Spy My Regards

Ahhh... Friday afternoon. And as an extra bonus, it was nice and sunny out still! The collie hummed a cheerful pop melody, swishing her tail in rhythm to the song while she browsed through the aisle of baking goods.  Flour: check. Sugar: check. Honey, agave nectar, brown sugar, persimmons, dates, rolled oats, assorted nuts, chocolates, heavy whipping cream, butter, cream of Tartar, oranges: also checked off the imaginary list. Carol Torres just needed to pick up a few more things to make meals for herself to last the coming week, and she’d be ready to go back to her apartment and start her weekly bakeoff for the nursing home and the office. 

Although the S.H.U.S.H. agent was off duty and enjoying her time off and her plans, her senses remained attuned to her surroundings. Her ears followed every change in the drone of ordinary everyday sounds. Her nostrils twitched and sorted through every air current, noting things of interest and ignoring things of non-importance.  She glanced at everyone who neared and passed by her, her mental catalog benignly sorting through the motley of profiles saved on the S.H.U.S.H. database. It was all part of her daily routine and barely registered in her conscious thoughts as she continued humming the melodic ear worm stuck in her head. 

Hm. What should she make for dinner? Something meaty, or something light? Maybe pasta carbonara and salad. Then she could have something besides sandwiches for lunch at work. Carbonara did not stink up the communal office microwave too badly, at least, and she could make sandwiches with what was left of the sauce if she made extra and canned it.  

As she was busy sorting through her menu plans, she heard footsteps and the rustle of clothing nearby. She glanced curiously their way, stiling her tail and her humming to avoid being a nusance to the fellow customer.

    • Lilly Teal
      Lilly Teal

      The fellow customer didn't seem to mind the display of happiness, though he didn't comment in its absence. It didn't occur to him that the woman might be trying to be polite, or feeling self conscious. The humming having stopped was just a event that had happened in his vicinity, vaguely interesting, but not interesting enough to interrupt his shopping.

      The baking aisle was just lovely, wasn't it? So many different flavours and colours and textures.

      Off in his own little world, he tucked a few things peacefully into his basket before he hit a snag.

      Ah. High shelves. We meet again.

      He could, of course, ask one of the supermarket attendants, but there were none in sight. What was in sight, however, was a friendly looking fellow customer! Turning to the dog, he directed a bright, friendly smile up at her, green eyes twinkling behind his glasses. 

      "Excuse me young lady. Sorry to trouble you, but could you pass me a down packet of those cinnamon chips?"

      • Agent Carol Torres
        Agent Carol Torres

        “Certainly.” Carol returned his smile with an equally friendly one and reached for the bag of chips, politely proferring them. “Here you are.”

        Why do you look familiar? We’ve never met and I’ve never smelled you or heard you before, but I am certain I recognize your face.

        ”Wait!” 

        I need more time to figure out who you are!

        ”The bag smells a little off. Let me get you another one and see if it smells any fresher.” She fished another bag of the shelf and sniffed it, and a few others around it.  They smelled mostly identical but she was still busy thinking. 

        “Ahh. Here. This one smells fresher.” She happily handed the (thankfully newer) bag to the little butcherbird. 

        Butcherbird. The species matched the description of his position. Doctor— something that reminded her of a southern state. He did not work alone, so he had to be with a group. Not the Cheese Gang. Not the east or west gangs. Not Sharp’s resort. Not Negaduck. 

        • Lilly Teal
          Lilly Teal

          "Much obliged," he chirped. He, of course, didn't recognise her in the slightest, and gave her another bright smile as he put the chips in his basket. "I'm not entirely sure how these will taste, but there's no real harm in being a little experimental when you're only cooking for yourself, is there?"

          Experimental! Get it! Did you see what he- no, never mind. Cornelius was entirely oblivious to his accidental pun himself, and seemed about to move on with his shopping when he paused.

          He liked interacting with people. Whether it was polite to do so or not.

          "What a lot of very sweet things you have in your basket. Quite the sweet tooth, I think?"

          • Agent Carol Torres
            Agent Carol Torres

            “Experimenting is half the fun of cooking,” Carol agreed. 

            Don’t leave yet. I’m still sorting through my database. How should I stall? - Nevermind. He’s chatty. That’s good.

