Muffin Conspiracies


brian2_icon.gif cardinal_icon.gif colby_icon.gif hadley_icon.gif

Scene Title Muffin Conspiracies
Synopsis When Richard stops in to get a muffin, he kills two birds with one stone. Colby manages to get three.
Date June 27, 2009

Piece of Cake Bakery

The front room of the bakery is a long and narrow one. A great glass window covers the wall facing the street, so that anyone outside can see in. The door is glass as well; on bright days the shop is filled to the brim with sunshine. Drop lamps abovehead help at night, casting a warmer and softer light. Classic black and white tiling collects smudges more often than not on the floor and walls. In the back is a hallway which leads further to the kitchen, a small bathroom for customers to use, and a set of creaky stairs that go up to the second floor. The entire building is warm, and the air is redolent with the scents of pastry both savory and sweet, cookies, muffins, chocolate and fruit, bread and more.

A long, waist-high counter is on the left after stepping inside. The top is flat so purchases can be set down, and baked goods of all sorts are on display inside. Down at the far end is the cash register: leaving means walking past all the tempting wares all over again. Though it isn't particularly fancy, a coffee machine next to the register has a sign that reads "Donations": the cups and plain coffee are free, but change dropped inside goes to local charities. Three small bistro tables sit along the right wall; it's a tight fit, but three (or four if they're close friends) people can sit at each to enjoy a bite before going on their way. A bell above the door jangles merrily whenever it's opened.

Richard Cardinal's had a long few weeks.

As things in his life seem to be ramping up to an increasingly violent-seeming climax, he's bled, lost a hand, lost more than that and gained other things he never expected; learned truths about the future and his own personality that he's not entirely comfortable with. He's others in his care now that he needs to carry through this, and he isn't sure if he has the strength to bear their burdens as well as his own, as he's hunted.

So, God damn it, he deserves a muffin.

It's by utter coincidence that he picks this bakery to walk into, the door pushed open with a merry jangling as he walks in. A fresh leather jacket, a new collared t-shirt beneath, denim jeans. All new, all just from the store.

It is God Himself looking down on Richard Cardinal that this bakery, this lone bakery in the entire city of New York City… has muffins. Lots of muffins. Chocolate and lemon and bran and apple-cinnamon and pumpkin-spice. Muffins coming out the wazzoo.

There at the register, perched on her a stool and hunched over a bit of crossword puzzle is one Mrs. Hadley. She has a radio somewhere spilling the sweet, classic strains of NPR while she works with her bifocals in place and pencil in-hand. At the merry jangle of the bell above the front door, she glances up and squints across the distance, caroling on automatic pilot: "Hello! Welcome to the Piece of Cake, what can I do for you!" And then squints some more, because this young man in his new coat and jeans looks oddly familiar.

Coming out of the kitchen, Brian is wearing an apron over his t-shirt and jeans. That apron being mostly covered in flour. Seems he's not an expert just yet at the baking business. A smattering of flour has even found its way on his face. But he does get the job done, surprisingly fast. Especially when Mrs.Hadley isn't watching. Either he's the hardest worker in New York, when she isn't in the Kitchen, or.. something else is going on. "All done Mrs.Hadley." Winters comes to report, though when he eyes a customer walking in he takes a step back towards the kitchen to allow Hadley to deal with him.

It's been too many years, and too long a month, for Richard to recognize the older woman behind the counter just yet; old eyes remember what young ones saw but imperfectly, after all. The sight of the muffins brings a smile, though, one that's steadied by the friendly greeting. He hasn't gotten very many of those, recently.

"Afternoon, ma'am," he greets casually as he approaches the counter, glancing around himself at all the shelves and displays— a slight rumbling in the belly indicating that he's not been eating as well as his stomach would prefer. As he draws nearer, it becomes obvious that there's nothing past the right wrist, bandaging wrapped tightly about the stump when it shows through the cuff of the jacket. "I" Wait, isn't that "Brian?" A bemused blink at the man that's emerging from the back.

