"I'm on holiday."

January 16, 2016:

Holly and Shift met not long ago, on the L-Train. It broke down beneath the East River, and they CENSORED like CENSORED. Now, there's a chance meeting at a dive bar in the city, securing that it was not a 'one night stand'.

Krank's Cellar - Hells Kitchen, NYC

Characters

NPCs: Krank

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: I Want You (She's So Heavy) by The Beatles


Fade In…

Krank's Cellar is a divey speakeasy somewhere deep in Hell's Kitchen. Away from the gentrifidouchetion, one enters the dive by way of an alley and a stairway into the first basement, where cigarette smoke is less likely to find its way into the street and the unsuspecting nose of a cop.

"You want another round, Ghana?"

"Yeah," answers Kwabena. "Go ahead and use de old one, Krank. Ain't worried. De whiskey will kill any unwanted microbes."

The two share a laugh, and cash is exchanged for a glass of top shelf whiskey, a double. Kwabena carries it back to his empty booth, which rests at the back end of the bar, where he can see what's going on from relative shadow. There, he rests, lights a cigarette, and leans back into his seat. He wears a black turtleneck sweater and a pair of dark jeans, riding boots raised and plopped onto the opposing booth with a clunk.

*

Holly doesn't drink in well-to-do establishments often. The gentrified music clubs are too full of trust fund kids who doesn't understand the world enough to be afraid of it. The high-end dining experiences are half the time full of bankers too coked up to remember their wives' names, let alone to be afraid of anything. So she likes holes in the wall. Speakeasies. Things that remind her of the scuzzy, unpleasant aura of the local pubs she drank in during her youth, when she was too young to frequent them.

Not that Holly's going to dress any differently. She's still in chic designer fashions, with her hair braided into a sort of hairband like a character from Westeros. She's been discreetly buying glasses of whiskey at her table. Expensive whiskey. Just because she's slumming it doesn't mean her liver has to, too.

Then a voice cuts through the din. Holly lifts her head, and watches Kwabena walk back towards his booth. Holly stands up — grey low-cut dress, black fur coat, diamonds, dark stockings, glossy black heels. Sure, people try to rob her on occasion. She deals with them. But no one would dare get in her way as she walks purposefully towards Kwabena's booth. "Fancy meeting you here, lad," she purrs.

*

Seeing Holly, Kwabena's head tilts just so. Then, his eyes narrow in a suspicious manner. Does she always dress so… impressively? Either she's a cop, or connected, or… something else.

When she arrives at his booth, the African draws his boots back until they strike the floor. With one hand still curled around his whiskey, the other draws the cigarette back a bit, until tufts of second hand smoke drift above his head and into the shadows.

"I should be sahprised," he answers. "But… no." He cocks an eyebrow. "Whiskey?"

*

Holly sits down before she's actually invited to do so. She definitely has the air of someone who… half doesn't belong in this setting, and half could wrap it around her finger effortlessly. It's not just the dress, or the coat. It's the attitude. The confidence, brave and yet not forceful.

"A whiskey would be magic," Holly coos, before taking the cigarette from Shift's hand, delicately. She takes a puff from it, then hands it back, languidly letting the smoke rise from her lips.

"I'm sorry," Holly says, only then beginning to form a wry smile. "Am I interrupting your… business?"

*

As soon as she agrees, Kwabena turns silver eyes to the bartender. He lifts his glass, nods toward Holly, then flicks two fingers up into the air.

"I'm on holiday," answers Kwabena, and rests his whiskey on the table while accepting the return of his cigarette. A pack of menthols is slid across the table, atop of which rests a beat up, old zippo. Hers for the taking. "A much needed vacation. 2015 was one hell of a year." A beat. "You?" A pause, then a turn of the lips. "I see you made it back from Brooklyn in one piece."

*

Holly doesn't take a cigarette. Maybe she just wanted the one puff. Maybe she just wanted to display something. "I always do," Holly says, her smile becoming wider and more sly. "I've made my home in far worse places… so far, New York City's a piece of cake, as long as you step out of the way when the Silver Surfer explodes a building next to you…"

When the whiskeys come, Holly takes hers. "Cheers," she says, and then turns to Kwabena. "And cheers to you." She holds up her glass, expecting him to do the same, even if it's a lazy toast.

