2011-02-17: The Faithful Soldiers

Starring:

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Date: February 17th, 2011

Summary:

A little charity goes a long way.


"The Faithful Soldiers"

Streets of NYC

The day, once bright, has veered into overcast by the time the lunch hour is up. Clock — or a thousand finely tuned wristwatches — striking, sending bits and pieces of companies scuttling to their offices for the remainder of business hours. They swarm like a herd of insects and then, as fast, are gone. This particular street, further down home to a few cozy cafes and sandwich shops nestled together as if for warmth, cleans out like the day after tomorrow. Others, running parallel, continue to see a fair bit of foot traffic because, really, when isn't there a crowd in New York? But not this one.

Which may make it seem like a sideways, backwards choice for the heavily bearded man, slouched so that he nearly drowns into his oversized jacket — a lump of fabric and hair against the sidewalk. Resting between his feet, past lightly bent legs, a soup can half-heartedly stripped clean of its label, and bearing the fruits of his hour: not enough for lunch. Normal passersby wouldn't give it a second thought, but the ragged form with eyes hidden by a dragging hat over his forehead is not the usual one for this corner, but neither is he completely unfamiliar. It would seem that Possibly Homeless is doing much to affirm his status.

"Almms~" He carols merrily to the last set of footsteps before a gap in the traffic that filters out, leaving the street fluttering with more trash than coat-tails.

There was a time when Carl had it all— for certain values of 'all', anyway. Good pay, steady work, important work. Quiet work environment… with a few notable exceptions. Over the past year, his star has fallen; his typical day at the office involves wading through a lot of drudge work for one or the other well-meaning but hidebound old geezer. Some days, he doesn't make it out for lunch at all, his choices limited to the vending machine or the break room with the soap opera marathon.

Still, it could be a lot worse. He's not stuck doing road work. Or trolling for handouts, like that guy up the block next to the Taco Junta. Reaching into his pocket, Carl takes out his wallet and fishes out a trio of Washingtons, readying them in advance. He's up for doing the little good deed, but he'd just as soon not linger over it.

Hands before Carl's are not so generous, scurrying on by and catering to the general invisibility of one such as Possibly Homeless, whose ragged appearance does not jive with their crisp cut-out life. Long, unraveling sleeves overtake his hands, hiding fingers as they're curled around his knees. A couple of huffs, eyeing the change gathered at the bottom of the can, and then he glances up — spots Carl. Narrows in on that money, its scent, with a natural instinct.

But his leery smile cracks kind of remarkably well-maintained teeth when he leans in, preparing to greet Carl the way as that money has been prepped for him. For a speedy trip by? Not if Possibly Homeless can help it, scoping in with friendliness between two good acquaintances. "Heyyyy, buddy," he says, still sing-song. The sound of his voice seems to trick the nose into finding an alcohol scent that is actually absent. "I know you! How's that whole suuuperpower— " his fingers wiggle mysteriously, "— thing working out for you?"

The sensory dissonance between sound and smell begins to tug at Carl's attention span— and what the man says is enough to finish the job. It might b a coincidence, but he wouldn't bet more than an old pair of socks on it. Which means it could be any of a number of things, and he needs to take a crack at figuring out which.

"Haven't got any," he replies, slowing down so he can turn and give P.H. a proper once-over. "I am a body double for the President, but don't tell anyone, okay?"

"Who would I have to tell?" retorts Possibly — Probably? Presumably? — Homeless, spreading his arms to demonstrate the scope of his reign — all of the front of a gated alley between a taco place and a very inappropriately placed antiques store. From his gesture, his hands go to around the soup can and, fighting against his own overdone sleeves a second, he manages to raise the dish, rattling with the racket of its own mostly-emptiness. "Aren't you gonna give an old friend some generosity?"

Oh, right, the cash. Even as Carl hands it over according to the original plan, he squints, thinking back. Has he seen this guy somewhere before? Or heard? He's heard crazy before, and this doesn't sound like it, but that just leads him back to the unanswered questions. "I'm afraid you'll have to jog my memory…"

Again, the mouth slants open, crooked now, adding a bit of a smirk to Homeless' expression as he squints up around the cloudy sky to Carl's face, "Summer of '86," he quips first. "Come on, don't tell me you've forgotten. Met through a mutual. Uptight little thing. Liked unicorns and— and cupcakes." The money, given, vanishes into the soup can, tucked down and as far in as it will go with a few practiced prods. His fingers linger greedily over the spot a second, fearful as though Carl might try to take it back, but he gradually relaxes. "Thought she could solve everybody's problems with superpowers."

