Custard Pie


hampton_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif

Scene Title Custard Pie
Synopsis Huruma deals with bureaucracy, but at least The Man brings doughnuts with his red tape.
Date February 26, 2021

The Bastion

As Hampton Dartwell approaches The Bastion carrying a pink box of doughnuts, taking the Mary Poppins approach to the work he’s doing today, hoping that the spoonful — or boxful — of sugar will help make the ordeal of dealing with him easier.

It’s fairly early by bank hours at 9:30 a.m. but he doesn’t know that most of the building’s residents have not only been awake for hours but are far away on a mission, and the dark is exactly where Epstein wants Hampton Dartwell to be in regards to this particular job.

Hampton glances at his watch, then raps against the door to alert whoever’s inside that he’s here. As he waits for the door to open, he squints into the sky, glaring back into the morning’s glare.

Someone, however, has to hold down the place while there is an away team. While it isn't every Hound on deck, there is a modest presence to keep the Bastion from catching aflame. Huruma wouldn't let it, anyway, she worked much too hard making it not look like a dump.

The chime inside to alert that there is someone at the door is a gentle boop-boop, though the ping at Huruma's computer which echoes it isn't needed. She's already there- - and Hampton has scarcely time to do his scowling at the sun before the door opens for him. Huruma hangs back inside, one hand still on the panel which unlocks the entrance, allowing Dartwell to enter.

"Good morning." Dressed for the day means black on black, pants with a sheen and a long sleeved shirt of open neckline. Huruma has already fixed the guest with a somewhat scrutinizing look, her tone curious despite this. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

“Ms. Dunsimi,” booms the bass voice belonging to the large man when he turns around, and he tucks the box of doughnuts into the crook of one arm like it’s a football so that he can offer his large hand for a handshake.

“Hampton Dartwell. We’ve met, of course, but not in a professional setting,” he adds, though it had ended up that both of them ended up working the night of the Halloween gala, even if he hadn’t intended to.

“Epstein may have mentioned I’m here to just do a little auditing on the sake of the Department of Justice Assistance. Just need to take a look at some of your books and reports, ask you some questions about your training and hiring protocols, the normal bureaucratic rigamarole. It’s all very normal, very boring, and nothing to worry about.” His voice has the reassuring tone of a used car salesman discussing the multipoint inspection the pre-used cars must go through before hitting the lot. “We just haven’t done it for a while because the government’s just now starting to take off its training wheels so to speak.”

The 'football' seems to fit, somehow. Huruma gives it a glance before closing up behind her guest and accepting the outstretched hand a moment after.

"Mentioned is the kind way to say it, yes. He has." For what it is worth, her humor on that particular matter does shine through somewhat. Lips curl to the side in a lopsided amusement, and Huruma gestures with an open hand to the guts of the building, an invitation. She steps away, with an expectation that Hampton will follow. Huruma laughs lightly, somewhat pointed even still. "So is this a visit, or an audit?"

Huruma tends to give salesmen a berth, though in this case she can make an exception.

“I’m sure ‘mention’ is a helluva euphemism for whatever Avi said,” agrees Hampton in a wry tone; he’s amused but Huruma can feel the undercurrent of something else — annoyance? Naturally, but also a tinge of hurt.

He smiles at the question. “Both? Audit has a bad reputation, thanks to folks like the IRS, I think. Let’s call it an accreditation. You want to be able to bid for government contracts, apply for federal grants or loans? That’s what this’ll do, clear the way for those. And,” he taps the box, “I brought doughnuts. See? Painless. And none of those sorry-ass tiny cakey donuts that are always the last ones in the case. The good stuff, like maple bars and custard-filled and raspberry jellies.”

The man follows Huruma into the building, squinting upward like he could hear or see through the ceiling. “Quiet today.”

