French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 09
New York City, 2010
The evening went swiftly, and they had a fair number of customers, most of them either students from local universities or art students, since O’Reily’s was only a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art. Dylan worked the back, mixing batter and baking up a storm, while the twins and Qui worked the front.
“The twins” were two teenaged Canadian girls from British Columbia who had shown up on his doorstep in early 2003. Their adoptive father, a large gruff skinchanger so ancient he appeared as a short-faced cave bear, paid up for a year and vanished, leaving instructions to keep them in at the full moon. They had been with Dylan ever since. Outside of occasional visits from their father and checks to pay their rent, the girls were very self-sufficient, though they’d only started working in the café recently. That was probably just as well, Dylan figured, since if they’d been working since they arrived some of the regulars might have started asking really uncomfortable questions.
The only real issue Dylan had with the twins was their full moon transformation. The cute, petite girls changed into full-sized Kodiak bears with the tendency to rummage through the garbage for scraps of raw meat if not fed enough, and if they didn’t have something to keep them busy they’d leave anyway.
But they did love their video games, so he’d had a specially modified Wii and incredibly rugged controllers built for them and stocked their apartment with plenty of raw salmon and other high-protein, formerly-animal products during full moons. It kept the girls happy, and bear reports down. Fortunately, their guardian had warned him ahead of time so he had been able to brace the floors; two seven-hundred-pound bears jumping up and down in excitement while doing Wii Sports was not something the average residential building was intended to survive. And the challenges of soundproofing had been… heroic.
Qui, on the other hand, was a mystery. She was one of Professor Frasier’s students, an attractive young woman of Japanese-Chinese decent. She majored in literature and enjoyed theater. Anna had practically raised her and introduced her to the arts. Qui claimed to be a spirit, but did not say what kind. She also had a teenaged brother who went to a local high school, and seemed completely normal if geeky enough to annoy his much more refined sister.
The twins were dressed identically like always, both in pink and pale blue fluffy skirts, hot pink tights, and matching hot pink sweaters. Their hair was done in cornrows with ribbons. Qui, on the other hand, was very sophisticated with professional black slacks and a white silk blouse. All of them wore the O’Reily’s apron.
It wasn’t too crowded tonight, but there was a line, and the espresso flowed quickly, the pastries moved well, and customers were using the free Internet provided by the café in the back. The regulars didn’t just come back for the java and treats, though, but for the café itself; they could tell a labor of love when they saw it. O’Reily’s had rustic barn floor wood for its flooring and a stone fireplace in back. Used furniture, including plush couches and comfortable chairs, was scattered about the floor with wood tables and bookshelves spaced around the room. Along the wall was a long table with computers and posters from an assortment of art galleries.
In the front was a large, curved glass display case filled with scrumptious pastries and sandwiches. The counters were fossil marble and in the back were several espresso machines and a coffee machine. They had a freezer and cabinets as well as refrigerators, a microwave and a toaster with a mini toaster oven for preparing various sandwiches. Lined up in the back in a glass display case was a collection of teas, syrups, and specialty beans — everything they needed for business.
Dylan also had a large metal-drum barrel roaster on the floor near the entrance of the café so people could watch beans churn and roast during the day. O’Reily’s was more than a coffee house. It was an experience.
“We need a pan pizza! Mushrooms and sausage.” Christie, or maybe Cheryl, said, poking her head into the kitchen and flipping a tab of paper onto the order tray. “And Angelus is out here, says you’re hunting tonight?” Her pretty, heart-shaped cocoa face pouted. “You should have told us, sis and I would have loved to have come. But we have to close.”
“You are not coming. Your daddy says no mischief,” Dylan told her sharply. “And until I can figure out what happened yesterday I don’t want anyone messing around with superpowers, okay?” He poured in a load of fresh blueberries into the batter and let it mix, then opened the refrigerator and removed a lump of dough for the pizza. He dumped it on a tray and grabbed a wooden paddle from the closet and put it on the metal counter. A little corn flour on the surface would prevent the pizza from sticking to its surface.
The twin frowned and planted her hands on her hips. “What are you talking about?”
“Take care of the floor, then we’ll talk.”
“Yeah, but I got a minute to hear what you’re not saying.”
“Later, Christie.” He knew he was shutting her out, but he didn’t know enough to tell her. He decided he wouldn’t think about how much he sounded like Liam at that moment.
“I’m Cheryl, and you better.” She nabbed a fresh tray from the pantry and left the kitchen without another word, rightfully angry with him, old bear, or both.
He was pretty sure it was, in fact, Cheryl; he had known them long enough to get some sense of which was which. On the other hand, they never liked to reveal who was who. It was a harmless game, and Dylan didn’t mind playing it, so he just went along. Whatever had happened to make the twins the way they were also made it important for them to hide. At least, that was his guess. When they were ready they would talk.
Sorry Cheryl, it just isn’t safe out there, even for a bear, and your daddy is scared for you.