*

"Tawanga," he answers in the native Dangme, then downs the expensive whiskey in one gulp. Following the measure, he closes his eyes and leans back, adopting a far more casual demeanor, before setting the glass down and bringing the cigarette to his lips for a nicotine chaser.

"South side of Chicago was rough," he reflects. "New York's anodah story. It's not a rough place, just full of… questionable charactahs and powered metahumans. Now, if you want to see rough, take a train to Gotham. Evah been?"

All the while, Kwabena's silver eyes are locked upon Holly. She's a sight among sights, and she knows this. Her confidence is alluring, to say nothing of her natural beauty. There's a spot deep inside his cold heart that feels a bit guilty about it, but it doesn't show. He doesn't fear these encounters. Quite the opposite, in fact.

*

"Chin-chin," Holly says with a bright grin, as if she knows how obnoxious it is, before drinking a long sip of her whiskey. She sets the glass down, and her green eyes light up when Kwabena mentions Gotham. "I haven't, actually. But I've heard amazing things." The way she says it, she should be talking about a water park or something, not a hellhole of urban squalor. Why would Gotham elicit that kind of response?

"I was up in the north, before I came here," Holly offers, and of course she doesn't give any specific details like Shift's 'South side of Chicago.' Just… 'up in the north.' "It was rough in its own way, but so… flat. Flat and dull. No wonder there's so much meth there." She snorts out a tiny half-laugh and has another sip of whiskey. "New York's been SO much more fun." Her eyes lock on his, and her smile stays there. It's not plastered on. It's genuinely emoted. But it says nothing about itself, or why it's there.

*

Following another drag from his cigarette, Kwabena leans forward and ashes it into the makeshift ash tray; a styrofoam cup filled halfway with water.

"Up in de north?" he asks. "Don't tell me you mean Canada. Bunch of backward roughnecks. Damn cold, too."

The locking of eyes has him going quiet again. He allows this silence to linger for some time. One might call it an uncomfortable silence, though the African doesn't find it discomforting at all. Still, there's an unspoken question in his eyes, one that is there but remains utterly unspoken. The cigarette comes back to his lips, but that is all. His eyes only then drift down to the cut of her dress, before rising again to meet green.

*

"Canada, the United States, Greenland, the Arctic Circle, go north enough and it all looks so similar you'd be fucked trying to find any difference." Holly's eyes stay on Kwabena. "Though I can see you're a man with his eye on southern prospects."

Holly's smile stays coy, and she finishes her whiskey. "Though you're right." She sets the empty glass down, and her smile fades, giving Kwabena a meaningful look. A pregnant pause ensues. "It was cold as a fucking witch's twat."

*

That remark brings a snorting laugh to the Ghanaian's silence. "Actually, I don't care for de south. It's too muggy, and I hear fah too many n-bombs to make a niggah comfortable." He gestures about with his cigarette. "Now, de Middah East. It's a shame de old Palestinian Jew fued dere has made it a place riddled with IED's and child gunmen. Because de desert is a beautiful place."

Not that he didn't notice her play on words. "De south does have its redeeming qualities," he quips, before turning the cigarette butt over in his hand. He eyes it for a long moment, before his hand bursts into a cloud of thick smoke that snuffs out the cherry. The hand reforms, and the remains are discarded in the makeshift ashtray before another cigarette is withdrawn from its pack, pinched between bright, white teeth.

"So, tell me, Holly. What is your day job? Don't tell me you're a trust fund baby. It'll be incredibly hard to walk away from dis beautiful face and it's murderous legs."

*

Holly nods along with a smirk to Kwabena's critique of the South. But then, she's from Scotland. Has she seen Georgia in any way other than via the movies? She also watches his power stunt without flinching.

"Well… it's a bit complicated to explain, actually. Actually, I'm lying. It really isn't." Holly motions for two more whiskeys. "This round's on me," she coos, and then finishes her thought. "Have you heard of feng shui? 'Wind water.'"