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Or was that Trojan Horse? Either way, if Mrs. Hadley realizes that Brian is finishing the work far faster than any man his age ought to be willing to do (who works that hard? Really?) there's no sign of it. She just gives him a nod and indicates the broom tucked in the corner. "Thank you, dear. If you'd sweep up the flour you're dumping all over the floor?" A grin twinkles up, merry. "You'll want to take the apron off in the back from now on. There's a spot where you can shake it out." That done, she turns a curious gaze on the customer again. "You know, you look very familiar, dear. Did you come in when Mr. Palansi was the owner?" She eases down off her stool, absently tucking the pencil behind her ear. "And what was it I can get for you?"

"Sorry." Brian says, cocking a strange look at his elder benefactor. With that he goes to retreat into the back, though he's stopped short by Cardinal. "Yeah? Hey." The first a surprised question, the second a familial greet. "Good to see you, man. How've you been?" Just avoid getting in a situation where you have to use a name, and you should be all good. He hesitates near the door for a moment, that stupid other Brian knows so many people.

"I don't think so, ma'am, I don't come down this way too often…" Richard comes to a halt near the counter's front, his head canting a bit as he regards Mrs. Hadley with a thoughtful sort of look nevertheless, some inkling of memory niggling at him. Hazel eyes flicker back to Brian, as he admits in wry tones, "Been better, honestly. Findin' out who my real friends are." The right arm's lifted slightly, as if to showcase the missing hand, before it drops, "Didn't expect to see you, but, I was planning on looking for you anyway— need some help with a li'l project coming up soon."

She brings a hand up to tap lightly at her temple. "Don't you worry," she reassures Cardinal. "It'll come to me soon enough. Perhaps a name, dear? I'm Mrs. Hadley, the owner." Her hand comes out in offer, across the counter top. Her left hand at that, and done without so much as a blink to show she's taking his missing right into account at all. Doesn't everyone shake on the left? Of course they do.

"That's good. Good to know who your real friends are." Brian agrees, trying his best to keep it vague. "A project? I'm.. always.. down for projects. Uh, let me put this thing away real quick." Winters says, slipping into the back rather quickly to take off the apron. Then as quickly as he vanished he reappears, going to take the broom in hand and clean up his mess. "Yeah.. I've just been helping Mrs.Hadley out." That's as much explanation as one needs, right? A slightly nervous glance is sent to the older woman, then he looks back to Cardinal.

There's a moment's hesitance at the request for a name, but, it's not as if she's an especially threatening old baker woman. Also, Brian's here, so she must be trustworthy, right? Wait— did he said Mrs. Hadley? Richard accepts the offered hand with the hint of awkwardness that suggests the loss is recent, gripping briefly as he offers with a cant of his head to one side, "Richard. Richard Cardinal— Mrs. Hadley?" Surely there can't be that many Hadleys in the city who recognize him, right?

At that name, her smile just /blossoms/. Mrs. Hadley abandons the awkward shake, but that's so she can bobble out from behind the counter. So short! But she still walks right up to him, arms open. "Dicky!" Oh… oh god. She's moving in for a hug. Fire in the hole! "Little Dicky Cardinal, I knew I remembered you! Look at you, so grown up!"

"Dicky." Brian says in a definite mocking tone. It makes him grin loudly and obnoxiously, but hopefully not loud enough to drown out the sound of Mrs. Hadley's elated hug. Holding the broom in both hands, the young man watches with amusement painted on his face. Richard. At least he knows this one's name. Might be easier to fake a relationship that way.

Oh god. There's a subtle widening of Richard's eyes at the woman's exclaimation, and a look over to Brian. Help. Then he's being hugged, and he awkwardly pats the baker on the shoulder back with one hand, clearing his throat, "Ah— Richard, Mrs. Hadley, please, it's, uh, good to see you." Honestly, he figured she was dead after all these years. Still, the smile isn't entirely forced. Just don't try and get him to admit it. "How've you been?"

Hugging done for now, and all enthusiasm on Mrs. Hadley's part at that, she bobbles back behind the counter, looking quite, quite pleased with the world in general. "Oh, well enough. Mr. Hadley, he passed away in '02." Saying so dims her for a moment, the cloud passing over the sun; resigned sorrow, old sorrow. Then it's set aside so she can go on, "And I just had to keep my hands busy, so when Mr. Palansi left the city, I took up this little bakery." She gives the counter a light patpatpat, fond as can be. "How about you, dear? You just let me know what you're having, I'll warm it right up. Have you found a nice girl yet? Someone to put up with that stubborn streak of yours?" Just a hint of teasing there. Okay, maybe more than a hint.

