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The Golden Ratio

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There are things Abby loves about the firehouse. The space to spread her projects over a wide area, the thick walls that prevent their neighbors from complaining about (or even noticing) the frequent explosions, having her teammates—her friends—within shouting distance, but not squeezing past them boobs to butt all the time. The location is visible, they're getting a reputation for efficiency, and the phone is less prank calls and more actual work. Yeah, the firehouse is great.

There's one thing she hates. No Chinese food downstairs.

Sure, there's one a block over (this is New York), and there are a few that will deliver, not to mention another dozen who hang up after she gives their address, but it's not the same.

Now that she's totally given up on Zhu's Authentic Hong Kong Food, there are a couple other options. Hunan Palace has a great Sweet and Sour Pork, not too heavy on the sauce, not too much breading on the meat. Their Crab Rangoon is to die for. And they put in an extra egg roll without asking for it. The Great Wall really does their chicken dishes right. It doesn't matter what she gets—General Tso's, Mu Shu Chicken, Kung Pao—everything is great and not loaded with MSG. North China has an amazing buffet, and the walk is just right to work up an appetite on the way.

But the wonton soup…

Oh, god, the wonton soup.

Why can no one do wonton soup in all of New York City?

Okay, she's exaggerating. Why can nobody get it right in her general neighborhood? See, there's a reason most of them hang up when she gives her address.

She opens up the first delivery to the firehouse and picks through the bag, pulling out her prize with careful fingers. Holding it up to the light, she counts the wontons. Three. Better than one, but still… three? She restrains herself enough to keep from slamming the soup onto the lab table.

Running out the front door to try to stop the delivery guy, she calls after him, "Hey, stop! You got my order wrong!"

He's gone already. She can just see the light flash off his bike tail light as he turns a corner.

She calls them up and proceeds to complain, very politely, mind you, but she's not sure the girl on the other end understands because another delivery guy shows up a half-hour later with another container of wonton soup. And a bill. She makes the guy take it out of the bag and just shakes her head sadly.

That's the first place that blacklisted her.

The next time, a new place, she attempts to explain (very gently, in her opinion) how many wontons she wants in the container. When it comes, there's only wonton filling the container from top to bottom, no broth, no nothing. Even Bennie, her old delivery guy from Zhu's, had brought her one with a couple teaspoons of broth in it! And the bill is all additional charges, a fee for every single extra damn wonton.

At yet another new place, she tells them, "Light on the broth." The container is filled only a third of the way, and still only has two wonton. She slam dunks it into the wastebasket. It doesn't even splash in a satisfying way.

It's enough to make her tear at the pockets of her lab coat in frustration. They're getting a little frayed. On the other hand, she's learning how to say "Take it back" in Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien.

She can go to the buffet at North China and fish around for wonton first, and then only cover them with the proper amount of broth. That's fine for the days she needs a break from the office. But what about the days when she's so intent on solving the latest problem that only the growling of her stomach reminds her she needs to eat? She attempts once to get the soup to go from the buffet, but by the time she walks all the way back to the firehouse, it's cold.

She's resorting to bribery. "Can I talk to the delivery guy? It's kind of hard to find the place..." What she proposes to him is a pretty sweet deal: bring the soup the way she wants it, get an extra $20 on top of the regular tip.

She's congratulating herself for the idea as she watches Holtzmann tinker with one of the proton blasters when Kevin comes in holding a white plastic bag by his pinky finger. "Who ordered Chinese?"

"Duh," says Holtzmann and fires up the soldering iron.

"No!" Abby says, running toward him. "You already paid for it?" She snatches the bag out of his hands and rummages for the soup.

"Yeah. Thirty bucks for a little bag like that?" Kevin clucks his tongue. "You should find a better place."

Abby sits down heavily. The container is closer to correct than she's ever received so far, but not worth the extra money! She sets it off to the side and covers her face with her hands. Maybe she should just swear off wonton soup for good. Is it really worth all this trouble?

Whatever. It's here. She drops her hands and turns to the table where she placed it…

It's gone.

"What?" Kevin asks, mouth full of wontons. "I thought you didn't want it."

She just gives up after that. She doesn't need wonton soup. Hell, she could get someone to teach her how to make it. She's gotta have the cooking gene somewhere twining around in her DNA. But they don't have a kitchen, just a sink and a microwave. The sink is piled high with beakers to wash and old chemical containers. The microwave is blocked by one of Holtzmann's projects of indeterminate purpose.

Maybe she should just switch to Thai.

She's sitting by the door waiting for her Thai order with her laptop, doing a little light reading of her favorite paranormal blogs, when the bell rings.

"I'll get it!" she tells Kevin pointedly, but he is bobbing his head to music only he can hear while he doodles on a pad of paper.

She opens the door. "You!"

Bennie stands there holding the bag from Thai Palace. One chicken pad thai spice level 3, one green curry with extra peppers, and no soup order, if he got it right. He shrugs. "Yeah, took a second job."

She eyes the bag suspiciously as he hands it to her. "You know I'm gonna have to check this before I pay you."

"Figured."

He hovers in the doorway as she pulls out the curry, the rice, the noodles… and one more cylindrical styrofoam container. "What's this?"

He shrugs again. "Open it."

She gingerly pulls off the container lid and it's soup. Wonton soup. She looks at him in annoyance.

"Check it."

Ripping open a set of chopsticks, she digs through, and she can't believe it. Finally. Someone can actually make wonton soup with the proper ratio. "I didn't even know Thai Palace had this on menu," she says, still stirring the little wontons about in disbelief.

"They do on the secret menu."

She looks up to see him winking at her. A joyful laugh bubbles out, and she presses the cash into his hand. There's a little extra there.

"Thanks," he says, counting the money, then he pauses. "There's a rumor that there'd be an extra twenty if someone got it right…"

Her mouth tilts into a lopsided smirk. Then she digs an extra twenty out of the pocket of her jeans and slaps it into the center of his chest. "This better be the best goddamned wonton soup I've ever eaten or…" She pushes him out and shuts the door.

"It will be!" he shouts through the thick metal.

It isn't. But it's also not bad. And she didn't have to interrupt her day's work to get it.

So she makes sure to ask if Bennie is working that day before she orders the next time. And if twice-a-week deliveries are considered weird, she doesn't care.