The Insidious Panini Conspiracy


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Scene Title The Insidious Panini Conspiracy
Synopsis Crazy random happenstances in Central Park lead Kent to meet Jennifer. There may or may not be a group called the Ferrymen, Kent may or may not own a car, but the panini is certainly insidious.
Date September 29, 2008

Central Park

Central Park has been, and remains, a key attraction in New York City, both for tourists and local residents. Though slightly smaller, approximately 100 acres at its southern end scarred by and still recovering from the explosion, the vast northern regions of the park remain intact.

An array of paths and tracks wind their way through stands of trees and swathes of grass, frequented by joggers, bikers, dog-walkers, and horsemen alike. Flowerbeds, tended gardens, and sheltered conservatories provide a wide array of colorful plants; the sheer size of the park, along with a designated wildlife sanctuary add a wide variety of fauna to the park's visitor list. Several ponds and lakes, as well as the massive Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, break up the expanses of green and growing things. There are roads, for those who prefer to drive through; numerous playgrounds for children dot the landscape.

Many are the people who come to the Park - painters, birdwatchers, musicians, and rock climbers. Others come for the shows; the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theater, the annual outdoor concert of the New York Philharmonic on the Great Lawn, the summer performances of the Metropolitan Opera, and many other smaller performing groups besides. They come to ice-skate on the rink, to ride on the Central Park Carousel, to view the many, many statues scattered about the park.

Some of the southern end of the park remains buried beneath rubble. Some of it still looks worn and torn, struggling to come back from the edge of destruction despite everything the crews of landscapers can do. The Wollman Rink has not been rebuilt; the Central Park Wildlife Center remains very much a work in progress, but is not wholly a loss. Someday, this portion of Central Park just might be restored fully to its prior state.

Afternoon in New York. It's grey and overcast, the result of the storm that's currently wailing on Canada. It looks as if it might rain at any moment. Jennifer is moving at a brisk walk through the park, garbed in jacket, jeans, sneakers, and her ever-present backpack slung over one shoulder.

Not ideal weather for sightseeing. But when you're in New York City, you're supposed to see Central Park. Armed with this logic, Kent wanders. In a weather resistant jacket, a sweatshirt, jeans and muddied sneakers, he looks a little worse for wear, a backpack also slung over his shoulder. However, he's not wandering the conventional way. Through the more abandoned spots in Central Park, he disappears, reappears, moving rapidly. Not quite the smartest move, for when he reappears, seemingly staggering out from behind a tree and blindly into Jennifer's path, his already pale complexion has pale considerably. "Oh, Jesus, sorry," he says, staggering back away from her.

Jennifer gasps in surprise…the sudden appearance has her briefly thinking the worst, and her hand shoots towards her pocket, only to relax and stop once he apologizes. Muggers rarely do that. Or look quite so…rumpled. "It's okay. Collision averted. Wow, you must be like, junior ninja. I didn't see you there at all!"

Kent pauses for a moment, hunched over with a hand against his knee, as if out of breath. Which he is fine with appearing to be, frankly, better than nauseous from bending space. "Just call me the ginger ninja," he says, then shakes his head. "Actually… don't." He straightens up, readjusts his backpack strap as he actually looks at the woman he had almost fallen into, a hand raising to make sure his glasses are straight. "Typical that the first New Yorker I meet, I almost kill. Yeah, I was just. I was jogging."

Jennifer grins. "I'm the first New Yorker you've met and you're in Central Park? Is parachuting part of ninja training these days? And you're dedicated, man. It looks like it's gonna pour any minute. I'm running too, but that's so I don't get drenched!"

He turns his gaze upwards, briefly, at the overhanging mass of grey cloud. "Ah. Perfect," he notes, lines creasing in his forehead for a moment. "And yeah, you are. That says more about this town than it does about me, I think." Which is a lie, but it sounds about right, Kent's mouth twitching up into a half-smile.

Jennifer grins. "Well, you don't sound like you're from New York." Noo Yawk. "You touristing up here? Cause if you are, I can probably point you better places than Central Park in a rainstorm."

