1963-09-22 - Touching Base
Summary: For the first time since Coney Island, David sits down to talk with Gretchen Steingate.
Related: Missing Pieces plotline
Theme Song: None
maverick natasha 

Nobody at the Daily Globe has ever heard of Gretchen Steingate. Nobody at any of the publications David may have tried have ever heard of Gretchen Steingate. Somebody at the Globe was, however, paid a respectable sum to pick up his phone if someone ever came looking for her.

Since receiving that call, Natasha spent some time digging for the drops and contacts the man called Maverick once used to network with potential employers before deciding to try a brisker, if more public means of getting in touch.

Quarter-page ads appear in the publications David tried some days after he gives up, soliciting subjects for a series of interviews hosted by the Northgate Tobacco Research Program. The details are fairly vague; it isn't even clear whether hypothetical participants would be paid for their time. As a way to bring in test subjects, it's pretty bad, though there's still a phone number included.

A careful scan of the ad would reveal that the beginnings of each sentence spell out the word 'martyr', however; between that and certain key words(like 'subject' and 'program'), it may just succeed at its actual purpose of drawing David's attention.

If he does - if he tries the number - he'll be greeted by a recording of a woman repeating a set of coordinates a few times before the tape stops.

The coordinates lead to a pile of rocks beside a lake in one of New York City's finest non-infernal parks. Buried under the rocks is a matchbook for O'Rourke's Bar with 21:00, Thursday written on the inside flap.

And every Thursday since that first call, from 21:00 to 21:30, Gretchen Steingate can be found in a booth at O'Rourke's Bar with brandy set out in front of her and a cigarette in hand.


David had not been surprised when noone he approached knew who Gretchen Steingate was — he'd decided that was a cover long before he had even gotten out of Coney Island, but curiosity led him to at least entertain the notion of reaching out. When nothing had come of it, he'd dropped it.

Until the advertisements had begun to show up. He'd never been able to resist a puzzle. Not even now. It's been well over a week since he'd had called the number and found the matchbook, but it's only now that he actually turns up.

The David North who steps into O'Rourke's looks different enough from the one that Gretchen met that she could be forgiven for overlooking him. In place of the gaunt, shaggy-haired man with the beard is a far more clean-cut, cleanshaven fellow in a simple suit, though he's left his tie and collar loose. It's a bar, after all, not a board room.

If she doesn't recognize him, it's alright. He recognizes her. David comes to a stop next to the booth and looks down at her with a very odd smile. "Miss Steingate."


Likewise, the Gretchen Steingate who waits in and watches O'Rourke's could almost be mistaken for another woman entirely. The white coat and conservative blouse/skirt combos are gone in favor of black stilettos and a thin-strapped black number with a few ranks of ruffles lining the dcolletage. Her red hair is loose rather than bunned, falling past her shoulders. There is no clipboard.

She does in fact do a double-take at the roughly familiar, cleanshaven man who enters the bar before turning her attention towards a small group celebrating over a fresh round. When David eventually approaches her, there's a second cigarette waiting on the table for him.

"Mr. North," she replies while turning her eyes up to the ex-prisoner . A warm smile follows and the glass is nudges towards the other side of the booth. "Fancy running into you here."


David inclines his head in thanks and takes the gesture as the invitation it is, unbuttoning his jacket as he slides into the booth across from her. "Small world," he says with an amused smile.

He reaches for the cigarette without a second thought, though he does once again inspect it before it goes anywhere near his mouth. Habit more than anything else, really. "It's good to see you again," David says, and he actually does seem to mean it. "I had begun to worry."


Gretchen withdraws her hand once the brandy's sitting in front of David. The red smudges on the rim at least imply that she's already sipped from it, but that may not do much for his danger sense.

"You too," the woman replies while lifting the matchbook on the table. She strikes and lights for him if allowed, then politely exhales away from him and adds, "I'm a resourceful girl, but I appreciate the concern just the same. I see you've managed to land on your feet too, but I guess I'm not too surprised, given your background." She draws in another puff, slowly lets it out.

"I'm glad you survived— that those people came when they did. Nobody deserved what happened to them in that place, but you… 'unfair' doesn't begin to describe it."


David leans forward far enough to allow her to light the cigarette for him, smiling around it as she does. "Thank you. It's something of an ongoing process," he admits, settling back into his seat and clasping his hands, resting them next to the glass.

