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Open Mic Night (IC)

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May 18th, 2012.

Theatre District, Track 8 Nightclub

Freedom City, New Jersey

12:00 PM

Open Mic Night!

Artists throughout Freedom City both loved and hated hearing those three words in cadence - on the one hand, the new up and comers would get a chance to show their skills; record deals and agents loved to scour these kinda nights looking for fresh talent. On the other hand, some of the worst artists in the city would also get up on that stage, and inflict ear pain that would make even the Maestro wince. It was more or less a 50/50 shot.

Especially at a new club like Track 8 - the new joint had been advertised all over Freedom City for upwards of a month after it's opening, and buisness had been flagging. This open mic night was one of their biggest chances to make a huge profit, and they were praying for a good turnout. From the perspective of one struggling musician, one Ezekiel Irons, he was hoping he could just earn a fair evening wage or maybe even a retainer for this place. Gigs had been slooooow lately.

He sat in the crowd, tuning his saxophone and waiting. Running through the blues in his head. Good old-fashioned blues...

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Nothing like open mic night to make a business call on the extras. Well, this business who was run by one of her old roommates spouse anyway. If she could blame them for wanting help, all she needed to do was look out the curtain behind the stage to see the crowd and it would quickly fade. Thankfully she wasn't doing crowd control, no the regular club members being paid full time had that honor, she just had to keep the sound systems working, which amounted to flipping switches on a sound board and checking wires to make sure they haven't been uprooted or unplugged accidently by passerbyers. Compared to her last couple of jobs it was cake. Leaning back she took a breather and skimmed down the line up, it was open mic, but most people still had to sign up much earlier in the day. She was mostly just looking for any bands since they'd require more then one mic, but going down the list it seemed simple enough that before it could begin she could abandon her post for a drink at the bar. It was hot back there after all, and no one said she had to work while dehydrated, right?

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Zeke resisted the urge to hyperventilate - he was always panicky before a show. His heart started to go just a little bit faster, his movements going slightly speedier than they should have been over the saxophone's keys. He squashed the sensation just as quickly. Don't panic, it's just another show, you're going to be fi-oh God look at that crowd heeeeeelp...

If he hadn't been undergoing a minor meltdown, he might've found it humorous that he was more worried about playing his best sax before a crowd instead of fighting a giant snake-monster. Funny, that.

He double-checked the list. He was the third performer. Ah, good. Meant he wasn't going to be what sent the crowd for the hills. Marvelous.

Irons promptly stood up and made a beeline for the bar. He needed something. Maybe a bourbon. Old-school. Yeah. Help.

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It was a tight fit at the bar, crowded as it was. Carrie just managed to squeeze in onto a vacated stool, given she was shoulder to shoulder with the people next to her. In this case, it was a guy gripping a saxophone for dear life, and he was, shaking. Maybe not a lot, but there was a slight tremer in his movements, huh. Taking a second she looked over her shoulder at her neighbor, if only because of the suspicion of being shoulder to shoulder with a user was overpowering.

He wasn't sweating, well not much more then anybody else in the overcrowded club, though there was still the tremor. He wasn't pale either, so he wasn't likely in withdrawal, the jitters then? Probably, if he had a sax he was likely to be performing. Taking a second, she weighed her options here as he asked for an alcoholic drink. He wasn't in too bad shape, but he also looked a bit like he was going to throw up. She really didn't want to have to deal with that, reaching up with her hand and saying,

"Two iced teas."

The bartender complied and put a glass in front of her and then the guy next to her.

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Zeke smiled weakly to the young lady with the iced tea - if it wasn't for the fact that he was still having pre-show jitters (which would usually disappear once he stepped on stage), he'd have probably started flirting. As is, he just tipped his fedora.

"Thanks, miss. Pre-show nerves, amirite?"

He picked up the glass and took a sip, enjoying the cool liquid in the rather warm (and tightly packed) club atmosphere. The musician visibly calmed some, leaning on the bar with a relaxed mean.

