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A few hours before the holiday dinner was to be served on board the ISS.
ISS Commander, Russian Colonel Natasha Andreyevich, turned to her co-pilot, U.S. Major Riki Somers and said, “ I hear that the ISS program hired a renowned chef that everyone hates, a Wesley something or other.”
Riki replied laughing, “Yeah, Wesley the Weasel Stephanos. He’s a pig. He claims he slept with every wife and girlfriend of the ground crew and orbital staff except one.”
“We in Russia heard that too and the money says it has to be the head of security. I assume that includes you too?” Natasha watched closely for a reaction. There was no need.
Major Somers turned red. Quickly changing the subject, she said, “Russia, Japan, China and the U.S. are sending freighters full of food and supplies for the holidays. They are ready to dock. We won’t be able to unload and store it all on board before dinner is to be served.”
“Just leave the Chinese and Japanese freighters docked to the new unfinished sectors. We’ll unload the rest of our goodies first. I heard that your chef prepared a surprise for us. I’m looking forward to meeting him.” Her eyes were sparkling. “Food, drink and a little recreation are what some of this crew could use. You agree Major?” Natasha asked with an evil grin.
“I’m a married woman and…”
“You didn’t deny my opening comments,” laughed Natasha. She gave Riki a pinch and a wink. “And I never mentioned what I do believe you inferred. You Americans, sometimes I don’t understand your false show of prudishness.” Natasha laughed even harder.
Riki looked her straight in the eyes and said, “Maybe there’ll be enough to go around for seconds… at one sitting, so to speak, sir!” Two can play this game she thought.
Now it was Natasha’s turn to redden. That thought had crossed her mind.
Wesley had started a school at NASA for chefs and cooks in order to make real meals for the future explorers of the moon and Mars. “They deserve the best,” he always claimed.
However, he was a horror to work with. “You call that edible? I wouldn’t serve that to a pig,” he screamed at one cook. “You, you maroon, you go back to Hardies or where ever it is you came from before here,” he said to another as he physically threw him out the door.
“Where do these idiots come from?” he mused. He turned to the students who watched the whole episode in silence and declared, “We are cooking for our future, the future of humankind. Do they think this is McDonalds? Maybe once we set up a new civilization on Mars or Uranus,” and as he laughed hopefully lessening the tension he concluded, “then if they want fries, they can have them.”
The abuse was enough to make anyone want to see him dead. But the food was out of this world and the astronauts loved it. Even the French would fight to be on one of the flights he cooked for.
A cold clear evening in Boynton Canyon Arizona, late December
He looked up at the sky from the second floor bedroom patio of his wife’s pinkish concrete red adobe façade home. Their bags were still unpacked from the flight. There was no urgency. They had a good dinner at the Spa. He turned to her, pointing up to the evening sky and said, “Sonja, I love that the night sky is not affected by city lights as it is in Phoenix. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It’s always awe inspiring,” she said as she sipped her drink. “And I suppose you’re still gloating over the successfully planned and executed surprise you planted on board?” She gave him a little poke on the arm but not enough to spill his drink.
“Ah yes,” he said. “Look to the right, over there, just above the canyon crest There she is, the ISS.” The sun glinted off the huge space station as she orbited by and was lost to the wall of the canyon on her voyage around the planet.
“You want another drink?” she asked with a laugh not bothering to look. She knew. “I cooked his favorite tonight in honor of him.”
He looked at Sonja, “You were right, enough was enough and it was time we put this problem to bed.” He chuckled and said, “Shepherd’s pie I suppose? Make it a good red that goes well with meat. You choose.”
About the same time, A Solstice Holiday dinner aboard the ISS
“Major Somers, when you free up, would you meet me at the Space-X freighter, please?” The request came from the ISS commander Russian Colonel Natasha Andreyevich.
Major Riki Somers was communicating with Houston regarding a slight problem they had on board and held off responding to Colonel Andreyevich.