            The collie followed his gaze and blushed faintly. 

            “If this was all for me, I’d have quite a stomachache.” She chuckled.  “I bake about a hundred fifty cookies a week to donate to nursing homes and gift to friends.” 

            • Lilly Teal
              Lilly Teal

              Cornelius brightened up, clearly delighted by this idea.

              "How wonderful! What lucky recipients they must be. I am sure your cookies are nothing short of excellent." Let us be friends so I can get cookies too!

              He was so nice. So warm and kind in his compliments. So grandfatherly.

              So... very much still a part of FOWL with a tendency to forget that science could hurt people.

              "I have very fond memories of my mother's cookies, you know. I do try, but I can never seem to get them quite the way she did."

              • Agent Carol Torres
                Agent Carol Torres

                “Have you taken humidity into account in your baking?” Carol asked. “I keep a barometer in my kitchen and adjust the time and temperature to match the weather. The lower the humidity, the faster they bake and dry out. Lining the tray with baking paper helps prevent burns and stickiness, too.” 

                She moved toward the back of the store as she continued chatting, hoping he would follow her to continue the conversation. She picked up a few bags of frozen peas to keep her shopping cart items chilled.

                FOWL. I remember now. Dr. Tex. Oh dear. I sure hope he doesn’t have any sedatives or tasers or pills on him to subdue victims. What is he up to? Is he buying groceries to feed or torture his victims? No...he mentioned cooking for a single person and the proportions in his basket seem to equate that claim, aside from the baking supplies. And who wouldn’t want to have extras of those. What should I do? Let him leave and follow him back to the base? Keep him stalled until S.H.U.S.H. can come pick him up for questtioning? He hasn’t done anything wrong. Maybe I should try to coerce information from him. 

                • Lilly Teal
                  Lilly Teal

                  It was more about not being able to recreate that motherly taste than trouble baking, but Cornelius never discouraged helpfulness.

                  "Excellent advice, excellent advice," he said kindly, following her.

                  Cornelius, don't follow strangers! Don't you know how dangerous that is?!

                  "I do need to practice my baking. I'm much better at meat. All sorts of meat."

                  I'm great at slicing it, too!

                  "Oh, but listen to me ramble on, I shouldn't keep you, I'm sure you have so much more to do today."

                  • Agent Carol Torres
                    Agent Carol Torres

                    “Meat, hm? I’m quite fond of it myself, but I haven’t quite mastered it yet. The quality and texture varies so much from roast to roast, and I’m not familiar enough with anatomy to carve a turkey without, well...butchering it. Perhaps my knives are too dull?”  Carol inquired casually. 

                    What a strange topic for conversation.

                    “Actually my schedule is open at the moment. I do not have anyone waiting for me.” 

                    Careful, Care. Don’t give this stranger any ideas about following you home...

                    Unless you are planning on leading him to S.H.U.S.H, then by all means, lead him.

                    Except he has not done anything to warrant being led to the slaughterhou– Pardon. The interrogation room. Criminals have rights, too. Nobody has disappeared recently, so there was nothing to suspect him of. That She knew of...

                    • Lilly Teal
                      Lilly Teal

                      "Possibly." He nodded seriously. "You must always keep your knives sharp, or you won't get clean cuts."

                      Not that he minded a little mess every now and again. "Still, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it soon enough, once you have the right tools on hand. Otherwise I'm sure you still could, it would just be unnecessarily difficult to achieve."

                      Don't do that to yourself, young lady. Get sharp knives.

                      "This is really very nice, people usually don't talk to me this much at the grocery store when I chat with them!"

                      Maybe because they're buying groceries?

                      • Agent Carol Torres
                        Agent Carol Torres

                        More likely because you’re eeriely enthusiastic, talking about knives and cutting things apart? Or maybe because you seem like the creepy type who talks to people to get their guard down and then does unpleasant things to them. I don’t have to be a S.H.U.S.H. agent or a police officer to have my inner radar go off.

                        “Thanks. I don’t think this store carries a good whetstone or fine cutlery, though.” Carol added as an aside. 

                        Yay, a change in topic! 

                        “It is nice to chat. Especially about cooking. Enjoying food is one thing most people have in common, and we all have different tastes.”

