Genre: Man from UNCLE - part of the Working Stiffs series
Word Count: 1815
Prompt: Who is making UNCLE headquarters smell a lot like Christmas?
My thanks to duckys_lady for a sweet prompt and one close to my heart. And to sparky955 for her beta.
My mother told me I was conceived while cinnamon rolls baked in the oven. It’s improbable, but I’ve learned to never say in this crazy old world.
My earliest recollections were in the kitchen. I can remember standing in my playpen while my mom worked. She and my father loved to cook, really cook. Mom worked as a baker’s assistant and my dad was a chef. When they weren’t dancing around the kitchen in each other’s arms, they were cooking and baking things.
That’s how I grew up. As soon as I as could stand, there was a spoon in my hand, helping me stir something. By six, I was already cooking, albeit simple dishes, but I was competent enough that my parents trusted me in the kitchen.
After high school, I headed for cooking school, knowing that cooking was in my blood. I concentrated on that and not much else. The world sort of passed me by – no great adventures, no great loves, all I had was my cooking and for a long time, that was enough.
Then one day I woke up and realized how much of life passed me by. Mom and Dad retired and started to travel, leaving me alone in the house. At first I could ignore the bone-crushing isolation, but then it got too much.
I was wandering through the park after work – we bakers tend to keep very early hours – not ready to go home, but not really having a destination either. I found an unoccupied bench and just sat.
There were two men not far from me. They were well dressed and an air of caution around them, as if they were looking for someone or something all the time.
“I tell you, Illya, they need to feed us better.”
“It’s hot, plentiful and free. I suppose that is enough for them.” The blond man seemed resigned.
“They expect us to die for the good of the world, but they can’t make us a decent meal.”
Something happened at that moment. Without conscious thought, I stood up and walked up to the speaker.
“I bet I could,” I said, as if in a daze.
He glanced up at me, looked me up and down and smiled. “May I help you?”
I handed him and his colleague each one of my cards. “I bet I could make a decent meal for you.”
And that’s how I started working at UNCLE. The pay is good, the hours are my own and for the most part people are happy with my cooking. There is always the lone wolf who doesn’t like this or that, but there’s plenty of other selections for them to have. I occasionally try some experimental stuff – word of caution, Seven UP Salad, just don’t.
It’s around this time of the year, though, that I come into my own. While I love to cook, baking is my passion. The leaves start to turn, the temperature dips and a girl’s thoughts turn to her oven… or at least mine do.
It started as a whim. I wanted to do something nice for Napoleon, he was the guy in the park, and his partner, Illya. Illya doesn’t say much, but he always makes me feel appreciated as a chef. The man loves food. I worry about his waistline when he hits fifty, but as he says, the chances of him living that long weren’t in his favor. I baked up a big batch of double ginger cookies and before long, there was a line outside the Canteen and everyone was demanded to know where that smell was coming from.
That’s when I realized the vent for the oven and the air shaft were very close. All of headquarters was filled with the scent of the cookies as they baked and I got a lovely idea.
You can hide from just about everyone, except Section Two agents, and when that agent is Illya Kuryakin, all stomach, that one, your hiding time is practically nil. It feels like all I have to do is think about Christmas cookies and he’s there. The nice thing about Section Two agents, though, they know how to keep a secret.
That morning I had nothing much on my mind except the recipes I was going to try. One was a super fragrant orange cookie, along with the double ginger cookie, Napoleon’s favorite, a fudge cookie, Illya’s, and a half dozen other kinds. When I had a minute the day before, I’d mixed up the batter for the refrigerator cookies, so I was set to bake. When my hungry agents wandered in, there would be warm cookies waiting for them.
I went about my usual morning routine in the kitchen, turning on the ovens and making sure my station was wiped down. I didn’t have to do any cooking myself as a rule, but it pays to lead by example. My employees saw my work habits and copied them, or at least the good ones did. The other, they were soon ex-employees. Only the best for my kitchen meant only the best for the UNCLE employees I fed
I put in a couple of trays of cookies and went about my morning tasks. It didn’t hurt to get a jump on things and the night crew would realize I was here in a very short time. I came around the corner and a man was standing there, his back to me. He was dressed appropriately for the kitchen, but I didn’t recognize him.