Houston was in a panic. They were always in a panic when it came to a public relations SNAFU. “What do you mean he’s not there? How could he not be there? It’s impossible,” shouted the voice through the console in the ISS command center.
“Houston, we can’t find him. I’m going back to the docks to meet with Commander Andreyevich now to search the rest of the Space-X freighter. We think he may be hiding there. It’s certainly large enough for that idiot to hide in. He probably hopes we won’t find him and he can return to Earth. He may be an astronaut, but we all know he hates to fly.” She emphasized, “And we all know vertical missile type launches scare the piss out of him. Why didn’t you people use a space plane? You have 5 of them on the runway. We’re clear on deck to accept one. You know that.”
Houston responded, “We didn’t expect him to go AWOL or anything like that. The launch was prepared. It was a quick after thought. He was just to be a passenger. We know he can’t fly a kite.”
She heard laughing in the background from the ground station.
Major Somers added, “Oh and by the way, the dinner was fantastic. When we get our hands on that weasel, we will thank him personally in front of the cameras so the world can see. Cool your jets. We’ll find him.” What she wanted to say was, we’ll present him to the public after we clean him up. The big baby, he’s probably a mess.
“Just find him and do not broadcast any of this on an unsecured line,” commanded the voice from Houston.
“Of course, Houston. Do you think we’re fucking idiots?” she replied. She was concerned for a lot of reasons but she didn’t want to let it show or come through her voice. “Sorry, that was uncalled for. I’ll report back as soon as I have more data.”
She mumbled to herself, “Of all the fucking times for Wesley to screw up. It’s a major holiday flight to the station. The world is watching and that idiot Wesley goes missing. How the hell do you hide on a freighter to the ISS?” She had an idea what really happened. She laughed to herself. She would mention it to Natasha.
The voice in her earpiece came through again. “Major Somers, would you please meet me at the Space-X freighter?” The ISS commander asked, “Do you read me?”
“Colonel, sorry, I was on with Houston. I’ll be there right away.”
The ISS was now the huge control center for all orbital construction, for ongoing moon colonization and the planned colonization and terraforming operations now occurring on Mars.
The ISS housed over 200 people and had been boosted to a higher orbit so the effects of gravity and drag would be less of a concern. It held docks for the freighters that were always coming and going as well as a landing pad for the space planes that usually carried important personnel.
The Space-X freighter with food supplies held the world’s most famous cook/scientist/astronaut, Wesley Stephanos who was aboard for this holiday flight to the ISS.
However, Wesley Stephano, a Ph.D. chemist and one of the world’s tops chefs, was also scared shitless of flying. He would actually drive or take the bus from his home in NYC to the Cape (Massachusetts or Florida) rather than fly. People would ask if they knew him what and why was he doing work for NASA as the head food consultant/scientist for the space program?
When the New York Times food editor, Ms. Katrina T. Seivados asked, “Why would you take this position? We all know you hate traveling and flying?”
Wesley answered, “Please call me Stephen. Now, to answer your question, it’s my duty as a citizen. Second, I have the freedom to create like no other. And third, the fringe benefits are fantastic. And please, seriously, please call me Stephen” He lightly patted the news reporter’s butt as he sidled up close to her. He covered her recording device with his free hand and whispered, “Ms Seivados, I can prepare a very good meal for you and me if you have some free time this evening? I’ll have my driver pick you up at 7PM. It will be formal.” His hand never left her tush.
At first, she was going to say no. But it only took a second after looking into his eyes, and having tasted one of his meals at the White House, she responded, “Stephen, I would be honored.” She left his hand where it was. She smiled a wicked smile and then ever so lightly ran her hand down his thigh.
They both had the same thought, Game on.
WESLEY THE CHEF
In the kitchen, he was one of the most obnoxious persons on the planet. People he worked with hated but respected him. His other socially predatory traits did not lend themselves to close intimate friendships with coworkers and others. His reputation with women other than his wife was legendary.