"Yeah, Dicky, how's your life been?" Brian asks enthusiastically, stepping forward to lean on the counter and get a good look at the man. A broad smile painted on his face. The broom rests against his arm casually as he watches and listens. Teehee.

The look that Winters recieves from Cardinal at that says, very clearly, I will punch you. His good hand rakes back through his hair, mussed as ever, as he crooks a wry smile back at Mrs. Hadley. "I'm alright— oh— I'm sorry to hear it, Mrs. Hadley. Ah. I'm doing all right, got a girl on and off." Keep it vague, Richard, or she'll have you married and with children within minutes! "Things've been crazy lately, I'm sure you've seen the news. Gotta keep moving to keep up."

"Well, you just let me know if you need an introduction," Mrs. Hadley instructs him. "There's a lovely girl just down the street, she's going to university these days for those computers, and she's just the sweetest thing in the world." She nods to agree with herself on this Very Important Point. "Have you been in the news dear? I usually only listen to the NPR… Mr. Hadley and I, we don't hold much with the news on the television. It's always so dramatic!" She tosses a hand a little in disapproval of /dramatic/ news. "And I read an opinion piece in the Times once that talked about how biased all the television news stations are, and I'd much rather just hear about it and decide for myself."

"Very true, Mrs.Hadley. That's a good point." Winters chimes in, just because he can. He doesn't seem to pay any attention to Cardinal's pointed look. It seems as if he is very content watching and being annoying. But finally he realizes he might get in trouble and straightens off the counter. Waddling over, he goes to sweep up the flour on the business side of the counter.

"Oh, not me…" A chuckle rattles in the back of Cardinal's throat, "…just in general, I mean. You're probably right, honestly, 'bout the news." Oh god, she's trying to set him up with someone. He scratches at the side of his neck with one hand in a vaguely anxious gesture, "Anyhow— ah— like I said, I'm seeing someone right now, but, I'll keep it in mind if things don't work out." It's sort of true!

Once again, Mrs. Hadley's matchmaking impulses are foiled! She clicks her tongue lightly, but she lets it go with a nod. "Now, you pick out what you're having, and Brian can have something too, and you two can go have a little chat about whatever private business it is you've got in mind." A wave of her hand indicates one of the little bistro tables on the other side of the narrow room. "I'll just get back to my crossword."

Shoot. Private conversation with the one-handed bandit. Brian reluctantly places the broom against the wall before giving a nod to Cardinal as if to indicate that he is ready. Brushing his hands on his jeans he walks around the counter to join Cardinal and walk steadily towards one of the tables, going slowly so that Cardinal may keep up.

"It's good to see you again, Mrs. Hadley." Once she's stopped trying to set him up and calling him Dickie, Richard smiles a more easy smile. Some things don't ever change, and the world's better for it. A tilt of his head to Winters, then to the table, before he asks easily, "I'll just have one of those pumpkin spice muffins over there, thanks. And yeah, Brian…" He turns, stepping over towards the table with a shake of his head, "Was thinkin' I was going to have to go walk across that burning hell've an island, glad I ran into you here…"

The counter doors move on squeeeeaky wheels, but move they do. Mrs. Hadley tugs one of the aforementioned muffins out and turns to pop it into the microwave. While she works, she hums. Someone, somewhere, sometime, should tell her that she shouldn't hum. It's particularly and egregiously tuneless, but she seems cheerful enough about it nonetheless.

"I'm okay for now, Mrs. Hadley." Brian calls out over his shoulder before taking a seat smoothly. "Well, Dickie, you found me. So what's up?" Winters asks bluntly, better to cut through the chit chat, easier to avoid pitfalls of not knowing what the hell the other guy is talking about. So bluff through this project and you're in the clear. "What you want me for?"

"Don't call me Dickie," Cardinal corrects automatically with a roll of his eyes, dropping himself down into the seat opposite and leaning forward on folded arms; darkened hazel eyes meeting the other man's as he turns serious again. "I need some help for an extraction. When I pulled Abigail out, you offered your help then. Offer still open? It's not her again, obviously, but it's another guy that doesn't deserve t'be where he is."

