Cover Story

April 22, 2015:

Natasha chases down Argyle after his encounter with the Winter Soldier. Emmett weaves a tale to try and throw the Widow off his scent.

A Biker Bar

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

A phone call after 10 PM at night from SHIELD headquarters is never a good thing. A very frazzled high-level tech is on the other end of the line. "Agent Romanoff," she stutters, "Keeper is off the grid. He's been off for approximately fifteen minutes."
The data shows that Argyle dropped off en route to Staten Island. GPS is dead. No audio. There's a lot of EM interference in the area, which could be coincidental, or it could be deliberate. SHIELD has not had their finger on him every second of every day for the past ten years - just most of it. The implant had to be low frequency enough that he wouldn't pick it up during the course of his own work. But that means it's not utterly foolproof.
This is, however, the first time a drop-off has been combined with incidents that might raise suspicion. Considerably more cause for alarm.
Despite the flighty tech's best effort, the signal doesn't reestablish itself until over an hour later. Even then, the signal's still pretty weak. It's coming from a biker bar near a string of power plants.

*

She's not in the best of moods when she hears about this. Natasha started by searching the likely haunts, but in a city like New York there's so damn many. She can't search every building, but she can start making a search starting where he disappeared and investigating what she can. She starts with the point of disappearance. Then she starts on a radius around that. The man could be dead. The tracker could have been found and destroyed. It could even have been accidentally damaged, though the chances of that…
When the signal comes back up again, she's on it like flies on — well, none of the options are nice, so flies on something flies like. In her Black Widow outfit, she looks very much like she's wearing riding leathers; all the more so when she shows up on a motorcycle. But there's no pleasant, cheerful, smirking artifice as she stalks into the bar. Nor does she look angry. It's in fact the most dangerous of possible expressions on the Black Widow's face: that of blank efficiency, of someone performing a job that she isn't expected to like or dislike.

*

And there sits Emmett Argyle at the end of the bar. He's nursing a shot of watered-down whiskey from a scratched glass. He's big enough that the bikers don't bother with him. He's got a hell of a wound on his head that, well, she might recognize it as a pistol whip. There's caked blood on the side of his face and it really looks like he should get at least a couple of stitches. He looks…relaxed in a self-destructive sort of way, and a little bit drunk.
He happens to look up, and when he spots her, he does a double-take. Eyebrows raise, and he peers around her, as if he's expecting to see a squad of black-clad agents behind her. "Fancy meeting you here."

*

She's alone. At least, she's apparently alone. Natasha pauses in the doorway for only a few moments, surveying the room as well as her quarry. Her eyes are boring into Argyle's skull when he looks up to see her, and she doesn't look any more approachable or friendly when he greets her. She does step forward, though, and takes a moment to look at the pistol-whip gash on his face.
"Let me guess. I should see the other guy?" She absently licks a thumb and reaches up to swipe at some of the dried blood.
"I think it's time to leave. Don't you?"

*

Argyle knows Natasha well enough to know that stony-faced business mode is a bad sign. "Ay…how did you know where I am, and Bee…" he reaches up to swat at the hand going for the wound on his head. He winces. "…why the fuck do you care if I have a couple drinks? I've drank in far worse hellholes than this." He holds up a hand and motions towards the bartender, who is a burly fellow with copious amounts of tattoos, bald on the top and ponytailed in the back. "No 'ffense, there, Charlie."

*

"A. Do I have to introduce myself again? I'm pretty sure you know who I am. There's no one I can't find. B… you and your couple of drinks seem to be getting you into an awful lot of trouble. Or did you get this by walking into a door?"
She shoots Charlie a look. It's a friendly look. At least, it's a smile. At least, her lips are turned up at the corners and her teeth are showing.
"Come on," she adds. "How'd you get here?"

