My poor restaurant, Illya Kuryakin thought as he closed and locked the restroom door behind him. He sank into the straight back chair and shut his eyes. Even through the door, the thrum of Napoleon's birthday party made the walls of the restaurant fairly vibrate.
Napoleon ran hot and cold with birthdays. There were years when he just wanted to find a hole and crawl into it. Other years he wanted a party and all the trappings—the hardest part was telling one year from the other. Illya frequently went into Napoleon's birthday week without a clue as to how his mate was feeling. Illya had, in pure self defense, become the master of the last-minute party, at least where Napoleon was concerned.
This year, it had turned into a potluck free-for-all, with all of their friends and family bringing their favorite dish and a story involving it. Napoleon had reveled in it and later when the dancing started—for with Napoleon there was always dancing—it had been a mixture of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and, of course, there had been ABBA. It would not have been a Taste party without them.
It never amazed Illya how many friends Napoleon had or how well placed some of them were in the community. He knew how personable and well liked his partner was, yet when the Lt. Governor and his entourage walked in, each bearing a covered dish, Illya had to confess his jaw dropped.
The party had started around two in the afternoon and at ten that night, it was just starting to quiet down. Illya looked at the door and swore he could see it vibrating. "Or perhaps not," he murmured out loud.
As much as he'd like to just stay in here until the last reveler left, the facilities for Taste were modest and there were people who needed to use them as something other than an escape. He used the toilet, flushed and let the water run, a habit born from a weak hot water heater and cold pipes. Not the case tonight. He washed his hands and, at the last minute, blew out the candle that was still burning. The one in the other bathroom had given up the ghost an hour ago. It was nearly gutted anyway and he made a mental note to replace them tomorrow. He didn't like to take the chance of it being forgotten in the last minute clean up.
Clean up, he inwardly groaned. The worst part of a party was the mess it left behind. He dried his hands, tidied up the counter out of habit, and left the sanctuary to fall back into the fray. A person pushed past him with just a nod. This had long night written all over it.
Illya stopped to unlock the front door and stepped inside quickly to shut off the alarm. At times it seemed silly to keep the thing on, but after Napoleon's abduction, it gave Illya peace of mind and let both of them sleep more peacefully at night.
Neither cat moved from their spot on the couch as Illya came in and shut the door quickly behind him. The furnace hadn't been turned on yet, but tonight Illya felt as if it was time. The house was cold, even to him, and that wouldn't do for what he had planned for later.
He walked to the thermostat and switched it to heat, holding his breath until he heard the thing click on. Even though it had just been serviced, he never quite trusted it. Their first winter in Jackson, he and Matt had had to do without, relying upon the fireplace for heat. Neither of them could figure out how to get the cantankerous furnace to work. Since they only came back to the house to sleep, neither man spared it much attention. They moved the bed into the living room and went from there. It wasn't until April that there was enough money to actually have someone look at it and then it seemed a waste of money... until November rolled around again and the furnace still wasn't working.
Illya took off his lightweight cable wool sweater and hung it in the closet, shaking his head to resettle his hair. Those early days had been brutal, but they had sped by so quickly, now they seemed a half-remembered dream. Thankfully, it was now a dream in which one could only remember the good and not the bad.
Illya lit a candle on the mantle and reached out to touch a photo of them. It was their wedding day and the shot, clicked by a friend, was better than anything the professional photographer had captured. Napoleon was laughing and Illya looked happy enough to burst. Truth of the matter was he had been. Smiling, he traced Napoleon's image with his forefinger.
There was a nudge against his shin and Illya bent to pick up Buerre Noir. "Best damn thing that ever happened to me, cat," he said as he petted her. She was so light these days that it was like picking up a feather. Illya just couldn't get her to eat more and the vet said she was fine, just old. He knew how she felt. The older he got, the harder it was to find enough time for everything he needed to do.
Illya took a step towards the kitchen and suddenly Moutard was there, protesting that dinner was inedible and there had been so little of it. With a wave of his tail, he preceded Illya into the kitchen and went to stand by his empty dish. Moutard, on the other hand, was battling being overweight and didn't like his diet food at all.