"Ah...I was thinkin' bourbon, but this hits the spot." The smile got warmer, and he held out a hand. "Ezekiel Irons, nice to meetcha."

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Carrie had to wiggle around to turn towards him. She wasn't exactly the nicest looking girl in the bar, she wore no make up, save for some chap stick, and her hair was tied back. She looked more like one for the gym then a club, not that she cared. He was much more put together, even if she beat his demeanor in terms of coolness. She grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze,

"Carrie."

She turned back to the bar to poke a straw in her drink and take a sip.

"Save the booze until the after the show colega, this sort of thing usually goes down hill the longer it goes on if only because later acts have the same idea as you."

She gestered pouring a cup down her throat before actually going back to her drink. Previous experience with open mics with open bars definitely lamated this being the case. Hopefully she could clock out before it got that bad.

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Zeke shook her hand in a solid grip, then snerked, taking a drag from the glass with a slight twist to his mouth - from her lips to God's ears; he'd seen the exact same thing before at open mic nights the city over.

"Yeah, tru dat. Try to avoid the bourbon until after, but I've never got a crowd this big before - the Secret Bar doesn't usually get this packed." His expression turned wry. "Though that might be the fact that they don't do open bars."

Another sip, and he felt the tension melt slightly. Still there, which was a pain.

"You a music fan? Or just backstage work?"

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"Backstage, which is why it's my personal obligation to make sure the drunks don't make it up stage and mess up the mics. At least until I've done my bit, then I'm outie. I won't stay to watch train wrecks I can't prevent, and unless they close the bar, it's just a matter of time now."

She would of stretched, if she wasn't sure she was going to hit the person immediately behind her before grabbing her drink again,

"I'm estimating by the seventh act someone will have fallen off the stage, then sickness by the twelvth. What's your bets?"

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The smile got more genuine, and Ezekiel sipped his drink thoughtfully. Then put the glass down and snerked.

"Carrie, please - we're in Freedom City. Seventh act someone's fallen off the stage, twelfth we've got bad guys kicking in the door, and fourteenth heroes blow in through the ceiling."

He took another sip. Pondered. Then chuckled.

"Well, either that or heroes are in the audience right now. I don't think anyone in the Freedom League likes jazz, though...how about you? Old-school rhythm and blues? Big band sound? Rock and roll? Any particular musical leanings, favorite songs?"

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Carrie was midsip when he said it and started to sputter her drink when he talked about badguys and heroes.

"Oh my god,"

She coughed for a few seconds before she started out right laughing holding her drink while she hit her hand on the counter.

"I can't believe you just said that,"

She was still shaking as she laughed,

"Now we're totally jynxed and they're probably going to burst at like act five."

She had to take a moment to clear her throat, take a drink before her chuckling died down,

"You should totally think before you invoke the wrath of the irony gods like that, they are fickle beings that like to spite any fate tempters in the cruelest way possible. You know what, forget act five, I bet a villain shows up the minute you get on stage. Which is a shame, since I do like jazz."

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Zeke grinned and spoke in an old-school drawl, like the kind he'd heard on CDs and records he listened to endlessly during practice and training. Master Li personally wasn't a major fan, but he did appreciate the effect good Billie Holiday or Fats Waller had when he was in a groove. Music and martial arts went together like peanut butter and jelly in Irons' mind.

"Well, like Bix Beiderbecke said - one thing I like about jazz, kid, is that I don't know what's going to happen next. Do you?"

That was a big ol' grin right there, and he laughed along with her and drained the glass.

"Hah - besides, look on the bright side. If any bad guys do show up, that'll cut the open bar short. No guys throwing up in the back alley or on the floor?" Snerk. "Okay, so you like jazz; there might be hope for you yet." Smirk. "Any favorite artists, songs? I'm partial to West Coast stuff, cool and smooth - anything you can play with a soft horn."

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"You forget, blood and bullets are harder on clothing then vomit and spilled beer, this is fact."