Wesley preferred to be called Stephen, a variation of Stephano. He had taken his mother’s maiden name. His great-great-grandfather had been the head chef for kings and emperors. He had also been known as an incredible womanizer. He was killed in a duel with a prince who caught him in bed with his wife, mistress and daughter.
Wesley hated the name Wesley. He was known as Wesley the Weasel in school and in college for pretty much the same reasons as his chosen namesake. He would screw his roommates’ and college friends’ girlfriends and in some cases their sisters. He rarely got caught but because of some sort of guilt Wesley felt, he eventually broke off the relationships with the women and friendships with their boyfriends or husbands. He had some interesting memories but no friends from high school or college because of these extracurricular activities.
Wesley could come up with some of the most fantastic meals. But deep down, he loved the simple basic recipes coupled with a wine that would complement the meal. They took as much if not more care than the fancy meals he was famous for. Many times these most simple of meals would be his choice to be presented to one of his discreetly chosen dinner guests, not a few of whom happened to be a wife, girl friend or adult daughter of a coworker or close friend.
Wesley had a lot of enemies, but Wesley could cook. And in today’s world, one did not have to face a duel of honor for such extracurricular activities. The courts of law settled most of the domestic issues that Wesley’s activities engendered.
No matter what the outcome, he remained married. He and his wife Sonja agreed to a style that most would find untenable.
The night he proposed to her he said, “Sonja my dear, you are remarkable, beautiful, intelligent and a wild romp in the sack. Did I say I love you? I love you, but I also love the finer things in life too, money, food, cars and as you know, other women. If you can abide by that I will ask you to marry me.”
She, like him, was a sybarite at heart. She too liked the finer things in life and that included other men. “Yes, my dear. I can abide by that if you can accept the quid pro quo in my behavior. I love your cooking, your humor, who you are, and yes, I do deeply love you too.” What she didn’t mention was that she worked on contract for a government agency. Her marriage to him gave her access and opened doors that would have otherwise remained closed. And since he rarely if ever traveled with her, she was free to do pretty much as she pleased. She would have married him no matter.
“Sonja,” he said, “when I am with you, I will be with no other and I ask the same from you. That is my basic request of you.”
She replied as her dress slipped from her shoulders, “And Stephen Stephanos, I expect, no, I demand the same respect from you.”
After unloading the two freighters:
“Commander, there is no sign of Wesley the Chef. He’s on the manifest. The hatch was open when we got to the Space-X freighter but we couldn’t find him,” said one of the crewmen.
“He’s here, just keep looking. He could be anywhere. It’s a big station. Maybe he got lost or is just floating around. When you find him, bring him to my quarters,” ordered Natasha.
Three hours later:
Riki was a bit worried and said, “Natasha, still no sign of him. Now what?”
“Maybe he went EVA,” Natasha said smiling. She had been briefed regarding his fear of flying, and that he had been ordered to make the jump in the spirit of international good will.
Natasha got on the intercom. “This is the commander speaking. Listen Dr. Wesley Stephanos, we know you’re hiding on board. Just get your butt to the command center so we can meet. If you don’t, I’m not promising what sort of mess we’ll make of your superb culinary art.” She also knew he preferred to be called Stephen. Calling him Wesley over the intercom might make him angry and insulted enough to emerge from wherever he was hiding.
The crew had been looking everywhere. “Maybe he rode the Chinese or Japanese freighters up,” offered another crewmember.
“No, he hates to fly. He just likes to cook and screw,” snapped Riki.
Natasha looked at her and nodded. She leaned over and whispered to Riki, “I hear tell that his food is considered ‘pantie droppers’ by some of his dinner guests,” she couldn’t help but laugh.
Riki looked at her, planted her Velcro feet by her command and control station and stood up to her full 6-foot height and said, “As a matter of fact, yes, his cooking is that good. May you be so lucky. I’m going to get the holiday dinner ready. I’ve seen him cook,” and emphasized, “more than a few times. I think I can handle this. He’ll show up. He’s just a big scaredy-cat when it comes to any flying.”
