1965-10-12 - When to Feed a Stray Cat
Summary: Elmo and Halgrim experience a comedy of errors.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
elmo halgrim 

Now that Vitale has tracked him down and healed him, Halgrim can actually breathe and thus walk at a decent pace again, so he comes by Elmo's shop for the cameras rather than having him drop them off. He's dressed in a dark blue, button down shirt and black slacks, with a pea coat to ward off the chill of the evening. It's a small uptick from his usual casual clothes but not quite a lecture outfit. Perhaps today was discussion groups and office hours only. He knocks on the door before checking to see if it's open.

This afternoon, the actual owner of the shop, Mr. Rosario, is in. An older Latino man, he chats in Spanish with a customer, a plump woman with two young kids clinging to her. Elmo is behind his repair counter with a stack of thick textbooks. The books are about computer science, programming theory, and virology. He has them open to various places while he takes notes and grumbles to himself.

Mr. Rosario sees Halgrim knocking and waves him in, enthusiastically. "Yes, yes come in! Come in, what is it we can do for you, sir?"

The lady, reminded she needs to be somewhere, hustles out, calling a goodbye in Spanish. Her kids follow her like ducklings.

Halgrim steps aside with a smile for the woman and her children, holding the door for them as they depart. Seeing Mr. Rosario in residence is new and different, and as he has no idea of Elmo's relationship with the owner, he's all business. His Spanish is nowhere near acceptable enough to inflict on someone he doesn't know, so he sticks to English. "Yes, I dropped off a set of cameras and lenses from Columbia University, cleaning and repairs, I was told they were done."

"Ah!" The older fellow claps his hands together in satisfaction. "You must be the professor. Elmo has told me of you."

Elmo looks up from his books and blinks at Halgrim as if not sure how he got there. "Grim! Yeah, uh, Mr. Rosario, this's Professor Lindqvist." Which he pronounces effortlessly. "This here's the boss," he tells Halgrim, stuffing his notebook into one of the hefty books, closing it, and shoving it aside. "His name's on the door." Rosario Housewares. "I got yer cameras, gimme a second." He vanishes into the back room.

Mr. Rosario offers Halgrim a hearty handshake. "How do you do, sir?"

Halgrim raises a hand at Elmo in a wordless greeting, then accepts Mr. Rosario's handshake. His own is firm and friendly; the callouses from all those years of field work still hold, though they've begun the slow process of fading. "A pleasure to finally meet you. And, very well, thank you. It's been an enormous benefit to the department to have you handle some of our equipment, the campus facilities group has been hopelessly backed up since before I arrived. We can't be more thankful that you've been able to oblige us." He raises his eyebrows. "And yourself?"

Mr. Rosario *beams*, shaking Halgrim's hand in both of his. "I am well, I am well! Excellent, all the credit for the work is to Elmo. He is a good boy, a good worker. Perhaps your university has room for someone with his talents full-time? He should move up in the world." Here he is, trying to get Elmo hired, apparently.

Elmo comes back with the case, hauls it on the counter and flips the latches. "Take a look. All back in working order." He raises his eyebrows at Halgrim in an amused and resigned way, flicking a glance at Mr. Rosario.

"Mmm, perhaps he should," Halgrim says, surveying Elmo as he arrives with the case. "I could speak to the hiring manager in facilities — of course, with the way the budget fluctuates," he waves a hand, indicating the uncertainties of fuding and thus employment in higher education. "It can be capricious, to say the least."

He opens the case and inspects the cameras, then the lenses, checking each one with a critical eye. Once he's done, he reseats everything in the foam and closes up the case, pulls out an envelope from his work bag. Inside is a check from the bursar's office; this he offers it to Mr. Rosario. "Thank you both again," he says, with a small sideways glance for Elmo.

"What, you wanna give me *more* work?" Elmo grouses at Mr. Rosario, who merely waves it off, good naturedly.

"I want to see you in a better place than here!" he informs him, taking the check and going to the cash register to ring it in.

Elmo rolls his eyes. "I'm gonna take a smoke break, boss. You want anything?"