*

"I've heard a lot of crazy, stupid shit," Kwabena answers. "At least, I used to considah it crazy and stupid."

There comes a moment of pure and unexpected vulnerability. The devil may care attitude drips away, and the man seated across from Holly develops the sort of thousand yard stare typically associated with war veterans. It lasts a grueling three seconds, before his eyes turn back to her and once again become glazed over with that look that hardened mercenaries are known for.

"Den I saw some few things. So. Cheers to all de bullshit in de world." The second glass of whiskey is knocked back moments before the next round arrives. "What is dis 'wind watah' you speak of?"

*

If the stare makes Holly uncomfortable, she certainly doesn't show it. "It's what feng shui means. Chinese. It's one of those… ancient traditions that some people live by, and some people think are witch doctory bullshit." Holly purses her lips, as if choosing her next words carefully. "Basically, it's about aligning a space to be… harmonious. The placement of doors, furniture, windows, everything. Everything's connected. And if you make a place in harmony with those connections, it will help you live a prosperous, healthy life."

The next round arrives, and Holly once again interrupts her thought: "Cheers," and another toast. A sip. Then she continues. "So naturally I don't do any of that rubbish. But what I do is similar. Some places just have… I guess you could call it bad juju. You've seen a lot of crazy, stupid shit. You said it yourself. So do the walls around you. So what I do is I go to these places…"

Holly has another sip, lifting her finger to indicate she's not done speaking, and then swallows. "…and I clean them up. Good as new."

*

It is with an inquisitive look that Kwabena listens to Holly's exposition. During the process, he retrieves the zippo and clicks it to life, illuminating his black skin with red fire and a puff of nicotine laden smoke. Then, he turns to sipping, rather than shooting, and continues listening.

"How?" The question is simple enough. She's a smart woman. He trusts it isn't necessary to expound upon the question he just asked, but there, in his silver eyes, the subtext is there. He's met a great deal of people with 'abilities'. Every single one of them carries a certain weight to them. Some carry it in the shoulders, others in their words, and others carry it in the way they compensate for being 'one of us'. In a world of us and them, Holly Harlingen is certainly not one of them.

*

Holly waves a hand, like she's saying 'oh, you.' She even laughs, just a little bit. "Oh, that part's easy. I play a record backwards, invoke the dark lord Satan, drop acid and murder some stray cats. That does the trick good and proper."

Holly picks up her glass. "Actually, Kwabena… it's an ancient Chinese secret." She winks, then has another sip of whiskey. The glass is getting low. "How am I supposed to make money if I go telling everyone how it's done?"

*

That brings an honest bit of laughter. "De five point palm exploding heart technique?" he asks, then takes another drink of his own.

"I'll show you mine if you show me yours," he follows, grinning slyly at the woman across from him. He's not at all serious; the innuendo drips like honey. "I like a woman who finds hahself comfortable in a place like dis," he adds.

*

"Exactly," Holly laughs. "They take five steps and then shit themselves blind. It's humiliating in addition to crippling."

Holly then brushes her hair back from her shoulders and her smile grows less open, more wry. "I really think that's more of a third date kind of thing, don't you? I'm dressed like an upstanding lady, lad, I should at least make a go at pretending the part." She finishes her whiskey and sets the glass down. "Places like this… mmm. They're what I know. I hate to say a place with an obvious vomit stain on the floor right over there is like a home to me… so I won't, because it'd come dangerously close to the truth."

*

"Truth hurts sometimes," Kwabena answers. "At least dere aren't a gaggle of hipstahs doing blow off de commode," he adds. "Gotta go downtown some few blocks to get dat sort of action."

He says nothing of a third date. She doesn't even have his phone number! Though, in a way, he has hers. That jacket he left behind had a burner phone inside, and he's yet to have its service disconnected.

"Well, don't worry. You could have come in here dressed like de Queen of England and none of dese old drunks would have batted an eye." And that, right there, is why Kwabena likes this place. "Which," he expounds, "is why I nevah do business here. Dis dive is strictly for pleasure."