Dinner was the best that they had ever had. There were enough leftover packets to go around for a few more meals. Still, there was a no-show from Chef Stephanos. The Commander decided to look for him herself. Not only was this getting annoying but also it could prove politically embarrassing.
Natasha licked her fingers and stated, “By god, that was the best meal I’ve had up here. How did he do it? The turkey was great and beef/pulled pork, my god, the pork in the shepherd’s pie was so tender. The vegetables tasted like they were just picked. How the hell did he preserve the food and wine so well? Major, you take control of the station. I’m going to locate Chef Wesley the Weasel Stephanos myself and have a few words with him.” As she got up, floating, she turned to the major. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. We just heard lots of stories about Wesley. There must be a lot of people who would like to see him ‘jump from a window’ as we used to phrase it decades ago.” She added, “By-the-way, you’re correct, his cooking is THAT good.”
Riki turned to Natasha and said, “Yeah he’s made a lot of enemies. My husband threated to kill him a few times as did almost every other jilted lover or spouse. I heard tell some of chefs and cooks he threw out of his kitchens, some of them came at him with knives and had to be restrained. But by god can that man cook. This meal was one of his best. I don’t know what was in it. There was no list of ingredients. He never tells anyway, but you know what I’m seriously guessing?”
Natasha looked at her and shook her head. “Nope, you tell me. But I want more of that Shepherd’s pie. I thought the recipe called for beef but he added pork and, well, all I can say is it’s heavenly.”
Riki said, “It’s his version of Shepherd’s Pie. I never had it before and I have to agree, it is good. But back to the point, he’s got enough money, and I bet that SOB paid someone to get him off the flight, fake the manifest, and he’s back on the planet eating, drinking and screwing. He was just human cargo. The freighters are totally automated. That bastard, I did want to see him.”
Natasha just laughed. “Considering we looked all over, I would tend to agree. I’m going to have another look at the Space-X freighter. It’s huge. Who knows maybe he’s cowering in there somewhere next to the remaining packets of food he prepared. And if not, then I’m going to call NASA and ROSCOSMOS and have what you call an APB put out for your cook-lover.” She thought, I’d like a piece of him too.
Natasha floated down to the air locks and looked at the open hatch to the Space-X freighter. She thought, what idiots some of these ground service people are. She thought Riki should see this, if just for a laugh.
Natasha radioed, “Major Somers, would you meet me at the Space X freighter?”
Riki drifted to a spot next to Natasha as Natasha pointed out to her what was scrawled on the capsule. “Some of your people can’t even spell. Look! I bet he’s hiding in there with the rest of the supplies we have yet to unload.”
Hand scrawled on the inner capsule hatch was DONNER-CAPSULE, and in smaller letters Bon-Appetite.
Natasha thought, Americans, they can’t even spell DONOR CAPSULE. It’s a wonder they ever got off the ground.
Major Somers gagged and then puked her dinner.
Police detective Angel Madero went over his records for the reported death of the NASA chef Dr. Wesley Stephanos. He faced the director of NCIS and then turned to his partner, Detective Francis Patrice and said, “Franny, as far as we currently know Dr. Stephanos was murdered, butchered, cooked, and served up to an unknowing crew of the ISS on the Solstice holiday in some sort of highly planned sick and savage revenge.”
Franny looked up from her notes and added, “There is no remainder in any form from that meal as per the official NASA disposition. And the Captain and Co-captain are legally unable to discuss this due to the claimed security nature of the flight. Or at least that’s what we have been advised.”
Angel faced The NCIS Director and said, “And we have been advised to drop this case. We are not even allowed to discuss this with anyone, yet it stinks. There are too many loose ends. No one person could have done this alone.”
