Logs:Meet the Chairman
Meet the Chairman
|Characters:||Roland and Gray|
|Summary:||After a mysterious invitation received by email, Gray arrives in NOLA to investigate a new job opportunity.|
Main Bar - Bottoms Up Somewhere on worldsbeststripclubs.com, there is doubtless an article about New Orleanss many and fabled strip clubs. Bottoms Up did not appear in that article. The main rooms walls are made of black-painted plywood, with pornographic posters illuminated in black light. There doesnt seem to be a preference to the pornography -- homosexual, heterosexual, transgender. It all shares a stage here. The entire room is built around a U-shaped stage, where pole-dancers of all sexual denominations strut their stuff for a song or two. A long black-painted bar runs along the rear wall, alongside an upraised DJ booth. There is absolutely no illumination in this room, apart from the black lights on the wall and a single, bare, bulb behind the bar. Doors lead off into smaller side-rooms, each of which seems to present its own theme. Televisions are mounted at each corner, playing random music videos on mute interspersed with more pornography. The floor is ominously sticky.
Some days past, Roland Durant -- finally established, finally seeing customers through the door of his new establishment -- sat down to write an email. It was time, now that he had a few inches of breathing room around his flexed and straining finances, to begin laying the groundwork for his true intentions here in the city.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Subject: Let's Get Rich Hi there! We haven't met, but lately, whenever I come on a job and find it's already been completed, your name comes up. I imagine you're having a similar experience, or at least I sure fucking hope so. Let's stop cutting each other out of work. I've got a joint in New Orleans, Bottoms Up. I'll hold a job for you until I hear otherwise. Let me know your beer of choice, and I'll get it on tap. Unless it's Corona. Corona sucks on tap. xoxoxo RD
Email sent, the bar owner did his best to forget it had ever existed and went back to work. Many former military men dream of settling down and opening a bar, but the few who get the resources to try discover one thing -- it's a lot harder than it looks. Two in the afternoon, and Roland is lying on his back beneath a beer cooler, trying to get the refrigeration back on. A bag of tools lays beside him, and periodically the lean man reaches blindly for a spanner or a wrench or a screwdriver. But anyone who knows anything about electricity would know, right away, that he's just making this up as he goes. "OW! Shit. Fuck." His entire head disappears as he wriggles further beneath the machinery.
The hapless would-be refrigerator mechanic is dressed in green fatigue pants, Vietnam-style with the huge pockets and oversized buttons, and a Hawaiian shirt of red and gold flowers. He's wearing a pair of jungle boots, lashed tightly, the pants bloused in at the tops. A black ribbed vest-top is evident beneath the Hawaiian shirt, or would be if he weren't halfway inside a machine. The bar is otherwise completely empty; the lights are on, revealing the disgusting state of the place. But they also reveal, to an observant eye, the discreet security cameras -- wireless models bought off Amazon -- installed in various corners and on the ceiling overlooking the tills. There are half a dozen of them in place here, covering every inch of the place.
There never was any response to the email. Maybe it's out of date. Maybe 'oncebitten' is languishing in the depths of a spam folder. Regardless. Nothin', zip, zilch, nada.
Truth is? The message was received. It was just with terrible or fantastic timing, depending on one's perspective. The recipient had been standing in the Los Angeles Greyhound Terminal, contemplating potential destinations on the digital board, when their cellphone had buzzed in the pocket of their jeans, drawing attention to an email alert. And they hadn't been giving it much thought, thumbing through to the inbox by rote even while their pale blue eyes continued scanning the list. New York? Meh. Vegas? Not far enough.. huh. What was a cursory glance finds that the message is not, as expected, yet another promotion for 'feminine tension relief products' but.. what sounds like a job offer. In New Orleans. Aite, sold. A brief transaction with the bleary-eyed clerk later and they're on their way, tossing a duffel-bag into the overhead locker and a backpack down by their feet as they settle in for a glorious two-day road trip across country. Time for an eye mask and Spotify...
Here we are now. Entertain us.
A cool forty-six hours later and the door of the newly opened bar creaks briefly ajar, letting daylight stream in a narrow rectangle across the floor as someone makes their way inside. Little early for a lapdance, isn't it? Maybe they're lost. Or from OSHA. Whatever. A soft tread approaches the bar, no doubt drawn by the disembodied expletives, before the presence is announced more abruptly with the weighty drop of that duffel bag. "Yeungling." It's a feminine voice, though with a low-timbred rasp that betrays a love for Marlboro Reds or something. "I like Yeungling." Well, he did offer to get whatever she wanted on tap.
Folding her arms on the (very sticky) bartop, the daughter of Reginald Gray pushes up and over until her toes barely skim the floor, regarding what can be seen of the presumed proprietor down there under the refrigerator.
Well, it had been a long shot, anyway. If Roland hadn't so often found himself chasing after Fallon Gray's successful tags, he probably wouldn't have bothered. But it would be a lie to say that the man wasn't disappointed. After all, KMD Operations are a West Coast legend. It would be nice to have one on-board. No matter. There's a fridge to fix, coolers to restock. Ice bins to fill. He really needs to hire a barback.
A two-day crosscountry journey for Gray might be nothing but a series of dull, odd, encounters -- the sorts of mundane and yet occasionally low-key horrifying people one meets on a Greyhound bus. Nothing really to write home about, surely. Especially in comparison to the New Orleans summer lifestyle that Roland is now rejoicing in. Well, rejoicing. This was his dream, after all. Nonstop accounting, barbacking, personnel managing, bouncing. He has barely had time to play with Chairman Miaow, who has taken to waking the bounty hunter up by skritching Tic-Tac-Toe on his chest. So he's really not had time to appreciate the full level of his disappointment. He hasn't even had time to check his Jobs Board for any new hirings -- sloppy. And yet, there is real pleasure to be had in the owning of this dive. Real pleasure in smacking his head hard on the guts of the beer cooler as he scoots outward to meet this new customer. "Shit. Fuck. Damnit." And then, in a softer voice, "Not gonna shoot it. Not. Gonna. Shoot. It."