It's the humming that announces Mrs. Hadley's approach: the warmed muffin on a little glass plate is set on the table at Cardinal's elbow. Thus they have music for the interlude while she's there, and warning both coming and going so the conversation can pause and start again. Once she's back at the counter, she idly turns the NPR classical up a notch, then leans over to start working on her crossword puzzle.

Brian hums softly, internally his mind is racing over several things at once. Extraction? Abigail? That girl he saw earlier today, she needed extraction at one point? What does that even mean? After a moment he decides he should give the other Brian more credit than he does. Seems like he actually knows how to do stuff rather than just talk about religious stuff all the time. "Your guy is locked up somewhere? By who? Police?"

"Officially…" Cardinal's shoulders roll in a slow shrug, a sardonic half-smile spreading to his lips, "…Homeland Security, but the last I knew, they weren't in the business of memory eras— " He breaks off as Mrs. Hadley approaches the table, flashes her a boad and warm smile as she draws near, "Thanks, Mrs. Hadley."

A pat to his shoulder, "Entirely welcome, dear," and then Mrs. Hadley is gone. She doesn't look or sound the least bit interested in their private conversation. Her attention on the crossword puzzle is soon as deep as it gets. Every now and then her lips move while she reads over a clue; it's entirely possible she doesn't realize she's doing so.

"The Company. Primatech." Brian rattles off as Hadley retreats back to the counter. His features lock up and go entirely rigid. "You want to go after the Company." Ties to Homeland Security, and memory wipes. How many clandestine organizations like that can there be? "Who do they have of yours?" Winters asks, tilting his head lightly at the other man.

"Yeah. My intel suggests there won't be any actual Company personnel on site, it's a transfer through Homeland…" The muffin's taken in hand, and Cardinal carefully breaks off a soft piece, gesturing with the rest towards Brian, "…and given the news I saw the other day, they should be too busy to notice. Nobody's supposed to know he's there." He takes a bite, chews, swallows, then says quietly, "Guy's named Tyler Case."

"They have a lot of resources." Tilting his head back, Winters listens a tad boredly until the post swallow admission. Tyler Case. Winters does his best to hide the surprise and all the other emotions that burst out of his heart at that name. "Case?" He manages to repeat, forcing himself to sound unfamiliar with the name. Tyler Case. There are a handful of Chinese families without fathers because of what Winters did to get his hands on Case. The leader of the most powerful Chinese gang in New York died by his hands, so he could catch Case. And now, he's being asked to help spring him loose. "What's so special, about this Case? Buddy of yours?"

"So do I." It's said rather grimly, Cardinal's eyes hardening a touch with determination, "The Company's got enough wolves on its heels right now, they won't notice a vulture swooping in to pick at the bones. Case— " A pause, before he gives his head a tight shake, "— they can't be trusted with his ability. It's too dangerous. And the poor sonuvabitch doesn't deserve a life behind bars without even knowing who he is."

"What is his ability?" Winters asks, though he already knows fully well what Case's ability is. Visions of Veronica copying herself on accident in an alleyway stings through him for a moment. The feeling of losing his ability for just a moment almost makes him shiver. "So your plan is that you and I go in and bust this guy out and then do what with him?"

"He can switch peoples' abilities with each other. And— I've got a safe place for him." A slight shake of Cardinal's head, "And I've a few more people. Minimal casualties preferably, I'd rather not kill anybody if possible— it'd draw too much attention. After he's safe, well, it's up to him, really." A slight lie. There's plans for Mister Case, laid down by Doctor Ray.

When a pair of joggers come strolling in, they call out, "Mrs. H! The powerbars!" Mrs. Hadley looks up from her crossword and bobbles a quick nod before she eases down off her stool. Business continues through the quiet conversation in the corner, moving in slow and lulling stops and starts as people move through. Powerbars for the jogging pair, and a bottle of water each, before they're heading out.

"So what's to keep him from freaking out and seriously messing us up?" Winters isn't sure if Cardinal is aware of his ability or not, so it's better to dance around that pile of glass for now. "He sounds dangerous. Really. But I suppose I could help you out." It would be better to be involved in this, whether he'll actually help or not is not yet decided. But he definitely will be around to put his own two cents in. His eyes are distracted by the joggers for a moment. And then he looks back to Cardinal. "I'm guessing you have a plan?"