Mr. Rosario shakes his head. "Go, I will close up. Have a good evening, Professor," he cheerily bids Halgrim.

Elmo closes and stacks up all his books, precariously. "You sure?" he asks, and at Mr. Rosario's nod, "Okay, you're in charge." He grabs his own peacoat from the coat hanger on the way out.

"And yourself, Mr. Rosario."

Halgrim holds the door open for Elmo and follows him out, saying, "He's just trying to look out for you, you know. And I *am* being serious, if you want me to speak to someone in Facilities, of course I could do that. If you're actually interested."

He offers his workbag as an option for the books; there's plenty of space for at least a couple of them. "Going back to the garage?" he asks. "I can help you get those there without the inevitable tragedy, if you don't have your car."

"I know," Elmo mutters. He's shoved most of his books into a canvas knapsack, but accepts Halgrim's offer to carry a couple. Wrangling that and his coat and lighting up a cigarette all at once, he starts off down the sidewalk. "Goin' to my workshop, actually. Listen, uh." He glances around, checking how relatively private they are. "I gave that picture to Traceur."

"Your workshop it is." Halgrim settles the books in his bag and closes it up, and follows alongside Elmo at an easy pace. "Oh, good — thank you." It takes him a moment, but he realizes Elmo is checking their privacy, and looks askance at him. "Is…something wrong?" He doesn't repeat the gesture himself, wary of why Elmo might do that.

Elmo draws on the cigarette, sighing out smoke. He squints at Halgrim through the smoke. "Broke the guy's heart. I dunno as you shoulda done that secondhand, Grim. Particularly not through me." He says it rather flat.

Halgrim blinks, frowns at Elmo, and immediately goes back to watching where they're walking. He has the look of a man reassessing a situation very quickly. "Really," he says. "Ah, I didn't think he…" Would care *that* much? Or, not in that specific way.

He rubs at his eyes with his free hand and curses under his breath. "I'm sorry, Elmo, I just didn't expect to run across him again any time soon, and…" And I thought the thing I *was* implying would be perfectly clear. (But apparently not. Or not the way he'd intended.)

Elmo shrugs with the shoulder not burdened by his knapsack. "And it went bad between ya. I get it." Reaching his yellow pickup, he unlocks the door and heaves the bag in. "I dunno what you *thought* he'd do, but the guy nearly cried in front of me. I didn't think he *could*. He kinda reminds me of Severin. The cat who walks alone, you know? That picture cut right through him." Elmo sighs again, rubbing his forehead, and turns to look at Halgrim seriously.

Halgrim stares at Elmo. "Went bad…?" he repeats.

He's silent for several seconds as he grapples with everything Elmo's just said, but that especially. Then, "I'm — I'm sorry," he sounds like he's trying to hold in a frustrated laugh, "Where did you get the idea we —" He's so lost he has to stop again. He thinks back over everything he's said to Elmo about Ambrose ('he's dangerous' and 'please be careful') and anything he's done in front of Elmo as it relates to Ambrose ('threaten to tear Ambrose to pieces' and 'have Elmo give him a picture of Ishmael which he got super emotional about') and attempts to assemble this into a flow of events in which they're implied to be exes.


He groans and runs a hand over his face. "Elmo, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to mislead you in this — Ambrose and I are," he laughs, awkwardly now, "not in a relationship. Nor have we ever been. We have a history, but it's…complicated." He winces, realizing how that sounds, and clarifies, "Not *that* kind of complicated." Then he silently curses Ambrose for complicating his entire life vastly out of proportion to the duration of his presence in it.

Elmo gives Halgrim a hell of a bemused look. "Get the *idea*? You mean *besides* all the angry flirting? He came into a bar I was doin' some work in, first thing he wanted to know is if you were there." He snorts out smoke, shaking his head. "Seemed obvious you at least slept together, gonna be honest, Grim. Two of you actin' like you're still hot for each other after a bad breakup." Elmo glances up and down the street again, voice low. The coast is clear. "Okay, fair enough, you didn't mislead me on nothin'. I'm just wrong. …You sure *act* like you wanna do it."

