Nick came up the steps out of the Underground and made a bee-line for the bakery. As he turned the corner passed the news stand he could see scaffolding and a small truck with a rain on the back sitting in front of the bakery. Nick had been meeting Mark at the bakery every weekend or other for almost 8 years now. At first it was to get some help on his Physics papers and Mathematics assignments, but now that they were both working under the same Professor, their little meetings had evolved into something of an impromptu business breakfast. Nick made a surreptitious path through the construction debris and came to the front window next to the door, only to realize a large pain of glass resting on the scaffolding supports was blocking his way to the door. As he turned around he could see Mark sitting inside at their usual table gesturing excitedly at a new counter girl. Mark had something of a stutter, and found explaining what he wanted generally frustrating for both parites. One of the reasons their weekly meeting were situated at this bakery was that the counter girls there knew him, and he could gesture and grumble his way through his order knowing that whatever came out he would get what he always got anyway - a raisin scone with blackberry jam and an almond scone with nothing, so it didn't much matter what he said to the girls. Every once and a while the owner of the bakery Mrs. McCaren would hire a new counter person, but general the other girls would prepare the new hand for Mr. Gorin. Nick could see the young woman's look of desperation as Mark got more and more flustered and his order more and more unintelligible. Mark was never inclined to anger, but as his frustration grew, as the length of every stuttering spell grew longer, his voice grew softer until it was little more than mumbles. Nick rapped on the window and gave a cheerful wave at Mark, who gestured frantically for Nick to come inside and save him. Nick rounded the scaffolding and came through the door. He walked up to the counter and put his arm around Mark's shoulder, obviously to Mark's discomfort. He explained Mark's order to the counter girl and added his usual, some redleaf tea. Mark wiggled out from under Nick's arm and headed for his table by the window. "So what's with all this construction," Nick made a production of looking at the counter girl's name tag, "Angela." "New owners." "New own ... what happened to Mrs. McCaren? And Sarah and Jamie ... and aaah ..." "Rachel? All gone. Bakery was bought out by Starbucks. But not before they told me about you. Mr. Ritchie I presume." "Please, call me Nick." He gently picked up her hand as if to kiss it. "Mmm hmm" Nick could tell she had been warned. Nick drained the charm from his face and placed her hand back on the counter. "Well you would think that if they had time to sing my good graces they could have gotten to the part about Mark's scones." "Mark? Thats mark? He said ..." "Oh, right, Hen3ry. Well you might as well learn it now my dear, you'll be seeing him a lot." Angela's considered the prospect and smiled. "I'd rather talk to him than you." Nick laughed has he picked up the tray and walked towards Mark's table. "Now where have I heard that before?"
Nick sat down opposite Mark and handed him the tray. "Did you hear that? McCaren sold out, and to Starbucks!" "Yyy-yes, a real tragedy. Now where are you going to find young women to bother." "I'm sure Starbucks hires young women too." Mark scoffed. "So what's this business about you and Galviston? The dean had that grumpy secretary of his calling me all morning saying that you've cooped his lab. He marched into the dean's office this morning and quit." "She's always nice to me." Mark responded. "Every time we talk it like she can't stand to be in the same room with me." "Well whhh-who fault is that?" "For someone who doesn't like to talk, you sure have a sharp tongue." Mark smiled and took a large bite of his scone as he ruffled through a stack of notes covered with equations and diagrams. "You can't keep acting this way, you don't have tenure like the others, your not even a professor, your a grad student, and Jefferies isn't here anymore to stick up for you in front ..." Mark pulled something from his knapsack and threw it onto the empty tray in front of Nick. "LLll-look at this." The thing was wrapped in an old rag. Nick picked it up and unwrapped a tangle of wires and bare circuit boards stuffed into a cardboard playing-card box.. "Gggg-gg-go on, turn it on." urged mark through a mouth full of scone. Nick looked the device over. Turning it over in his hand he found a large toggle switch on which Mark had written the words "DANGER", and signed the note "(Hen3ry)". "Go on, thh-thhhats just for show." Nick shrugged, but made sure to touch only the edges of the box as he flipped the switch. At first nothing happened, but soon a dim green light began to leak from the edges of the box, emanating from some circuit inside. The green glow grew slowly brighter, and then began to flash, first slowly, but with greater and greater frequency. As the light grew faster and brighter, Mark began to hear a sound from the front side of the box where a grid of holes had been punched through the box. In the middle of the grid were the words "exhaust", evidently Mark's version of "speaker". The sound began to modulate, and soon Nick could tell that it was soft music. "Oh, a radio," Nick laughed, "I was beginning to wonder." Mark continued to munch his scone and stare into space. "Keep lll-lli-listening."