"Better places than Central Park in a rainstorm? You're kidding," Kent says, with a head shake — just as thunder rumbles warningly above them. "Okay, no. I can imagine that, somehow. Anywhere you can point me would be great, I haven't really figured out the next part of my plan, here."

Jennifer laughs a little. "Well, I just got out of class. It's not much of a tourist destination, but I was gonna hit someplace and get some lunch. If you want to come with, I can point out some of the better places while I'm eating."

For the first time during their little run in, Kent looks vaguely uncertain, glancing back towards where he presumably came from intheblinkofaneye, then back at the girl. His shoulders jerk up in a shrug, rain-proof fabric rustling. "I'm in," he says, half-smile returning easily. "Not often I rely on the kindness of strangers but if it's gonna rain, and all…" He makes a step in the direction she was headed.

The girl looks amused. "I wasn't offering to pay! Just to play Fodor's guide while I eat, that's all. But sure, off this wa— " And that's about when it actually starts raining. She squeals and starts to run. "Hurry!"

"I was actually thinking I…" And that's about the time it starts to rain, yes. Kent automatically follows Jennifer's cue and runs after her, a free hand yanking the hood of his jacket up over messy ginger-blonde hair, if only to protect his glasses. "I was thinking I could buy you your lunch!" he says, over the sound of the rain suddenly coming down. "In a completely non-suggestive thank-you kind of way. I might not look it but I have some expendable resources that can use some expending!" Long words, while running, not a great combination.

Indeed, she only catches half of it, but given the rain, she doesn't want to go any farther than she has to. Nearest food place she spots is a Panera Bread, and she heads straight for the door, dashing in as she reaches it. On the plus side, she at least holds it open for him. "Oh, I'm soaked." Thank goodness for jackets. But she does take a moment to slick back wet hair from her face.

Once inside, Kent is opening his jacket just so he can use the hem of his sweatshirt to clean his glasses, squinting semi-blindly down at them before replacing them onto his face, clear of raindrops. "The weather sneaks up on you in Wisconsin too," he says to her, with a glance back out at the sudden storm outside. "Good thing for me I almost knocked you over, huh?"

Jennifer smiles. "I don't know, you're just as soaked as I am. Plus, you're buying me lunch." She heard that part. "So I'm gonna go with the "good thing for me" plan."

"Great point," Kent says, after a beat passes, before he moves towards where the food is on display, a wallet taken out from a pocket. "I'm Kent, by the way. Did you ever notice that no one ever even heard of a panini until a few years ago? Maybe that's just me."

Jennifer thinks about it. "I've heard about them for… probably since I started high school? So it's been a while. And I'm Jennifer. But usually just Jenny or Jen."

Kent raises an eyebrow at this. "I dunno. Still seems like a conspiracy to me. Nice to meet you, Jenny." At a slightly uncertain shuffle, he makes for the register, and indicates that she can go ahead and order lunch, giving a flicker of a shy smile towards the barista and muttering that he'd like a caffe latte.

Jennifer literally goes "Dun dun dun… the evil Panini conspiracy!" And then blushes a little. "Sorry. Kind of a geek." A sheepishly apologetic smile, as she orders a half-sandwich and bowl of soup.

The bills needed to pay for the meal, coffee, and a tip, are handed on over, Kent pouring the change back into his pocket, adding a 'yes, to go' when asked how he'd like his coffee. Jennifer's apologetic smile is rewarded with a similar one in return. "More insidious than evil, but you've got the right idea." He tilts his head towards the windows looking out towards where people are either running for shelter or long since gone. "You wouldnt happen to know the names of any inner-city backpacker boardings, would you?"

Jennifer thinks about it. "Ooh. That's a harder one, actually. I could probably come up with something, though." She sips her soup. "So…you have disposable income, but you don't have a place to stay, or a car…so what's your story, Kent?" She smiles. "Running to, or running away?"

"Running in circles?" Kent suggests, flippantly, as he peels off the plastic lid of his coffee to blow cooling air across the surface. "And it might not be as shifty as it sounds. I might just not believe in cars." A tube of white sugar is promptly unloaded into his coffee, before he takes a tentative sip of the liquid, peering at the girl over his glasses.

She nods. "Nah. But I like imagining secret agents against the insidious panini conspiracy. Sue me, I have an overactive imagination. I take it a hotel's not feasible for some reason?"