Rubbing his forehead as he presses to his knees, and then upright, Roland turns his attention to the newcomer. It better not be someone asking about the fucking music licensing again. Ah. No. This person is absolutely not from OSHA. "Yeungling, huh?" The proprietor of Bottoms Up grins, resting his own forearms atop the bar, one on either side of Gray's, and leans forward conspiratorially. "First one's on the house."
He straightens, reaches into another of the coolers, pulls out a chilled beer mug. Turning aside to pour, pulling the lever and tilting the mug slightly to let the foam rush out, Roland watches the tattooed creature on the other side of the bar out of the corner of his eye. "I'm Roland. We're not open yet. You here about a job?"
Settling back down to her heels as the employee emerges with a probably well-deserved dent to his cranium, the heavily-inked stranger regards him both brazenly and thoughtfully; unperturbed when he leans in a little more than might be deemed appropriate. You don't set foot in a place like this if physical displays are an issue, right? Besides.. he has a cute smile.
So. Not from OSHA. What gave it away? The piercings? The cleavage unabashedly on display within the slightly straining neckline of her tank top? The torn jeans snugly encasing her long legs or the battered Converse? Sure, you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover... unless that cover is blatantly the sequel to the Anarchist Cookbook. Shrugging free of the backpack still slung over one shoulder and setting it down - rather unwisely - to the drink-sluiced floor, the young woman hops up lightly to a perch atop one of the spinning barstools, momentarily allowing her dark-lashed gaze to roam over the establishment in all it's splendor and glory. What. A. Dive. "Nice place. I'll tell my friends." she quips, though it's half-hearted with fatigue. Buses suck, if it needed saying.
Returning her attention to the apparent owner as he offers the name she'd already Googled. Hey, she had a lot of time to kill. "I am. Specifically the one waiting for me." Tilting her head, she answers that boyish charm with a vulpine curve of her lips in a smirk. "..I'm Gray. And I'll be your happy ray of fuckin' sunshine, Friday through Sunday."
No, it wasn't the Converses -- Roland's eyes never really got that low, if we're being totally honest. The exquisitely-inked evidence of cleavage might have helped, though. And even worse than OSHA, she's not from ASCAP, those money-grubbing bastards. Whatever strange impulse he might have had to shoot the refrigerator -- whatever drove him to possess such a strange impulse -- it might be magnified threefold if a bureaucrat walked into his establishment. Suits are always welcome -- but the people who wear them usually aren't. At least until five PM. Roland grabs a coaster, scrapes the final wisp of foam off the frosting mug, slaps the coaster to the bottom of the mug, and sets it down in front of Gray. He's still smiling appreciatively, leaning back into the same posture he'd occupied a few moments before, arms almost touching Gray's. "Tell all your friends. You're looking at my life's work."
Googled him? Boy, it's startling how revealing an empty Google search can be. A few brief mentions on Facebook and Yelp pages, all related to the business. All within the last six months. Before that? Well, it takes real effort to scrub yourself back to the hundredth page of Google search results. Real effort, and a lot of pull. Someone did a professional job on this guy before he was released into society. When she names herself, Roland tips his chin back, lips pouting out in delighted surprise. "I gave up on you," he teases. "Friday through Sunday," he agrees. "And you can have Happy Hour on Sunday. Most profitable afternoon we got." He looks Gray up and down thoughtfully, one hand absently slipping to rest at the small of his back. "Lift your hands over your head for me? Biiiiiiig stretch."
Shooting appliances is rarely a sensible use of ammo. Oh, not that she's offering any opinion.. and even if she did, Gray isn't exactly the poster child for rationality, let's be honest. But she continues to regard the man across the bar with a hint of mildly sardonic humor, as if she can't quite decide if she's going to take him seriously or not. He probably gets that a lot. "Soon I make any, sure. I'll get right on that." That tone calmly implies that 'making friends' isn't exactly top of her priority list. But it's always nice to be nice. Assuming you haven't been contracted to put a bullet in someone's skull, that is. Scooping up the beer that's set in front of her without hesitation, the blonde brings the frosty glass to her lips and takes a deep pull of the contents, eyes narrowing appreciatively even as she studies Ro over the rim. One, two, three hearty gulps and she's setting it back down with an audible 'ah' of satiety, the tip of her tongue swiping the 'tache of foam from her shapely upper lip. "Breakfast of Champions. Cheers. And yeah.. what can I say.." This she offers in response to his apparent lack of faith in her arrival. "..I'm a busy girl. But it just so happens I was looking for someplace new to set up so.. ta-da." There's a flash of her teeth in a grin. "I feel like I should be jumpin' out of a cake or somethin'. You can't really be that hard up for 'like minded business partners', can you? Or do you just got reeeeal expensive taste?" They both have reputations, after a fashion. His, she discovered, had been purposefully wiped almost out of existence in any form beyond word of mouth. Her own? Never really existed at all. Benefit of living within such a 'selective community'. But sure, yeah.. if somebody keeps beating you to the punch, at the very least you're going to want to put a name to the face. Or in this case, vice versa.
At the 'request' to raise her arms overhead, Gray arches a single brow in subtle enquiry. Settling back in her seat a little, she drops her hands down by her hips before beginning to obligingly lift her slender arms out to either side. They level out at about shoulder height before she draws her hands in front of herself, the middle finger of each raised in the guy's direction, along with a winsome smile. "Blow yourself." Most potential employers might consider this the end of the interview. But something about her manner bears an easy camraderie. She's neither offended nor annoyed.. she's just not about to parade about for him. Whatever 'assets' are already visible to the eye? That's as much as he'll be getting. And the attitude is a blatant 'take it or leave it'.
A bold play, maybe. But she's guessing he needs her as much as she needs him, at this juncture. Perhaps even a touch more, judging by the state of this place and the fact he's in here trying to fix a fridge all on his lonesome.
"So. Now that we've dispensed with the flirtin' portion of the discussion. Any chance you know of a place I could crash, til I get my bearings? And someplace close by to eat. I'm fuckin' starving." She picks up her drink again in one hand, once more resting her elbows on the surface of the bar as she leers ever so slightly back at Ro.