                        • Lilly Teal
                          Lilly Teal

                          Cornelius brightened up again, if that was even possible, and there was a very, very slight manic glint in his eye. He seemed to have a lot of enthusiasm for a lot of subjects.

                          "Absolutely! That's one of the wonderful things about people, isn't it? We're all so different, even in our similarities! Every person their own individual in their own way. Ah~ the world is a wonderful place."

                          Indeed it is, little mad doctor. Indeed it is.

                          "I could happily spend the rest of my life just studying one aspect of humanity. Or one aspect of any science. There would be no end to things worth discovering and studying."

                          • Agent Carol Torres
                            Agent Carol Torres

                            “So you’re a man of science? What do you study?”

                            As if I don’t know, grr... Do you have any capacity for empathy, Mister, or are you just as messed up in your own head as you are in your morals and career choice?

                            Carol kept her pleasant pokerface on as she added another item to her cart to keep up the charades. She was in complete agreeance with some of his words, but she could not lower her guard.

                             

                            • Lilly Teal
                              Lilly Teal

                              "Oh, anything I can get my hands on! Machines, chemicals, medicine, I'm a doctor, actually," he chirped. "But I simply love learning about everything. SCIENCE!"

                              Cornelius please. At that very loud exclamation at the end, people started craning their heads to see who was causing all the commotion, but the butcherbird didn't seem to notice.

                              "Ah, that reminds me, I need to buy a big bottle of vinegar."

                              ... what exactly reminded you...

                              • Agent Carol Torres
                                Agent Carol Torres

                                “Machines and chemicals? Goodness. You must have quite the résumé, Sir.” Carol replied cheerfully, sounding duly impressed. 

                                I need more data. I can’t report you or stalk you without plausible cause.

                                “Vinegar? Is that for a salad? I’m sorry if I’m asking too many questions.” Carol blushed and flattened her ears, apparently embarrassed by her curiosity. 

                                • Lilly Teal
                                  Lilly Teal

                                  "Hm? Oh no no no dear girl, you must never apologise for asking questions."

                                  He reached out to take her hand and give it a comforting pat, heedless of any body language that would indicate whether she actually wanted him to do so or not.

                                  "Curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge should never be apologised for! This is actually for a rather delicate chemical experiment I'm conducting, you see I am trying to produce a chemical that will, when mixed with a small food or plant sample, indicate any poisonous or unpleasant substances because personally I've had a few experiences of picking wild mushrooms where you can never be exactly sure if it's edible or not wouldn't it be excellent to have something that could tell you to a very high degree of probability if something you've picked is safe to eat or not? And that would ideally include edible plants but with unhealthily high levels of pesticides, or deep rot that isn't visible on the surface. Of course I would want the chemical to display different colours for natural toxins, chemical contaminations, and disease, but that might be a little tricky for now, still-"

                                  Someone please stop him.

                                  • Agent Carol Torres
                                    Agent Carol Torres

                                    Carol’s ears flattened even more at having her hand taken without permission but she tolerated it. She could flatten the tiny butcherbird in seconds if he tried anything untoward and she was keeping tabs on other customers to make sure Dr. Tex was unaccompanied. There was no need to take fright.  The last thing she needed was to be surrounded and dragged off by Eggmen, but she technically should have nothing to fear. She was just a desk agent, afterall. She rarely ever participated in arrests or investigations. FOWL had no reason to know of her existence and Dr. Tex had no way to know who he was talking to, since she was in plain clothes and her id was in her pocket. Never mind that she was a curious, friendly, apparently trusting woman on her own... Her intuition and her senses did not pick up anything worrisome. 

                                    Stay calm. 

                                    Huh. His experiment actually sounds...good? 

                                    “Like Undercover Colors nail polish that detects chemicals like Xanax?” She perked her ears and tilted her head. 

                                     

                                    • Lilly Teal
                                      Lilly Teal

                                      "Hm? What is that?"

                                      There was no unnecessary hand holding. Patting done, he let go pleasantly. He clearly had no idea what she was talking about, though it was possible he just didn't know the name of the brand. If the chemical development had been written up in a scientific paper, he'd likely have read all about it with fascination and approval.

                                      Medcines, however, he recognised the names of.