Halgrim tries to wrap his mind around how the walk back to Elmo's truck has turned into a conversation about his non-existant relationship with someone who he not one week prior threatened to introduce to his quite murderous other half. "It's not, flirting, and we absolutely haven't slept with each other — " because Ambrose could then coerce him into doing something humiliating and awful, and talk about a turn off, " — he's not even remotely interested in men," he finishes, gesturing sharply. "And no, we don't." He sounds pretty certain of that.

Elmo has to think about it, too, one hand gripping the doorframe of his truck. "He's *not*?" is what he eventually comes up with. "Is this Sam Guthrie-style not queer?" Not that Halgrim might have any idea who the eldest Guthrie brother is, but the way Elmo says it makes it pretty clear what he means. Not queer like actually pretty damn queer but won't admit it. But the look he gives him is abashed now. "Sorry, Grim. I sure jumped to the wrong conclusions. You wanna ride?"

Halgrim has no trouble reading that meaning, but then he has to think about it. "Well…" He frowns. "He didn't hit on you the entire time we were busy being territorial at one another in your workshop, which if we *were* ex-lovers, or if he *was* interested in men, would have happened at least once. Out of spite or genuine interest — either way. He was entirely professional with you." He thinks a long ways back. "And I don't recall that he really…hit on Ishmael, at least not that I saw," a pause as he wonders how he might have reacted at the time, "nor anyone else in the pub we went to." He shakes his head. "No, I don't think he's interested in men." He considers the rapidly cooling night and nods. "Yes, thank you, that'd be good."

Elmo laughs in surprise. "C'mon, Grim, not every queer guy hits on me." He arranges stuff so Halgrim can actually sit — it's a bench seat, so there's room. "Spite, I could buy, though. So, tell me, who are those people in the picture? He said they were people you both used to know. Which didn't help me NOT think you were a thing." He gets in and starts the engine, getting the heater running.

"Are you sure they don't?" Halgrim counters with an arched eyebrow. More used to vehicles of the truck's vintage than anything modern (ah, post-war Europe), he sets his workbag and the camera case into the footwell and climbs in, settling himself with familiarity. "I think he does most things out of spite," he murmurs, maybe not intending to say it out loud.

He picks at invisible lint on his slacks. Apparently it's time for *that* conversation. Or a part of it. "The young man in the photo, Ishmael, was a student of mine. I mentored him for almost twenty years, from his undergraduate studies until…" He voice fades, and he gets a distant look on his face. Then he continues. "And, Anna-Lise, is a Swiss archaeologist. She's a curator at the Swiss National Museum now. Ambrose met them in Zurich, about ten years ago now, when Ishmael was working with Anna at the Rietberg on a set of Umayyad coins her team found. Rolf and I were there as well, on other projects but Anna asked us to help her out since we had experience, and we were interested in the coins." He smiles faintly as he remembers that time in Zurich, with Rolf, Ishmael, and Anna. It wasn't all that long ago, not really, save for the massive chasm in his life which was the dig site in Norway.

Elmo blushes. No, he's not sure. He's not sure *at all*.

"I hear that," he agrees wryly on the topic of Ambrose's spite. "Guy's a prick. I like him." Elmo is funny like that. He's cranky and snappish and yet winds up charming the most unlikely people.

As he swings the truck out into the deepening twilight, he listens with interest. "Twenty years?" he says, surprised. "You can be in college for twenty years? …Ishmael, huh. Like from *Moby Dick*. He's cute." Here in privacy, without anybody at all to overhear them, he can make such observations safely. "Middle Eastern guy?"

Aaaand he's not surprised to hear that Ambrose showed up where rare coins were. He scoffs, shaking his head. "I dunno what 'Traceur' gets up to, but I know he's shady. Some of those coins walked off, I bet."

With a hand over his face, Halgrim says, "Självklart gör du det," mournfully. He sighs; what could he have expected, really. He turns to the topic of Ishmael instead.