As always, the empath's studies are the silent type until further notice. Her gaze slips from Hampton to the hall forward, though she keeps him within her other senses as they wander inside

"Accreditation. That's kind of endearing, I suppose. Like a university." Huruma's turn is openly amused, as she leads the way to the lounge first. The heart of the place, in a manner of speaking. She lingers just inside, taking a second to look back for a more visible, second study. "Be careful of that bar you are setting for yourself." One dark brow lifts as she speaks, voice lowered by a note and smile flashing through. "Or you may have to serve up every time."

At least he knows how to butter someone up.

"Quiet is a good thing. It means that I can get work done." Huruma's mouth purses, her tone holding back of a laugh; eyes roam in a brief and similar manner, her own look one tracing invisible threads. "Is this going to be a conversation… or a meeting? My office is just upstairs, if you'd prefer."

“Like hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and other such entities as well,” Hampton points out. “Consider it a governmental check-up, making sure everything’s kosher, and that you’re doing what you say you’re doing out there and in here.”

He side steps into the lounge to set the doughnuts down for folks to find them. Of course, no one else is there to find them. Opening the box, he pulls out two custard-filled doughnuts, placing each on napkins to carry with him.

“Your office should work. It’s both a conversation and a meeting, I suppose. You can show me the systems you have in place to keep this place a smoothly oiled machine,” he says, as he emerges again, offering her one of the doughnuts. “I have a few artifacts I need to collect — printouts are fine, or you can send them electronically. But it’s mostly a conversation.”

His eyes twinkle a little as he considers her for a moment. “The first question isn’t really part of the accreditation. How do you deal with Epstein on a daily basis? You must have a secret or two up your very fine blouse sleeves.”

Kosher. Huruma doesn't bother stifling the twist of a smirk. She doesn't doubt that someone will be coming out of the woodwork at the smell of treats; in the meanwhile, Hampton gets her dibs when he passes one over before they head upstairs.

"I have seen more outstanding machines," At the landing, she tips her head for him to follow, expression stuck momentarily in a deeper thought. "But we do what we can." Because they must? "We tend more human than not, which I suppose is where our machinations differ…" Wolfhound has never really lost the quality of empathy, ironically. Dartwell's question as she pops the door to her office coaxes a laugh from her chest and a crooked little grin to the edges of her eyes, the angular lines of her features cementing of that feline air she carries.

"'Deal with'?" Huruma is inside first, raising a look her guest's way while motioning for him to make himself comfortable. Her answer is deliberately fresh. "That implies he was ever a problem for me to handle. Have a seat anywhere." Chairs, sill, the flat plane of a cushioned bench. There is room to wander despite it being a cozy sized space. Photos and books and the like are overshadowed- - just for a moment- - by the tower of a statue of Sekhmet behind the door as it closes. A stony-faced bouncer, the way it stares. At least, it keeps Francis away. "My secret to navigating Epstein is being able to see right through him, even without my gifts. His abrasiveness does not make it easy for others."

Dartwell chooses a seat, wincing just a little as one knee bends less agilely than its mirrored twin. He carefully rests doughnut atop napkin on the surface of the desk, then reaches into his coat pocket for his cell phone.

“No one expects perfection. To err is human, after all, and we’re all doing our best in this brave new world,” Hampton says, fingers sliding against the glass of the black device in his hands. “Epstein thinks I’m here to find something wrong, to pull his command or shut Wolfhound down, and that’s not it. It’s quite the opposite, really, but…”

She may hear the ping of an email notification, as whatever he’s sent finds its way through the ether into her inbox.

“He has a general distrust of bureaucrats, and a more specific dislike of me.” Hampton smiles. “Which is too bad, really, because I’m a fan of his.” He reaches for the doughnut and holds it up. “Frank Lloyd Wright said that bureaucrats are like custard pies. You can’t nail them to the wall. Maybe that explains my affinity for the custard doughnuts.”

That Avi seems to believe the worst out of oversight doesn't shock her. Huruma has taken her own seat behind her desk when the ping comes from her PC speakers. Leaning back in her chair, one hand navigates her machine, eyes settling on Hampton after a moment, pale and hooded.