It's not that Roland is irrational, really -- it's that, where other men have a Devil on their shoulder, he has a Devil at the small of his back. In the form of a little voice that whispers 'shoot it' whenever something goes against him. He meets her sardonic gaze with one of his own, head tilting slightly to one side as he studies her. And there is something there, something beneath the flirtation, that Gray will recognize from long exposure. Beneath that blatantly masculine appraisal, there is a calculating look. Roland is running the numbers, examining the woman before him on multiple levels all at once. After all, this isn't your regular job interview, and this isn't your regular employer/employee relationship. Not beneath the surface, at any rate. He watches her drink with every appearance of satisfaction, as though he has crafted a home-cooked meal and laid it before her. It's as though her obvious thirst, the way she gulps down the Yuengling, even the way her tongue wipes clean her upper lip, were all a compliment to his service. "You have one now," he remarks cheerily, regarding the absense of friends. And, wonder of wonders, he seems sincere. His voice has a rich Southern drawl, not quite French enough to be Nawleans. No, instead, he sounds like tobacco tastes. "I was just thinking to myself: boy, she looks like she's got frosting in all the right places. But you're right, I could partner up with plenty of folks. Why bother, though, when I could partner with the only person giving me a run for my money?" Besides, if he hadn't sent this email, he'd never have gotten to see the face. And really, that would've been a shame.
When Gray begins to raise her arms, slowly, Roland withdraws his hand from the small of his back. He's holding a smartphone. Without looking away from the vision in platinum and ink, he activates the fingerprint sensor, signs in. Presses play. "Bad Girlfriend" begins to blare on the speakers, juuuuust as Gray's arms come around and extend middle fingers. Roland's grin, just slipping toward lascivious, settles on rueful instead. "I'm almost flexible enough," he replies evenly. "But what I was hoping to see, darlin', was whether you have a gat tucked into your waistband. Not that it matters much. I figure you'd be dumb not to. The rest was just.." That mischievous smile again, dark and sly. "..Icing on the cake. But since you bring it up..." She didn't. "...You can also pick up a few shifts on stage. Whatever room you want."
Her response might be a bold move, but it doesn't seem to have displeased him much. If anything, that hint of challenge -- and the smile that came with it -- loosen something within him. Roland lays his phone down atop the bar, considering for a few moments. He leans forward, head almost touching Gray's shoulder, to peer over the sticky bartop and down at the duffelbag.
There is a moment of silence as he slides back onto his side of the bar, heels regaining contact with the ground. "Well, I dunno if this counts as wrapping up the flirting part of the confab," he replies slowly. "But given that we're.. like you say, like-minded individuals.. I do know of a place you can crash. I have an air mattress you can borrow." A beat. "And I have Chinese in the fridge. Apartment's just downstairs." A tick of his chin toward the bolted door, marked 'Private'. "You can stay with me long as you want. One thing, though." His tone implies that this is serious.
"You get along with cats?"
"Remove a couple of ribs, maybe take up yoga. Where there's a will there's a way and all that." Yes, she helpfully focuses on his inability to take her suggestion before addressing other matters. Having enjoyed another couple mouthfuls of beer, Gray sets the mug back down and idly traces the rim with a fingertip as she considers her new 'boss'. A second later and that same fingertip dips into her drink, stirring it gently before she pops the digit in her mouth and cleans it off, cheeks momentarily hollowing as she gives it a contemplative suck. "..alright, new friend. I'll keep that in mind." This in regard to the possibility of dancing. It's certainly easy money. Arguably moreso than tending bar. If you can put up with the inevitable attempts at ass-grabbing. A guy would clearly have to be stupid and or drunk to try that on this bitch.. but then, stupid and drunk is Ro's target audience.
"I do try to make it a rule not to be visibly armed when I'm tryin' to make a good first impression.." she explains this even as he's leaning over to peer down at her bags. An entire life packed in a duffel and a rucksack. Also, hold up. This is her trying to be personable? What's she like when she's feeling antisocial? Probably best not to dwell on that. "..plus I also literally walked over here from the depot. They tend to frown on carrying aboard the Greyhound. It's classy that way."
Still, the indicative nudge of her sneakered toe to that duffel, and the apparent solid weight of whatever's inside, implies she didn't pay that rule too much mind.
As the offer is made of a place to stay, albeit with him, the blonde arches her brows in the first flicker of genuine surprise.. and a touch of uncertainty. Sitting back, though not in any hurried fashion, she flits her gaze from Ro to the door he indicates and back, clasping her hands loosely on the bartop. Hmm. This is a decision that requires some serious thought.
"Sure. Why not."
Gray never was much of a thinker.
Tilting to one side, she reaches to a back pocket to produce a battered pack of smokes, slightly curved concave on one side where it's been smooshed by her sitting. Flipping the top, she draws a cig from inside with her lips, snorting as it, too, proves to be a little squint. "You got a light?" Apparently she's in no hurry to get situated right this second. And she does seem to relax in increments now that the big three bulletpoints - food, crash, job, in that order - have been so smoothly taken care of. Glancing up at that serios note, regarding the man through her dark lashes, she smirks around the filter of her smoke, tossing the pack onto the bartop. "..so it is a Pussy Palace. I shoulda known. Sure, yeah. I get along with cats. So long as they keep their adorable lil claws outta my air bed."
"Darlin', I am swole and flexy, believe me. If it could be done without major surgery, I'd be able to do it." Braggadocio involving a man's ability to fellate himself? Sure. Why not? That seems to match the entire tone of this conversation. Roland has the inherent ability of every bartender in the multiverse to focus entirely on one conversation, regardless of distractions -- and there are no distractions to be had, just now. He loiters on his elbows, one ankle rising to hook behind the other as he devotes his considerable attention to Gray, watching her through lazy, startlingly blue, eyes. That smile lingers on his lips as he watches her finger dip into the beer, rise to her lips. As her lips purse and her cheeks suck in, he raises one eyebrow ever-so-slowly in a move that must have been practiced in a mirror for years before he let it out into the world. "Another thing. We're a dive, but we're a dive with standards. You need a customer gone, no questions asked. I have a standing policy that any staff member can eject any customer for any reason. If I find out you abuse the privilege, well, then we talk. But I ain't worried." It's an important disclaimer, carte blanche to bounce the rude punters right to the curb.