Illya set the little cat down by her food bowl, ruffled Moutard's yellow fur, and shook the stray hairs from his fingers. "When are you going to stop shedding, tom cat? Probably as soon as you stop eating." He went to the refrigerator. Matt and Rocky had made good on their promise and a small Italian wedding cake was waiting for them.
Napoleon loved the holidays and with Thanksgiving in a week, Illya was up to his elbows in pumpkins, so chocolate was a nice change. First he fed the cats. Then he grabbed the cake and a bottle of Shromsburg champagne, Brut, to counteract the sweetness of the cake, and placed both on a tray, along with plates, forks, glasses, and a service knife.
Then he carried everything upstairs and waited for Napoleon. Illya had snuck out while the man was still saying good night and thanking people for coming. It was the moment Illya needed to catch his breath and prep for the next course. The bulk of the clean up was done or in the dish machine. Tomorrow they would put the dining room back to rights and get ready for their usual Sunday night crowd.
Illya used the respite for a fast shower and then, naked, stretched out on the bed. The room was cool, but he resisted pulling up a blanket. Napoleon would soon be there to warm him and Illya was content to wait.
He had just finishing plumping his pillows when he heard the front door open and close. A moment later, there was the familiar sound of Napoleon's tread on the stairs and Illya relaxed, releasing a breath he didn't know he was holding.
Napoleon appeared in the doorway and grinned as he approached the bed. "Now there's a sight I never get tired of."
"That's a relief. I've long since lost the receipt and the original packaging." Illya offered him a glass and opened the champagne, easing the cork out to keep as much of the wine's effervescence inside as possible, just as he'd been taught. It came out with a whisper.
"Nicely done," Napoleon sat and held a glass out, watching as Illya carefully filled it. He sampled and smacked his lips appreciatively. "Very nicely done. Oh, and cake as well," he said, glancing past Illya to the tray. "I blew out the candle downstairs by the way."
"Thanks. The cake is Matt and Rocky's gift to you."
"Just to me?" Napoleon didn't bother to hide his smile. He knew how much Illya loved this sort of dessert.
"Well, to us then."
"To us," Napoleon said, touching his flute to Illya's and then draining it. "Give me a minute and I'll be right back." He handed the glass back and stood. Illya shivered and flipped the covers over his lower body as he watched his lover's very delectable ass walk from the room.
Napoleon was always fastidious about his grooming and age hadn't changed that. He had gotten much faster at it though. Illya listened to the shower, then realized it wasn't just the shower he heard, but the rain that had been threatening all day.
"Sounds like the rain's here," Napoleon half shouted a few minutes later. He stuck his head out of the bathroom, a towel draped about his neck. "Thanks for turning on the heat tonight. We non-polar types appreciate it."
"With it as cold as it is, I'm glad the party broke up early. I hope people are careful driving later on. It's going to be slick in spots, especially higher up in the hills."
"You think it's going to snow?" Napoleon disappeared and then reappeared a moment later in his robe.
"Maybe in the upper elevations, but I don't think we'll see any." Illya patted the bed beside him, lifting the blanket and sheet. "Are you going to join me?"
"Are you going to make love to me?"
Illya smiled at that and his eyes grew soft. "I'd like to."
"Then, yes. Yes, I will join you." The robe was quickly stripped off and tossed onto the foot of the bed as Napoleon slipped in beside his lover.
Illya hissed as Napoleon's cool flesh hit his, but instead of pulling away, he wrapped his arms and legs about the still-formidable man that was his lover. Napoleon nestled down against him and sighed. "This is my favorite treat at night—a nice warm Russian is the perfect bedtime snack."
"I thought that's what the cake was for."
"Oh, there will be eating of cake involved, but now, something else." Napoleon's lips brushed Illya's cheek. "Something a bit more enticing than chocolate."
Lips met and they passed the next few minutes just kissing and touching.
"I never get tired of kissing you," Illya murmured, rubbing his cheek against Napoleon's. "Do you know how much I love you?"
Napoleon's eyes partially closed as his lips played with a smile. "Tell me?"
Illya held up his left hand, his wedding band catching the glint from the light. "This much, but I'd rather show you instead."
