What's The Worst That Could Happen?


samir_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title What's The Worst That Could Happen?
Synopsis Teo stalks another high schooler. This one takes kindlier to it: Phoenix's newest recruit.
Date November 19, 2008

Alley Cat Courier Service

What was once a small warehouse now serves a completely different purpose. From before dawn until after dark, bikes pass in and out the open doors, couriers off to pick up and deliver mail, returning to take on another task.

Although the warehouse should be rather spacious, it mostly manages to feel crowded. At the very least, busy. A row of lockers, stacked two high, covers one long wall. Bike racks for those who prefer to keep their bicycles here - or need someplace to leave them while on break - line the opposite side of the building. There are always people moving about - rummaging in their lockers, little knots of chitchat, trading experiences and advice on routes (or just the latest gossip) beneath the shouted calls for messengers to deliver this package there or go pick up something from somewhere else. There are usually two people tasked with coordinating the chaos of the Alley Cats, a receptionist who takes called-in orders and the manager who sees to the fair dispersal of jobs; a corner of the warehouse near the main doors has been partitioned off to create their offices.

Rush hour traffic is fucking irritating to bike in, which his probably why the afternoon load of orders tend to come in then. Karma isn't a wheel, she's a noose, and her corpulent circularity never seems to crush in with as much ruthless weight as when the economy's all balls, the couriers' salaries with it, and the slippery fist of NYPD tightens, between squadcar patrols, counter-terrorist security protocols, and traffic scrutiny. It's a bit of a pain in the ass. It could be worse, though. Samir could've been the kid who got mugged on the edge of Chinatown last week. They took the guy's bike, jacket, day's wage, and the box of weird tamale things he'd been delivering.

Angus is temping at the desk today. He raises his arm, shouting across the heads of a half dozen adolescents and the one cranky old guy whose arms are still visibly brocaded in tattoo ink despite the falling temperatures of autumn. Who's free? It's hard to hear him over the clangor of lockers, the girl complaining about the BMW who cut her off on the Upper East Side. Who's free? Do you people want to get paid or not?

"Siddiqi!" Despite the thick New Yorker's accent cloying his syllables, he manages to pull off the foreign name reasonably well. Angus' gray eyes light on a boy he thinks is the right one, and he raises a package in one hand. And then two in the other. "Siddiqi. Little Italy!"

Rush hour traffic is irritating to bike in, and having only recently returned from a run out to Chinatown, Samir is not particularly eager to head back out. By the banks of lockers conversation is buzzing, but despite the dull roar, Samir manages to hear the call over jumble of noise. The human brain is remarkably adept at picking its name out of audio confusion — a survival trait, perhaps. In this case, it just makes the teenager stiffen; his expression shifts a touch sullen as he turns towards the desk. A wordless grunt accompanies his acceptance of the packages, and he glances at the addresses before slipping them into his bag.

Hands freed, Angus promptly begins to spin them about around his head, as if he were the conductor of some especially talentless orchestra. "Move it or lose it, people!" The entrance has gotten congested; he's trying to clear it. It doesn't work immediately, but the clerk has yet to let that get in the way of lording his snobbiness over his fellow employees. "And I'm not talking about hands! We're burning daylight! Time is money! Siddiqi, you look like you just skinned the customer's cat with your chain on the way over, come on!" The unfortunate Palestinian is subject again to his attention, albeit only briefly. "Sell it. Smile!"

Fortunately, a passing drove of cold and irritably couriers blocks Samir from line of sight in that moment, and by the time they've cleared line of sight, Angus has moved on to harrassing Weatherly into delivering something to the French embassy. Someone slams into Samir's shoulder. Ponytail, blue sunglasses she hadn't bothered to take down as she stepped in. She pauses, gives him an apologetic look when she realizes that they're both heading in the same direction:

Out. "Canal Street," she says, pointing at the gigantic tube poking awkwardly out of her own satchel. "You? Move, asshole." That latter part, she hadn't directed at Samir. She pushes somebody out of their way, is rewarded by a leering grunt; that had been no accident. From outside, the cold air snares Samir's breath and clears the faint fog that had condensed on her glasses.

"Um." Samir takes a minute to snap the fastening of his helmet securely into place and shoulder his bag more comfortably. His nose wrinkles at the cold, and he zips his jacket up as well. The air in front of him mists with each word as he answers, his accent heavy in his words: "Hester Street. By the Bowery. Same direction, I guess."

The traffic outside is congested and slow, and this elicits another wrinkled nose as Samir swings one leg over his bike. "It's even worse in the Village," he says to the girl. "I think I'm going through Union Square instead."