"When you're working," he moves on to the question of firearms, "Keep something under the bar. Always. You're the only armed security I have, right now." His smile never shifts as he authorizes the use of deadly force, but then it's not as though either one of them are strangers to this type of discussion. He rises again, leaning over the bar when he hears the 'clunk' of foot against metal, and this time his shoulder does brush against Gray's. He doesn't settle down right away, either, watching her out of the corner of his eye. "I'll show you where we keep the toys when we aren't playing," he says. And even in an empty bar, the words are a whisper, behind the mask of a come-on. Finally easing back down onto his heel once more, he adds "You can forget about first impressions. Welcome aboard. Those tits alone are going to fill this place, forget about your attitude. Drunks love a bitch with a bad attitude. And then there's the other thing." Right. Yeah. The other thing. The real reason both of them are here.
Abruptly, moving with startling speed, Roland presses from elbows to palms, both hands coming to one side of Gray as he moves. It's like watching a wolf vault across a stream, the way he swooshes over the bar, landing with a thump alongside her, his combat boots making hard contact. Roland leans down to scoop up the duffel, nodding his head toward that Private door as Gray asks for a light. He straightens with the duffel in his left hand, fishes into his pocket, produces a Zippo with some sort of military crest on it, snaps it open and holds it up a few inches from his chest. If she wants a light, she's going to either have to move his arm, or move her head.
"The Chairman really runs things," he adds mildly, if maybe a bit obliquely. "But he doesn't like smoke. So we smoke out in the hall, or up here." A thoughtful beat. "If he tears up the air mattress, I'll let you have the bed." That's not exactly a promise of good behavior. But then, what man can predict the behavior of his feline overlord?
"Oh, I believe you." This reply is accompanied by an evidently feigned nod of solemn agreement from the blonde, before she quiets to listen to the monologue about the somewhat lackadaisical 'rules', looking bored. This isn't exactly her first rodeo. Preachin' to the choir. Teachin' grandma to suck eggs. Any other colorful turns of phrase come to mind? Either way, her glacial blue eyes go heavy lidded the longer he goes on, just an occasional hint of a nod suggesting she's even still listening. Fuck it. "Booooored." She elongates the vowel with a pointed roll of her eyes.
When he leans over the bartop though, as she guessed he might, Gray answers that peripheral look he gives her with an open smirk, teasing at her cigarette with her tongue so it dances to and fro against her lower lip. Was that an almost compliment? It was. Even if it was aimed at her rack rather than her prowess with either a bottle or a firearm. Glancing down, she surveys the ample curves of her cleavage with an appraising air, as if it takes the occasional reminders to consider their worth at all. Thumbing the straps of her vest she tugs it both down a smidge and a little tighter, readjusting things further then with a shove of a palm at each side. That's better. "Thanks." Well, no need to look a gift horse in the mouth. "But.." Raising her gaze, she meets Ro's with an angelic bat of heavily masacara'd lashes. "..what attitude..?"
The grin that follows within an instant is devilish enough to convey the complete lack of sincerity. You don't get this far in their respective fields with a thin skin and a habit of deference. "Didn't 'virgin' appear at the top of my resume? Man.. I should really have waited til I was sober to write that thing." Gray doesn't seem concerned by the man's proximity. There's even a telling gleam of genuine interest in the wake of those whispered words. Nor does she flinch when he vaults over the bar. Though she does quirk a brow when he helps himself to her bag. "Yo. Are you bein' a gentleman or are you just too keen to handle my goodies?" Seeing as he apparently plans to be on the move, though, she sighs; leaning forward with a downward glance to blow out the flame near his chest and flitting him an amused look upward the instant before she withdraws. Plucking the smoke from her lips, she tucks it behind her ear for the time being, beneath the drape of hair so blonde it's almost white. Snatching up her pack from the bartop, she pockets it once more as she steps down from the barstool, stooping to retrieve her backpack and sling it over one shoulder.
And if that happens to offer ample view of long legs and a shapely little ass, who is she to deny her new employer such benefits? There's no argument about the notion of her taking the bed, either. Maybe chivalry's having a last death rattle.
Roland's own hooded gaze -- more predatorial than bored -- notes the slowly dawning expression of tedium on Gray's face long before he finishes his speech about the rules of engagement, amusement flickering in the depths of his own gaze. But he finishes the spiel, because -- well, some things are expected of management, aren't they? If rather dull monologues are the cost of doing business, she's just going to have to suck it up. Roland isn't a man to alter his behavior just because a hellacious angel has dropped right into his life. The shockwaves haven't even finished reverberating from his email, one might suspect. "Yawnsnore. Fuck off. Some shit has to be said out loud." But there's no heat in the words, simply an acknowledgement that, yes, this shit really is dull.
The cigarette shifting from side to side in Gray's lips -- guided by that agile, acidic, tongue -- holds his attention for a long inhalation. He breathes out, mint and bourbon in the air, just next to Gray's ear as she glances down at her own decolletage. And that rearrangement is observed with the same frank appraisal he's evinced since she entered the establishment. Whatever else the bounty hunter is, he is not shy about his wants. It's a long moment after she speaks next that he finally looks up, locks eyes with Gray as she thanks him, his smile growing a bit wider, sharpening at the corners of his mouth. He flashes his teeth briefly, his own tongue darting across one canine. "You're welcome." And that slow bat of her eyelashes has him reaching up with a thumb to brush against one of her Dahlia piercings with altogether too much familiarity, as if he is genuinely lulled into complacency by that angelic act. "Forget I mentioned it."
Her grin meshes with his own, his sins colliding with hers. There are barriers here, despite the surface familiarity, and they both know that this is as much a sparring match as a job interview. Even the flirtation is simply one weapon in their respective arsenal, a means of feeling each other out. Can you take it? Can you dish it? Slinging the duffel over his left shoulder without much apparent effort -- probably because he is trying hard not to show any effort -- the proprietor of Bottoms Up snorts a laugh at the latest test of his defenses. "Lemme tell you something about me, Gray." He pauses as Gray leans toward his chest and...blows out the lighter's flame. He winks. Snapping the Zippo shut, he drops it back into a pocket. "My momma raised me to be a true gentleman. But my daddy taught me to grab the goods and run. And every little boy wants to be loved by momma and beat daddy at his own games, the bastard." Ah, pop-psychology -- Freud has so much to answer for. But maybe there is some Freudian truth to the way his gaze follows her ass as she bends over. He purses his lips in a silent whistle, huffing air out through his nostrils, and waits until Gray has straightened back up before he moves for the private door.