With that, he lifts the first glass and downs whats left of the whiskey with a quick gulp. Less than a moment later, Holly will feel a heavy boot brushing up against one of those fancy, impressive shoes of hers.

*

Holly's foot doesn't shy away. She does lean in, though, to whisper: "Careful. You'll scuff them. Or worse, turn your foot to smoke and get soot on them." She grins, and then leans back. "Is it just because I look so glamorous, Kwabena, that you're so interested in me? Just that I'm a diamond in this pile of coal, if I do say so myself?"

Holly shrugs gently. "I do quite appreciate the drinks, and the banter's quite nice as well. But I'm curious. And I've always been the type who, when curious, just comes out and asks."

*

"You scuffed dem already," Kwabena points out. Indeed, he'd noticed it while she was sauntering over earlier.

Her question is a bit surprising, not that it shows in his poker face, but he does take longer than usual to respond. "Dere are plenty of glamorous women out dere," he points out. "Many of whom can be purchased. Dere are very few who would fuck a strangah in a broken down subway train." A pause. "Den show up at one of my favorite watering holes." With that, he raises both eyebrows conspiratorially. Perhaps he wonders if she's followed him? His foot doesn't stray away, but he makes no further advances. He is still smoking a cigarette, after all.

*

"Don't be a brat," Holly murmurs through a smile when Kwabena makes his observation about her shoes. She doesn't move her foot away from his, still.

"You live in a city where a man can make himself into a human trampoline while inventing cures for cancer," Holly says, straining not to laugh, "and you think it's implausible I found this place myself? Whatever your business is, Kwabena, I think it might have made you paranoid. I found this place because I looked for it. Not… Krank, specifically. But somewhere like this. They're all the same, deep down. Just the names change. And it just so happens that here you are… probably because you know that, too."

*

Being a brat is something Kwabena is quite good at, especially while flirting. In response, he shrugs in a jesting manner.

Still, she hit a nail directly with her observation. It finally causes him to break eye contact, and a frown appears on his face. He stares for a long moment at his second glass of whiskey, before turning back to look at her. "I have good reason to be paranoid, Holly Harlingen." Wait, did she tell him her last name? How does he know her last name?

"Dere isn't a single pahson I'm involved with who knows exactly what I know about dem," he says cryptically. "It's what keeps me in one piece. Krank over dere still attends NA meetings with a loser named Mark Duncan. He's selling dope to recovering addicts aftah de meetings. Krank knows about it, but he doesn't say a word, because he doesn't want Mark Duncan bringing his dirt into Krank's place of business. He's asked me, on numerous occasions, if I might pick up a job for him, but I won't. You know why?" A pause. "Killing Mark Duncan will bring de kind of attention I don't need or want. Also, Krank can't afford to get himself a blowjob, so, he sure as hell cant afford my services."

Foot still hasn't strayed.

*

The strategic deployment of Holly's surname doesn't make her flinch or cower or sputter. What she does is grin. Open-mouthed. Her green eyes are lit up like neon. She's DELIGHTED. Why?

"I don't know. I'm sure you could split the difference and just give him a handy for a reasonable price." Holly laughs, and once more brushes her hair back away from her face. "If you know my name, you probably know where to find me," she coos. And that's when she gets up. She shifts her coat on more properly, and takes some bills out of a pocket to put on the table. She just puts them down without counting them. It's more than she owes, but not excessively so. "So I'll let you come find me. See you then, Kwabena." Holly winks with that big, bright grin of hers.

Unless convinced otherwise by whatever means, Holly turns to head towards the door.

*

"I doubt he's sober enough to pop a halfsie," Kwabena retorts. But that's all he offers. Her response was beyond entertaining.

No, Kwabena isn't going to say another word. He sits there in his booth, smoking his cigarette and taking time to enjoy every foot fall, every sway of the hips, every bob of hair, and every moment the dim light reflects off expensive stockings. Only when she's gone, does his face form a subdued smile, and he waves with two fingers toward the door.

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