Carl snaps his fingers. "Right, right. Stickler for rules." It's been a while; the meetings progressively fell apart from one week to the next. And that explains why he didn't recognize Possibly right away, either— wrong vantage point, wrong lighting. And he doesn't, well, stink of Thunderbird. Yet. "I see you've been keeping out of trouble," he adds, taking a step back. Come ooooon let's have the conversation and move on already.

"Hmmm, rules, yes… rules…" Homeless gives a slow, sage nod of his shaggy head, sounding more like he's referring to a memorable day when they went to the big game and Carl caught the winning home-run ball but gave it to his buddy here, instead. Then they shared a milkshake. But, as he's nodding, he adds, "As a matter of fact, I'm here because of some trouble…" and, contrary to everything Carl might wish for his life right now, there's a bustle of shuffling movement; Homeless is pushing off the concrete and rising.

The soup can jangles loudly with every huff and puff of effort to get him from caked onto the street to standing. One hand idly brushes off what is the least of that dirt as he glances about him, making sure he has all of his — one — belongings, then there's a bit of a directional nod towards the one Carl had been going. "I'm a little embarrassed to say…" But, apparently, prepared to spill to Carl's ear on a long walk.

Oh, for heaven's sake. Is he doomed to spend the rest of his life stooping over so crazies can bend his ear, until they turn him into one of their own? It's like The Fisher King, only Homeless is a lot less funny than Robin Williams. Shaking his head, Carl takes out his cell phone and sets it to redial. "Hey. Yeah, about the— I may run a little late. You know what? Go ahead and start without me, you're the one'll be answering most of the questions anyway." That matter concluded, he turns and gestures with one hand for the guy to keep talking if he's gonna.

While Carl was on the phone, Homeless was making a small production over on his side. Continued jangling is the soup can being passed about as he digs, lost, in a few pockets, tugs on a few strings — his jacket is set to unravel at their feet at any moment. Glanced over at, the man is in the midsts of scratching mightily at the edges of his beard on the opposite side from the other. "Well, ya see…" he begins, strolling several paces and moving his working fingers about. A bad habit at best; there actually seems to be hair coming out as he does so.

"Our mutual friend," Homeless goes on, ignorant to his possible shedding, "She had the right intentions, but really…" The beard's really suffering now, and as his fingers come away, so does a clump of it, "some terrible execution, timed with a spot of poor luck…" Not just a clump, actually, is peeling away under his absent ministrations, "… something I've come across, myself, as I embark on this new project." Before it's even truly obvious, the beard is stripped off with a last flick of wrist, leaving a clear and smooth chin unmarred by hair or hardship. Casual as you like, the clump of hair is stored away into one of those vast, dirty pockets.

"There'll be bumps and rough patches on any fresh idea," continues Homeless fluidly, giving a tug at either elbow to his sleeves, dragging their lengths to a manageable height around his wrists and revealing long, polished fingers. "But, let me be honest, this one was quite an embarrassment, as I think you'll agree." When his hat is pulled away, neatly trimmed blond hair is revealed, adding the last touch of class to a face transformed much younger. And staring ahead as though this were the most natural thing in the world. "But that's why I sought you out, Carl. May I call you Carl?"

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To Carl's credit, the beginnings of the transformation - as out of left field as they are - only catch him visibly off guard for a second. After that, even as he remains watchful, his body relaxes back into a casual gait. Anyone else who happened to be watching them, lacking context, ought to just dismiss it as a quirky street performance piece.

"I won't argue with that," he replies, shaking his head. It figures that he wasn't the only one keeping tabs on the group for reasons other than a personal stake. "I don't believe I got your name—"

Well, he's not a perfect actor; the same barely-restrained annoyance he showed back at the meetings is still very much present. Not Homeless won't be able to ditch that quite so easily as he did the disguise. Why weren't they having this conversation months ago, if he knows so much?

"Roman Carter," announces the no longer homeless man of impeccable taste. He's looking slightly less than himself at the moment, drearily done up in the attire of his guise, but having ditched one top layer of the jacket with a shrug, he's down to a bit more of a form-fitting, and less ratted, sweater over the long tee. "Director of Public Affairs."

Then, from out of his pants pocket — as it turns out, without the rest of the look, they're nicer than they first seemed, too — he draws an elaborately expensive watch that he affixes onto his wrist with a soft turn of his head to track the chore. "Of course," he glances over, sharp eyes that were once hidden by bushy fakeness surely not missing the annoyance of Carl boiling beneath, but he takes his time speaking anyway, "I'm not referring to those adorable little meetings, but something with a much more… troubling scope. I'm told you were there, on the street, when it happened. Do you remember it?"

Eyes forward, then eyes to Carl. It's as casual as the first time; but it's not. Something flickers past his eyes as he considers, his mouth drifting open, and then seems unable to stop from expanding, "Do you remember the girl?"

