Water In The Blood


etienne_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title Water In The Blood
Synopsis Out of the frying pan, and into the river.
Date August 19, 2018

Off the coast of the Ruins of Staten Island


The wound in her thigh ceases to hurt, and she can feel her own muscles simply relaxing, like the unspooling of thread, like a sigh. A horrible burning has filled her chest as if the last breath she took had filled it with flame. There is no up, nor down, and in her twisting confusion, she does see something. It feels as though it's below her, a shape. In the next moment, another has broken off from it, powering towards her.

The sensation of being drawn towards it, down and down, but there is no struggle left in her as consciousness slips away.

And then it crashes back.

Daylight. Grimy, grey daylight. Her lungs, heaving. Gravity pinning her down even as her muscles convulse with hacking retches as her lungs full of river eject their contents out onto the ground beside her against her will. Sensation comes flooding back, feeling a hand gripping her shoulder to angle her onto her side so that she doesn't hiccup water and bile back into her chest. The ground beneath her is hard floor, slick and unyielding.

What she immediately sees is blur only as her stinging eyes blink away brackish water.

The temptation to give up is strong in the topsy-turvy cold. Her body doesn't try to struggle against the current, she's not sure when it stopped, and the darkness is pretty welcoming. It could be easy for Squeaks to let it take her, it's probably safer. Best to just go with the dark that's coming for her.

The harsh realities of solidness beneath her aren't what's expected when the darkness took her. Squeaks’ body rebels against letting go and she's only aware of the retching, the struggle for breath, the pain that's almost a constant. Once expulsion of water and breathing again has been achieved, she tries to take stock of where she landed.

Her eyes squeeze shut then open again to clear away the blurriness. One shaking hand presses against the hard floor to half lift her upper body. With that movement she becomes aware of a hand holding her, and that realization pushes her toward panic.

As he feels intention and motion set into her muscles beyond just spasms, the figure crouched beside her draws away, letting the girl get her bearings on her own terms. What becomes quickly apparent is that she is, once again, on a boat, but what little information of her surroundings that she managed to take in during her mad dash from the cabin to the deck of Eugene Arrowood's vessel gives her an innate sense that she is somewhere new.

It's hard to gauge how long it's been. She couldn't have survived, sinking and drowning, for very long, but blackouts have a way of making you feel as though you've slept away a whole day.

The deck is that of a fishing vessel, the squared off edges and flat surface leading into a wheelhouse. Smaller. Older.

There's only one other person on the deck, and he shifts backwards, rising to sit up on the coaming, the river behind him. Broad shouldered, barrel chested, and as sopping wet as she is. He has long hair coming down in wild, dripping rat tails past leather-clad shoulders, and the bristle growing in around his mouth is a few days from his last shave, silvered here and there, but he can't be more than mid-thirties. There is a rough and weathered look to him, but a sharp sort of clarity in shockingly pale eyes as he regards her and her panic.

Doesn't say anything, though his eyes do flick down towards the oozing wound at her leg.

It's not the same boat.

That understanding floats somewhere near the surface of all the rest of the information she takes in with a frantic, wide-eyed look at everything. It's not the same boat. And that man isn't the same man that kidnapped her. Squeaks finds a tiny measure of relief in that, swallows back some of her panic.

It does nothing to lessen the fright in her eyes. Terror lingers that she doesn't know where she is, or who she's with. Squeaks half sits, pain and chill making her movements slow, fear making her tremble.

She looks up at the man, clearly afraid. Squeaks tries to find something of that earlier defiance that led her to escape, but only finds a tightness in her throat and tears filling her eyes.

The pain of the ragged laceration cut deep into muscle is beginning to eke back through her senses, a pulse, a burn, and then deep throbbing pain. There's enough blood soaked dark into her pant leg and now dripping, mingled with salt water, onto the floor of the deck of the Salve Regina, that it's hard to tell if it's still gushing with fervor or has somehow ceased, but the movement doesn't help, pulling at torn flesh and crimson seeping through anew.

He seems to note her fear, and doesn't approach. He looks away, eyes tracking out beyond his boat in a southwards direction. From her half-sit, it's hard to see what he might see, but nothing immediately reveals itself. The immediate body of water seems empty.

He gets to his feet — bare, the slightly tattered, dirty hems of his trousers dragging at the heels — and leaves, ducking into the wheelhouse, each foot fall reverberating through the structure of the boat. She can tell, now, that it's currently drifting in the water, the motor silent, and she can see the Staten Island coast, with its ramshackle, war-torn structures, the evidence of wood burning fires in the distance. It's nearby, if not an entirely insignificant swim away.

