A Twinge of Conscience

April 15, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert suffers a twinge of conscience, and does a good deed for one of New York City's less fortunate residents.

East Side - New York City

Sutton Place, Turtle Bay, Tudor City… all of these recognizable neighborhoods help define the eastern side of Midtown Manhattan. From 6th Avenue to the East River, from 40th St. to 59th St., the East Side contains such notable landmarks as Sotheby's headquarters, the UN building, and the unmistakable Chrysler Building, (at 4nd and Lexington) is THE art deco structure, easily the most identifiable with the deco movement. It is the tallest brick building in the world (1,046 feet). The offices are mostly given over to private organizations such as Bank Rome and InterMedia Partners.

Grand Central Station, located at Park and 42nd Street, properly known as Grand Central Terminal, is the intersection of 67 separate rail and subway tracks serviced on 2 levels. There's a Dining Concourse featuring restaurants and fast food below the Main Concourse.

East Side is home to some of the city's brightest luminaries, since it's far enough away from the bustling city center to afford some privacy, but close enough to the action to make it one of the more in-demand areas outside of the Upper East Side.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

A young bear cub wanders her way dully from the bus stop adjoining Grand Central Station and down a mostly vacant stretch of sidewalk. At least that's what it looks like at first glance. The sidewalk is only vacant by New York standards, even in the late evening hour, and the bear cub… well there's a person in there somewhere, but she's well-hidden beneath the thick fur of her coat.

A trademark pair of black aviators are hanging from the neck of her t-shirt, exposing a pair of disinterested and sleep-deprived brown eyes, and cradled in one black-gloved hand is her moment's solace: a thermos whose open lip is gently wafting steam.

The young woman adjusts the shoulder strap of her instrument case and shuts her eyes for just a moment as takes a sip.

In the City that Never Sleeps, late evening hasn't quite given way to night, pedestrians making their way on slightly thinned sidewalks. The day's commuter crowds are gone, but there are still people out about their business. Right now it's the hour of the irregulars; those whose lives don't fit into the regular nine-to-five crowd.

One such woman makes her way down the street at a slow and shuffling gait. It's not really much of a limp; it's just an unhurried amble. She looks to be of average height, closer to forty than thirty, with vibrant auburn-red hair and pale skin. Her eyes are blue.

Wait a minute, back-up-the-truck sounds.

That's eye, singular. The entirety of the right side of her face is ravaged by the irregular, ropy texture of burn scarring, and a dove-grey patch rests over where her right eye should be. She must have been a pretty woman before whatever happened to her disfigured her; now she turns heads, but not because of any inherent beauty. People turn, now, and they stare at the ruin.

She doesn't seem to care. If she pays attention to any stare she gets, the woman ignores them. She has a cigarette dangling from her lower lip, trailing smoke every so often. Tonight she's wearing casual clothes, off the clock — a leather bomber jacket with faded patches, all of them written in Cyrillic. Aside from old aircraft programs from a decade or two ago, there are also mission patches from a similar time period.

The bomber jacket looks just a hair too big for her. The rest of her clothing, however, seems to fit just fine. Under the jacket, she has a plain black sweater, tucked into a pair of plain dark blue jeans. Finishing the casual ensemble is a pair of scuffed combat boots. Around her neck is a thin gold chain, and on the chain is what looks like a wedding band.

Her hands are in her pockets. She walks straight ahead, occasionally puffing on her cigarette, apparently not bothered by the crispness of spring twilight in the city.

The sound of her footsteps stops before the young woman leaning on the instrument case. The bear cub might hear the sound of those boots shift, as though the person wearing them were shifting their weight; peering a little closer through the layers of fur coat.

Something hits the ground not too far from the bear cub and her thermos. It sounds vaguely metallic; the sound of a small item. A paper clip? Several billfolds neatly clipped inside a paperclip, actually, and it bounces before coming to rest against the bear cub's leg. There's a generous forty dollars folded together in there.

"Go get hot meal in morning, too." If she looks up, the scarred woman is frowning — but whether expression or just the consequence of having half her face paralysed by scar tissue, it's hard to say.

There's something almost disappointed in her single winter-blue eye. It seems like the people on the street are getting younger every day. She looks on for a moment, as though to see whether the bear cub accepts the gift or not.

You never know, with bear cubs. Sometimes they'll take what's given to them; sometimes they're too rabid to care, and snap at the hand that would feed them. It wasn't much different in Moscow, as it is in any large city. There are always those less fortunate.

The scarred woman slips her hands into her pockets and settles back on her heels to watch. It's the patient look of someone who has dealt with bureaucracy all their life; someone accustomed to out-waiting the other end of a staring match.

With twice as many eyes to blink, advantage might not be in the youth's favor as she stops, looks down to the folded bills, then back at their donor. There's definitely no smile from the offer but also no frown, tonight she's too tired to care.

Two brown eyes stare back at the lone blue one in the Russian woman's face, cold and deprived of their youthful vigor. Then the girl bends down and quietly pockets the bills in her pants.