At the question, Cardinal smiles all too knowingly. "I've always got a plan," he points out, before pausing to finish off the rest of the muffin. Mm. Delicious. Licking some crumbs from his fingers, "I'll stop by here when things're more set, then, if you're going to be keeping one've you at the bakery?"

"Yeah. I will be. I don't think she knows it yet though." Brian says, jerking a thumb at Hadley. "If you could put in a good word for me. Maybe she'll let me stay a little longer." Winters murmurs, leaning back in his chair. "Anyway. Let me know when you're ready to roll." Tyler Case. He's going to need to talk to Veronica about this.

The Mrs. Hadley in question is asking a customer curiously, "Do you know of a city in France that's four letters, dear?" while she boxes up a slice of cake for the younger woman. They start in on a bit of back and forth of 'could it be' and 'maybe this' before the customer pays and heads out, laughing a little to herself.

"A'ight. This should be quick, quiet, easy— another soul pulled out've the fire," Cardinal pushes himself up to his feet, cracking his neck briefly with a slight grimace, "And I owe him. Even if he doesn't know it. I wasn't fast enough in finding him, last time." Business taken care of, he steps along over to the counter, calling into the conversation, "What about 'Nice'? And it was delicious, Mrs. Hadley. How much do I owe you?"

With that Brian goes to stand, making his way to the other side of the counter he grabs the broom on his way before retreating into the back. Time to do some deep thinking and possibly calling of Veronica. Tyler Case. Shit, this is going to be complicated.

"Oh!" Mrs. Hadley leans over her puzzle and carefully writes in 'Nice' in pencil. She straightens up and gives it a contemplative sort of maybe-yes-no gaze, then nods once. Firmly. "Just right! Don't you worry about the muffin, Di… Richard." Her smile for Cardinal is quite pleased. "Call it a hello-again gift, and promise you won't be a stranger anymore. Are you two boys done playing?" When Brian grabs his broom and retreats, she laughs a little and answers herself: "Well, I guess so."

At the 'gift' of a muffin, Richard's head ducks a bit with a rueful shake. "You're too good to me, Mrs. Hadley. I know was a hell of a punk kid when you were watchin' me… thanks, I appreciate it. And I'll be by again. Keep an eye on Brian over there, eh, make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble?"

A wave of her hand dismisses that thought. "He's quite enough trouble all on his own, dear. But which of you wasn't? I do regret that Mr. Hadley and I couldn't help you out any more than the little we did." The old woman leans across to give his good hand a light pattapatpat. "Anyway, he works hard, and that's the best thing a young man can have when he's trying to make it in the world."

"That, and luck," Cardinal quirks a wry smile, "It was good to see you again. I'll be by, when I can… take care've yourself, alright?" A step back, and he tilts his chin up in a nod, "God bless, Mrs. Hadley."

Colby has arrived.

It's mid-afternoon'ish, and the shop is in a quiet bit of lull. Mrs. Hadley is down by the cash register at the end of the room, pencil once again tucked behind her ear and crossword puzzle slid off to the side. "You take care of yourself, dear," she calls to the departing Cardinal, smile bright. The jangle of the bell above the door has her smile flaring all over again. "Colby, sweetheart, did you decide between the raspberry thumbs or the lady-fingers? Or is it something else today?"

Colby steps into the bakery, taking a moment to allow the warm aroma of fresh goods greet her, alongside Mrs. Haldey's warm greeting, of course. After taking a quick inventory of those gathered, and stepping out of the doorway for those looking to depart, she pinches an arm of her glasses, pulling the mirrored shaded up over her head to reveal dark, chocolate-hued eyes. "Hey there," she replies in a deep, but pleasant tone as her heavy boots pull her towards the cases of displayed deliciousness. "You know me and the Mrs. too well, by now. I figured I'd surprise her and splurge today, though - I'll take both."

An easy but tired smile's flashed to the woman that's just stepped into the bakery, and Cardinal takes a side-step to keep out of her way and permit her entrance. As she moves out of the way in return, he exhales a brief chuckle, moving to duck his head under the door's edge (habit) and out into the street beyond.

