Some fifteen minutes and six blocks later, the Raken and Ronin found an empty table in a quaint little corner café.
"Window!" Ronin shouted, sliding into the booth that Raken was making for. Sighing, Raken merely switched to the long bench opposite Ronin.
Menus were displayed in a rack behind the condiments at the end of the table, and Raken selected one, but didn't open it.
"The Crimson Blade…" he said under his breath, shaking his head. Ronin had pressed his face up against the window, smushing his nose on the glass.
Raken checked his watch, "you've got to be kidding me, has it been a half hour already?"
Ronin's voice was level, "No, I'm still with you. I just really like things I can look through. You know, windows, glasses, binoculars, that sort of stuff. Mirrors on the other hand…"
Raken didn't ask him to elaborate any further, but filed that information away for later use.
"Can I get you gentlemen anything?" their waitress had arrived, a cute college-aged young woman with a friendly smile.
"Orange juice," Ronin didn't look up.
"And tea for me, dear. Something fruity and hot, if you have it."
The waitress smiled and nodded, then spun on her heel and retreated to the bussing station to put the order through to the kitchen.
"Moist towelette?" Raken dug one out of his pocket and offered it to his partner.
Ronin shook his head.
Raken shrugged to himself and opened the small package. He gave his hands a thorough scrubbing, careful to get between his fingers and under his nails. Ronin busied himself reading the back of the ketchup bottle.
"I read somewhere that most of what they print on the back isn't really true," Raken said idly, folding the no-longer-moist towelette back into a small enough square to fit into its original packaging.
"I'm sure that's illegal," Ronin protested, glancing over the label again.
"There aren't enough people in the world to check every can and box. Besides, some of those recipes are secret. They'd have to lie on the ingredients list, or else everyone would be making them." Raken said, accepting a steaming hot beverage from the waitress. He took the slice of mango stuck on the rim of the cup to be a good sign.
"Can I interest either of you in something for breakfast?" the waitress asked sweetly as she slid a tall glass of orange juice in front of Ronin.
Raken gestured to Ronin, politely letting the other man order first.
"Nothing for me," Ronin opened his straw and plunked it into the drink.
"Just some warm scones and butter," Raken said when the waitress returned her gaze to him.
"Anything else?" she asked
"I think we're all set, thank you," Raken smiled, watching the girl retreat to enter their order.
"I do really like this place," he said, "it's not often you find these sorts of independent cafes anymore. It's all corporate conglomerates and the like nowadays."
Ronin smiled wryly, "quit stalling and open the damn envelope. It could be time sensitive."
Raken glowered and reached into his vest, and after searching for a moment, pulled out the envelope he had received from Edward.
Ronin took a look pull from his orange juice. "Well?"
"You open it," Raken demurred.
"Hell no!" Ronin looked betrayed. He warily eyed the words printed on the front of the envelope again. "There's no way in hell I'm touching it."
Cabal of Wrongdoing
Top Secret Orders
Security Device Enclosed
Raken stirred his tea thoughtfully and made a show of casually checking the time on his wristwatch, "You know, I only have to wait about five more minutes before I can tell you there are cookies in there and you'll open it with your teeth…"
Ronin sighed, "Alright, I'll do it. I'd rather lose a hand than my dignity."
He rolled up his sleeves and, hands trembling, slid a finger under the lip of the sealed flap and drew it across the top of the envelope, slitting the top open neatly. Closing his eyes and wincing slightly, he carefully dumped the contents on the table.
Raken frowned. The envelope apparently had only contained a pair of folded documents, a pair of developed Polaroid pictures, and a single dead bee with a tag attached. Ronin looked as though he was about to pass out, and he somehow appeared to be both ghostly pale and heavily flushed at the same time. His right hand held the edge of the table in a death grip, while the other, trembling, was pointed squarely at the bee.
Raken raised an eyebrow and turned the bee's tag over.
"Security device: Best if used by April 8th," he read.
"We avoided disaster by three days," Ronin exhaled heavily, relaxing, "I'm very afraid of being stung."
Raken buried his face in his hands and rubbed his eyes, "just pass me the papers, and let's figure out what we have to do."
Ronin, carefully avoiding the dead bee, slid both sheets of paper across the table to Raken.
Raken unfolded the first one and skimmed it over, his brow furrowing.
"What's it say? What's it say?" Ronin said, bouncing in his seat, apparently fully recovered from his near-bee experience.
Glaring, Raken read aloud, "potatoes, cheese, unleavened dough…"
Ronin gasped, "Grocery shopping! For the Cabal!"
Raken studied the list further, "no, this appears to be a recipe. For pierogis, nonetheless. Have you ever had a pierogi?"
Ronin snatched the recipe out of his hands, "I'll hold on to this. You look at the other sheet."
Raken didn't argue as he picked up the other sheet and scanned it briefly.
"Wow!" Ronin gushed, "You can put sauerkraut in these. Or mushrooms. I love foods that can be stuffed with other foods. Like-"
"Hold on," Raken cut him off, "I don't think that recipe was meant for us."
"What do you mean?" Ronin sounded betrayed.
"Listen to this one: Dear sirs, congratulations on your new assignment. You have both been selected, based on present talents and past accomplishments, to the prestigious rank of 'Recurrers'."
Ronin's jaw dropped, "Recurrers? Us? Me? I have to call my mom!"
"Hold on, there's more," Raken gestured for Ronin to stay put, "and in the nature of Recurrers, you have been assigned to a specific case-mission. After a brief crash-course orientation, continental breakfast included, you will be encouraged to begin the pursuit of your quarry."
Raken paused as their server returned with his scones, taking the time to clear his throat, as his voice had been growing hoarse with emotion. Ronin waved the girl away and gestured for Raken to continue.
"You will be tailing a young Sparchemist named Raze Dragonarm, who is currently in possession of a powerful and ancient artifact, the Jagged Talisman. The Talisman, thought to have been lost forever, was once the personal property of The Black Hand," Raken paused for dramatic effect, just like the letter instructed him to do, "We require that the Talisman be carefully kept track of for the duration of it's stay with Dragonarm, and if the opportunity arises, you may attempt to relieve him of it, though this is not expected of you."
Raken paused, this time on his own, and lowered his voice, "Signed, Chief Lieutenant of Animosity Roger Feldman. Countersigned, the Black Hand! Counter-countersigned, Roger Feldman again. I guess there might be a bit of a power struggle at the top."
"Ha-ha!" Ronin giggled.
"That's not funny, these men represent the leadership of the Cabal," Raken muttered as he looking up.
"No, not that," Ronin piped, "This!"
The grown man had stuck the end of the handle of Raken's teaspoon up one of his nostrils.
"Ugghh! That's disgusting!" Raken turned aside, repulsed.
"Gyaaaaahh!" Ronin stuck out his tongue, managing not to knock the spoon from its perch.
"Take that out, you're embarrassing me."
Ronin pressed a finger to his other nostril and blew, somehow emitted a piercing trill that made the spoon wobble in a hypnotic manner. It made him giggle until Raken slapped him clear across the face.
Raken grimaced and hoped his new partner wouldn't cry as Ronin rubbed his stinging cheek in disbelief. He pulled out his wallet and counted out more than enough crisp bills, which he arranged neatly in the center of the table, "Put your bag on, we're going to see the pharmacist."