The Vagrant


wf_tamara_icon.gif wf_wilbur_icon.gif

Scene Title The Vagrant
Synopsis A familiar face stops in while making her rounds.
Date October 20, 2017

The Outer District

The permanent storm cover wreathing the Outer District keeps neon signs glowing bright day or night, jerry-rigged power cables run roof to roof and wall to wall in a spiderweb of fire hazards and warning signs. Occasionally a rat missteps along a line and goes up in flames, blanketing crowded blocks in temporary darkness.

Today everything seems in working order, as much as it ever is.

Vagrant Book and Pawnbroker is little more than a narrow storefront from the street, weather-worn and scorched by the fire that took one of its neighbors some months ago. A glowing sign reads PAWN in a blackened window; another marks it as OPEN on the door. It still stinks faintly of charcoal and old smoke.

Inside, the shop is as long and cramped as it looks like it must be from the outside, affording its owner a straight-shot view from the back counter to the door. Wilbur Greaves is leaning over by the register on folded arms, reading — as he often is — through a volume pulled from one of his own shelves. Jewelry and tools occupy the case beneath, gleaming dull in what little light a single yellow bulb can afford.

It’s early in the day for proper business, but never too early for trouble. He doesn’t look up when the bell at the door jingles, his voice a low warning in the gloom:

“Don’t touch it if you can’t afford it.”

The door swinging itself closed in her wake, Tamara's forward motion is so slow as to be effectively nonexistent, compelled to survey the oddments and curiosities on display all around her. Slow becomes stopped when her comprehension catches up with the owner's statement; her head swivels to focus attention on the man behind the desk, blue eyes blinking owlishly. "Um. Okay?" she says, sounding distinctly surprised.

Tamara isn't really sure what greeting she expected — but that wasn't it.

She glances back to a nearby shelf, surveying the items on it. She's too far away to make out any price notations, but it doesn't really matter anyway. "Next step up from 'you break it, you buy it,' huh?" she continues, trying for light and cheerful but not quite hitting the mark. Not with the way she scans the store again, seeking a touchstone and failing to find it; or with her notebook held close like the lifeline it is.

Tamara looks back to Wilbur as she finishes the thought, studying him closely. "'You touch it, you buy it?'"


Greaves’ voice warms away from rock bottom as he uncurls from his lean, novel turned shut so that he can survey her as she surveys him. He’s tall and broad for the space, and especially for the counter, but untroubled by any slouch or sense of claustrophobia — as at ease as anyone must be to survive in a neighborhood where room to stretch out and relax is a rare commodity.

He’s cool to his core, hair shorn high and tight, dark-skinned, eyes bright in spite of how little shop light there is to reach them.

Welcoming of her company — unruffled by unease in her demeanor.

“I suppose so. My apologies.”

A glance to his watch is enough to have him tucking his novel away entirely — he opens a drawer and drops it in. The shelf she surveys in the meantime is host to all manner of odds and ends: lightly-worn gloves for work and for winter, a paired set of salt and pepper shakers, a blonde stuffed dog.

Further in, commodities like coils of copper wire, power converters and batteries are mixed in between bookshelves. There are pliers and switches and snippers: things people in the Heartland need, left behind for things they’ve needed even more.

“Are you here for work, or do you have something else in mind for today?”

There's a layer of tension that ebbs from Tamara's shoulders as Wilbur voices his recognition, confirming that this is the right place and person: that yes, he knows her. She smiles when he looks her way, fleeting but sincere, the grip on her notebook easing. She even goes so far as to tuck it away in the jacket pocket where it lives, crutch put aside as unnecessary to the present moment.

The business-minded question offers further support to renewed confidence; she knows how to navigate this interaction. "A little bit of both," Tamara replies, still diffident but not so strongly as before. "I have a couple hours, if there's something you'd like me to do…?" She casts him a prompting look; it's not a pro forma offer, even if she also has a second errand to run. "And I also wanted to see what you have for movies or shows. Finn suggested I pick something out."

“Well,” Wilbur rounds the counter at a mild pace, heavy bootfalls on bare concrete and the sweep of his duster, “if you’re up for a bit of both you can alphabetize while you shop.”

He’s already leading the way to the right shelf — discs in jewel cases and paper sleeves in binders labeled with sharpie, more in the way of ripped intellectual property than original merchandise. It’s not far from the light. Popular, perhaps, among less honest customers.

“Family,” he denotes, with a tap of paired fingers to each shelf, “drama, comedy, action. Documentaries and true crime up top. Shepherd might learn a thing or two from a taste of that last selection. You can tell him I said so.”

But it’s Action that has cause for extra attention in the moment; he slides the first binder in the system off the shelf to sort through its pages.

“Television is a work in progress.”

Tamara falls in behind Wilbur as he heads for the shelf in question, leaving him maybe a bit more distance than strictly necessary. That distance diminishes upon reaching their destination, however; she can't very well read what's on the shelf, otherwise.

"I can do that," she assures with earnest, bright cheer. Leaning slightly forward, she brushes her fingers down the spines lined up at her eye level, jewel case and binder alike. Fingertips still as Wilbur continues speaking; at his last statement, she eyes him sidelong, not at all sure how to interpret that subtext.

Documentaries or crime, which is Finn supposed to learn from? And what is he supposed to be learning?

She doesn't ask. "Okay," Tamara says instead, fishing out her notebook and jotting down a quick note. "I'll start there." To the mention of television, she merely nods. It's only to be expected, in a shop whose wares are secondhand at absolute best.

"Is there anything else you'd like me to do, while I'm here?"

“You can push a broom, can’t you?” There’s one behind the counter, designated with a tip of his ear as he slips sleeved discs from their rings. One, two, and three. “Dust the shelves, if you like. Strip down some of that wire your big brother brought in yesterday.” One more pull, and Greaves slots the binder back onto its shelf. ”Your choice.”

Anything as buoyant as bright cheer would have to struggle to find a foothold in the broad brace of his shoulders or the flinty dark of his eyes. But her earnest enthusiasm dispels some of the gloom that hangs like a pall over this place, and there’s a touch of flourish to his depositing the little stack of discs he’s taken with him on the glass counter.

“Films he’s already seen.too many times,” he says. “If you’ve need of a fallback.”

Tamara eyes Wilbur askance, expression mildly miffed — the kind of transient offense that carries no significance and blows away on the breeze of the next moment. At that, it's probably more mock than not. "Of course I can!" Sliding the notebook under her arm, she raises her hands and wiggles all ten fingers. "Hands work, brooms are easy. I don't think I even need to remember that," she finishes.

"Sounds like a list," Tamara continues in that next moment, reopening her notebook and jotting said list down. "Whatever I don't get to today, I'll come back for tomorrow."

Her gaze lingers on the singled-out stack of discs, then lifts to meet Wilbur's, accompanied by a small, closed-mouth yet still distinctly earnest smile. "Suppose I should get started," she says, reaching for the first items in the family section — the one she expects to spend the least time with.

"Thank you." Not just for the movie suggestions.

Drawer drawn open underhand, Wilbur flops his novel back down onto the counter, one elbow already set in heavy against the grain.

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Brooms are easy — if she doesn’t finish today, she’ll come back tomorrow. Maybe she already has. His consonants drift into a more cockney informality as he settles in, leaning into scuffed wood and glass, pages rustled open under his thumb. He watches her get to work over the pretense of reading, seeing her off the mark and steady on course before he turns his attention down properly to find where he left off.

“You’re welcome.”

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