Through the door of the wheelhouse, she can see the figure of the stranger bent over, rifling around.

She doesn't stay upright for long. Her arms wobble under the strain and the pain in her leg makes her wish she hadn't moved to begin with. The idea of sitting up more, of maybe standing, is abandoned following that flash of pain and first throb. Squeaks sinks to an elbow when the man rises, partly from necessity, and her eyes follow him into the wheelhouse.

The girl makes a quick survey of her surroundings again, the intentional look that might bring more information not colored by panic. That she's not far from a coast — one that even looks a teeny bit familiar — is a good sign. Maybe. Squeaks knows she'd never make it if she tried to swim again. The idea of it gives her a new sense of dread.

After another look toward the stranger, Squeaks let's her upper body down onto the deck again. She reaches cautiously for that new wound, the bite in her leg from a knife she never saw coming. She wouldn't know how bad it is, she might be able to get guess, but definitely maybe a hand on it will make it hurt less.

She isn't left alone for too long, the man emerging once again out onto the deck — and now in hand is a bundle of cloth, and a leather belt, looped around his hand. Now, he comes closer, sinking down into a crouch, river water still clinging to his clothing, standing out on leather jacket, sticking locks of hair to his face, but by that much, he seems unbothered. In spite of his own dip in the Hudson, Squeaks can detect strong smells of cigarette smoke and something earthier and unwashed beneath.

He looks to where her hand has found that jagged gash, crimson coming away on her fingers.

His movements are slow without being overly cautious, first securing a grip around the knee of her injured leg and bringing that bundled cloth down to press firm on the laceration. If she struggles, or twitches away, or tries to stop him, he only pauses by half a second before continuing this attempt to apply pressure to the wound, as unstoppable as if all strength had left her while he had conserved at least most of his own.

"Hold here," he says, voice all gravel, some kind of accent speaking of stranger shores.

The red stain on her fingers is perplexing with some remnants of understanding how it happened. When the stranger returns to her field of vision her hand lowers again. Squeaks only makes one real effort to avoid him when he first pins her down by the knee, just a sudden surge of flight instinct scooting her no more than a couple of inches. Her hands hover as if they might fend off the cloth, but the shock of it all keeps her from trying.

Her eyes squeeze shut against the pressure and her breath wheezes out in a pained whine. Somehow her hands, shaking and trembling, find the cloth as instructed.

She draws in an unsteady breath as her fingers curl slightly into the fabric. Her eyes open and look up at the stranger. She's still afraid, maybe even of him. But she finds words, with a small voice, enough to ask, “Who are you?”
Leather slithers along metal as he draws the belt out, looping it around her leg, up and over where her hands tremble and press the cloth — that she can see now is just a bundled up shirt of some kind, of sufficient cleanliness — and when he pulls it taut, it initially traps her grip. Not answering, he manoeuvres hand and belt and cloth so that Squeaks can slide her fingers free as he cinches the strap of leather, fastening it in place.

It will keep for the journey, but not much else. He guides her hand to press atop where belt cinches cloth just to keep it steady, and then withdraws his hands, remaining in that gargoyle crouch nearby.

"Etienne Saint James," is offered with the tone that he imagines this answer to be ultimately meaningless to her — names are useful to have, but it doesn't answer the other questions he can divine beneath this one. Likewise, he asks, "You?"

Her attention is on the man more than the work, a bundle of anxiety looking for any warning signs of danger. Not that she believes she’d be able to do much given her current state. But it does take every bit of willpower Squeaks can muster to not be swallowed by the surge of panic when her hands are cinched down along with the cloth.

She takes some shallow breaths after her hands are freed again, and she shakes with worry when they’re placed again on that makeshift bandage. Squeaks stares at it, at the bundle of cloth with a sort of dismay. It’s been a really, very bad day.

When the stranger gives a name, she looks up at him, still with that haunted and searching quality. She doesn’t answer right away either. There’s other things she wants to know, more important things than who she is. But she’s afraid to ask those things just yet. So she spends a good minute, maybe a little longer, just staring and trying to decide what to say.

“Jac,” she hears herself say as she looks down at the bundle of cloth. She’s not sure why, but right now that name seems safer.

Given his reticence, his silence, the distance he put between them and the way in which his interactions thus far have been ones of necessity, the assumption might be that an exchange of names is good enough for Etienne to once again withdraw. Not immune, however, to unasked questions and unspoken answers, he remains where he is, comfortably crouched a foot and a half away from Jac.

There is water on the deck and there is blood in the water.

The ocean tosses fitfully beneath them, but he remains as unmoving as any bolted down feature of the lobster boat.