Annoyance eases off, only to be replaced by concern, as Carl furrows his brow. Sounds like a government title, and he did not exactly leave the government's employ on the best of terms. There was some glossing over of the resume, of necessity. Then again, if the guy wanted to bust him, he could have already done that by now, too.

"I missed part of it, unfortunately. But yes. Is she— will she be all right?" His feelings about her are mixed, too; she was out of control, but unlike some, she at least recognized the fact.

Formal title aside, Roman is leisurely, relaxed as he slips his hands inside his now ordinary pockets, enjoying the stroll alongside Carl where the streets have emptied of some — but not all, speckles of humanity here and there. "Alyssa's a trooper," he indulges a moment, a peek of a smile amongst expressions of more adaptive concern. "She's already back at work…" His eyebrows dig slightly, relax, paired to a similar movement at the corner of his mouth, though he retains a certain composure without; the impression is never that Roman is at a loss. Only biding his time. Time to say: "As to whether she'll be all right or not… I was hoping that's what you could help me with, Carl."

Alyssa. Always good to have a name to go with the face, just like with this fellow. Even if you know nothing else about the person, carrying around a certain name all their lives will have an effect. Just ask Johnny Cash.

That last part certainly wasn't the answer that he was expecting. It's one little extra thing fueling Carl's annoyance— he's never liked having to operate on badly incomplete information. "I'm the one who hit her in the head," he answers, dryly. "If that's your idea of the qualifications for a good caretaker…"

"Good!" announces Roman jovially, "Glad to see we're on the same page." His fingers pop out of his pocket to snap importantly in front of them, but he sobers a second later. "The truth is, Carl, we've had a bit of a muck-up with the operation that Alyssa's on, and it's one that requires the upmost sensitivity. That event on the fourteenth was a jolt of wakefulness. I need to know that there's someone in there who will take care of our girl if it turns out it was a warning, and…" Somber turns a bit regretful — but no less filled to the brim with unshakable belief, "… one who will take care of her, if it was a sign of rebellion…"

Here, he grounds to a halt, tipping his weight at an angle towards Carl, his feet gently turned out in well-mannered form. "She's— close to something. Something very important," a glint forms in Roman's eyes, one that he is distinctively aware of yet unable to vanquish until a second later, when he's moved on: "And she may have gotten a taste of it, but she can't tell us why. So maybe she's been compromised. Or maybe— " Regret, again. He licks his lips, "She won't, and she's been turned. Do you understand the delicacy of our situation?"

Ah, now that's more like it. Provided with useful information, with the implied promise of more; offered a path of consequence. Carl has his own suspicions which side of the line she's on— but maybe that was all an act. Best to keep his opinions vague for now, stick to safe ground. "More or less. Why me, though? You have reason to believe that she'll trust me, over and above anyone else working for you?"

"Yes." It's more of that absolute confidence, this faith that straightens his shoulders as well as his spotless poise, "Because she has to. More importantly, she needs them to trust you. And I need someone in there who isn't one of mine. We're all supporting each other, you see. It's that strong thread that connects everyone on this beautiful green earth. So what do you say? — I'm straight up with you, Carl," Roman's hand rises, unfurling neatly between them, "It's not an easy ride I'm asking you on— but I have so much faith," the fingers curl in, snatching, plucking the air, that space separating them sapped up. Claimed. "Will you help me with my problem?"

Carl considers it… for all of half a second. "I'll do what I can. Obviously I'll need more specifics, I assume there are files you can get me some time after lunch." Which Roman had better be paying for, now. 'Spare a few bucks' indeed.

There's also the matter of his current contract interrupting things, but he's got a plan for that, too. Two weeks notice? Oh yeah, he gave that two weeks ago, it's all in the computer.

Roman's face bursts into an unabashed smile at Carl's response, flashing all of those very not-homeless pearly whites in perfect order. "Obviously," he agrees with a careless, but measured wave of his hand. Next, pressing it to his chest empathetically, "I shall fully provide for you, but a humble purveyor to the good soldier. Meanwhile," dipped in, then out, his hand reveals, with a flick, a card: a number, a name.

"Contact this man about having a new identity in the computers. These people do extensive background checks, and I'm afraid they wouldn't smile on some of your previous extracurriculars. Here— " the pockets are full of goodies; Roman's soon handing over — not money, as might be expected, but a brightly colored package of — gummis. "You'll be needing this."

The name on the card is Stanford.

Once final reassurances, and pleased annotations, are passed along, Roman parts from Carl's company with that smile yet on his face. It lends a rosiness to his cheeks on that young face, as he strolls along the street past corners of taco stores and alleys, his hands in the pockets of his crisp tailored pants. Another person, on another street, in the vastness of the city — most in their office buildings, but some walking along beside, not even noticing as those pockets jangle once in a while with the scattering of a bit of loose change. Here's to the charity of New York.

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