And for the next hour, with the rain outside drumming against the pane, Illya did just that.
Illya stretched out a hand, but it only encountered cool sheet instead of warm lover. As the realization that he was alone in bed slowly made its way into his sleep-dazed consciousness, Illya rolled over and squinted in the near dark of the room.
Napoleon was standing in front of the window, his arm resting on the frame, his eyes staring out into the night.
Illya sat up, shivering as the sheet fell away from him. He got out of bed and walked quietly to Napoleon, not out of stealth, but simply out of habit. He came up behind Napoleon and slipped his arms around Napoleon's waist.
The coolness of Napoleon's skin told Illya that he'd been here for a while.
"What's wrong, Napoleon?"
"You were wrong. The rain has turned into sleet. Everything is icy."
"All our guests have been home for hours." Or so he hoped. He could do little more than just squint at the clock at this point.
"Then what is bothering you?" Illya kissed Napoleon's neck and rested his head against the still strong shoulder.
"How did we get this old, Illya?"
"One day at a time like everyone else. Besides, who says we're old?"
"What did you eat for breakfast this morning?"
"I don't really... bran flakes, I think."
"It wasn't because of the taste. And you being one of the premier chefs in the country, it wasn't because you couldn't make something else."
"No." Illya had to concede Napoleon that point. "That's true."
"I was watching Matt and Rocky tonight. We were their age once."
"And fighting every day to make it to the next one alive. It was amazing that we even survived."
Illya forced Napoleon to turn and he stared into the hazel eyes as much as he could in the dim light. "What is wrong, Napoleon?"
"When I left UNCLE, they deprogrammed me."
"It is standard procedure. They would have done the same thing to me if they could have found me or thought it worth their effort."
"Illya, there are these great huge voids, gaps in my memory. I remember something, or do I? Is it really my memory or just something they stuffed in just to keep the hole from being too large?" He hugged Illya close. "I can't even remember the details of the day we were partnered. I look at you or myself and I see so many scars and I have no memory of how they got there."
"That's not entirely a bad thing."
"They took so much away from me, Illya, and I have no way of getting it back."
"That was a long time ago, Napoleon. Why is this bothering you now?" Illya pulled back slightly. "Is this because of your birthday?"
"In part. First, it was watching Matt and Rocky together and wondering what we were like at that age. Then I started reminiscing with some friends and realized I kept coming up with these dead ends." Napoleon ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair and sighed. His attention drifted back out to the night. The florescent of the street light colored the sleet pink as it hurled past the window.
"It didn't show."
"I'm nothing if not a gifted liar and a competent actor, but, damn it, Illya. I feel so lost some times."
"Then let me be your rock. And you are wrong. You do have a way of getting it back. All my memories from UNCLE are still intact." Illya took him by the hand and tugged him gently. "Come back to bed before we both freeze valuable and cherished parts of our anatomy off and ask what you will. I might not be able to answer all your questions, but I will do my best."
Yawning, Illya stuck his head out from beneath the sheet and blinked wearily. Napoleon had kept peppering him with questions for what seemed like hours last night. It would make sense to have the man still fast asleep beside him, but there was no sign of Napoleon in either the bed or the bathroom. Of course not, Napoleon would be fresh as a daisy today. Then again, he'd not cooked for twelve hours yesterday, decorated for three, then socialized for six, had sex for... not long enough, then answered questions for another four hours. Illya paused at that point, frowning, and counted on his fingers, certain he'd surpassed twenty four along the line. No matter.
He stretched and considered his options. He could get up, find Napoleon and drag him bodily back to bed. He could roll over and go back to sleep. Or he could rise and be productive. He wasn't likely to have another day off from now until after Christmas, not between Thanksgiving, holiday parties and the like. He should make the most out of the down time he had.
His bladder finally drove him from the warmth of the bed and out into the cruel light of day. He blinked wearily at the old man who stared back at him from the mirror and made a face. Napoleon had been right, how had they gotten this old?
A shower helped blow away some of the cobwebs he had forming in his head and dressing in his favorite jeans and turtleneck gave him back a sense of misspent youth.