"That was Arrowood's vessel," he says.

While that name has no familiarity, she can guess that it's maybe the same person. Blue eyes dart past Etienne to search for the boat she had jumped from. Not that she could recognize it from the outside, and she definitely doesn't know how far the river carried her, but searching anyway.

The girl’s gaze is slow to return to the man crouched nearby, but it does eventually and still afraid.

“He… Are you… Like him?” Jac swallows back the sudden alarm in her throat. It's not going to do any good right now. She takes a careful breath and looks at her hands, still clutching at the cloth. “Do… do you…” She doesn't finish the question except to take a slow and shaky breath.


It's almost a casual 'no', more sound than formed word, but a blanketing negative to Jac's half-formed, broken sentences. He tips his head, as if to maybe lend some credence to the notion that maybe Etienne is a little like them, in whatever ways the girl might be imagining, and clarifies; "I don't work for them. I'm with the Trade Commission." And, after a beat, some further explanation; "Black don't trade in flesh."

He follows her hunted glance out into the waters. However long she was drowned, however far the current carried her, they appear to be alone, far south, drifting ever away from the mainland. Drifting, only, while she bleeds into his makeshift bandaging.

"You been with 'em long?"

There’s a small measure of relief at his explanation. She can only guess what a Trade Commission is, but the important part in her mind is she’s probably not being carted away to become someone’s property. It’s like pouring cool water over a burn, the immediate problem is solved but the damage from it is still there.

With one hand, Jac pushes herself up a little. Moving is one her least favorite things right now, but it gives a feeling of some control. It also gives her time to wonder at the question. It was morning when she went exploring…

“I don’t think so.” The girl looks up, probably to make a guess at the time now, even though it probably wouldn’t help her to form a better answer. There’s no clues up there and eventually she looks at the water again. “I don’t know. It was morning… then it was bright. And it’s now.” Not the most accurate explanation, but something more than I don’t know. Jac looks at Etienne, with her brow furrowing. “Where are we?”

That's intent in Etienne level regard of her, awaiting her answer, but when she indicates she's only been captive with them since the morning, it eases off, and his posture follows suit, settled back on his haunches. He looks aside distractedly, irritation just now making a ripple in his otherwise placid, inscrutable nature, before this too is smoothed out.

She moves. He stands, and then goes to offer out a hand, palm work-rough and leathery, the gesture borderline automatic rather than thoughtful. A tip of his head indicates the wheelhouse as a more suitable place to rest, or perhaps, just the direction he intends to go.

"'bout a mile out've Great Kills Harbour," he says, which Jac can take to mean — that's where they're going.

The shift in expression doesn’t go unnoticed. Jac has a lot of practice in watching for the telling signs that warn when a grown-up is about to become angry and possibly dangerous. She holds very still, just waiting and watching even when the man moves and offers a hand. She’s slow to accept it, wary, but she does.

“Great Kills.” As she echoes the word, she’s already thinking about all the maps she’s studied. Somewhere, she knows she’s seen that place. “That’s Staten Island.” Her tone is more question than statement. And there’s more questions wanting to follow, but they go unvoiced while she’s getting onto her feet again.

The grip to Jac's hand lasts for as long as it takes to get on her feet. Then, Etienne's grip hitches around her arm to lend her weight to step into to keep the worst of it off her leg as she moves them into the interior of the boat. Here is the evidence of a creature of habit, of someone who basically lives in this small, confined space, where cigarette smoke has permeated the walls and personal belongings find strange places to live, like the heap gathered in the hammock, swaying back and forth.

The floor is kept clear, though, and so is the corner that hosts some seating and a table, and it's here he more or less deposits Jac on his way forwards.

"Yeah," he says. "Arrowood was headed south. Jersey, probably, unless he had other designs."

How far the trafficking weeds sprawl across the east coast, Etienne isn't sure. Not yet, anyway. The choking, guttural sound of the engine kicked to life makes the whole structure of the lobster boat shiver, once, normalising.

Standing reminds her of the earlier aches and pains, and putting weight on her injured leg draws a quick breath. Walking is as terrible as she’d imagined it would be, but Jac doesn’t complain about it. At least not out loud. The anticipating flinch and teeth set into her lower lip might tell a different story. Secretly she’s glad for the help in moving off the deck, and the seat she’s placed onto.

Her eyes follow Etienne first, then wander as she’s seated. Habitual wariness and unashamed curiosity comb over the room. Normally, she’d be roaming, getting up close looks at things. But the girl settles for looking from where she’s sitting, with the occasional nervous look toward the man.