There is a heavy keychain produced from another of the ubiquitous pockets, and he clicks the deadbolt open with one of those 'Do Not Duplicate' keys that can't be copied at any regular locksmith. Popping the door open with his hip, he steps halfway through to reveal a staircase down into a basement. The sound of water pumps can be heard, keeping out the Mississippi. He stands there, half-blocking the doorway, gazing at Gray with amusement. "After you."
There's an insouciant grin at his unflinching acceptance of her vocalised boredom. Well, he took that on the chin. That's a tally in his favor. Because yes, this is definitely more than just idle banter. She needs to know he can handle himself, as well as her. That's he's not merely masculine ego, pride and swagger.. but actually has the goods to back it up, too. Because if that's the case, she'll tolerate it. If not? Well, one gets the impression she wouldn't waste her precious time on wannabes. His open appraisal, so utterly macho, doesn't seem to bother the blonde. Looking the way she does, you develop a thick skin for lingering gazes and crude suggestions. And at least he's upfront about it, without presuming an entitlement to anything more than a voyeur's seat. So far, anyway. Blithely smirking at the fleeting touch to the little piercing at the corner of her lips, her expression returned to one of relaxed disinterest, she doesn't press the matter further.
Straightening with her rucksack and turning back to regard Ro, the blonde chuckles low in her throat, the thumb of her free hand settling through a belt loop of her low-slung ripped jeans. "That didn't really answer the question, Mister Psych 101.." she points out, not having missed the sidestep but not seeming to consider it of any real concern either. Perhaps she's confident in her own ability to get the duffel back, if she really wanted to. Or maybe she's actually amused by their playful exchanges, in spite of everything. Well, it's always fun to find someone at least adjacent to your wavelength. And when that someone happens to be every inch the stone cold killer you are, well. That's just gravy.
Yeah, he went with icing. She'd prefer gravy. She's still hungry.
Taking a moment as she pads after her new colleague, her Converse peeling upward from the floor obscenely with each step, Gray casts another look over the bar; those pale eyes wandering with keener interest this time. "How's business been, anyway." She might mean the club. She might mean The Other Thing. Having literally just set foot in New Orleans, it seems prudent to gain at least a rudimentary grasp of what she's let herself in for. "I've heard some interestin' things about this city." The door opens and she shifts her focus back to Ro as she halts, finding him taking up half the space she's expected to squeeze through. Undaunted, she holds his amused gaze as she sidles gracefully through the gap left between he and the opposite doorpost, fleetingly almost chest to chest with the owner. Then she's simply descending the stairs, wrinkling her nose slightly at the stale scent of the basement while he can't see her.
Basement Apartment - Bottoms Up
Behind a deadbolted, steel-reinforced door marked PRIVATE, a staircase leads down to a basement storage space. Kegs and liquor boxes are stacked neatly on all four walls, reaching up to the ceiling, with a narrow passageway leading through them. UV lamps dangle from the ceiling at even intervals, usually left off. On the other end of the storage unit is another secure door, opening into, perhaps surprisingly, a rather nice living room. This door, on the interior, has several massive steel bolts that can be slid into the concrete on either side, and a security panel that feeds into a hidden camera on the other end, providing a clear image of who waits outside.
Apart from this fortress-like feature, however, the living room is downright luxuriant. The floors are concrete, varnished a deep, glossy maroon. Persian throw rugs are scattered strategically through the space. A long leather couch is anchored by two standing lamps, looking over at a huge widescreen television with Playstation, XBox, and Wii all hooked up. Two comfortable reclining chairs are set at angles around the television as well, and an old tavern-table has been sawed down to work comfortably as a coffee table. Along one wall, an entire feline obstacle course has been constructed -- scratching posts, pegs mounted to the wall, miniature rope bridges. The rest of the living room is decorated with canvas prints of photography from different national parks.
The kitchen, off to one side, is utilitarian in brushed steel and concrete countertops. Bamboo cutting boards, and a collection of pans and pots, all dangle from a ceiling-mounted pan rack. A wooden knife-holder contains a set of exquisite Japanese cutlery. The refrigerator has a collection of pictures on it, mostly of a single gray-striped cat, ranging from the time it was a kitten to its current full grown state. A litter box sits to one side of the fridge, along with two small bowls. Two other rooms lead off from the living room -- one appears to be an office and library, the other a bedroom.
The trouble with newly-acquainted coworkers, particularly in that Other Thing, is that it's not always easy to tell when someone is just blowing smoke up the other person's ass. Ask Sean Bean in Ronin, right? Not everything can be taken at face value. And so these tests are a necessary, if enjoyable, part of the getting-to-know-you stage of the partnership. Just as Gray needs to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Roland is as capable as his reputation claims.. well, he needs to know the same. Needs to know that her assurance doesn't crack at the first sign of pressure. At the same time, though, while at least some of his masculine arrogance is a put-on, there's some truth there as well. He's enjoying this banter with an attractive woman, just as much as he's enjoying smacking a verbal tennis ball back and forth with a new comrade. And she doesn't bite his thumb off, either. That's got to mean something.
"Didn't it?" Roland's tone is pure innocence, blithe and honest as the day is long. No one, no one can be trusted with that much sincerity in their tone. That was the tone of a man who sells used cars outside an Army Post. Roland watches her sticky advance across the floor, and here again is the glimpse of the man under the mask as he appraises her, the way she carries herself, the way she bears up under the load of her rucksack. "It's picking up," he answers. And again -- it might mean either, or both. "Enough so that I had to reach out for some help. This city... well, it's, uh. Unique. I'll tell you more when we get downstairs." He's so busy being careful with his words that he almost misses the phenomenon of her chest just barely avoiding his. Shame, too. Gaze settling on those low-riders as he follows her down the stairs, Roland doesn't appear to notice the smell at all. But then, he'd be used to it, wouldn't he.
