

“I just hope that my faith was well-placed, is all,” he says, and then he offers a sympathetic look, “Shit. Well, since we got all the conspiracy shit over and done with, we could just have a few drinks as ex-professional associates and bitch about the unfairness of the whole fucking world if you like.”

His brows lift a little, “Tab’s on me.”

Nicole lifts her hands in a gesture of surrender and apology. “Jesus, Don. I had no idea.” She shakes her head slowly, sympathy in her eyes, devoid of pity. “I’m so sorry.” She’d like to say she knows how that is, but she doesn’t. Not really. She’s never had a relationship stable enough to feel that kind of loss.

She slants a glance to Richard with a small shrug, admitting, “Sometimes everything looks like a nail.” Yes, they might be a little paranoid. But they’ve got the track records to back up their concerns.

Then she sighs and shakes her head again. “I know I…” Nicole frowns, rethinks what she wants to say, and starts again. “If you need someone to talk to, even if it’s about anything but what’s bothering you, I’m here. You’re a good man, Don.” Which is her way of saying she’d like to help.

The urge to reach over and rest her hand over his is ignored. Instead, she wraps it around her refreshed glass and takes a sip.

“Well,” Don says as he looks at the ice melting in his glass, “you know what they say about good men…” He looks up and over at Nicole, then Richard. “They’re either dead, or corrupt.” He snorts, brows furrowed, and looks back down to the ring of condensation on his napkin.

“I have no idea who says that.”

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