"Smaller and easier to nail? Is… are you the donut?" It's clear that Huruma is unclear on what, exactly, the comparison is. The quote escapes her, and her expression narrows in a puzzled shift. Regardless, she simply shakes her head to chase it out of her thoughts. Moving on. "It seems as if you're truly disappointed he dislikes you. That big of a fan, hmm?" She allows a twitch to her lips again, smile fleeting.

"His paranoia may be deep seated, Mr. Dartwell," Her hand raps fingertips against the desk as it leaves her trackpad. "But sometimes it strikes true. In this case, I believe it won't. You clearly aren't interested in tearing anything apart. We get things done." Huruma opens her palm to the air, an encompassing gesture for the Bastion.

“Still pretty hard to nail against a wall, I think. Just some self-deprecating humor. I’m the bureaucrat, something I never thought I’d be, and something that like Epstein, I’ve spent most of my adult life being annoyed by,” Dartwell says easily. There’s no real self loathing. “But it’s a job that needs to be done, and I’m no longer capable of running around doing the action-movie montage like you and Avi do, so here I am.”

The email, when she opens it, is a link to a secure dropbox with a list of required documentation — hiring, training, reports, bookkeeping.

As she opens it, Hampton reaches for his doughnut to take a bite, somehow managing not to get custard anywhere on his charcoal-gray suit. He brushes the corner of his mouth with a napkin.

“I’d say I’m not disappointed but we’d both know I’m lying. Damn empaths,” the large man says with a shake of his head, but the quirk of a smile of appreciation. “Keep your touchy feely antennae out of my feelings, will ya?” He chuckles, and lifts his shoulders. “Oh, you know. I probably was a little bit of a fan-boy when I was younger, had dreams of maybe doing what he’d done at some point but stuck with the Secret Service. So my dreams of a great bromance brewing here were quashed by his lukewarm greeting, but I shall persevere, madame.”

He gestures with his doughnut to the computer. “Most of what I need you can just dump in there. No hurry. When it’s done, it’s done, but the sooner the better if you want your little shiny star for being approved by the federal government.”

Despite the position he's made for himself, Huruma doesn't seem to be suspicious of the intent behind 'someone has to do the paperwork'. Someone does. She allows the dropbox to sit open on the screen, leaning one arm on the table and resting her jaw to the backs of her fingers. Eyes scan the list in front of her, the mental notetaking led astray by the basso 'bromance'. At that, Huruma looks to Dartwell with both brows up; they dip back down when she laughs, a lighter thing than before, smile remaining even after it fades.

"Surely you aren't that much younger, to have had moons in your eyes." Even so, Huruma doesn't argue the fact that Epstein did- - does- - have an intimidating resume. On Paper versus In Person, always the dilemma. "Right. The golden star of approval." Disdain, if playful, as fingers play across keys to drop some of the easier items in while she's looking at it. "One may mistake me for a person who can't go on without."

"As for my antennae, sir," Still with head on fingers, Huruma tips her gaze to Hampton with a one-sided smile. "It's not those that you want to watch out for."

Hampton shrugs. “A decade. It doesn’t feel like long now, but it was a lot longer back in the old days.” He finishes off the doughnut, fingers crumpling the napkin into his fist, though he holds it to dispose of it somewhere other than Huruma’s office.

“I wouldn’t deign to think you as a person who would need my approval, Ms. Dunsimi, though you’ll find it easier to get government contracts with it than without. You’re not the only game in town anymore.” Hampton’s smile is wry as he concedes, “Well, maybe in this town you are, but there are other options these days, and now that the government’s finally moving along, with training wheels, granted, we need to go back to some of the standards we had before, while raising the standards for other things altogether.”

He glances to the hall. “All your millennials sleep til noon?” he wonders. “I may want to ask some of them a few questions at some point, regarding their options for professional development, safety training, things like that.”