                                      "Why would one need to detect the presence of a pain killer?" He blinked innocently up at the collie.

                                      • Agent Carol Torres
                                        Agent Carol Torres

                                        “It’s the sedating effect that is troublesome when you still need to drive or walk home. Particularly if you wish to return home unaccompanied.” Carol tried to clarify.

                                        “Your experiment sounds fascinating and very helpful. Do you work for a lab that provides funding for your experiment?”

                                        • Lilly Teal
                                          Lilly Teal

                                          "But wait." Cornelius wasn't ignoring her questions on purpose, it was just that with unanswered or unsufficiently answered questions he was like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go until he was satisfied. "Of course I understand pain killers can have ill effects and having taken too much one might not be fit to drive or walk home. But surely then the person should regulate their intake?"

                                          Oh. Oh honey. You think the people are taking too many headache pills?

                                          "And what do you mean unaccompanied?"

                                          • Agent Carol Torres
                                            Agent Carol Torres

                                            “Uh...” 

                                            Perhaps I should not have mentioned that nail polish. He might find a way to counter it. But what if his food testing expriment Is for a good cause? Perhaps he could be recruited by SHUSH or a university research laboratory like Dr. Bushroot? Although that did Not work out well for him...

                                            Carol took out her phone and brought up the news article describing the nail polish and its purpose. “This will answer your questions better than I could.”

                                            Please don’t steal my phone. And please, Agent Grizzlikoff, Agent Anca, Mom, or anyone else: please do not text me now. 

                                            • Lilly Teal
                                              Lilly Teal

                                              Cornelius took the phone with great interest, giving the article a look. It wasn't long before his intrigued smile faded into a look of confusion.

                                              "Why would anyone do that?" It made no SENSE. It wasn't forwarding science, it was just... just being HORRIBLE to people. "How dreadful... oh I am glad those young ladies have a safeguard.  You see, it is people like that, who would take advantage of the trust and vulnerability of others, who would really only serve the furthering the science by being on a slab."

                                              He sounded very serious about this.

                                              • Agent Carol Torres
                                                Agent Carol Torres

                                                “A slab?” Carol feigned innocence, duly hiding her inner shudder of revulsion as she waited for him to return her phone to her. 

                                                • Lilly Teal
                                                  Lilly Teal

                                                  Ah yes, your phone! He hadn't even realised he was still holding it, and gave a slightly embarrassed smile as he handed it back.

                                                  "Slipped my mind. But yes! The mixture will indeed be something like that."

                                                  What are you talking ab- ah, you've skipped right over the current conversation and gone back to the previous one.

                                                  "Do you know how many people unintentionally make themselves ill from contaminated food that otherwise looks and tastes perfectly fine? This will safe everything such a wonderful lot of trouble. And medical bills, I'm sure!"

                                                  • Agent Carol Torres
                                                    Agent Carol Torres

                                                    Carol was relieved by the change in topic, although it did strike her as suspicious that he did not immediately clarify what he meant to try to come across as innocent. She smiled and pocketed her phone. 

                                                    “Yes. It could save lives in countries with contaminated water sources, and help everyone from hikers casually taking a jaunt in the woods, to children with low immune systems, and even animals. It’s a worthy cause. Are you a famous scientist working on a federal grant or a doctor in a college research facility? Or is this experiment a hobby of yours you are conducting in your own basement? Forgive me if I am asking for too many details.” She wagged her tail and pinned her ears shyly. “I can’t help being curious. Will you publish a paper on your findings? Can I read about you somewhere?”

                                                    • Lilly Teal
                                                      Lilly Teal

                                                      Me? Famous? Only in obscure scientific circles, dear!

                                                      He waved a hand, looking a little embarrassed. "No no, this is just a little hobby being done in my own time. My work gives me the funding to experiment as I please, as long as I am on call when they need me. Very kind of them. I was fascinated by the idea so I have simply decided to run with it. I will publish it, of course. It's important to do so even if it's unsuccessful. A leg up for the next round of scientists. My work is easy enough to find."

                                                      Mostly because anything pointing towards FOWL'S illegal activities was HEAVILY edited out by the PR departments, or entire papers of his locked down, before he actually published anything that wasn't his own independent study. Or even independent work that turned out to be useful to FOWL's cause.

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