The girl clips her own helmet on. Through the blue opacity of her glasses, she stares at Samir's bike for a moment too long. The next moment, the corner of her mouth turns upward, a self-satisfied smirk. There's nothing exceptional or, indeed, especially different about the bicycle she climbs onto herself, one denim-clad leg over before she seesaws onto center. She lifts her head, ponytail flitting briefly in the wake of a stray breeze, glances down the route east.

"Union Square's a good idea," she says, apparently having little difficulty parsing that accent. "I'd take fourteenth, if I were you. If it works out, you owe me ten dollars, a'ight?" She flashes her teeth, white between candy-colored lips, looking more like a shark than a girl for a moment: makes her remark either meaninglessly playful or unabashedly rude. Fourteenth certainly isn't a street one would normally take to avoid traffic, but she has that look about her; someone who knows more than you do.

A Saturn blares in the distance; a man hangs himself out the shotgun window and hollers epithets. "Happy hunting." She raises a sneakered foot onto her pedal and pushes off, safety pins winking at Samir from her backpack as she goes.

"And if it does not work out?" Samir wonders, but wonders too late; his words, aimed anyway at the girl's departing back, are snatched by the wind and drowned out by traffic. His gaze flicks down towards his bike — a beaten-up entirely unimpressive thing, past its prime even before he ever owned it — and then back towards the girl. His head shakes as he pushes off, weaving through traffic as he heads off towards Fourteenth street. The weaving draws more horn blasts, short and sharp and angry as the words that accompany them: derogations against Samir's intelligence, or his race, or his mother. New York drivers aren't picky.

Samir flicks his middle finger at one of the drivers as he speeds off onto another street. He may not be American, but he's picked up some of the more charming habits.

If it does not work, Hel will be pissed. Or at the very least, exasperated and wonder what the fuck her erstwhile lieutenant was doing. Besides, you know, tentatively trying out his new dirtbike on the wrong kind of terrain, though he's managed to fall only twice and failed to sustain worse than a nicked elbow and knee skinned through his jeans so he can't even tell it bled anyway. And stalking high school students. It's all he does, these days.

Just as Samir's judgment predicted, Union Square isn't as bad as Bowery, but 14th is packed as any other downtown street at this hour and unremarkable for it. The three-eyed sign ahead transitions through yellow to red, halting the young courier between a sleekly yellow-hooded taxicab and a taxicab with a bit of pigeon shit daubed onto its hooded. One lane away, the motorcycle pulls up, a guttural, greasey cough three yards away. Samir might recognize the young man astride it, from school, though easily too old to be a student.

"Hey," he calls. His head's bare, nose and cheeks red from the cold. He sits his chin on his shoulder to stare at the Arabian child, despite that the snarl of traffic around them and fast-flowing perpendicular, ahead, would not recommend settling. "Where are you going?"

Samir's instinctive reaction to being addressed out on the streets of Manhattan is to shut down, expression closing off and his posture stiffening as his dark eyes narrow. He relaxes a moment later, once he has had time to examine the speaker and vague recognition sets in.
"Chinatown. I am working. You look like you need a hat." Samir, not a native of these parts and having absolutely no love for cold weather, is quite adequately bundled himself, helmet snug over his woolen cap. His eyes flick between the motorcycle and the traffic light. One foot is poised on his pedal, the other ready to push off at the first glimpse of green. "Where you are going?"

"Chinatown," comes the reply, accompanied by an instantaneous grin: not quite as many teeth as the courier woman had shown ten minutes ago, but still liberal enough with cheer. "I'm working too. I don't think I need a hat," Teo replies honestly. It wouldn't hurt: he's kind of freezing his ass off out here, given the layers of winter clothes that are adequate for walking or busing through Manhattan are less so for riding a motorcycle into the wind. "I probably need a helmet." He has one. It's around here somewhere. He'd get arrested, but the cops have too many homocides to look into this afternoon.

He straightens, turns his head forward. His fingers tighten on the handles, his shoe grinding the petal for a protracted moment. Then, abruptly, the language track click-shifts to modern Arabic. "<I read half my Arabic-English dictionary last night.>" His enuncuation isn't perfect, but it's remarkably convincing; tones falling with conversational fluidity over consonants that are almost, if not quite right. "<Why do you want to join Phoenix?>" Up ahead, the lights are shifting, gradually stemming the flow of the traffic moving perpendicular. Samir will have to keep it short, or else get his body abbreviated.

Samir's eyebrows lift at the switch to his native tongue, and something in his demeanor eases, his sullen expression relaxing into something approaching friendliness. Teo's second sentence makes his eyebrows lift even higher. One corner of his lip twitches slightly upward, not quite a smile, a glimmer of dark humour in his eyes.

"<I pay attention to the world. It supplies me with all the reason I need.>" In Arabic, his words come swift and easy, without any of the halting hesitation that marks his speech in English. His mouth opens, on the verge of saying something more, but his words cut off as the lights switch and traffic starts moving. His gaze darts back to Teo briefly before the car behind him beeps loudly. He kicks off and speeds through the intersection.

