Nuclear Matter

Cooking is a cathartic process. Knives. Gas-powered equipment. Open flames.

There are lots of ways to kill a person in the kitchen and make it look like an accident.

Smiling crookedly, Porter drops a perfect cherry into a perfect Manhattan and slides it across the counter to Vasha. Then he picks up his glass of cranberry juice, salutes, and spins around to soak more ladyfingers in espresso.

His place is… servicable. That's as much as can be said for it. One corner has been curtained off with thin drapes; a large, none-too-neatly made bed can be seen on the other side. In the next closest corner lies bathroom facilities. A free-standing shower with transparent glass walls, a lavatory sink, and a toilet that's surrounded by a hospital-style curtain.

The other end of the large room is dominated by a kitchen… of sorts. A commercial oven, stovetop, and refridgerator have been relocated and powered by God only knows what. Scarred strips of marble have been laid over steel benches to form countertops. A chest-high bar seperates the kitchen from the rest of the apartment. It has been pieced together from varnished strips of beech, oak, ash, and rowanwood.

Every other available bit of wall space has improvised workbenches bolted on at precise intervals. Every square inch of each bench is covered by equipment, everything neatly arrayed and organized. Audio bugs. C4. Pots of powdered aluminum. Bottles of laundry bluing. Tricks of the trade.

There are no walls.

"Comfy?" Porter asks as he jiggles his bowl of ladyfingers to ensure proper absorbtion.

"Comfy, he asks…" Vasha's tone is sour as she catches the drinks and curls her fingers around the stem. Lifting it first to meet his salute and then plucking up the cherry, she sniffs at the liquor before putting the glass down again and placing the garnish on her tongue.

Thoughtfully, she chews the fruit around the stem as she gazes at him. Her expression impassive, verging on the border of unamused. "Thank you for the drink, Captain." She hasn't said his name since she was overcome with fever on the boat. Hasn't given him so much as a second glance. "May I ask why you felt it was necessary to kidnap me from the streets in order to bring me to this…" She looks around the apartment, the windows have been blocked with blackout curtains to keep her from gleaning where they are. "… Garage? You live over a garage?"

She's quiet for a few seconds before she reaches two fingers into her mouth to pull out the tied cherry stem. A game that most women play when faced with a drink and nothing better to do. "But yes, considering, I am 'com-fy.'"

"You whine like a mule," Porter replies mirthfully. "It's a pawn shop. And stop digging, that's all I'm telling you. I blindfolded you for a reason. Look, you're safe here. This place is so secret that I don't even know about it. Relax. Drink your drink."

Still snickering under his breath, the spy turns and begins deftly layering moistened cookies, sweetened mascarpone, and grated chocolate into a deep dish. When his creation has been assembled, he stuffs it unceremoniously into the freezer so it can set.


Meanwhile, at street level…

A man in a form-fitting black jumpsuit and a ski mask reaches up to key the radio attached to his shoulder. "This is Monitor. Blue and I are going silent. ETA with package is… seven minutes."

Grinning, Monitor switches his radio off and flashes a thumbs-up to his cohort. His boyish gestures and expressions are belied by the curl of salt-and-pepper hair that's crept down to peek from one of his mask's eyeholes. With brief, abbreviated hand signals, he indicates the pawn shop's back door as a possible point of entry.

A single nod is all Monitor receives before Blue, dressed in a black velour jogging suit, pads silently toward the door. Without a sound, a velvet roll is procured from around the back of his pants and carefully unrolled. A pair of wire cutters, a modified amp-meter, and two picks, that is what is estimated to get his part of the job done.

Nearing a small box near the door, he carefully lifts the keypad from its moorings and gets to work. The probes are touched to each wire and the gauge is carefully monitored before finally a single wire is clipped.

Silence.


The comment gets a sharp glance from the tall woman as she takes a slow sip from her glass. "Safe is a relative term, Captain, I believe you are safe." Vasha licks her lips slowly and places the drink down on the bar between them. "Yes. You are safe. I am, out of my zone of comfort…"

She watches him carefully as he assembles desert, craning her neck to see exactly what it is he is making. When it comes together, her lips twitch somewhat, her expression smooths and she doesn't seem quite as hostile as before. "What is it you are planning, Captain? If you will forgive my suspicion, I am somewhat wary of why you have brought me to your home."