"Life's not fair and, frankly, I got off light," David says with a tight smile, managing to keep his eyes on her. "All things considered. Is that why we're here?" he asks, raising an inquisitive eyebrow.


"Granted," says Gretchen while leaning nearer and lowering her voice. "I've seen the files. They kept excellent notes."

Sitting up, she takes a beat to have another drag and wave a waitress over. Two more drinks are ordered, and then she crosses her legs and waits for the woman to walk out of earshot.

"I wanted to see how you were holding up after what you went through," she then murmurs. "Maybe find out what, if anything, your next move will be— I mean, you must know that the Program's still running, after all— oh!" Green eyes briefly widen before narrowing as she ducks her head and briskly digs through the little black purse at her side. "Oh, God, and of course…"

She slaps a notepad on the table and slides it across. 'BRAHMS' LULLABY' is circled on the first page with an arrow linking it to 'CONEY ISLAND', 'NEW ORLEANS', and 'ARMORY??' in a straight line.

"I almost, I was burying the" She briskly waves whatever she was about to say off, nudges a few locks behind an ear, swallows, and then leans forward again as her voice falls into something between urgency and apology. "Did did you know that they planted triggers in your brain?" she wonders.


When the waitress comes by, David offers her a friendly smile and orders a bourbon for himself. Not that he doesn't like brandy — though he still hasn't touched the one Gretchen pushed his way.

He turns back to her with a small frown, cigarette held between his fingers as he drops his eyes to the notepad. David runs his free hand over his jaw as if stroking the beard that is no longer there, his lips pursed… and, after some consideration, he lightly taps 'NEW ORLEANS' with a finger. "I have some files," he says in a quiet, low voice.

But then, she distracts him. Thoroughly. David's eyes lift back to her face and, just for a moment, he's unable to fully school his expression. Some color drains from his face as his eyes widen, jaw going tight. And then, after a heartbeat, he forces himself to breathe. "…I suspected they might have. But I did not know for certain."


"It's auditory," Gretchen quietly says as her empty hand creeps across the table. "The song activates a compulsion to return to the nearest available site. Since Coney Island and New Orleans are gone…"

She taps 'ARMORY??'.

Her hand then shifts to gently rest against his if he'll allow the gesture of support. She gives him a few moments to digest either way, watching him out of the corner of her eye as she finishes her cigarette.

"What happened in New Orleans?" she eventually wonders. The waitress comes and goes shortly afterwards; she takes a deep, steady drink from her glass as soon as they're alone. "I'd like very much to see those files. Past the notes, the Coney Island materials— I could barely make heads or tails of them. I'm still trying to get in touch with an expert for analysis, a woman named MacTaggart. She's supposed to be brilliant when it comes to genetics."


"Coney Island was the Armory," David replies quietly. His voice is still a little tight, but the color is returning to his face… albeit slowly. "It's where the girls were… made. And Weapons belong in an Armory," he recites softly, one side of his mouth twitching into a smile.

His hand twitches slightly when she lays hers over it. Clearly, David still isn't entirely sure what to think of her and is — no surprise — wary. Still. He doesn't withdraw from the contact.

"More of the same," David says tiredly, immediately reaching for his drink when it's delivered. He studies her over his glass and through the smoke. "…I really don't know what to make of you," he admits quietly. "I want to share what I have with you, but I honestly can't figure out whether or not it's safe to."


"Then there's a new Armory," Gretchen matter-of-factly states. "Somewhere in Canada or Alaska, I'm guessing - it's north of Wisconsin, wherever it is."

She doesn't quite look at him as he studies her, sipping from her drink about as comfortably as a person could be expected to while discussing child weapons and psychic triggers. Once he finally voices his concerns, though, she looks up at him in full, bemused for a moment before settling into something more akin to sympathy.

"You don't come from a world where you can take just anyone at their word," she softly says. "And I get that. You're probably still coming to terms with having had wool over your eyes for ten years; I get that, too…" Her bottom lip is pulled in to be briefly chewed upon as she trails off and lets her gaze slide from him.

Without quite looking up, she briskly scans over the bar as her right foot taps out an increasingly rapid rhythm that only halts after she braces her hands against the table and lets out a slow, deep exhale.