"I'm intimately familiar with those other games, I promise." Burying the dropbox window, Huruma turns fully against the desk to face front and delicately pick up the pastry her guest had been so kind to bring. Perhaps considering how best to navigate it without sending its guts everywhere.

"And I'm familiar with past standards." A bite, carefully placed, words held for a clear throat. "Preach all they want, everyone needs something, and I know the prices. I digress, of course we'll cooperate. Contracts in all the right places, hm?" Huruma thumbs a touch of sugar out of sight at the corner of her mouth, eyes shaded with a passing interest in the next needs.

"They don't, no." A simple answer. "I can let them know, or I could give you the email roster. I'm sure they will be as accommodating as their personalities allow."

Hampton’s eyebrows raise and his smile widens. “As accommodating as their personalities allow,” he echoes, loudly, with sheer delight at the phrase. “Oh, Ms. Dunsimi, you are quite the public relations jewel. Emails work, or I can set up a day to pop in and chat with them. You can set me up in an office out of sight so Epstein doesn’t have to see me unless he wants to.”

He brushes off a crumb from his knee, then adds, “Which, of course, he won’t. It could also be a day he’s not here at all, but I have a feeling that unless he’s on a mission somewhere, he’s rarely far away.”

Leaning forward, his tone turns conspiratorial. “Between you and me, he’s having a bit of a hard time letting go of the reins, I think. Knows he should retire, but isn’t ready to let the millennials take over the world just yet. God knows, we’ll be surrounded by rose-gold technology and flower crowns when that happens.”

Hampton with the jewel, Avi with the gem, it's almost like she's valuable or something. She's surely a precious thing. Huruma mulls over if she could cram Dartwell into a roomy closet for interviews until he leans closer to speak.

"Of course he's having trouble. People like us always have trouble letting go of the only things we know." Despite Huruma's plainness in answering, she says it with truthful clarity. "I could leave now and never have to worry about money. But I know the honeymoon wouldn't last… " She raises a brow, tips a look towards her window. "And letting them figure this out on their own would be repeating the same mistakes."

"I'm more of a champagne gold, myself. But nothing will beat a classic." The dark woman takes the edge off, somewhat, with a thinner smile, "And I'll have you know, I make a mean flower crown."

The assessment of Epstein earns a nod from the younger man. “I understand. He pointed out I could probably get any desk job I wanted in Washington the Second, but this is the one I chose to do, because it’s about as close to getting boots on the ground as I can get without staying where I was. Still, he’ll need to let go sooner or later. You, I don’t think are quite where he is when it comes to reasons for staying.” This last is said without the newscaster tone he seems to say everything else — it’s more forthright and thoughtful.

And fleeting.

“Well,” he says, leaning back. “I do have a couple of other places I should visit today while I’m in the area, to start the process for them as well. You have my email, but here’s my card with the cell on it, if you have any need of me that’s more urgent. The email gets checked a couple of times a day at most.”

A card is pulled from his inner coat pocket and held out in left hand, his right coming out for a handshake as well. “I’ll email you some days that would be good for interviews inhouse I think — it’d be easier than me making appointments with all your flower-crowned kids.”

Even such a little thing as adjusting one's tone comes with trickles of signals in the brain. Signals that she notes down in the back of her mind, with anyone. Today, for Hampton Dartwell, they are filed away just the same. He's right. She isn't. That's probably what makes this work.

"You know, it's easy to set a tone for your inbox. But thank you for the number." Huruma tips her head as she stands to see him out, laughing under her breath as she takes the card first, placing it upon her keyboard and taking his hand. The other one clasps on top of the completed gesture, albeit briefly. Light hits her features just so, white smile playing in the angles of her face. An expression borne as if he had just finished making a pact.

"I know exactly where I can put you." Huruma's mouth purses, feigning a minor scrutiny. "Welcome to the doghouse, Dartwell."

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