The NCIS Director showed no emotion when he stated, “I have my orders. You are not to speak to anyone about this, what you have found will be declared Top Secret Code Words and if either of you dare to mention this to anyone you will be thrown in a federal prison and locked up in solitary for life. Do I make myself clear?” He turned and was about to leave thinking he had made himself perfectly clear.
Angel believed that a murder was committed the on the planet. He felt it was his sworn duty, his honor to see this to the end. “Sir, with all due respect, this is a murder. This is a conspired murder. We have no idea how many actors. There may even be fall-out to other deaths. You are aware of the space plane’s mysterious destruction?” Here he was referring to the destruction of the reentry plane as it left the ISS with the crew shortly after what he firmly believed was the discovery of Dr. Stephanos’s murder. “These were all the crew members save the Captain and her co-captain at the time of the incident,” he added
The NCIS chief quickly about faced. “DROP IT. This is a military matter and a Space Federation matter. It has nothing to do with the state of Florida or the government of the U.S., Russia, China or any other political entity.”
“Sir,” Angel said again. “The murder took place on Earth, not in space. This is in our jurisdiction. I have the court order to proceed. I didn’t want to have to say this. So, now do I have your cooperation or do I have to force it from you?”
“Detective Madero, you do not. I cannot say anymore than what has already been stated. If you and the state want to continue this investigation, good luck. But I will remind you if you do not already know, or figured out, this goes way beyond anything you have ever played with. Now goodbye. I do hope we never meet again. Because if we do, I will be the one making the decisions.” He stopped and looked at both of them. He said, “And you will not like what I will say. Trust me.” With that he walked out of the meeting room.
“Did you get all that on tape?” Angel asked with a grin?
“You bet but if we ever get caught, we are so dead,” answered Franny. “Do you think he suspects? We had to use old-fashioned non-digital recording equipment that wasn’t traceable.”
Angel said, “I couldn’t read him. He’s good. It was your idea. You said your brother was a audio junkie and collected all sorts of old equipment and computers that no one uses any more.”
Franny added, “I couldn’t read him either. Now what? And by the way, I turned it off as soon as he left the room. I really got the idea late one night after looking at an old news story about the former President Nixon’s secretary and the lost minutes on the tape.”
Angel said, “Let’s compile a list of everyone who had some sort of professional or personal contacts. Let’s get a list of the ground crew at the time too. Someone there had to be in on this.”
But over the years nothing came of it. All leads dried up. No one seemed to remember Wesley. Others claimed immunity, diplomatic or security as the basis for not complying. The Captain lived in Russia and couldn’t be questioned. The co-captain when interviewed claimed a security immunity. Angel did think it was strange that Riki Somers resigned so quickly after that flight.
The murder of Dr. Wesley Stephanos was moved to the Cold Case files. There was nothing to be done.
Five Years later: Chief Detective Angel Madero’s is going over the ISS cold case again.
“It’s been just over five years since Chef Wesley Stephanos was murdered and,” he stopped when he was about to say cannibalized. It was still too repulsive for him, and he had seen a lot. It was just the idea of the scope of the crime that got to him. Murder was no big deal, find the motive, and you can find the killer. But this was different. There were lots of motives, many suspects and possible leads that all dried up.
He looked at his partner Detective Franny Patrice, and continued, “Five years and not one clue. Every person investigated that wanted this guy dead had a rock solid alibi. A lot of people wanted this guy dead too. He had an enemy’s list of jilted lovers and their spouses, insulted and blackballed chefs. This guy was a real shit.”
Franny looked up from the computer screen and added, “We have been keeping tabs on all the suspects. We know that after five or more years, tongues wag, people let their guard down and some people become remorseful. There has been none of that.” She added, “And to top it off, his wife disappeared too.”
“She’s another piece of the puzzle. We know she high up British MI6. We can’t touch her. We don’t even know her real name,” was Angel’s added reply. He knew she knew but had to say it. Sometimes talking aloud gave him some clarity to the scrambled evidence data wrapping around in his head.