That was a good answer. Teo almost resents how good that answer was, honestly. If he was that articulate in his mother language, he suspects he'd be living under happier circumstances— and, you know. At home. Samir's delivery helps, also: the shadow of intelligence, a sense of clarity without the overburden of rage that seems to be drawing PARIAH its numbers.

The Sicilian's face goes a little blank, eyes emptying out; he watches the lights change, hears the cars rumble, sees Samir roll forward. The next instant, he does too, a roar of engine below him. Predictably enough, it's easy for him to keep up with the bicycle. Indeed, it takes a little more effort to follow Samir than it would to outrace him along any given stretch of asphalt. Somewhere off the island, there's a Federal Communications Consulate shaking his head to himself.

There are no reds for another five minutes. Long enough for Chinatown to draw into view, pictographed graffiti interspersed with English block letters, the pedestrian minorities becoming majorities, the quality of the vehicle makes and models around them deteriorating from luxury and toward functionality. He has enough time to think of what to ask next. "<And your parents?>"

"<Parent>," Samir corrects, rather matter-of-factly: in the post-bomb city, missing or dead family is hardly out of the ordinary. His fingers tighten their grip on his handlebars, head turning as he glances at the cross-streets, mind partially always still on the packages in his bag. "My family grew up in Palestine. None of us are strangers to the idea that you cannot just sit around waiting for equality to be handed to you. It may not be a pleasant thought, but freedom is worth the struggle."

A good answer too. No doubt, this one tests well. "<What's the worst that could happen?>" Teo doesn't look over to ask.

"<To the world, or to us?>" Samir wonders, tone a touch dry. "<I imagine that question gets quite radically different answers. Death horrifies me, but systematic oppression horrifies me more. Complacency perhaps most of all. I was not raised to be complacent.>"

The light changes, and Samir veers to the right, turning off onto a side street. Here the traffic noises are less but the people-noises more: vendors hawking jewelry, clothing, snack foods. Customers haggling.

There were a dozen other questions Teo could have asked. A dozen more he might. Some of them implicitly condescending, some of them morbidly melodramatic; if the Siddiqis hadn't lost enough, if Samir would put his mother— or father— through more, if the possibility of death, of humiliation in the hands of another monolithic government entity and barbaric prejudice was what they had fled Palestine to seek. Like stones or levers to press Samir back into safety. It isn't lost to him, however, that the boy— younger man, really, has seen more than Teo ever had, and whatever he lacked in years of age he'd more than compensated for with experiences.

Teo is prisoner enough to his own principles that he can't bring himself to dismiss those. Every so-named terrorist is an idealist of a sort. He mutters a curse under his breath that is neither Arabic nor English and leans into a turn, growling into Samir's wake with a judder of steel. He'll follow. Wait, wordless, until Samir finally crawls to a halt at the first address of his first package: an apartment complex between a ballet school and a restaurant, tall, cramped, as if standing on its toes and inhaling to fit.

The Italian doesn't dismount, sliding parallel to the line of the sidewalk, studying the boy's swarthy features as if he's looking for excuses. Finds none. And then the smile, slow.

"Give me a call when you're off, please," comes the request, in English. He snares pieces of paper out of the pocket of his hoodie. Two five-dollar bills, unaccompanied by explanation unless he's asked; a phone number scrawled on a Post-It. "Chain up your bike. I'll bring you to them."

Samir accepts the papers with a questioning quirk of an eyebrow, looking in mild bemusement at the money before he pockets it. He does not ask any more questions himself, though.

"I shall be a few hours more," is all he says as he slides off his bike. His words are in English, too, an automatic, habitual switch to match the language of the person he is conversing with; as such they are slower once more, carefully picked as he makes the mental translation from Arabic. "Then I will telephone."

For a moment his eyes focus intently on Teo, searching and thoughtful. His lips press together into a thin line, and he doesn't offer any farewell as he turns away, sliding his bag around so he can grab the first package out of it as he heads for the building's door.

A lean shoulder stoops over the dirtbike's handlebars, slouching casual. Teo looks at Samir looking at him. Different as night and day, and that isn't even the beginning of a racist pun. Age, experience, Evolved status, conviction. In these currencies and others, Teodoro feels oddly short as Samir turns his back. One thing is for certain: the boy Siddiqi is nothing like the Allistair twins. It's customary for him to volunteer a salutation in parting. Preferably in Italian. Nothing comes to mind, though he'd never taken the smile off his face. He pushes off with his foot, exhaust hacking out behind him. He's gone before Samir finds the intercom.

November 19th: Big Shot

Previously in this storyline…

Next in this storyline…

November 19th: Does Not Want
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