Polenta with peas and pancetta, balsamic glazed pearl onions, and a healthy portion of ossobuco in bianco are plated out on a rectangular platter designed for two. Simple twists of yellow linen and battered silver forks that have been polished to within an inch of their life complete the setting. The simple, intimate arrangement is a subtle jab; a test of Vasha's new coolness.

"I didn't know I needed a reason," Porter says. He smiles guilelessly, but the expression seems to get lost before it reaches his eyes. Unerringly, he locates his knife block by touch and draws out a table blade. Still smiling, still holding the knife point-first toward Vasha, he holds eye contact for several seconds. Then, abruptly, he reverses the knife and offers the handle. "Go ahead," he rumbles pleasantly. "Don't be shy."


Monitor is as impatient and jittery as a schoolboy, but he isn't wasting time. He has already knelt down beside Blue and unpacked some equipment of his own. A lightweight, handheld Geiger counter with a sensing wand. He fires it up, checks the gauges, and grins triumphantly.

A few flicks of the wrist, a quick twist and click the door is unlocked. Then Blue shuffles back to allow Monitor inside while he remains outside for a few moments to pack away his tools. Carefully, the velvet is rolled back up, silent as a country night. Once that's done, he follows Monitor inside and carefully reaches back to the door to softly click it closed.


"So this is all a ploy to see me in a more personal setting then," Vasha muses as she reaches out to take the knife. Her gaze back at him is unflinching but where his expression is lost, hers is warmer when he looks her in the eye. As she withdraws, knife in hand, she nods once and looks away. "Thank you," she murmurs.

She twists to the side and crosses her leg at the knee, the sixty's style dress that she's wearing reaches two inches above. Not enough to be considered immodest. "The meal looks lovely, Captain. This is… peas?"

Porter pauses with a forkful of polenta halfway to his lips and one eyebrow curved into an amused arch. "There are peas," he replies, a laugh lurking behind his words. "You'll love it," he promises.

Her other question goes suspiciously unanswered.

In a strong contrast to Vasha's attire, Porter is wearing a pair of soft, loose, cream-colored trousers and a close-fitting t-shirt that's so deeply blue that it nears black. Meanwhile, his brown eyes are still fixed on his dinner partner's. "These are Italian classics," he explains. "The finest fare that Europe has to offer."


The moment the door opens, Monitor is inside, carefully sweeping every available surface with his sensing wand. Apart from an immediate increase when he entered the pawn shop and an occasional blip, he finds nothing as he passes over shelves of dusty sporting goods and exterior walls. His boying smile is gone, now replaced by a detached, focused expression. "We're at two minutes," he whispers.

The needle on the guage waves as the wand passes in only one area, but the shelves are void of goods. Blue's eyebrows knit together and he first looks down to the floor, kneeling on one knee and patting the floor for a seam. Shaking his head, he glances back up at Monitor and shrugs. "Nothing down here…" he whispers back, still feeling for a seam in the concrete.


"I have never sampled Italian such as this," Vasha says in a monotonous tone. She picks with her fork at the polenta until a small bite is flicked onto the tongs. Her eyes are no longer on Porter's, in fact, she seems to be doing all that she can to avoid looking at him. Her first target, the bite on her fork. Tentatively, she takes a small taste from the bite on her fork. Only after she's chewed three or four times do her hazel eyes stare into his brown ones. "This is passable." A small comment, not quite a compliment but not a complaint.

Her fork finds its way to the osso buco and another very tiny bite is picked off from there. This one is held a little away from her mouth as she awaits his sampling. "When did you learn to cook?" Her voice is smooth though a little strained as she attempts her hand at small talk. "Were you a chef in a previous life?"

"You spend enough time in third-world hovels, you learn how to make anything taste good," Porter muses. He skewers an onion with a precise jab of his fork. "No choice, really."

The morsel is devoured at an elaborate and lascivious pace. He gestures with his fork, more a poke than a wave, and not an entirely passive or friendly one. Still, that deceptively mild smile is in place. "You should take some lessons. It ill befits a person to rely on others for their meals. I bet you couldn't open an MRE, much less heat one."