“Franny, what did the AI come up with again? Anything new?”
Angel had been on this case since the beginning. The lack of cooperation between the police and the different government agencies, The Space Federation was daunting and totally frustrating. Angel knew there was something behind all this. “It’s Jimmy Hoffa all over again,” he swore under his breath.
Franny looked up and said. “I’ve thought the same things many times. This killing was organized that’s for sure. No one person could pull this off. The guy was killed, slaughtered and cooked. The evidence was consumed. And based on the reports, everything in the ISS is recycled and there was no DNA evidence.”
He added, “And anything not recycled is shot back into a degrading Earth orbit and burns up on reentry. How convenient. This is making me crazy but I can’t let it go.”
“We’re missing something,” they both said simultaneously.
Franny answered the earlier question, “Angel, AI has always said, Not enough data. Murdered, assailants unknown. And, Missing Suspects.”
“That would be the wife,” she added.
“Or the crew,” he said. “They were killed on reentry. I discovered in an old issue of Aviation Week that it was claimed that an early AI based anti-satellite weapon system went rogue and vaporized all of them. The captain and co-captain were still onboard the ISS briefing the new crew. They were the only ones from that mission who returned to Earth safely. But when I went back on line to print it out it disappeared. I couldn’t locate it anywhere.”
Franny continued, “That ASAT conspiracy was denied by the government. The commander was a Russian and we can’t get to her. The co-captain couldn’t and wouldn’t talk either. Their mission and level of clearance forbid them. So we’re stuck, even though it was a murder, or multiple murders, considering the possibility that the crew vehicle was deliberately destroyed. That may be the real reason for all the security. There was supposed to be a treaty dealing with space-based weapons. There weren’t supposed to be any in orbit.”
“If we could only get to the wife,” said Angel ignoring Franny’s comment on weapons in space. “We need to find her. She might just be the key to the whole thing. ”
Franny added, “She had motive too. Maybe she got tired of his screwing around. You know, in so many of these open marriages or swinging couples, one person falls in love with another and the agreement that was in place is then suddenly void, unbeknownst to the other party until it’s too late. I really think that’s our original motive.”
“Yep,” Angel said nodding his head. “I have to agree. It’s been one of my guesses all these years. Her unstated immunity, her knowledge of covert activities coupled with the stonewalling we get, just reinforces what you said. She’s the missing piece.”
Franny had an idea. She kept it to herself. Angel would never believe it. He was so wrapped up in this case as cold and dead as it was. She felt that the NCIS Chief gave them enough information to reevaluate the case. She had dug a bit on her own and decided that there was more to the situation than a murdered chef. She knew she couldn’t say a thing.
Today she was putting in for a transfer and getting on with her life. Maybe later, in a few more years, she and Angel could sit down and talk about it. Maybe a ghost would appear.
In Another Place
He leaned over and whispered, “Sonja, that was still one of the best ideas you had. I still don’t know how you carried it off.” He grabbed her hand and kissed her fingertips and knowing the affect it had on her, he lightly sucked on them.
She turned, put her glass of wine on the ground and smiled, her eyes sparkling. “Come, let’s go to bed. You have no need to know and you never will. Wesley is dead just as we both wanted.” She gazed at him. He was one hunk of a handsome man. Her people had done a good job.
He looked up again at the stars and the Southern Cross. “There’s Mars. I hope the colonists are enjoying it up there. The planet is a calmer place since we transported all those people.”
“Stephen, do you still feel badly about the crew?”
He looked at the runway beyond the compound. The black scramjet was fueled ready for tomorrow’s flight. It was being pushed into the hangar for the evening. He was looking forward to where they would be going. Killing Wesley was the best thing they both could have done. The manner was so fitting. He laughed to himself. They never told him that the crew was targeted until later. That upset him for a long time and sometimes came back to haunt him. Back then he realized the extent of his wife’s power.
