Lance and Bernard's Culinary Capers

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A grizzled Foundation agent sat at the end of a motel bed, wearing a dingy suit and an almost permanent scowl. The TV was on and tuned to a generic late-night talk show. The generic talk show host, who'd probably cut his teeth on some late-night comedy show, turned to his studio audience.

"You've all heard about our next guest, and I've been trying to get a table in his restaurants for years now. Put your hands together for Anton Ivanovich!"

The Agent spat at the sound of the man's name. "Damn Sarkics."

A deep growl came from the bathroom. "I know you hate em, Lance, but don't spit on the floor. We aren't animals."

"Sorry, Bernard."

"I mean, I feel ya. I hate Russians just as much as you hate Sarkics, especially after last year. But we've gotta be professional."

"Look, I'm sorry about that. But for the last time, that's just circuses, not just Russian ones."

The door creaked open, revealing an eight-foot-tall grizzly bear dressed in a black suit. Tilting his head to look at the screen, he spoke. "That the guy?"

"Sarkic shitbag himself. Grab the keys, you're driving."

Bernard groaned. "You know I hate driving."

"You know I'm a shitty chauffeur."

"So Anton, you just wrote a book about your life as a restauranteur and entrepreneur. Wanna give us a sneak peek, for those of us who haven't been following your meteoric career?"

Anton smiled through his disgust at the host's superficiality. "Well, I'd have to start at the beginning. My grandfather Yuri is really the catalyst for everything I am today. When he fled his home in Siberia because of religious persecution, he walked through just about every country in Europe and picked up a love for food and cooking that he passed on to my mother, and then, to me."

"So he taught you everything you know?"

"Oh no. Bless him, but Yuri was a terrible cook. But what he lacked in skill he made up for in passion."

"So where did you learn how to cook?"

"I'd like to think the same way he did, just under less unfortunate circumstances. When I graduated culinary school, I went to his hometown in Siberia and worked my way across Europe, working for and with as many local chefs as I could. When I got back, I opened my first restaurant."

"And the rest is history. Now, you were just nominated for a Humanitarian award for your work with the New York City homeless shelters. Can you tell us a little more about that?"

"Helping those less fortunate is the greatest thing you can do. People are our most valuable resource."

Agent Bernard closed the freezer door behind him and look at his partner. Lance was standing over an unconscious Anton Ivanovich, seated in a chair.

"He waking up?"

Lance slapped the unconscious man. "Soon enough."

Anton coughed and tilted his back. "Where… where the fuck am I? Are you?" He shook his head and blinked rapidly. "Look, I've got money if you want money."

Lance laughed. "We're not here for money, bud. Foundation's finally got enough shit in the file to warrant a meeting."

"But. I'm not doing anything wrong. We had an agreement." Anton stammered. Lance smiled and sat down.

"Yeah. That you'd keep a low profile," growled Bernard. "And now that you're making us regret that. 121 people who frequent your food kitchens have disappeared in the past month."

"And the guys in accounting found a lot of your money is going into offshore accounts, ones that anomalous groups use a lot. I'm no genius, but I'm sure that's not part of the agreement."

"Look! I can-"

Anton was cut short by the cocking of Lance's revolver. "We're gonna ask the questions."

Anton gulped and Bernard cut in, "Here's what we think is happening. You're running two businesses. Money and supply. You're using the high-class restaurants to generate or launder money for a Sarkic cult and moving it offshore. And you're also using your homeless shelters as a buffet for picking out the most vulnerable of society so you can ship them off at a profit to other Sarkic bastards. That is, the ones you don't use to rebait the trap. We've noticed your shelters and restaurants have no purchase history of any foodstuff that isn't seasonings or oil. No fruits, no vegetables, no meat. Thoughts on that, Lance?"

"Sounds like a grievous violation of even the most lenient of Foundation deals, Bernard. What do you gotta say about that, Anton?"

"You're wrong about everything."

Bernard chuckled. "Consider your next words carefully. The Foundation has a way of making people disappear."

Anton turned white. "But I'm a celebrity. You couldn't just explain that away."

"Normal people are easy." Lance shrugged. "But celebrities are a bit more fun."

"Wha-what do you mean?"