*

"How did I get here…? Welp, that's a three part question, Ay…" Argyle holds up a finger. "…I came down here lookin' for a black market supplier of parts for a below-board project. One of them sanctioned-not-sanctioned deals."
Thanks to SHIELD compartmentalization, that's not something that's easy to check up on. Even if she does, she'll find two black book projects on his plate that could potentially need dubiously-got components.
"Bee…" he flicks up another finger. "…dude wasn't there. See…cee…thirdly," third finger. "I came in here tryin' to find a new supplier and asked the wrong question of the wrong damned dude. But I won, so they let me stay to drink." He points back over his shoulder at a fresh blood stain on the floor.

*

The woman glances over her shoulder at the fresh blood stain, even turning slightly to look it over. She raises an eyebrow and looks back at Argyle, lips pressed together. It's a believable story. It actually is. But the way he looked at her when she walked in…
"D," she replies, her voice low and calm, "I smell a guilty conscience. Or is that just due to you knowing how much you shouldn't be drinking on the job?" It's been long. Too long. All of that shouldn't have taken an hour. She glances up to Charlie: "How long has he been here?"

*

Emmett Argyle may be a shit interrogator, but you don't last as a SHIELD agent for ten years without being a world-class liar. "Well shit, this is a black book project. I wasn't supposed to let anyone tail me. Not even…" he points with the hand holding the whiskey glass, then tosses it back, "…you. S'kinda a fuck-up on my part. And I didn't start drinking til after I realized the deal was a no-go."
Charlie looks her over, then says, "Twenty minutes? He comes in here, goes over to some fellas who don't like strangers. They started some shit. Your boy here flattened him in one punch." He smiles a broken piano-toothed smile and says, "I hate them pricks. So I bought him a drink."
"You checking up on my story, Romanoff? Deal wasn't in here. Like I said, it was nearby. And when my contact didn't show, I came lookin' for another dealer."

*

"Let's go, Argyle." Not Socks. And whether that tell is intentional or not, it's a tell. Natasha is not best pleased.
She does give Charlie a quick grin, though, and nods toward the door. "Did you drive? Or ride? I'm going to die laughing if you caught a bus down here. Time to go, either way."

*

Argyle rolls his eyes expansively, then finishes his drink. Then he chimes, schoolchild style, "Yes Ms. Romanoff." He flattens cash on the bar and hefts himself out of the stool. He's moving stiffly - the way you'd expect someone to after a bar fight. "I took a damned cab, if you wanna know. You think I'm gonna drive a black SUV to this neighbourhood?"

*

"Looks like we're getting home on my ride, then. I hope you're sober enough to hold on." Natasha slings an arm around Argyle's back, ushering him out. Probably not great for his cred in this place; then again, the sharper (or less drunk) of the men here can quite possibly tell she's a dangerous lady. She's not hiding the fact.
When they do get outside, she walks him to the sleek black motorcycle — built for speed and beauty, clearly — and pauses.
"I want you to know something," she begins. Looking sidelong at Argyle, she goes on: "I'm on your side. Whether you know it or not. I don't want to see you self-destruct. I don't want you to get into more trouble. If there's something going on, if there's something bothering you, something you're worried about… I'm going to take you home, but I want you to think about it on the ride. And whatever you say, whatever we say, we can keep it between us." A quirk of the corner of her mouth. "One thing I know how to do is keep a secret. Okay?"

*

"I wasn't aware I was in any trouble. Cept for some sloppy field work." Argyle looks over the bike, clearly appreciating what he sees. Then he looks back at her and huffs softly. "Yeah, right. Gonna sidle up to confession with the Black Widow. Sounds like a brilliant plan."
There's something hard on his face, in his eyes. Some of the warmth that's usually lingering there has leeched out of his expression. She only gets to see it for a moment before he reaches for a helmet and jams it down on his head.

*

"There's worse people to talk to. People who don't have their fingers on the pulse, people who don't know what's up. People who don't know what it's like to wonder about the motives of the people you work for or know what it's like to feel used."
Natasha gives the helmeted face a long look before she jams a helmet onto her own head and mounts the bike. "Hang on," she says, possibly unnecessarily.
The words work both ways. They work with the conversation they've already had. They also work for what she suspects. She really, really doesn't want to have to kill this kid. It wouldn't be the first time, she reflects as she takes off. But she'd feel bad about it for a while.

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