She took a deeper swig of her drink, she was nearly done with the tall glass of iced tea that you could hear the ice clink,

"As for what's gonna happen next, no one knows what's gonna happen next, but they can surely guess. Whether they're right or not just depends on probability. Like you've probably heard of none of the people I like, because that's not their main form of employment in this ecomony. Or like you might be surprised that I don't keep up with things like names, the music matters, I don't know the person behind it personally so I don't see why I should bother. They aren't playing music for me, and me likely their music is just happenstance."

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Zeke cocked his head to the side, and opened his mouth to reply just as the first performer hopped up on stage. The Fastest Fighter Alive (incognito) shut his trap for a bit, and just shrugged. She made a compelling point, though he was a bit chagrined about it; and he wasn't entirely sure he agreed - those performers set the stage for people like him to step up on stage and play their hearts out. Billie Holiday was a role model for female jazz players the world over, for example. Men like Jelly Roll Morton, or the immortal Louis Armstrong - without their music, jazz just wouldn't be the same. They set a bar, invented their own styles, and paved a path.

The first performer was decent - if not spectacular; an improvised tune, if Zeke's guess was right. Daring, especially with this crowd. But it was a good toe-tapping rhythm, and he found his shoulders moving to the beat the backup band laid down. When the man finished, he clapped along with the crowd, and looked at her with a slightly awkward smile.

"Sorry, got cut off. And I don't think I wanna know how you know blood, bullets, and their relation to clothing." Snerk. He gestured to the stage."Do you play any?"

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Carrie sensed there was something left unsaid as the performance came on. Not that it mattered terribly, she wasn't one to dwell on trends, they changed to quickly. They didn't need anymore fans and her skills were better elsewhere. Looking at the stage she smiled at the performance, the person looked like they were having fun for sure, and that was important. Another reason not to get hammered before performing, it's hardly worth enjoying something if you don't remember enjoying it.

Sitting back against the bar she half glanced at him,

"Nope, better that way really. Even if I learned, I don't really like attention. I prefer being in the crowd, not in front of it."

It was easier to pretend to be a part of the crowd, to be just a spectator.

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Zeke smiled somewhat mischeviously, but kept it hidden behind his glass. He held up two fingers, and the bartender refilled the iced teas - this time the jazz player dropped the cash. He turned back to her, his expression back to the warm state it was before.

"Oh, I dunno - half the time I can't see the crowd through the lights. But even then - makes people happy, y'know? Takes their minds off their troubles. And I doubt they remember me so much as the tune." Wry smile.

"Unless you're some drama rocker or dude with a giant hairdo, that is. Music today, ugh. It's all wailing guitars and screaming - there's no soul anymore, y'know?"

Old words, which were kinda belied by the fact that Zeke didn't look out of his twenties. That point hit him and he facepalmed just as the second performer clambered on stage and sat at the piano.

"Good grief, I sound like my parents."

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The piano player wasn't half bad, he missed some of the notes. She sipped her drink,

"Course you do, people learn habits through mimicy, just means they took the time to raise you, now that's rare. As for soul, you're just looking in the wrong places. Ignore the gimiks, you can find some good music from unexpected places."

She poked a thumb at the guy on stage,

"Though that's not one of them, I think he forgot his sheet music."

She chuckled as she took another sip.

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"Oh, come on - he wasn't that bad." OC cocked an ear and listened, and promptly winced. "Okay, strike that. I don't think he tickled the ivories so much as hit them with a hammer."

It was possible the amount of practice he'd put in for tonight's show had left him more than a little bit biased.

Just a little bit.

He watched the piano player bow to a smattering of applause, and chipped in as well - it was a good effort. The musician hopped off his stool and picked up the saxophone, turning back to smile at her. "Well, I'm up. Hopefully I won't embarass myself too badly." The smile turned wry again. Then somewhat awkward. He opened his mouth to speak again, but stopped for a sec. He looked hesitant. Then talked a bit too quickly. "Hey, ah..." Say it don't say it say it don't say it. He didn't say it. "Do me a favor - you see any bottles or tomatoes come up, give me a shout."