Quickly growing frustrated, Monitor begins sweeping his wand in broader, faster arcs. He uses his large frame to his advantage, checking all the way up the walls and atop the highest shelves. It's not until he reaches the ceiling that they get appreciable results. Then, in an instant, the Geiger counter's needle spikes.

Grinning again, Monitor passes the sensing unit to Blue and chucks a thumb in the direction of the light socket. "Gotta be in there," he says quietly.

It's the work of a moment to unscrew the lightbulb and pull the socket loose. As soon as it comes free, two cloth bags fall into Monitor's waiting hands. One is large and obviously quite heavy. The other is smaller, almost dainty by comparison. The latter is passed to Blue, then Monitor checks his watch. "Five minutes. Let's get the hell out of here."

The bag is caught and tucked safely into an inner pocket of Blue's velour jogging suit. Monitor's order is complied with only after everything is replaced exactly how it was found. When he is finished, a small rubber tool is produced from another pocket and a fine layer of dust is spread out over where they had touched. It's all in the details.

"Right then," he whispers, an indistinguishable accent coming through quite plainly. As they shuffle out the door, Blue's eyes sweep over the pawn shop before he gingerly closes and locks the door behind them. The cut wire is fitted back into place, repaired just enough for a temporary hold, and then the kaypad is carefully set back into its position. "All set."


"You wound me, Captain," Vasha's voice turns a bit whistful as her eyes finally find his. The knife is set beside the platter and that newly freed hand moves to twist a lock of hair, winding it between her fingers. "While I am not as impressive in the culinary arts as you seem to be, I am capable of heating a dinner for one."

She looks away again and toward one of the curtained windows. "I must say, that I am finding it rather difficult to imagine a setting where I would be required to cook for myself." She turns back toward him and gives him a rather distant smile, "As you know, I have grown quite used to living in a certain manner." Her hand slides across to grab her drink and she takes a small sip before placing it back onto the counter. "With your recent generosity, I feel that I am moving in a more positive direction. Perhaps another 'geek' or two and I will have enough to retire completely… Though I fear I would miss the excitement."

"One does grow attached to a lifestyle," Porter agrees as he forks up a load of lamb shank with a lazy flick of his wrist. "Mmmrrr," he groans around the morsel. "How deliciously moist."

He's readying a second bite when he pauses to glance back up at Vasha. "I haven't wounded you yet," he says, light and whimsical. His smile turn mischievous and lopsided, almost boyish. "As for your cooking skills, I'm afraid I'll only believe that when I see it."


Once they've safely exited, Monitor switches his radio back on and thumbs the 'TRANSMIT' button. "This is Monitor. We're green and on the way back. Let's kick the tires and light the fires."

A block away, the driver of a parked van starts the engine, but leaves his headlights off. Quietly, the side door opens so the two thieves can climb in.

The balaclava is removed and tucked away before they exit the alleyway to alleviate any suspicion from people passing by. A man in a velour suit? Not so unusual in the heart of New York. The fact that he isn't overweight and loaded with gold jewelry? A little more conspicuous. Blue lightly jogs across the street and slips inside the van after Monitor. Sliding the door closed behind him, he locks it and nods. "Secure, let's go."


"If you wished to wound me, Captain, you have the opportunity. I am quite defenseless," Vasha's eyes narrow ever so slightly and her lips upturn to a small, sardonic smile. Her fork is placed down on the counter and she plucks her glass up again to take yet another sip. Staring at him the entire time, she licks her lips off while placing the glass back down.

Her long index finger plays around the top edge of the glass, all the while her eyes don't leave his. "It is rather a perfect setting, if I were to disappear, I can think of much worse places I could end my days."

The half-finished dinner platter is picked up and bussed away from the counter. Something to be dealt with later. Just as swiftly, Porter replaces it with the freshly prepared dish of tiramisu. Still holding cold from the freezer, it steams and smokes when he sets it down in front of Vasha.

Wasting no time, he picks up his fork, licks it clean, and digs in. "I don't do that anymore," he reminds her. "So you're safe… in a manner of speaking."

His boyish grin turns darker. Ominous, even. Meaningfully, he glances toward the curtained-off bed.

Outside, the van pulls away from the curb, keeping its lights off until it is several blocks away.

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