Svetlana Cortez Abramowitz, agent of B.R.E.A.D. (Baking Restaurant Elite Alliance Division) and noted mannequin model hung by her arms above the giant fondue pot filled with deadly Emmental cheese. She had begun that evening at the underground sudden death clam roll eating tournament under the last Howard Johnsons in Pyrenees mountain range.
With nothing to do but literally dangle, she lost herself in a flashback.
Her contact, the Marquise Du Fromage, whose family, ironically, were all lactose intolerant, was nowhere to be seen at the tournament. If her training as a secret agent had taught her anything, it was when in doubt, go to the bar. They usually had peanuts.
“I’d like a Dirty Shirley please, extra cherries,” said Sventlana.
“Right away, Ms,” replied the bartender.
“How do you know I’m not married?” she snarked.
“I don’t, that’s why I used Ms,” said the bartender as he mixed grenadine and vodka, “I didn’t want to presume.”
Taking a sip of the drink, she nodded, “You’re very woke for a bartender.”
“Part of the training.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” said a voice from behind her.
Turning, she saw a tall blond man with piercing earlobes. He had no physical scars but she was sure that he had emotional ones. Guys like him always did.
“I already have one.”
“Did you pay for it yet?”
“No, I was about to open a tab.”
“Then I could still pay for it.”
“I suppose so.”
“Put this on my Dinner’s Club card.”
“Dinner’s Club or Diner’s Club?” inquired the bartender.
Svetlana regarded the Stranger with a discerning eye, which was her left one.
“If you’re going to buy me a drink, you could at least introduce yourself,” she said eating one of her extra maraschino cherries.
“Why do I owe you something for buying you a drink?”
“How about I try to guess your name,” she suggested avoiding the issue.
“Have at it.”
“Do I really look like a Hubert Hucklebean?”
“I suppose not, but if I meet three Hubert Hucklebeans before the end of the year I win a free sub.”
“Meatball or the underwater kind?”
“Underwater that serves meatballs.”
“Then I’m sorry I’m not one then.”
With a flourish, the bartender placed the second drink in front of her. Taking it in her other hand, she toasted herself.
“Why don’t I try to guess your name?” offered the Stranger.
“Please,” she replied as she sipped from the second drink.
“Funny you should say that my college roommate wanted to be named that.”
“Did she ever change her name?”
“Only in Delaware and Guam.”
“Smart. I’ve got another guess.”
With the ease of a Nutri Ninja pro, he flung a drugged-tipped cocktail umbrella into her neck.
“I think you’re Svetlana Cortez Abramowitz, agent of B.R.E.A.D.,” he whispered as the room swam around her. She recognized it as a Bulgarian butterfly stroke as everything went black.
“I see you’re lost in thought,” said the Stranger, bringing the narrative back to the present.
“I was,” she said irritably.
“The infamous agent Abramowitz, at last, we meet.”
“We met just before, at the bar.”
“Fine. Technically that’s true.”
She smiled, one of the true joys of life was to be technically right.
“I suppose you’re wondering who I am?”
“Niles Montrose, assassin for hire and failed saucier.”
Flushed, Niles shouted, “A sauce CANNOT be too rich!”
“That’s not what your instructors at the C.I.A. thought.”
“They lacked vision. Especially the ones who were too lazy to get a new eye exam. Most places will do it for free.”
“If you buy from them.”
“It’s a good deal!”
“Only if you don’t have insurance.”
“Lots of people don’t! It’s a real problem. Much like how you are about to be dipped into the world’s largest fondue pot.”
Those problems seemed unrelated but she did have to admit to herself, she was in trouble.
“Dipping an agent of B.R.E.A.D. into a giant cheese fondue, a little on the nose, isn’t it?”
“It’s a lot on the nose and I think you know it. But look over your shoulder, you’re not alone.
Indeed she was not. The Marquise Du Fromage was also chained above the bubbling caldron.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Svetlana inquired.
“You two seemed to be in the middle of something. I didn’t want to interrupt,” said the Marquise.
“Agent of B.R.E.A.D dies with lactose intolerant nobleman. If anyone still read newspapers that would be the headline.”
“Let’s table the discussion about the state of print and get to what your master plan is,” said Svetlana.
“And why should I tell you?”
“The Julia Childe Accords stipulate that when culinary operatives are captured the opposing agent must reveal their plans in detail. Section seven, subsection-”
“-Eighteen,” finished Niles, “Very well, rules are rules. Have you noticed how food trends have surged recently? It all started with bacon. It wasn’t difficult, bacon is delicious. Even when it started getting ridiculous, bacon milkshake and bacon sushi no one batted an eye. But then we popularized kale. Kale! It’s disgusting but people couldn’t get enough!”
As Niles monologued on, Svetlana pressed a tiny button on her clunky bracelet that was comprised of butter cubes held in stasis. The heat of the bubbling cheese quickly melted the shortening and allowed her to slip free of her shackles.
“-and quinoa! Because of us, rice was shunned like it didn’t come back from rumspringa!” declared Niles as Svetlana leapt down behind him.
“Variety is the spice of life but how about a little salt and pepper?” she asked as she tenderized him with both fists.
They exchanged blows and recipes as they fought in the fondue dungeon until the Agent of B.R.E.A.D. jumped up, and kicked off her very pointy high heel shoes. Embedding them into the wall and trapping him.
“You’ve lost!” she said.
“I noticed. Because you have me immobilized.”
“That’s how it works. So tell me, who are you working for?”
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. Not because I’m going to tell you. But because of reasons. Sinister reasons.”
“You’d like that.”
“Yes, I’m actually pretty excited about that part.”
“I can tell because your face lit up when you said ‘sinister reasons’.”
“I feel seen.”
“If we could circle back to my original question about who you’re working for.”
With a smirk, Niles dropped out of his evening jacket, the shoes hadn’t pinned him, pulled out a small envelope and bottle of dark brown liquid from his pants pocket, and downed them both. A hideous crackle was heard, followed by a muffled explosion.
Pop rocks and Pepsi, she thought. The final retreat of culinary killer. Niles was moving his lips and she leaned in to hear his epitaph. He whispered, “Would you like fries with that?” and then expired.
“What does that mean?” she asked aloud.
“Pardon me,” said the unfailing polite Marquise Du Fromage, “If you could lower me down, away from the cheese caldron, I would be ever so grateful.”
“Of course,” Svetlana replied as she worked the winch, “I think now it’s time for some… dessert.”
“Is that an attempt at seduction or do you mean literal dessert?”
She unlocked his shackles and said, “I mean sweets, cake, maybe some gelato.”
“I’ll stick to the cake, gelato makes me gazeux.”
“I wish it was,” the nobleman said ruefully.
“Then we’ll pass… on the gelato.”
“Can I please just give you this microfilm?”
Taking the information, she said, “Right. I’ll get that that dessert… to go.”
“I’m just going to leave now.”
Just before he exited the room, the Marquise Du Fromage turned and asked, “Do you need a ride somewhere?”
Svetlana smiled and said, “In fact I do.”
“They have taxis out front. You should get one.”
“Oh, I will.”
The nobleman left, as things seemed socially awkward. Svetlana waited a few minutes. Partially to ponder Niles’ last words and also to avoid having to make more small talk with the Marquise Du Fromage who was a bit of a drip.
Would you like fries with that would later return in a most ominous way, but tonight, was all about confection.