"Listen to you!" Mrs. Hadley claps her hands together and bobbles down the aisle behind the counter. A bit of wax paper starts dragging the cookies out, a few at a time. "Is it a special occasion, dear? An anniversary or birthday? Oh! I /love/ birthdays, you have this excuse to be totally selfish and ask people to fetch you a drink whenever you want a new one, without feeling bad about it." She's rambling while she works, clearly in quite the cheerful mood. "How have you two been, no troubles at all?"

Colby smiles, yes smiles! It can't be helped in Mrs. Haldey's presence, after all. The rare display is admittedly rather charming on the Latina's features. She chuckles and shifts her weight evenly over parted feet. "You? Selfish?" Colby teases in reply. "Ah, it's marital bliss," she adds with a conspiratorial wink and a quick waggle of her brows. "No, really - we're doing just fine, thanks. Ariel's got a few new patients lined up and I'm just the puppy fetchin' the sweets." She laughs and begins to fish for her wallet. "How have you been, though?"

"Oh, it's been quiet." Mrs. Hadley sounds quite pleased with that statement of fact, too. "I have a boy helping me lately, so if you see him around, don't you try and scare him any, I know how you like to tease." She fills the cardboard box, and carries it down to the register. "I'm thinking I might spend some time in the park with samples, passing them out? To see if I can't get a few new people to wander in. What do you think would be best for that? Maybe the little chocolate drops? Though it'll have to be something that won't melt in the sun, of course."

Colby's dark gaze follows the box with a slight smirk tugging at one sharp corner of her lips before tipping back towards the older lady. She lifts her hands in a feigned surrender. "Would /I/ do such a thing?" She tips her chin up and to the side, giving a little nudge of understanding better used between thugs than two women talking over pastries. "Besides - I gotta give the kid a hard time. Toughen 'im up for ya." She offers that charming grin once more. "Do something festive and fruity - people love that stuff in the warm weather." Something in the case catches Colby's attention, her shoulders slumping in defeat. "Ariel's going to whoop me for bringing home so many goodies, but can you throw in a piece of Tiramisu? /Please/?"

Mrs. Hadley laughs then, a delighted sound. "You tell her it's all my fault, dear," she instructs the younger woman. "I twisted your arm, right? I'm terribly mean that way." There's no hesitation on her part: she pulls out another cardboard box and starts working on getting a chunk of the cake inside. "He's not a kid, dear," she goes on, tone absent while she concentrates on not getting chocolate or cocoa everywhere. "And he'd just run off if he got too scared, so you be as nice as you know how. He'll be fine once he has a bit of stability." They always just need a bit of stability.

"Oh, I already planned on blamin' you," the Latina replies. Colby lifts her hand in a little scout's honor symbol - well, one best she can manage having never been in the scouts. "Alrigh, you got me there. I'll be on my best behavior." She eyes the piece of desert with a little sound of anitcipation. "No chance you can put a lock on that so I don't gobble it up on my way home, yeah?" She winks and leans against the edge of the counter beside the register, beginning to fish out a few bills.

No sign of anything /fancy/ like an electronic register here, ohno. Rather, Mrs. Hadley brings the boxes over and pulls out a calculater, then starts working up a receipt. By hand. On a carbon-copy pad. Old people, sheesh. Once she's got the total figured, it's on to the register itself, all CLANG and DING. Once the transaction is completed, she nods her satisfaction. "There we go, dear. I put a bit of tape on this one," she informs, with a tap on the tiramisu box lid. "So your Ariel will know if you opened it before you got home."

"You're so /kind/," Colby replies with a tone and smile that denotes a sincerity and tease alike. With the exchange of money and goods, the Latina balances the boxes up beneath her elbow and tugs her glasses back down into place. "I'll see you soon, I'm sure - you put something addictive in these sweet of yours." With another little nudge of her chin she turns and makes for the door. "Have a good evening."

Mrs. Hadley wiggles her fingers. "You too, dear! Bring your Ariel by sometime, I haven't seen her in far too long!" And with that, the old woman is finding her perch on the stool by the register again. Time for more crossword'ing!

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