"He wasn't in school for all twenty," he explains. "Only for about seven of those years, then I served as his first post doctoral advisor. After that he went to work with other professors, but we kept in touch, and I worked with him to keep his career going in the direction he wanted." He gives Elmo an amused, sideways glance for the comment on Ishmael's looks. "Yes, Persian and Iraqi." He grimaces. "Which, was difficult, their peoples have often been in conflict. His family relocated to Europe after the war, and that's when I met him." He blinks, looking like he's remembering something. "Just after Munich." He drums his fingers on one knee, lost in thought, then forces himself back to the present.

"How did you know," he says, his tone dry as can be. "Not many — we only had an estimated count done at the dig site, so we can't be entirely sure. But Anna-Lise found some discrepencies in her notes, which, knowing of Ambrose what I know *now*…" He shrugs helplessly. It was ten years ago; what's there to do at present, except run him off campus at every opportunity.

Elmo listens, but doesn't remark upon Ishmael's heritage. He has no idea what went on in the region. It's the kind of ignorance only an American kid like him is privileged enough to have.

"He kinda has that accent," he says, though, about Ambrose. "Mostly he sounds like a Brit, but sometimes he says something and I hear it. What *do* you know about him? I know he's got a real fancy watch, he punches like Muhammad Ali, and he 'works with antiques'." Elmo's eyebrows go up suddenly — connections made! "He's not stealing stuff from you NOW, is he?"

"Not if he intends to keep all of his limbs, he's *not*," Halgrim says, and picks at a piece of cat hair on his pea coat with much more savagery than cat hair could warrant under any circumstances. He huffs in exasperation. "He did, actually. A scroll, right in front of me. By…coercing, a colleague of mine, somehow." His faces gets a decidedly unfriendly cast, which he dispels as soon as it's set in. He *is* in Elmo's truck, after all.

"So an associate of mine offered to make a duplicate and use it to lure him and track him. Which worked, and we were able to show up, in his home, and make clear that if he tried anything like that again, he wouldn't care for the outcome." That's an easier conversation to recall, also a highly revelatory one in the overall. "Which is how we came to our current…" He gestures vaguely, because the word relationship is still appropriate and he's still absolutely not going to use it. "Situation, or, whatever we call this. If he steals from the campus, it's not anything under my purview, and he does it without using his…coercion." He looks askance at Elmo, shrugs. "It's the best I can hope for, really. I'm relying on the fact that he doesn't know what really happens when she has her way, because if he knew, I think he'd realize I could never afford to let it happen on the campus, and can't follow through on most of my threats."

"No. He doesn't know. I told him he better not poke ya if he doesn't want to find out." Elmo shakes his head and stubs the cigarette into the ashtray. "So you caught him with his pants down and he can't let it go." That amuses him in a dark sort of way. "Guess that would explain why he acts like he's crazy about you. Which, by the way, I ain't convinced he's not. Maybe he's not into guys, or maybe he just doesn't *know* he's into guys. Like — like a couple guys I know." He stumbles over not naming names. "They didn't ever think about it until they did, yannow what I mean? For them it wasn't guys in general. It was one or two in specific."

Elmo shrugs, rolling his eyes at himself. "Not that it matters." Here he is, gossiping about Ambrose's theoretical sex life. "He's mysterious, makes me wanna figure him out. And don't take this the wrong way, Grim, but you're both kinda mysterious about each other."

"I suspect he wants to know, even as much as he knows he doesn't want to find out the hard way." Halgrim tries not to feel too smug about that.

The idea that Ambrose might not *know* if he's into men, or is only into specific men, gives Halgrim pause. Of course he's met plenty of men who didn't think they were, until they were; only being into specific individuals is an odder concept for him to grapple with, but not so much as to be one he can't acknowledge. But… "Given his age, I can't imagine he hasn't met enough men to know how he feels about that." There's no conviction in his tone, though. It's not an excuse, but only just.