Thumbs up. Then he turned around...and turned back around, though it looked like he was stifling a blush. "And...hey, ah...wouldyouliketogoforacoffeeafterwards? I mean after the show, when it's obvious there aren't any bad guys around and the heroes aren't here and I'm babbling I'll be back shortly bye." And there was the blush. He turned and walked very quickly through the crowd towards the stage.

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Carrie was about to retort when she heard a muttering reprose that followed after some words that within the context of the previous jarble of words sounded like, coffee? Okay, she took a few seconds to process that, as she absently drank her drink dry. She barely registered when he started playing, but it made her think. How long? Really how long had she really had a conversation like that, actually she could answer that, about a year, Wesley disappeared on her, came back then disappeared again. Lets see after that, no one, not that she could think of had the gull. Or even the thought, given, who did she usually hang out with, Mona and Viktor, Lucion who was a purely business, Earth Victoriana in general was almost as much her stomping grounds as the Fens and that wouldn't work at all.

She took a breath again, and a drink, still a little, okay not shell shocked, this was, normal? Well more normal, this happened, even if it wasn't normal for her, well she wasn't normal.

She put down her drink, and looked down.

She wasn't normal.

She had to force herself to look up, to watch him perform, but it took some doing, her face was blankish, hopefully there wasn't a frown, she hoped she wasn't frowning. Inside it felt like she was frowning.

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Zeke didn't start playing right off the bat - he took a few minutes to finish tuning his sax, taking a few breaths into it to check the sound. He murmured something to the band, setting a beat and a tune. He looked out at the crowd, then stepped up and nodded - he had a showman's smile on his face, and he tipped his hat to cover his eyes. He pointed a finger out over the crowd.

"Hello, ladies and gennelmen! The name's Iron Z; hot horn and cool jazz, brought to you this night only for your entertainment and unabated pleasure. I've seen a lot of things, y'know? Been from one side of the country to the other, but there ain't nothin' like rollin' back into Freedom City, where I was born and raised. Home of heroes and more, where every day's a show, and everyone you meet's got a story. This tune's dedicated to a particular person out in that crowd - helped throw away some of the pre-show jitters, for which I am very grateful - and who's probably got a story all her own."

He grinned, and affected an old accent - one that was a bit anachronistic, but sounded just right given the circumstances. Though he didn't look right at her; just at the crowd. "Here's lookin' at you, kid."

Then Ezekiel Irons, Iron Z, put that saxophone to his lips and started to play. And if you'd asked Z at any time after that, he would have been hard-pressed to describe any time that he'd played half as well. He made those chords dance on that stage.

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Carrie felt like she was frowning, but she was also really, really red. Holding up the drink she finished it as she listened to the music. It was good, really good music. She didn't know if that made her feel more or less embaressed. Less she decided, it was, well good. But he could of chosen a less bittersweet movie to quote.

She listened the music, but moved towards the back door. The bar was suddenly too crowded for her comfort. It was easy, it was always easy. The door was clearish, so she stood there, just hovering, out of sight, out of mind. She rested her head against the cold metal, and just blanked out for a little while, which felt nice at least until she was approached again.

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Zeke lead up to a big finish and pounded out the last notes with a flourish, sweeping the saxophone from his mouth and holding it high as the applause washed over him. He looked relieved, under the hat - the pre-show jitters had flown completely out the window, and talk about a performance! He didn't know he could manage that! Probably couldn't again - everything just flowed right there for a minute or five. But damned if it didn't feel good.

He cast his eyes over to where Carrie was sitting, a warm expression on his face that turned surprised - the seat she was in was...empty.

He blinked, running that sight over in his head. His shoulders slumped slightly, and the applause seemed somewhat quieter. He'd scared her off. The musician slapped a palm to his forehead and took a bow, walking through the curtains to the backstage area murmuring to himself.

