Meanwhile at Millie’s Coffee and Bakery in Metropolis, one of the best coffee and bakery shops in the ‘City of Tomorrow’ …
Millie’s Coffee and Bakery was one of those rare establishments in the world of fast food, clothing and information. It was family owned, and had been so for at least two generations. A small cafe, it had precious few seating inside or out, but that did not seem to deter the flow of customers. Despite how busy it was, the atmosphere was calm and subdued. The time-worn wood paneled walls dotted with antique photographs from the 1930s and 40s aviator days contributed to that. So did the light strains of soft jazz music that leaked from a well-hidden sound system. They were part of the reason Dr. Jean-Claude Gironde was a regular here.
That and the vanilla-coconut-caramel dark roast was practically zen enlightenment in a single cup.
Dr. Gironde looked across the warm cup of his usual at his table companion. She looked tense. Almost as if she expected her own cup of hot cocoa was intent on biting her fingers. She looked away to send worried glances out a nearby window.
“Ms. Cummings, you were telling me about Cavanugh Construction?” he prompted her gently.
Theresa Cummings jumped slightly. Her nerves were raw. “Yes. I’m sorry. It’s just been … you just don’t know.”
Dr. Gironde gave her a warm smile. “You are safe here. You have my word. Whatever, or whoever, you’re worried about will not enter this building. I promise you that. Now what about Cavanugh Construction?”
Ms. Cummings nodded. Worry and fatigue had taken its toll, but she had not given up yet. “Like I said, I manage the books for Cavanugh Construction. I also double as their I.T. person.”
The doctor took a slow sip of his coffee. “I see. Go on.”
“Cavanugh Construction does refurbishing of buildings and locations. Recently, they refurbished an old mining operation for re-use.” She stopped for a brief sip of cocoa.
Dr. Gironde nodded. “I’ve heard of them. From what I understand, they do good work. Promote a ‘clean’ means to refurbishing. Environmentally friendly.”
Theresa gave a derisive, quiet, laugh. “Yes, they do. They good at ‘cleaning’.”
The doctor caught the tone. “How do you mean?”
“I found some … discrepancies in the books. Minor things. Small items that would normally can be explained away or resolved through the end of month balance. I got curious and looked into it. I found that the ‘clean’ practices aren’t so clean. Workers are exposed to unsafe work conditions and chemicals. The workers are paid just below standard, enough that they can feed their families, but not enough to leave. If anyone experiences severe medical problems, they can make use of the company ‘medical incentive programs’. They send just enough to a real doctor to mark on the books. Most are treated by a medical staff kept on site.”
Dr. Gironde frowned at the unpleasant direction this took. “Then what is the ‘medical incentive program’?”
“I don’t really know. The most I know is that rumor has it that people unable to work in the yard get a chance to train up on the larger equipment. It’s supposed to keep them out of the more caustic environment. Workers recovering get that chance, too.” She paused for a moment. “I knew a man … Philip Jackson … he got accidentally exposed to some diluted chlorine. After he was treated, he signed up for additional training to use one of the construction bots Cavanugh purchased from Oscorp.” Ms. Cummings gave the doctor a stare so cold and afraid, he had to suppress an urge to shudder. “He worked harder than ever, and yet … he hasn’t shown any signs of his accident. Nor have I seen any disability payments go out to his family. In fact, he signed a form to saying he willingly refused the payments.”
“I see,” Dr. Gironde replied. “You think he was coerced?”
“I think he might have been.” Ms. Cummings replied. Her words were tumbling out of her now, like water in a waterfall. Like it was a relief to speak to someone who listened. “And the chlorine spill? Nothing was mentioned. Nothing on the records of it ever happening! All that I did notice was at the same time we unexpectedly upgraded out network hardware. I cleared out the old machines, but they were gone faster than you’d blink your eye! I asked Michael Cavanugh about it … the owner … and he told me not to worry about it. I mentioned the other items I had discovered and that I was concerned. He had an odd look but again said not to worry about it and that the end of month accounting would clear it all up.”
“Is that when the ‘accidents’ started that you mentioned to me on the phone?” the doctor asked.
“Yes,” she replied in a small voice. “I nearly died in one, if it hadn’t been for a local lawyer. She saved me. Encouraged me to get help.”
“A lawyer? Who? If she told you to get outside help, she obviously isn’t working with Cavanugh.”
“No. Her name is Rebecca DuPree.”
Dr. Gironde recognized the name. She was a mutant, and so is on her ‘watch’ list. He had considered approaching her for his team, but fate interfered. Before they could speak, Ms. DuPree fell victim to a deranged researcher from Oscorp who subjected her to ‘experimental’ drug treatments for her ‘mutant affliction’. Between her own efforts, and the efforts of the FBI, she managed to be free of the lunatic.
Afterward, Dr. Gironde kept his distance, since the young woman needed time to mentally heal. The last he understood, she had returned to school and gotten her law degree. She specialized in corporate misconduct cases and environmental cases, with interesting wins against the likes of LexCorp and others.
He nodded. “I’ve know of her. She’s helping you?”
“Yes. She’s convinced something is wrong at Cavanugh Construction. She’s convinced the company isn’t as ‘clean’ as it says it is and that they are siphoning money off that should be paid to disabled workers.” Ms. Cummings paused to get her breath. She visibly shook. Her recently experiences had taken their toll on her. “But, Ms. DuPree did say we were being stonewalled. She sent me to Dr. McCoy for help and to put me someplace safe. I’ve not dared call her, as I think Cavanugh has been trying to find out where I am and track down the both of us.” She fixed Dr. Gironde with another look. “Dr. McCoy sent me to you. He said you were the only one who could help.”
Dr. Gironde raised an eyebrow. I must speak with Henry about this love of drama he’s been enjoying lately. It’s a bit much. The doctor gave the nervous woman another smile. “Ms. Cummings, as dramatic as Dr. McCoy is, he is also correct. There is something I can do.”
“I … I don’t have much, but I can pay if its money you need,” she said desperately.
The doctor shook his head. “Ms. Cummings, there’s no need for your money. It sounds like Cavanugh Construction has had its own way for some time. In fact it sounds like they have been doing so at the expense of others, their workers, perhaps even the people they are ‘helping’.” He leaned forward, conspiratorially. “No, Ms. Cummings, what is needed now is for the people that work for me to provide you and Ms. DuPree with a bit of … leverage … against Cavanugh. Now, tell me about this decommissioned U.S. military base Cavanugh has been contracted to refurbish. It was used for chemical weapon research wasn’t it?”
While Theresa Cummings took a grateful drink of her cocoa before outlining the details about Cavanugh Construction’s current project, Dr. Gironde lifted the cup of coffee to his lips. He didn’t drink, as his mind was busy sending a telepathic message.
:: Thunderstrike, Medkit, Amethyst, and Calliope. If you’re not otherwise occupied, I need you four to assist a lawyer named Rebecca DuPree in dealing with a company called ‘Cavanugh Construction’. It seems they have been mishandling employee medical benefits and misleading people with chemical hazards. We’re going to teach them why this is a bad idea. You’ll need to meet with Ms. DuPree at your earliest convenience. She is in a small town called Bench Creek not far outside a decommissioned military base south of Blüdhaven. ::