He got up and followed her into the bedroom. That was over five years ago. Get over it, he said to himself.
He did feel badly but he didn’t answer. There was no reason to put a damper on tonight’s activities.
The next morning
Sitting in the cockpit of the jet, Sonja was in the pilot’s seat and Stephen in the co-pilot’s. She was going over the checklist. They had both undertaken the walk-around visual inspection.
She looked at him and said, “I retired and didn’t need Wesley around any more. He had to go. You know that and agreed. I will admit he was fun to have around.” She laughed at a few memories of their carrying on and gave him a light kiss on the cheek.
“He did allow us the freedom to act in a fashion that would have been impossible. A verbal toast to Wesley.”
“A toast to Wesley.” And he asked her, “Do you miss the old boy?”
“Once in a while but I’m free of all that now. I can simply be a citizen of the revitalized planet,” she answered.
He looked at her in surprise in wonder and emphatically stated, “You are not and can never be simple. You can never be free of your work. Look at this vehicle. You tell me how many ordinary citizens have a hypersonic aircraft in their hangars? The only time you’ll be free is when you die. It’s in wired in your brain, into your very being. Sonja Weatherby, you are who and what you are and have been trained to be. It’s scary. Sometimes I wonder if your real name is Lady Sonja Weatherby.”
“For you, that is my name and title. It stands us in good stead. Now drop the subject… please. You’re going to ruin our vacation. And if you must know, just like you, you are one of the biggest frauds I knew, trained, loved and married, Dr. Wesley Stephen Stephanos. And like you, I have my own secrets that are really none of your business. Now do you want the takeoff honors or will I do it?”
Over the headphone came the military crisp voice, “Madam you are cleared for take off. Hawaii has been informed of you flight plan and will meet you as you reenter US air space. You will have an escort all the way to your destinations and your return. It is Arizona correct?”
“Yes, flight control. I have been assured our documentation is in order and we should have no issues.”
“Madam, sir, all is in order.”
“Thank you. We will make the scramjet jump as soon as we are over the ocean, over.”
“Have a safe and enjoyable trip. We’ll see you when you return, over.”
The black jet taxied to the end of the runway. The afterburners lit and they were airborne and in a few minutes later to the proper altitude. They both loved this part. Sonja lit the twin scramjets, they were pushed deep into their seats and headed toward Hawaii on the first leg of the journey.
As they approached U.S. air space, three uncloaked interceptors met them. The escorts came up, one beside, one below and one behind out of the wash. “Australia 01, welcome to the USA,” came the voice over the headphones.
“Thank you. We have more than enough fuel to make China Lake. Is it possible to make that change and not land in Hawaii? Australia 01 over,” requested Sonja.
“Affirmative,” came the reply a few minutes later. “We will lead, Mach 3.5 is comfortable for us. We will be you escorts to Arizona too. A reminder, subsonic over the states.”
“Roger that,” answered Stephen. He was pleased. This was just great. The flight plan was altered and the new course programed in.
That evening, the black jet landed at the Sedona airport that had been expanded to accept larger craft like this one only a few years ago. Their jet taxied into the secure government hangar. They disembarked and directly got into the waiting Tesla limousine. They didn’t have to deal with customs.
As they headed for her home in Boynton Canyon, “Dinner at the Enchantment?” asked Stephen. The homeowners in the canyon had open invitations to the facilities. Reservations were not necessary.
“By all means. Better yet, how about Mii Amo? It’s more intimate, no families or children to deal with,” Sonja suggested grabbing his leg with a soft squeeze.
“By all means. By all means,” he said.
Lady Weatherby called to the driver and bodyguard, “Caroline, Mii Amo please.”
Dinner in AZ
They arrived at the Mii Amo Enchantment resort where they were escorted to their table. As he and Sonja were seated at their table Stephen noticed that the executive chef was none other than Riki Somers. He had no idea she was there. Her presence was unexpected. She had decided to resign her commission shortly after the ISS incident and go to cooking school.