“There’s traffickers there,” she eventually points out, probably unnecessarily — she remembers what he said about trading. Jac wraps her arms around her middle all the same, like a child might hug a toy for comfort. “What…” She chews on the question that’s been burning since finding herself on the new boat. “What… are… you going to do with me?”

Standing with his back to her, Jac is freer to study what there is to see without inviting study in return. Brackish river water pools on the hard floor of the wheelhouse as it continues to drip and trickle off wet clothes that normally Etienne ignores for the sake of piloting the boat towards the looming shape of Staten Island. His long hair hangs in sodden, tangled ropes without decorating or care, and she can see, now, what had been somewhat out of view before — the large hunting knife strapped to his belt. No guns, however.

But it's a large, sinister blade, at odds with the thing he says, which is, "Trade Commission. I've got business on the island." He spares a sliver of a glance back over one big shoulder. "Can see about that leg."

He supposes.

Out the windows, Staten Island forms more fully, with the hook of land protruding out of its body, and by the time the Salve Regina curls around, civilisation — of a kind — reveals itself in that protective cove of land, out of sight of the rest of New York. The boats resting in the water or docked at the coast, the beach huts and shacks that line it like broken teeth, the dirt roads trailing off into the wilderness, and also visible, the ugly patch of cheap housing further inland that was Eltingville Blocks.

"Traffickers operate out of the Rookery," he adds, shifting now to lean and search out his jacket pockets, removing a sodden pack of cigarettes that he inspects. "At least, that's one've their claims. They don't have the whole island." He tosses the pack aside. Useless. "Not yet."

Her question wasn’t answered, not exactly, but she doesn’t call him on it. It’s probably something in his tone that keeps her from pointing out the half-answer, or maybe that very large, scary looking knife. She hadn’t noticed it before with all the furtive glances — mostly that was for checking to see if she was being watched — she saw it when looking at him while he spoke.

Jac takes a carefully slow breath and looks away, out the window. She leans a little to one side in a small effort to see everything as the island comes into view. She’s only seen a tiny portion of the island, so it’s hard to not wonder.

And there’s a lot of things to wonder about. “What happens after,” she asks. Since that’s a thing she’s wondering about. The rest of that answer.

There's an oddly unused quality to his voice, raw gravel and syllables pressed between teeth, that seems like maybe half-answers are kind of one of those things that people who know Etienne at all have to deal with. Silence becomes him better than chatter, steering his attention out the window with one hand on steering as the boat glides across the choppy water, an occasional lurch as it hits a swell.

Frowns to himself at her question, like the idea of her short term destiny being in his hands beyond pulling her out of the drink hadn't completely occurred to him. He doesn't answer her question, either, baiting it instead with a question of his own.

"Arrowood had plans for you, I bet," he says, scratching blunt nails along the rough itch of unshaven skin beneath his chin. "Did he say what they were?"

She doesn’t answer the question right away, but thinks about it as much as she does the more immediate future. What happens next has always been an important question that needs an answer. And likely it’s her want for that answer that has the girl deciding on her own response.

“Money.” That stands out the most, and so Jac says it first. “He was going to sell… He thought he’d get a lot if I was slice.” She pauses and her arms tighten a tiny bit around her middle. Remembering that, the cage and the test and the knives, it’s haunting. That reflects in the look she still gives the outside.

“He was thinking maybe Russia or… South America? If I wasn’t. Or the Triads if I was.” She shrugs her shoulders a little, like maybe that puts distance between her and what happened, and looks at Etienne.

Squeaks glances back and Etienne once again has that kind of distantly calculating look, turned partially aside, chin tucked down. Quiet, for some long seconds, before he acknowledges her again in a glance and shifts to resume his post at the wheel. The growl of an engine kicks up abruptly nearby, and a cigarette boat goes careening past Squeaks' view of the harbour as they close in.

He leaves her answer as is rather than prying further, and says, "Ms Maxwell'll take a look at you," gruffly, distractedly. "Then I'm headed back to mainland when it's dark. Unless you care to take your own chances when we hit land."

Fear works its way back into her expression when she finds him watching her again, but it’s vague. Nothing that’s happened since she was hauled out of the water and onto the boat has been bad or given her real reason to mistrust Etienne so far. But Jac still finds herself edging into uneasiness.

The answer she’s given is readily accepted with a quick but small nod followed by the briefest shakes of her head. She has no intention of venturing out through Staten Island, in the dark, or alone. Curiosity momentarily satisfied, she stashes away any other questions she might have. The man’s silence, or reluctance to offer much conversationally or informationally, probably also play a part in that. It might be better to watch and find out than ask now.

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