"The apartment's just through here." He leads the way through the crowded liquor room. "We keep all the booze and the kegs down here. Ever need to change a keg, just run down, grab one off the rack and pop the hose onto it. No need to haul 'em upstairs." As they reach the other end, it's Roland's turn to edge carefully around Gray. Despite his words -- and his wandering eye -- the older of the two actually respects her personal space enough not to accidentally-on-purpose sneak another touch.
He flips the panel for a punch-code lock, jams in a few digits with his index finger, pops open the door and nudges it wider with his toe. "Get in quick." There's real urgency in his voice as he hurries into the apartment on the other side. Coincidentally, the 'smell' is rather nicer in here. Air filtration system? But the need for haste becomes quickly evident as a small gray blur darts from atop the couch, only to be blocked from escape by Roland's leg. The man might look laughable, holding his knee half-raised as though to fend off a kick to the groin, the heavy duffel nearly drawing him off-balance, but the cat does not escape. "Meet Chairman Miaow."
"Okay." Gray's acceptance of the promise of more information once they're downstairs - and away from the cameras - is almost comical; endearingly lacking in question as she traipses down stairs. There might even have been a shrug of those narrow shoulders. She's not naive. Can't possibly be. And she's not all doe-eyed over her new friend. He's not as cute as he thinks he is. Honest. Which leaves option number three - she's just not worried. Even as she descends into the dark with a relative stranger, who just so happens to have her bag of tricks firmly in hand. Though, it's probably safe to assume there's at least something discreet hidden away in the pockets of her rucksack. She's confident, not stupid.
Moving aside enough to clear the way for Ro to take point through the storage area, casting only a cursory glance over the kegs - nothing remarkable there - the leanly muscular blonde follows along, keeping pace easily with her loping, careless gait. Probably not the case when she's in stage heels, of course. They tend to require more of a trot, if speed is necessary. But the transparent platforms and towering spikes seem to appeal to the type of audience who couldn't care less whether a woman can walk. They're generally too busy imagining the figures up on stage either on their knees or their backs. Aaaaanyway...
Does she bother trying to guess the code he punches in? If so it's done surreptitiously, the young woman calmly shifting the weight of the bag against her back, a subtle jangle of jewelry audible with the motion. Even 'casually' dressed, there's a significant number of silver rings adorning her tattooed knuckles, as well as a mismatched collection of bracelets, ranging from a silver Pandora to some rubber cuff printed with the name of an obscure grunge band from back home. With a look askance as she's order to move quickly through the doorway, she nevertheless does so, slipping through the gap in plenty of time for Ro to be accosted by some little grey blur. The momentary teeter that ensues rouses a broad grin from Gray, though she does absolutely nothing to intervene. "Hello, Kitty."
Yeah, it does smell much better in here, mercifully. Not that she's overly fussy. She's used to smelling like smoke and booze. Even when she's not employed at a seedy bar.
Raising her gaze from the teeny tiny Chairman to take in her surroundings, the blonde looses a low whistle; brows arching to emphasise her surprise. "Huh. This is actually pretty dope. Not what I expected. Then again, for all I know you had a bunch of girls down here in crates, ready to eBay into servitude.. oh hey, Playstation." Venturing further into the apartment, not standing on ceremony, she abandons her rucksack in one corner of the couch and takes to a slow stroll about the place, shoving both hands in the back pockets of her jeans. And there he has it. The reigning trailer-park queen of MDK is in his living room. Staring at the luxurious feline habitat occupying the far wall.
It would require a level of arrogance that even Roland lacks to assume that Gray is entirely unarmed, just because he's taken away the obvious toys. He doesn't seem to think one way or another about her trusting nature; after all, he controls the cameras upstairs as well. The only way she is in more danger down here is if he decides to shoot her. The sound of a supersonic round in these close confines would deafen them both, but probably not escape to the street. Fortunately for his eardrums -- and probably his life -- Roland doesn't try any such thing. Her lack of concern is a tell that he cannot miss; she is not helpless, even now. And that's no surprise, really. He reached out to this person for a reason, before he ever saw her...other attributes.
Roland has clearly already pictured her in stage heels, so he doesn't seem disappointed that she's wearing perfectly sensible shoes to move through the basement. Perhaps, in his head, he's already removed the excess layers and added the necessary assets. One never knows with even well-behaved men, and this man is hardly subtle. On her knees, on her back. Bending over to pick up a dropped bar napkin. Ahem.
He sets the duffelbag down gently -- one never knows if there is anything loaded in there, after all -- and kicks the door shut quickly, before Chairman Miaow can make another escape attempt. Glancing over at Gray as she begins to scope the place out -- nodding faintly with approval as he notes the silver rings -- Roland leans down to scoop up the recaptured escapee. He turns as Chairman Miaow scrambles up to his shoulder, freeing up a hand enough to work the heavy bolt into place. "Say hello, Miaow." The cat blinks at Gray, flexing itsy claws from one paw.
Roland watches Gray move through his apartment with an almost sheepish expression, revealing a hint of vulnerability for the first time. The former government assassin gestures expansively around, clearing his throat softly. "Someone told me awhile back that you need a space to yourself. Away from all the bullshit." He hesitates, then continues, "And besides. I only tie up one woman at a time. I prefer boutique trafficking to mass production." Still cradling Miaow, he follows Gray over to the kitty obstacle course, gently detaching claws from his shoulder and setting the cat at the very top of one of the towering scratching posts.
"Hey. Wanna see something cool?" He walks to the couch, picks it up, slides one end wide. Scoops up the throw rug underneath and flips it back. A //big// floor safe, complete with touchpad access. Probably the first place someone would look, really, despite his pride in it. "You want, you can keep your toys in here." Doesn't he seem like he's trusting just a biiiit too quickly?
It's probably just as well - aka very fortunate for him - that Gray is not, in fact, telepathic. As well as the whole not shooting her thing. But then, few things about the way a man's mind works would really surprise her, these days. They're all the same. A mental undress of every woman they encounter is, within reason, probably sheer habit by the time they hit puberty. Of course, some never outgrow it...
..and she does look sensational on a stage.