"I'm good with being a secret agent against the insidious panini conspiracy," Kent says. "As delicious as they may be. It's kind of all part of the ploy. Hotel could be feasible," he says, interrupting himself with another sip of slightly foamy coffee, "but not ideal."

Jennifer nods. "I know a couple places off the top of my head, but most of the ones I know are sort of an emergency shelter. You have a cell phone? I could call them and see if they know anyplace, then call you once I hear back."

There's a moment of hesitance, as if Kent really has to think on whether or not he has a cellphone, before his backpack is swung around enough so that he can dig through it. If the flashes of the contents are to be of any indication, it's clear that he has his whole world in there — clothes, among other miscellaneous items — including what appears to be pepper spray. Tourist essentials for traversing New York, whether before or after the bomb. Finally, he emerges with a sleek, black and grey cellphone, which he flips open, pressing a few buttons deftly before angling it enough for her to view the number of the screen. "There you go," he says. For as long as this number works, anyway. "I'm not awful picky," he adds. "New York's not exactly— well it's seen better years."

Jennifer nods, and takes out her own cell, as she starts to punch his number in. "It has." She feels it out just a little. "Back before everything went weird and all the people with superpowers started showing up."

Kent obligingly keeps the device level so she can read the number and enter it in, and at first, he doesn't reply to that last prompt, before shrugging minutely. "Like some sort of bad comic book twist, huh?" he says. "Are there— a lot of people like that here?" Feeling it out just a little too.

Jennifer nods. "In New York? Yeah. Biggest city in the country, so stands to reason it's got more than anyplace else. Some register, some don't." She shrugs her shoulders.

"Well yeah," Kent agrees, dismissively, snapping the phone closed once she's done with it. "But I mean… either this must be an ideal place for them to be, or the worst city in America. After that bomb went off…" He trails off, as if unsure of the point he had been attempting to make, and dismisses it with a wave of his phone, returning his attention to his coffee.

Jennifer shrugs her shoulders a little. "It could be? That's why a lot of them stay hidden and don't register. But I hear there's people around here helping those folks."

"Helping, huh?" Kent responds with, without managing to skip a beat. It's a cynical response, a little out of context. But then his brain pulls him back to what she added, the factor of not registering. "You mean, helping them hide?"

Jennifer nods. "That's what they say." she says. "Helping them hide and set up new lives or travel without getting caught."

This, for Kent, seems like a conversation that would need to be held outside of Panera Bread. As it stands, no one is around to really listen in on them anyway, but all the same, he casts a nervous glance down to where his hands are holding onto his coffee. "How underground. You almost seem too ordinary to know about that kind of thing. That's a compliment, by the way."

Jennifer grins, and takes the last bite of her sandwich. "Geek, remember? Insidious panini conspiracies and all that? UFOs. Government coverups. Any and all manner of nerd lore."

"Well, people with superpowers is sort of a smoking gun these days in comparison to E.T. sightings," Kent says, and glances outside again, where the rain is still coming down. "Winter's gonna be a bitch. No chance this place or these people you're talking about actually exist, right? Or are we talking about some sort of Area 51."

Jennifer shrugs again. "Dunno? It's sort of one of those urban legends. Alligators in the sewers and all that? Supposedly they're called the Ferrymen."

So we're talking about an Area 51, is what Kent's expression says, just a mild smile and a refocusing on his coffee, which he quickly finishes off, setting aside the cardboard cup and wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. "Well if the panini can exist for more than a few years and aren't actually an invention to convince us that we're buying some sort of exotic European cuisine, anything's possible. I should get going and find a place for the night in case you don't wind up calling me."

Jennifer nods. "Thanks for the lunch. I'll put in a few calls and see what I can come up with. I can probably find SOMETHING."

"It'd be appreciated," Kent tells her, rising from his seat and making for the door. Eyeing the rain, he pulls his hood back up, and once the door is yanked open, he makes a run for somewhere else that provides shelter. And call it a trick of angles, or as is conventional, blame the light, but Kent seems to vanish once a few people passing by obscure his get away from the cafe.

September 29th: Mind The Sunflowers
September 29th: The Sailing Club
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