"Great. Nicely done, Zeke. Couldn't've just let her listen to the music, oh no, you had to ask her out. Probably wrecked her whole evening, should have been more of a gentleman, or...damnit, I'm an idiot." Another facepalm, and he packed away the saxophone. The cheers had died away as the next performer took the stage, although a lot of murmuring was going on out there. He resisted the urge to bang his head against a wall - that would do nothing but dent the plaster. Stupid toughened skin and stupid inhuman toughness.

He pondered going back out to the bar and indulging in that bourbon. Then chucked the idea away. She was right on that score anyway. Nothing for it - back to the clanker outside...maybe he could get some time in on the bags at Master Li's. He could use something to settle his nerves again. The musician threw on his coat and slung the sax case, quietly using a bit of those nerves and his speed to just shift out the back door and around the building, walking out of the alleyway (hopefully) without anyone noticing. Now, where had he parked...

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Someone walked right by her, into the back alley. It took about three seconds for her to figure out who. It wasn't hard, the fedora was a tip off. She held her breath, one mississipi, two mississipi, three mississipi, then she walked right out behind him. He looked lost, and disappointed. She walked up behind him, her footsteps didn't make any noise. Not that they ever did, she had gotten to the point where she didn't think about it, but she stopped a few feet behind him, and cletched her fist. Her mind was running, and running, and running, and she had held her breath again, and then she let it out, clearing her throat at the same time, so it warned him of her presense.

"So, coffee?"

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If asked, Zeke would most definitley not have said he jumped a foot into the air. That would have been just silly. And completely untrue.

Absolutely untrue.

Lies, lies and slander.

If asked, Carrie would most definitley had said Zeke jumped about a foot into the air - complete with a rather unmanly squeak. He landed (fairly easily), and turned, breathing slightly heavily. His reaction post-jump consisted of blink, mouth open, blink, mouth close, blink, etc. His impersonation of a freshly landed fish was quite remarkable. It took about ten seconds for his brain to catch up with his ears, and he shifted into a slightly more dignified stance. Along with an awkward smile.

"Uh...yeah. Coffee. Coffee's good. Good to go drink coffee. With new friends. New friends drink coffee. Coffee's good. Yeah."

Zeke, shut up.

He did so.

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She giggled, she was used to the reaction, but it was still funny,

"Know a good place, Black Petal Cafe. Umm, I walked here, so car?"

She moved back and forth on the balls of her feet. Her hands clasp behind her, even when she bounced, she didn't make a sound, you had to get real close to even hear her breath. Habits like that were hard to break. But she was there, biting a currently flat tongue as she waited for a response. Not that she was too unsure, it was just, stuff, too much stuff, lots of stuff, bad stuff, that always happened, that couldn't be avoided, that was weird. Then fear, someone disappearing, cause they weren't normal enough to stay. Or maybe she wasn't normal enough to keep. She tried a smile, it looked a little weird, at least she didn't try for her teeth, otherwise it would of looked fake.

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Zeke just mutely nodded, then looked left and right for the junker he usually drove. Then promptly had a small heart attack. Then didn't - there was his car. On the other side of the street. Looking like the usual rustbucket that yon practically penniless musician drove. Dangit, why couldn't he own a Ferrari? Or a Corvette? Or even a Ford that wasn't looking like it had seen the glory days of Centurion before the Moore Administration?

With a luminous blush that he masked by flipping up the collar of his coat, he nodded and gestured for her to follow - not trusting his voice. Dangit, Zeke - you put on a show and asked a nice girl you met there out to coffee. That's it. You're going to have a nice conversation. This isn't new ground.

And yet I'm still panicking. Craaaaap.

The two crossed the street, and he hurried to the other side of the car and held the passenger door open. Civilized-like. His head ducked into his collar. "It's...uh...not much - use it to get from place to place. Her name's Vera."

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