Having glanced in Ro's direction as that bolt slid into place, the blonde's eyes drift upward to the little feline with his needle claws, the hint of a more affable smile playing about her lips now. Because yeah, being in close quarters with an assassin is totally chill, right? Raking a hand back through her hair absently, shaking out the silvery strands with a ruffle of fingertips, Gray considers the admission offered by her counterpart, not interjecting. Actually she doesn't speak again until the Chairman is set down, an action which prompts her to step forward, scritching at one of the padded platforms with her nails. The cat stalks imperiously across, adding a hopelessly telegraphed bounce-pounce toward these interloping digits that entirely shatters the facade and results in him being rubbed under his dainty chin by her knuckles. Of course, in standard feline fashion, every impression is given of this having been his plan the entire time. "He's so cute.." admits the young woman, her own guard dropping in the presence of such adorable whiskery goodness. Though, she hasn't forgotten the insight, nor the quips. "..and yeah, I get that. Every cat likes his own scratching post now and then, right? No matter how big and bad they pretend to be." Ro's not pretending. She knows. The look she offers him sidelong is tempered with enough understanding to convey it's not a direct jab to his soft lil underbelly.
As for his trafficking sideline? There's a genuine, throaty laugh from the blonde. "Sure.. the Etsy of Escorts rather than the Walmart of Whores. Keepin' it classy, right?"
Arching a brow in open curiosity at the mention of something cool - hopefully not the boutique restraints - Gray steps away from the cat habitat, leaving Miaow teetering indignantly on the edge as the attentions depart with her, and a little closer to Ro, watching him with an intrigued expression as he rearranges things. What, he's into feng shui or something? That's some new agey stuff.. or.. well, really really old agey. Whatever. Surely nobody who walks around in that shirt is genuinely spiritual? Ohh..
Hunkering down, elbows on her knees and hands dangling idle between, she peers into the revealed space looking suitably impressed. "Fancy. You're not secretly a superhero are you? I don't gotta worry about you materialising in spandex?" Hey, nobody said he was the only one with an active imagination. And the slow, deliberate way her gaze trails up from his feet, culminating in a wolfish grin? That.. yeah. There's some kinda mental image going on that he probably never needs to know about.
Still. The humor fades for a moment or two as she considers his offer.. and her thought process is probably pretty easy to discern. It's not that she lacks the ability for guile. Just the patience. "Don't take this the wrong way, okay.. but you legit just met me. Why're you trusting me with all this stuff? What if I'm on a secret mission to kitnap the Chairman and help myself to a keg on my way out? Oh.. shit." Her pale eyes flit ceilingwards, lips twisting in displeasure. "..I left my beer. Ah well." Her attention returns. "Anyways. Yeah. Trust isn't exactly a common thing for me outside of the group. I'm not complaining.. like, if it's genuine that's kinda goddamn sweet." Pause. "And if it's not, I'll just blow your brains out anyway. And no, not in the good morning glory way." Bracing her palms on her slender thighs, she pushes back up to a stand, her gaze never leaving Ro. "So seriously. What's up with that. And where's your fridge, that Chinese is callin' my name."
Really, if she had telepathy, she wouldn't have come downstairs with him. Or at least, she might have grabbed whatever concealed weapons were in that rucksack. It's not that Roland has ill intentions toward Gray, not at all -- but as she said, every man has a tendency to undress the women in his life. To be fair, it's not always men of such high moral calibre as the former-CIA-Wet-Works-operative-turned-killer-for-hire-and-strip-club-owner. God forbid she be left alone with a man of weak will.
If the banter upstairs had caused Roland to warm to her, it's the first little smile Gray sends in the direction of Chairman Miaow that seems to lay any of his remaining qualms to rest. He watches her play with his four-legged demonic slavemaster with a quiet, contented air, leaning against the wall to one side of the obstacle course and watching the two. Just as her own guard seems to be lowering, Roland looks like a different man when he sees the Chairman making his new personal skritch-slave welcome. In a supernatural world, one might worry about Ghouling. But cats don't need to do that sort of thing anyway, do they? "He is. He's just a year old, so he's still in that kitten stage. Hasn't quite reached Elder Statesman." The drawling accent is more relaxed as he watches the pair interact. Miaow has that cat-like arrogance, that insistance that even when he stands and suddenly rushes off from Gray, she is not to move. He makes that clear by turning his head back to her and yowling loudly from the other side of the rope bridge. I may require your services again. "Exactly. We all need a place to sharpen our claws, relieve a bit of tension." The innuendo seems to be habitual, his heart not fully into it for a moment.
But the game is, quite suddenly, back on. "Etsy?" Roland straightens from his lean as he raises both eyebrows in mock-indignation. "I'll have you know, gorgeous, I'm not some stay-at-home-dad glueing glitter to ballcaps or whatever-the-fuck. I provide quality for the money, see?" He bites down on his lower lip as he stares at Gray, then makes a soft 'popping' noise as he juts his lip back out. "Good quality."
But now it's on to the couch. The big reveal lacks much in the way of panache, but at least there's Miaow's indignant yowling from the edge of his skritching post as he watches her go. It makes for a pleasant counterpoint to the scrape of moving furniture. As he tosses back the throw rug, Roland lifts his head to gaze at Gray in avid interest, hoping to catch her initial expression at the moment the floor-safe becomes apparent. And she doesn't fail to disappoint.
"I am, actually, secretly a superhero. But I wear latex, not spandex." He does that trick with the singular eyebrow again, his lips quirking in a sharp, devilish, little grin. "I keep my costume elsewhere. Play your cards right..." He grins as he catches her looking him slowly over, absently flexes one arm as if on display. Leaning down again, Roland punches in numbers on the keypad, lifts the heavy steel door open. Revealed inside are an assortment of tools -- everything from a tricked-out Remington M-70 (weapon of choice for Marine Scout/Snipers) to a Saiga shotgun, stun gun, spare batteries, NVGs, a small duffel bag stuffed full of something, magazines, boxes and boxes of ammunition... Everything a vigilante needs, all in one place. It is very neatly organized.