“May I help you?” He practically jump out of his skin and I saw that he was messing With Mr. Waverly’s tea set up. “I think you need to leave that alone and tell me what you want.”
That’s when I saw the gun and I stumbled back a few feet. My hand found the alarm button and I pushed it.
He laughed, a nasty thing. “Don’t bother. I cut the alarms throughout the building. It’s just you and me, sweetheart.”
“What were you doing with Mr. Waverly’s tea?”
“Let’s just say, you have to cut off the head to kill the beast.”
He laughed again. “Soon to be division head. I got tired of taking orders from idiots who couldn’t see their failures as a bad thing. I got tired of watching our organization get a black eye again and again from that pipe-smoking idiot.”
I didn’t understand the male ego. “Someone will just replace me. No one is expendable.”
“We’ll just have to see, won’t we? How long before your crew gets here?”
Hours “Any time now.” In fact, where the hell was my night crew? While this end of the kitchen was quiet, there was a staff of five people who worked the night shift. UNCLE never slept and neither did we. The kitchen was always open.
“You’re lying.” He grinned, showing ugly uneven teeth. “And don’t think your chums are going to come to your aid. They’re all “sleeping’ in the next room. He put air quotes around sleeping and my heart sunk. They were good people, family people. . He gestured with the gun. “Put the tea stuff into the elevator.”
Mr. Waverly’s office had a dumbwaiter, so that he didn’t have to leave his office unless he wanted to. Often he worked late hours and he needed to eat.
It’s a wise man or woman who knows when to fight and when not to. I did as I was told and, turned, a guess a little too quickly because suddenly the gun was in my face. “Do you got a death wish?”
“Have. Do I have a death wish and, no, I do not. But I do have cookies in the oven.”
“Nice, but I don’t think so.”
“Can’t you smell them?” The intoxicating aroma of the cookies filled the kitchen. In fact, they were smelling a bit over-cooked. My stomach sudden sunk at the sound of the dumbwaiter being called. Poor Mr. Waverly.
“Nope.” He tapped his nose with the side of his weapon. “Head cold and I know there’s nothing going on in the kitchen at this time of the morning. I’ve been staking you out for a long time.
The stories of someone hanging around the kitchen wandered back to me. There had been complaints about some agent poking his nose in places where it didn’t belong. I’d spoken to the heads of Section Three and Two and both had reassured me they’d look into it.
I wrinkled my nose at the smell of burning cookies. That couldn’t be good. “Please, my cookies are burning.”
“The kitchen doesn’t make cookies.” He was right. We didn’t, usually.
I coughed at the smell and pointed. “Then look at the smoke”
“Nice try. You must think I’m an idiot.”
“No, just a regular THRUSH agent.”
“Wha…” He was down and out before he finished the word. Illya was standing there, a serious look on his face. “They never learn. Go save your cookies.”
“Illya, Mr. Waverly’s tea is poisoned.”
He snapped into action, using his communicator to send agents to our boss’s aid. While he did that, I ran to pull the trays of ruined cookies out of the oven. They were a complete loss. I dumped them into the garbage with a heavy heart. I wouldn’t be able to ever bake them again. Not after what had happened.
“He’s fine. He hadn’t poured it yet. He allowed as to this might be one of the rare mornings that he felt like coffee instead.” Without realizing it, I hugged Illya and when he hugged back, tears started down my cheeks and I began to cry. He held me, murmuring words of nonsense into my ear.
“My crew?” I managed to blubber out.
“In the freezer. Very cold, but very alive.” He looked down at the cookies with a mixed expression of sadness and relief. “Those cookies saved the day, you know.”
“What do you mean? They are ruined.”
“Exactly. When we smelled the burnt cookies, I knew something was up.”
“But what are you doing here this early in the morning.”
He smiled. “It’s a wise man who knows when the cookies are being baked.”
“I laughed and wiped my face on the corner of my apron. He offered me his handkerchief. “Who said that? Freud?”
Illya patted his flat stomach. “This. A man who listens to his stomach is never disappointed. And that is pure Kuryakin.
“Well, it was a nice run, but now everyone knows.”
“The person responsible for smelling up UNCLE HQ at Christmas time.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with us.” Then he sobered. “You do have more cookie dough, don’t you?”
I laughed and nodded. “Don’t worry. The trays will be on your desks soon enough.” After all, was that what Christmas was all about – traditions?