He makes a face. He doesn't like the possible alternatives here, or their implications. And, well, mystery isn't something he can completely deny, even if he does have (what he feels are) good reasons. This is Elmo, though, so he tries not to prevaricate too much. "It would be, difficult, for me to describe in full the torturous route my — " his mouth flattens as he refuses to say 'relationship' again, " — interactions, with Ambrose have taken to get us to where we are now." He sighs, laughing and shaking his head. "We're uncannily symmetrical in a great many ways, it turns out. That might be another reason it seems we…" He waves his hand, unable to say it. Sapir-Whorf has him concerned that could call it into being, and magic is a real thing, this he now knows from painful experience. Nothing is off the table when it comes to possibility anymore.

Elmo falls silent, driving, his eyebrows hanging out in a highly skeptical position. If eyebrows could loiter, challenging as a street gang on the wrong corner, that's what his would be doing.

"This is gonna sound really dumb, coming from me," he says, eventually. "Just, that guy…he don't have anybody. Yannow? If he did, he wouldn't have broke down over that picture like that. He acts real cool and tough, and just *seeing* that picture, he fell apart. That ain't a guy who has a lot of friends. He's a long way from home." He glances over. "Kinda like you, like that. But you got friends. What's he got? Who's he got? It don't seem like too much from here. Except for you. He keeps running into you, yeah, I'm sure that's a coincidence." Oh the sarcasm! "He's just got every reason in the world to hassle you, don't he?

So, uh," eyes front again, "this is a real roundabout way of saying I'm worried about him. Stupid, right? What's a schlemiel like me doing worrying about some slick guy like him? Guess I see a guy's heart break right in front of me, I can't help it."

Halgrim is quiet a time, thinking about that carefully. He can't lie; 'a long way from home' was precisely how he'd felt for nearly half a year, before he'd had the good fortune to be mugged in front of some of the only people who could help him. Even now, he still felt displaced, if much less so, and like he was making progress towards a resolution, or a way forward. What resolution was there, really, for Ambrose? And if the answer was none, who did he really know in this city of so many millions? Who could really help him with the restrictions of his curse?

Aside from, of course, someone who happened to be in a hilariously similar situation.

He sighs, rubs at his temples. It's obviously not a coincidence, and Halgrim hasn't exactly been discouraging it by showing up in Ambrose's home to threaten him, and then continuing to engage him in conversation on nontrivial matters. None of which he wants to think about, so he says, "He'd probably laugh to hear you say that, knowing him." But would it be a real laugh? And maybe more importantly, what would be the part which he found funny: the notion that he cared about being alone, or that someone cared it might bother him?

Too much following tangents. Halgrim forces himself to consider the more concrete matter at hand. "But even if he did, I wouldn't say it makes you schlmiel, Elmo." He smiles, amused by the way the word sounds with his accent. "It just means you're more perceptive about people who try to hide themselves than they, or you, may realize."

"He'd punch me in the nose to hear me say that, that's what he'd do," Elmo says, wry. "I wouldn't blame him neither. S'why I'm saying it to you and not him. I don't wanna see his heart broken no more'n it has to be, and I know you wouldn't do it on purpose. You're a good guy. Once you know he ain't made of ice, I figure, you'll take care with him."

What a very curious direction this conversation has gone.

He smiles that lopsided smile of his. "Don't tell anybody I'm perceiving something. I got a reputation, you know."

Halgrim makes a low 'mmmph' sound, a Scandinavian verbal shrug. "Maybe," he allows. "Probably. I suppose it would depend on how good his day's gone." He looks askance at Elmo, considers the streets of New York City in front of them. Absently, he says, "But does *he* know he isn't made of ice? People who want to keep themselves untouchable will do quite a bit to maintain that appearance." That's the voice of bitter experience talking, probably from both ends of the equation.

Still, the notion of 'taking care' with Ambrose — prickly and nasty as he could be — had a certain level of merit. At the very least, Halgrim couldn't expect Ambrose to behave himself if Halgrim wasn't at least civil towards him, and really, would it kill him to do a little more than the bare minimum?

Well, it might, come to it, so he'd just have to be careful. It wasn't like that was his entire life now, being careful — with himself, with others, with everything. Ambrose was just another thing to be careful with.

"I solemnly vow to tell no one," Halgrim says, placing a hand on his heart. "The secret of your situational perceptiveness is safe, with me."

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