The one-eyed woman's gaze is likewise cold and her expression stony, but there's a hint of something less cold behind that eye.

"Maybe get yourself something warm to wear, too." Her voice is not quite guttural, but it's rough and harsh; too many years of smoking and hard drinking. "Whatever help you most."

She seems to hesitate before wavering on her feet, where anyone else would have left by now.

That single red brow arches as she stands there, all bristling awkwardness, hands in pockets. "…There anything else that might help, maybe…?"

The youth cants her head slightly and glances down skeptically at her thick coat. "Nahthing from you," she answers, the sounds at first coming out a little wrong for English. For Russian, maybe a little less wrong.

The brown-eyed girl turns her eyes back ahead and the chains of her boots rattle as one of them steps forward.

At that answer, the woman doesn't move. One of the boots shifts slightly, scuffing against loose debris and broken concrete. The one-eyed woman's regard seems to sharpen a little; the kind of regard that used to make even military men who outranked her shift uncomfortably.

It worked better, she reflects, when she had two eyes. But she continues to regard the girl thoughtfully.

"<I recognise your accent, though not where you are from.>" Her own Russian is flawless, and the dialect places her squarely from Moscow. Although her English is guttural and broken, grizzled and somehow gruff, her Russian is much more fluid and comfortable; somehow less guttural for all its harsh sounds.

She pulls her hands from her pockets and folds her arms. "<I may be wrong, of course…>" Her arched brow seems to suggest she doesn't expect herself to be wrong. She's been proven wrong in the past, of course, but you never know.

The younger woman pauses as her ears perk at a familiar sound. At a another time it would be a welcome respite from English. She takes a long sip from her thermos and lets a slow, tired sigh out her nose.

"<Nowhere,>" the girl answers, not giving quite enough sentence to judge her own accent in Russian, but at least she seems to speak it.

"<…You're going to follow me, aren't you?>" she assesses with a hint of resignation.

"<Even the most downtrodden gutter mongrel is from somewhere.>" The one-eyed woman shifts her weight, still eyeing the younger woman from a safe distance. She reaches up to adjust her cigarette as she studies the girl, exhaling and letting the smoke wreath around her face. When she does, her right hand sports the same scarring that disfigures her face.

She seems remarkably at ease for the sun going down in a city like New York. Or, maybe she's carrying a gun.

Given all the daily weirdness in this city, that's probably a safe bet.

Follow her? The one-eyed woman tilts her head very slowly to one side. Red hair spills over the scarred side of her face, but as it only obscures an eyepatch, she doesn't move to toss it away. In fact, she seems to have a habit of turning her head very slightly to the right, to compensate for the blind side.

"<No. Why would I bother with that? I am not part of the KGB.>" Her lip curls in what might be amusement or animosity, or perhaps both. She continues to study her thermos-toting charge in mild bemusement. "<Besides which, it does not look like you have gone anywhere for some time. It would be a waste of my time to follow you.>"

"<…Come with me,>" the one-eyed woman finally says, decisively. "<I am going to find a decent meal for you, one that does not come out of a box or a can.>" Her brow arches faintly, eyelid hooding. "<Do you like American diners? There are many of them in the city. They are cheap. And the food is hot.>"

As though remembering something, she adds one more question to the list.

"<Do you have a name?>"

"<I've been here long enough to know what a diner is,>" the youth deadpans. "<And I'll be fine *without* more charity.>" Cocooned in her thick coat it's hard to tell much about the black-haired girl herself, but the story told by her clothes is one of outdoor living - though perhaps not through the entire winter. Her boots are dirty but in good repair and her coat is almost unharmed.

Reaching inside of it, the younger Russian tucks her thermos away and resumes walking, keeping Isa in the corner of her eye only until she begins to pass her.

The one-eyed woman glances sidelong at the girl, hands back in her pockets. The pilot doesn't move to walk behind or in front of the girl, though. Instead, she moves to keep her at her left side, where she can see her. At the girl's insistence, the older woman heaves a resigned sigh.

"<Such a rude little bear cub. You could show a little gratitude. Or you can stay hungry. I know that look,>" she adds, eye flicking sidelong to her impromptu charge. "<Maybe I have never been there myself, but I have known many who have.>"

"<…Name,>" she insists, raising her chin a little to look at the girl. "<I assume you have one, or something you call yourself by. I suppose I could call you 'bear-cub,' but that is hardly a proper name.>"

There's not much Slavic in the face that looks sidelong back up but the more the taciturn youth speaks, the more her own native fluency comes through. A thick foundation of makeup keeps her natural complexion and any haggard blue dampened; what peeks through says Mediterranean, maybe? Perhaps instead Norse? What she speaks says Northern Russian, though north of Moscow's band leaves a great deal of country to guess.