Deciding he’d talk to her later, Dylan turned back to the pizza. He located the sauce, mushrooms, and sausage. Personal pizza was one of the week’s specials, and it was selling well. It smelled good, and he had no doubt as to why. He had been told he was quite the chef — and he should be, as a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
It was ironic how he had never gotten the chance to eat his own food after he got his degree. He had died on the very day that he graduated, before he could cook a single meal as a certified chef and begin his work as a professional. Still, his senses were intact — he could even taste tiny bits, dabs, to make sure flavors were right, he just couldn’t actually swallow anything, so he could still cook even if he couldn’t eat. Over the years he had picked up more cooking skills and related knowledge in order to run his own kitchen.
Pastries were his specialty. Well, that and hunting monsters after hours, but very few of his customers knew that. Wasn’t appropriate for a chef’s image.
With a spray of flour he kneaded and stretched out the dough until soft, then quickly tossed it using his fists until flat and round. He dropped it on to the tray, ladled on some sauce, grated on mozzarella, and added the toppings. A moment later it was in the oven.
Just in time! The muffin batter had to be spooned out into their cups and baked.
Cheryl stuck her head in again to shove a slip of orders on the metal tree. “One more personal pizza and a ham on rye.”
“Cheryl? I apologize for being abrupt.” He said, making her pause at the door. “I appreciate you offering to help.”
“We used to accompany Old Bear all the time when he hunted unseelie things,” she said with a pout. “Sure he didn’t let us help, we were cubs, but we understand what you are doing.”
“That world understood you and your sister, and Old Bear knew it. This world doesn’t. Mortals don’t know much about skinchangers; toss in the League laws about you, and you could get in a heap of trouble.”
She nodded stiffly. “But Liam and Jason would make sure that wouldn’t happen, right? And you would be right next to us. Old Bear trusts all of you.”
“Not enough to let you go out looking for unseelie things. That’s something only a daddy or mamma bear can trust doing with his or her cubs.” Dylan told her.
That was a simple fact of skinchanger society. “Hunts are a sign of adulthood. I know.” The girl nodded reluctantly in agreement. Of the two of them, Cheryl was the more active, and more bearish.
“I think he’ll take you when he decides you’re ready. You miss him, don’t you? Doesn’t hurt to give him a call and talk to him about it. See if he can take you out next weekend!” Dylan suggested as she joined him in the kitchen.
“Yeah, I miss him a lot.” She adjusted her apron and washed her hands. “Can I help? I like mixing dough, it has a nice smell and feels all gooey like funny mud in my fingers.”
“If I call, he’ll come, but he might think Christie doesn’t need to stay here,” she said, thoughtfully. “And she does, she likes all the human stuff.”
Working the kitchen was his happy place and sharing it with someone made it even more special. It was there that he felt the most human. He was surrounded by human smells, and able to enjoy them, just like he did when he was a boy, and when Anna was alive baking in SoHo. “I’ll take care of the sandwich, then.”
He saw her smile brighten as she quickly located the premade pizza dough rising in a metal bowl near the stove. “I like human stuff too – Beyoncé, dancing, Super Mario Brothers, ice skating…” As she spoke, she tore out some dough, measured it and floured the surface. “But at the same time, I understand what you mean by dangerous and why Old Bear wants us with him in the woods. It’s why he doesn’t stay here in the city. Cities are dead, the stink, the sounds, the bright lights at night, it hurts the Mother and the bits of her under it die.” Grief pulled at her young face. “And Fae thrive off the warmth of the Mother.” She pressed her palm into the dough. “Ancient ones are very sensitive to it.”
He wondered what the influx of magic would do to the Mother. Would it be like an increase of greenhouse gasses, or a methane bubble from the sea? It was a frightening thought. “Does it bother you and Christie?”
“Sometimes. It’s like smelling a person with cancer.” She shrugged. “Sad.” She looked over to him. “But I think we will find ways to try to help people learn about it when we get older.” Her voice grew stronger as she spoke, and she rolled out more dough against the counter with her palms.
“Fighting unseelie things might not be the solution.” He dug out the rye bread, dropped two pieces in the toaster and then quickly set out the plates, chips, pickle and coleslaw.
“Unseelie things are a part of the problem, though. Old Bear told us. They’re infected by the Mother’s sickness,” she said. “They either have to be taught and helped, or put out of their misery. But I need to think about this, and talk to Christie.”
He wondered what she meant, exactly, but didn’t probe deeper. It was skinchanger business, and none of his. Cheryl was here because she needed to talk to him about missing Old Bear and her need to go out hunting. He watched her pull out the pan pizza and place it on the wooden paddle, then add the ingredients.
“Great looking pizza, girl.” With the bread out of the toaster, he set to making the sandwich. “You rock!”
“The best,” she told him, carrying the paddle over to the oven. “My pizzas are pure Bear-riffic!”
Dylan snorted, but grinned. Bear-riffic indeed.
Anna had had to leave before the Café was in full swing. She never met the twins, Louis, or the clients down in the basement nor had she had the chance to really see Filipe, Qui, Angelus or himself working on their own. He wondered what Anna would think of the Café now.
For a moment, he stood, and inhaled with his eyes closed. The smells of baking pizza and already baking corn muffins filled the air. He could taste them in his imagination, and it bought a rush of vivid memories to mind. The revenant smiled. He loved the kitchen.
It was just like home but it also reminded him of Anna. She always smelled of pastries…