When she asks the important question, however, some of the veneer vanishes. Roland hears her out, but he's staring at her with a sharp, intense, interest. For once, he's only staring at her face. "There's more beer in the fridge," he murmurs absently. But the question needs to be answered, and he's obviously thinking hard. "I know about your Dad," he finally says. "By rep. Your whole crew. And I don't really know why you're here and not there, but..." Sitting down, legs splayed in either direction, Roland says "...If you do sell me out, I'll kill you or you'll kill me. That'll be that. If you don't sell me out, then we might as well skip the shit where I play it cagey. I want a partner, right from the first." A beat. "And sorry to put it this way, but your family's known. If you're anything like your old man, you're not the sort to turn on a partner. I...hope it comes off as sweet." Speech completed, looking mildly uncomfortable, Roland points over to the kitchen, visible behind a faux-Japanese paper divider. "Chinese is in there. I made it myself. Followed a recipe, nothing exciting, but it's good. Could you grab me a beer, too?" He leaves the floor-safe open, remains seated, leans back casually on his elbows.
"You might not be a stay at home dad.. well, except a cat dad.." Gray glances after Miaow as she says this, smirking at his majesty. "..but don't tell me there's a shortage of glitter application opportunities, owning a place like this."
The young woman clearly isn't the type to try to ingratiate herself with anyone. There's a distinct 'deal with it' air about her that just exudes the sort of aloof self-confidence that most might find off-putting. The snag here, of course, being that Ro is pretty much the same.. and yet, unseen by his new employee, he's apparently softening merely at the sight of her offering smoochies to his cat. Men are weird. From stripper heels to kitty purry in the blink of an eye. All about the pussy, either way. "Latex requires a certain kinda panache.." she remarks, absently; her attention still lingering largely on the safe by which she's crouched for a moment, and in turn the contents that are revealed when he heaves the door open. "Nice." She doesn't reach for any of the firearms.. but her gaze as it wanders over the neat array is far more lascivious than anything she's offered Ro himself. "It's so tidy. I feel like I'd just mess up some kinda precision system." Probably a fair call. She hauled her own necessities here in a duffel bag, after all. Is she simply a travel light kinda girl or was there some impetus for a hasty exit? Maybe a question for another time...
Having risen again and posed the question, Gray has manners enough to at least hear him out as he answers, folding her arms beneath the ample curves of her chest and rocking gently, heel to toe and back again, as she regards Ro where he sits on the floor. The revalation of him having heard of her father, of the group she herself comes from, doesn't seem to elicit any real surprise. They're well known in several circles of a certain type. But there is the hint of a smile at one corner of her lips when he strikes the optimistic comparison between she and the old military vet.
At the gesture, she pivots on a heel and pads across toward the fridge while Ro's still talking. He does that a lot, she's learning. Well, between those brief grins and idle innuendos. Vanishing behind the divider, Gray is silhouetted as she moves by a dim light; visible as she stoops to retrieve the tupperwares of homemade chinese and set them on the countertop - leaving the lids on for now, lest any little kitty toebeans think to come a lookin' - then again to retrieve a couple beers. "He cooks, he cleans, what can't he do.." The teasing murmur is audible enough. It's paper, not a wall. Reappearing, freshly opened brewskis in hand, the young woman wanders back across, offering one down to her host before she elects to take a perch on the arm of the couch he'd moved aside, straddling it ever so slightly. "..I am exactly like my daddy, Roland Durant. If we're doin' this, if you really want me in, then you've got my word: I won't fuck you over. Period." Her free hand braces again on her denim clad thigh as she leans forward, offering the neck of her bottle out for a clink of agreement, should he be so inclined.
"Well, I'll be honest." Right. That probably means he's about to lie. Roland smiles as he sits there on the floor, legs out to either side of the gaping floor-safe. "I never really considered how much fun glitter paint can be. Sort of fun that stays with you, yanno? For days. Weeks." The longer he talks, the sulkier his voice gets. "Even when you're just unpacking the boxes. Glitter. Everywhere. So. Fun." He carefully steers away from the implicit question of whether he helps apply the stuff.
To some men, and in some circles, the idea of a woman eager to ingratiate herself is incredibly appealing. To others, however, in more select circles -- well, Roland seems to have a clear preference for Gray's approach, if the way he continues to follow her with his eyes is any indication. Then again, she's in his space. She is, perhaps, the most dangerous woman he's ever invited into his apartment. It's a good bet that he has more of a preservation instinct than he's letting on, since he isn't dead yet. When Gray's features turn downright lustful at the sight of his hardware, Roland's smile -- perpetually just on the verge of breaking out -- stretches lazily across his face. He lolls his head back and lets out a slow, contented, sigh at her next comment, as though some tension point had been released. "You have no idea," he says, "How nice it is to be appreciated. Hey, it's there if you want to use it. If you ever need ammo, just restock it after? Combo is..." He rattles off a ten-digit combination.
His gaze flickers down to the arms beneath Gray's...assets as he answers her. It probably can't be helped. The man's entire physiological makeup has been altered by some mysterious Illuminati, after all. Who knows what they did to his limbic system in the process? Probably a question Roland should ask, at some point. But he forces himself to lift his head, focus on her features, try to read the reaction to his little speech. Man, he really does talk a lot. Sort of thing a man living alone doesn't really notice. When she turns and vanishes into the kitchen, Roland lifts his legs and spins around on his butt, scootching a few inches on the concrete floor to obtain a better view of what's happening behind the panels.
Speech completed, Roland doesn't speak again until Gray reappears with the beers in hand. His face has grown solemn again, contemplative, in the interlude. He doesn't even answer her tease, at least not right away. Accepting the beer as he watches her perch atop his couch, he idly presses the cold bottle to his forehead, letting a bit of condensation run down into his eye, forcing him to blink a few times. Probably a good thing. He's been staring again. As she leans forward to offer him a toast, the big bounty hunter takes a moment to measure her words. He's giving her the compliment of not answering right away, for once. He doesn't even look down the front of her shirt... much. After what seems like a rather long pause, he leans forward himself and taps the neck of his beer to hers."I talk a lot of shit," Roland says after what was, for him, a record-breaking silence. "Most of it ain't true." His vibrant blue gaze summons forth all of its intensity as he watches Gray steadily, no more blinks forthcoming. Flexing his jaw lightly, he says "But I don't break my word. We're doing this. I promise: I won't fuck you over, either." Taking a long drink from the beer, as if to seal a solemn pact, Roland says in an abruptly more businesslike tone, "So. You heard of the Shadow Accords?"