"<'Bear-cub' would not be the worst,>" she contends, her own hands forcing themselves into her coat firmly as she picks up a walking partner after all. "<Names are precious, not to be given away wildly.>"

It's hard to judge nationality by the pilot's face. The nature of her old wounds makes it difficult to get a complete picture, features obscured by deadened scar tissue. What does make itself visible suggests strong features; high cheekbones

There's maybe just the faintest hint of the Orient in her features, if not in complexion, with the hint of an almond shape to her eyes. She's probably a varied mix, but her accent places her firmly in the streets of Moscow.

Her eye remains fixed ahead, angled just enough to be able to see the girl at all times.

"<Maybe I should just call you 'Porcupine,'>" the pilot states with a scowl, gesturing as though to indicate the familiar back-woods creature. "<Prickly. Full of quills. Prone to swatting others with said quills.>"

Hedgehog might be a good comparison, but their little quills are softer than a porcupine's.

Her hands stay firmly in her jacket pockets. "<Fine, then I'll start. My name is Isa.>" It's a bit of an odd form. It could be a shortened form of Isabella. It could be a diminutive of Raisa. It could just be something else. Certainly by itself it's not a very Russian name, and she offers no patronymic. Hmm.

"<There. That wasn't so bad, was it?>" Isa pulls her hands from her pockets to fold her arms, looking at the girl as though to say, 'now, your turn.'

The youth's eyes flit between Isa and the street, trying just the same to keep half her attention on her surroundings. The angle keeps most of the Muscovite's scars hidden so the shorter Russian doesn't stare. Her boots clack and jingle ahead as she moves them away from the bus station without a clear destination yet showing.

The name, or rather what it's missing, does turn the girl's head and force one eyebrow up for a moment. "<So friendly I wonder what else that money is to pay for…>"

"<Vladlena Marlenova,>" she replies.

Returning her hands to her pockets, Isa seems content to let the girl lead the way. She has a fair knowledge of the surrounding borough, so she probably won't get lost, but all the same she keeps an eye toward the local landmarks and street signs.

"<So suspicious and hostile. Yes, I think I will call you Porcupine.>" Half a glance is cast down at the girl, not quite a scowl, but not really neutral either. Feed a stray dog and it bites your hand off. "<Fitting.>"

"<Anfisa Sergeyevna.>" The patronymic is important. She would squint if someone didn't have one and claimed to be Russian. Hmm, didn't she have a grandfather named Sergey? That will do. "<There. That was not so bad, was it, Vladlena Marlenova? Now we can be civilised.>"

…If this Vladlena Marlenova's attitude doesn't improve, though, which she expects it probably won't, she'll just keep thinking of the girl as 'Porcupine.'

Abruptly she swerves off the street and into a nearby dimly-lit diner, with half a glance back to see if her underfed charge is following. The look is clear. Well? Coming?

Vladlena's boots click to a stop at the sudden change and she turns her head to look in at Isa. The youth stands there at length and waits, staring back, not following her in. Her brown eyes are just as clear in their message. No

Isa waits, arms folded and balanced neatly against the building's doorframe. She waits a few minutes more, staring at the girl and the girl's stubborn stare.

"Well. Fine. Suit yourself." The pilot shrugs and responds in her brusque, broken English. She pushes the door open all the way, vanishing into the diner. Even from the curb it smells delicious. It probably smells especially delicious to someone who hasn't had a regular meal lately.

Tempting, isn't it? But it's too late, now. No sooner has Isa gone in than she comes back out again, thrusting a plastic grocery bag tied off at the top towards Vladlena.

"<I said a good meal, and here it is. Maybe it is not the best meal, but it is a meal. Here.>" She'll wait for Vladlena to take it and inspect it and check it for poison, which it doesn't seem to have. It's a ham sandwich, a very fresh and delicious-smelling one, along with fries. There's a bottle of what looks like it might be water in there, too.

She thumbs towards the east. "Work in East Side. I see you here again, maybe I buy you something to eat later, da?" Her face is unsmiling, but that seems to be more or less normal for her, and not necessarily a reflection on her actual mood. "Eat it, or don't. Choice is yours."

Maybe it had no effect, but even she can't help but spread a little generosity in this cold and paranoid city.

"Da svidaniya," she throws over her shoulder, without turning to look back. Goodbye, politely; but whether or not she expects to see the street-haunted girl again, she couldn't say.

Vladlena leans against a nearby wall once Isa is inside and pulls a metal flask from the front of her pants. She knocks back a sip's worth and takes a hard swallow to force down the contents before sealing the flask again and shoving it back where it came - half out of sight, and less so when her coat can rest over it.

When Isa returns with a bag, the youth regards it strangely and even frowns a tiny bit. She does nonetheless accept it. Her eyes look back and up at the woman's and she allows her room to talk.

"<You expect me to come live with you or something?>" she bawks at the sheer unasked charity. If Isa continues to leave though she'll settle for adding a smaller ending, and keeping in Russian.

"Poka." Bye.

The pilot is already a ways down the street, but she's half-blind, not half-deaf.

"Nope," she tosses over her shoulder, in English; irreverent and cheerful. "Am not allowed pets in rental agreement."

Soon, though, she's gone; even her unique appearance lost in the crowds.

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