"My name is Natalie," she finally whispers while trying to make eye contact. A hand gradually reaches, then unfolds for greeting. "I don't work for the Globe - I am a journalist, but they wouldn't hire me— or, rather, I didn't want to spend years writing about weddings and neighborhood charity drives while praying for someone to recognize what I could actually do. Ditto the Bugle— but, 'I sometimes get to submit to a local publication that's run on goodwill and strategic trespassing' isn't very good as far as ways to put a tortured prisoner's mind at ease, right? So. I apologize for that, obviously."

A beat. A gulp. The empty glass comes down with a sound thd.

"I had this idea after my, God— dozenth? Interview: I wanted to write for a big paper because I wanted to be in a position where I find the dark, awful parts of the world and shine some light on them, right? So why wait for one of them to give me a lantern— why not just make them see things the way I saw 'em? I'm good at getting into places and situations where people wouldn't want me, but— once I started doing that— it was hard to just write about what I saw, you know? So. Long story short: I've been a costumed vigilante for the better part of a year, now."

She takes a moment to light a fresh cigarette before admitting, "I still have yet to find a real publication who wants to read me writing what I know," in a quietly jaundiced tone.


The concept of a new Armory doesn't seem to surprise David. It's news to him, that much is clear from the twist of his lips — but he isn't surprised. Resigned, maybe. Of course.

David continues to study her from over his drink. Even when she starts tapping her foot, his eyes narrow ever so slightly — is it a fidget, or is it a code? He can't help it. It's not something he can just turn off.

But he does meet her eyes when she seeks them out. And when she extends her hand, David takes a moment to set his cigarette into the ash tray before slowly reaching over to meet it halfway for a shake. "Natalie," he echoes quietly. That suspicion is still present, but it has thawed. A journalist, but not just a journalist. That jives a bit more with what he'd expect.

"Most publications are run by morons," David says wryly, giving a slow shake of his head. He taps his fingers against the side of his glass, squinting slightly.

Then it's David's turn to slowly exhale. "I'll get you copies of the New Orleans files. I already gave them to one reporter — why not one more?" he says mostly to himself, looking down at his glass. That should really be empty. He can fix that.


Natalie manages to bark out a laugh at David's derision in spite of her nerves. "You sure don't have to tell me," she mutters.

The next thing out of his mouth elicits relief, of course. She sits up a little straighter and reaches to draw the brandy towards herself. "Thank you, thank you— I appreciate it. I'm still trying to learn more about their organizational structure, their resources— whatever you can get me is sure to help. I've got copies of what I took from Coney Island, too; we'll trade. Dense, technical stuff, the lab notes, records… they were thorough. I only wish I'd had more time in their file room. Or bigger arms."


David's eyes follow the brandy as she pulls it back across the booth. "A trade would be good," he says with a nod, setting his own empty glass down near the edge of the table. "If their records are that good… well. It would be nice to know what they did to me." He offers her a tight smile and lifts one shoulder in a shrug.

He rests his palms against the table and squints slightly, fingertips briefly drumming against the surface. "I don't… I know that much of their science was stolen," David says slowly, sounding almost hesitant. "And some of what they stole had not even been published yet."


"What, do— do these people have spies working for them?" an incredulous Natalie replies. "This is why I'd like to uncover more of their infrastructure— the money, the influence you'd need to operate something of that scale on American soil… it's incredible, in its way, right? More and more people popping up on the streets every day— how many of 'em could eaten and have a warm place to sleep on the price of your cell alone? I— nnh—"

Shaking her head, she takes a brisk sip from her glass before offering what's left out to David again. It won't last for very long, one way or the other.

"Who did they steal from? Any names?"


"Spies, or just enough money to pay people who have access to the right rubbish bins," David replies with a wry smile. "I don't know. I'm just hoping to god that it's a rogue program and not one that has actual, legitimate support. Not that it's easy to tell the difference, some days."

When she offers the glass, David just holds up a hand and smiles, looking almost apologetic. All hers. "One name. But not mine to share." Now he definitely looks apologetic.


The brandy is gone in the time it takes him to disappoint her, but she doesn't betray much more than mild perturbance after lowering it— and even that is soon waved off with the empty snifter.

"Fair enough," Natalie replies, "but it could be important down the line. Rogue program or not, I'm willing to bet that whatever they're ultimately working towards, they're doing it for themselves." She lets it go with that, though, in favor of twitching her head towards the waitress and gesturing.

The night's still young, after all. Plenty of time for buying rounds and commiserating.

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