Shortly after the dinner was served and the guests had time to begin enjoying their dinner, Riki made the rounds of the small group of tables that were out side on the patio making sure all the guests were more than satisfied with the service and their meals.
“Mr. and Lady Weatherby, I’m Riki Somers the executive chef for the Enchantment Resort. It is an honor to have the both of you here. I hope you’re enjoying the meal. Is there anything more I can get the two of you?”
Sonja looked her up and down and then looked at Stephen. She knew about her but didn’t let on until after Riki left for another table. “No thank you. The meal is excellent. The wine was paired well. Thank you. This is a welcome treat after our flight.”
Stephen simply smiled and nodded raised his glass in a salute and had a sip of wine. He was cautious about speaking. Even though the docs had altered his voice as well as major surgery to alter his appearance, he was concerned about his voice. But he couldn’t help himself. He said, “This is just lovely. Where did you learn your art my dear?”
Riki answered, “I studied at the Culinary Institute of America and with one of the world’s greatest chefs on this planet or any other I truly believe.” Her voice quavered a bit. “Thank you. I must see to my other guests. I’ll come back to check on the two of you.” She became emotional for what reason? She had said the same thing to myriad guests and never got like that.
Stephen leaned over and began to whisper, “Do you know who that….”
“Yes I do, and drop the subject. That was then and this is now. Our mutual friend does not exist anymore. Don’t you ever forget it.” She was polite and sweet but he heard a not so veiled threat. She gave him a light kick under the table to reinforce the order.
Riki was out of hearing but did notice that kick and chucked to herself. That old gentleman must have made some off-color comment. How cute.
But in the back of her head something about him began nagging at her. That salute brought up memories. How many people considered her work art? That “my dear” comment could have just be a polite salutation but then again, she was slightly taken off guard. Riki would mention this incident to Natasha when she got off work.
What had begun on the ISS, due in part to the length of time spent together, the intimacy of the ship’s confines and a mutual respect, intensified after she left her husband. The two of them started living together after the ISS incident. When Natasha retired, she had her name and files altered and then moved to the States.
From a dark section of the dinner patio Riki looked at the two of them again. She just stared. There was something there. There was something about that man that was so familiar. She felt it but for the life of her she couldn’t place him.
The work on Stephen was so good that there was no recognition of who her former lover was. No one in NASA including Riki had ever met Wesley’s wife. That was another factor in his successful makeover. Add to the fact that they went by her current name made their cover more successful.
The tables were somewhat close to each other. Sonja added in a very quiet voice, “Regarding your friend, I noticed nothing of pupil dilation. If she thought she recognized you, her eyes would have enlarged a bit. There would have been some detectable notice in her face and breathing if only for a second. The work on you was excellent. So, if she did recognize you, she did an excellent job of hiding it. Wesley is dead. And Stephen, she will be too if you get my drift.”
Then for effect, Sonja added in a lower hiss, “Because, for you, and for me, we can physically alter the stripes on the cat but the cat is still the cat. Let’s hope this cat stays indoors.” She squeezed his hand and sank her nails ever so lightly into his palm. She gave him a look that he had never seen. It was the look of SIS.
All the while Stephen thought he saw Riki from the distance looking in their direction. He made no indication. He had been trained by the best there was. He was good at deception too. Deception, lies mixed with the truth was always the best formula for him. “Sonja, are you kidding, of course. I was simply taken off guard for a bit.” That, they both knew, was the truth.
Natasha had been asleep when she got home from closing down and off work. She was exhausted and forgot about the guests.
The next morning Riki woke up with a start and poked Natasha.
“What do you want at this hour?” Natasha mumbled “crazy fucking American.”
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
micheledutcher - I saw this story being developed as Richard and I are cyberfriends. I like the way that the ultimate solution to Wesley's dislikability is coyly hinted at through the story. Sure justice must be served - but, perhaps not all the time.
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