"Well, you're famous now, but what happens when everything starts going wrong? What happens if your restaurants start failing health inspections? Or your show gets canceled? Maybe the police find you ODing in your car with baggies of heroin and cocaine. Maybe your wife goes on vacation to some far-off hot spot and comes back with a bunch of new memories of you being a terrible husband and father and publishes a book about the "real" you. It's a crazy goddamn world out there."

"You. You wouldn't do that?"

"Lance and I have personally done each and every one of those things. You're famous, not untouchable, so you better give us a reason not to."

Anton sighed. "I have been breaking the agreement, but not how you described."

"Do tell."

"Those offshore accounts? I've been moving a ton of money to the Mana Charitable Foundation. And since you guys would freeze my assets, I had to do it under the radar. I've got all the documents to prove it in my office."

Lance and Bernard said nothing.

"As for the homeless people, it's not just patrons. It's my volunteers, people I know. My friends have been disappearing, colleagues who deserve every accolade I've received. I've spent thousands trying to pay for private investigators, donating to the police force so they'll investigate, and running ads for tips. I've been beefing up security and building shelters for them. There's something wrong going on under this city, but it's not me."

Anton cleared his throat. "As for the food. I'm a floraturge. I use that and my Sarkic knowledge to duplicate… well pretty much anything food-related. So the money can go back into the community."

"Sounds like we've got a regular Jesus of Nazareth here, Bernard."

"I don't know, Lance. His heart rate is steady and as best I can tell, his pheromones show he's not lying."

"I'm not lying. I really, genuinely am trying to make the world a better place, even if I have to use Sarkicism. I know you don't care about that. Heard about what you did to Sarah."

Lance opened his mouth to speak when the door to the freezer was torn from its hinges, revealing a large emaciated white figure. It had no mouth or eyes, just a series of black lines running vertically across a flat face. In a pouch on its chest, the body of a homeless man could be seen. As it reached for Bernard, the bear roared with all of his fury and slapped the monster's hand, cracking bones and splitting skin.

Lance leveled his revolver and prepared to fire when he heard bones splinter and wet flesh sliding apart from where Anton was sitting. When he turned his head, he saw Anton's face flush with fear, his hands clutching two escrima crafted from his own bones. Bloodless holes had opened on his wrists and he stood in a fighting stance.

"WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!" Anton shouted.

Lance squeezed off three shots into the creature's chest. "I'm gonna say it's our kidnapper."

Lance leaned against the restaurant's bar, wincing and taking deep gulps from a bottle of vodka as Anton Ivanovich pulled a steak knife out of his abdomen.

"You sure you can fix this? I'd hate to bleed to death on the rug."

"It didn't hit anything, so I'm just gonna mold the skin back together."

They hadn't been able to kill the creature, despite the best efforts of a trained gunman, a Sarkic mage, and an 8-foot grizzly bear, but they had forced it to flee and sustained only minor injuries.

"How are we gonna explain the damages?" Anton asked.

"You've got insurance, right?"

"Of course."

"Then me and Bernard are gonna dress as waiters or dishwashers, leave the gas line open, and boom. You walk out with a minor head injury, insurance covers it, and the Foundation makes sure it all seems legit."

"Head injury?"

Bernard walked in from the back. "Do you got anything that'll fit a large grizzly bear?"

"What do you… Oh my God, you're… How did. What the fuck?"

Lance laughed. "Yeah, people think he's a human until he tells em he's a bear."

"What in the fuck. I just thought he was a really tall guy. With like a hair disorder."

Bernard smiled, in his own ursine way. "Common mistake."

Lance stood upright. "Alright," he turned to his partner. "I'm thinking 10cc of Paw."

Lance and Bernard sat on a bench across the street, watching paramedics load Anton Ivanovich into an ambulance as firefighters rushed around trying to battle the blaze. Bernard spoke first.

"He seemed like a solid guy."

"Yeah, a good heart."

"I don't think Command needs to hear about his activities."

Lance looked at his partner. "No. I will write a report on this." His face cracked into a smile, "But, I think I might accidentally lose it. Besides, we've got a new monster to catch."

"Yeah. Gonna be a long night, huh?"

"Wanna get some food? Maybe a coffee?" Lance sat forward. Bernard never turned down food.


"Si, Oso."

"Still working on Spanish?"

"Better believe it, big guy."

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