Walking down the stairs, the fire in the fireplace and stereo softly playing some Coltraine heartened him. Even with the fire, there was still a chill to the air and Illya had to admit that winter was again fast approaching. For some reason, as he aged, he anticipated its arrival less and less.
Entering the kitchen, he stopped dead in his tracks. Napoleon was at the counter, carefully chopping something. His brow was furrowed and all his concentration was upon his task. Illya waited for him to pause before making a sound.
"Good morning, there's fresh coffee." Napoleon pointed over his shoulder with the knife and Illya winced. That was an unsafe habit and he'd have to break Napoleon of it, but not today.
Instead, he headed for the coffee pot and poured out a portion into his favorite Because I'm the Chef, that's why cup and carried it to the table. The small table had been cleared and two places carefully set. Considering Napoleon's idea of breakfast was a cup of coffee and pastry on the run, Illya was flattered that Napoleon had gone to such lengths.
"This looks nice." He touched one of the folded linen napkins, its stain carefully hidden. Employees of Taste took home the napkins that were stained or showing signs of wear. Illya routinely replaced all the linen at least once a year. Because of that, they all had linen to spare. "What's the occasion?"
Napoleon turned and held a finger to his lips. "Can you keep a secret?"
"I think I have proven that over the years. What's your secret?"
"I'm madly and passionately in love with someone, but, shhh, our little secret."
Illya smirked and nodded, drawing an 'X' over his chest. "Cross my heart." He took a drink of coffee. "Anyone I know?"
"Well, you might have bumped into him a time or two. Good looking guy with blond hair, although a bit on the long side, deep blue eyes, and a deeper soul, although he'd be fast to deny it."
"Doesn't sound like your sort at all."
"Exactly, go figure." Napoleon pushed the onions he'd been chopping into a pan and began to chop a green pepper.
"Love can never be controlled or dictated. Would you like some help?"
"Well, I'm sort of doing this as a thank you."
"Napoleon... it's not like I mind."
After a long moment, Napoleon murmured, "I wouldn't hate some help."
Illya took another slug of coffee and carried his cup to the sink. He washed his hands and picked up a towel. "Direct me."
"Could you finish this?" Napoleon slid the cutting board toward him. He glanced at the stove and lunged for a spoon to stir the onions before they burned. Illya intercepted him, lifted the pan and easily flipped the contents.
"There you go and, yes, I can."
He took his time cutting the pepper, giving Napoleon's ego a bit of a break. Cooking is what he did for a living now and he'd been trained to be fast and efficient with no wasted movements. A Denver omelet was about as challenging to him as drawing a glass of water from the tap. Napoleon was capable in the kitchen, he just wasn't trained. He wasn't fast because he didn't need to be. Illya used these moments to slow himself down and reconnect with the simple task of preparing food to share with someone he loved.
"How are you feeling today?" he asked, once they'd gotten breakfast on the table and were eating.
"A little tired, but invigorated. You?"
"The same, except for the invigorated part." In truth, every fiber in Illya's body longed to crawl back into bed and sleep. He smiled slightly, Today should be different from any other day?
"So why are you up?"
There was a knock to the front door and Illya glanced over at Napoleon. "More of your friends dropping by to wish you many happy returns?"
"On a morning like this? Not likely. I just hope everyone got home safely last night." There was a second, more insistent knock and he stood, dropping his napkin on to his chair. Illya followed suit.
There was a shadow in the doorway and Illya felt his gut clench. It wasn't THRUSH, he knew that and he envied Napoleon's lack of a similar reaction. It was good that one of them was free of that.
Napoleon opened the door and his face grew serious. A state trooper was standing there, looking around at the glistening morning. He turned back and held out a hand. "Mr. Kuryakin?"
"Close enough, Napoleon Solo." He turned sideways so Illya could share the doorway. "This is Mr. Kuryakin."
"Owner of Taste?"
"Yes?" Warning bells were going off in his head. He knew Matt and Rocky were fine. They had to be fine... Roxanne? Jesus? Henry? Rand? His mind started racing. "Is there a problem?"
"There was an accident last night."
Illya closed his eyes and took a deep breath and an unconscious step towards Napoleon. "Who?"
"A Miss Helena Dunlop."
Illya's eyes flew open. "Who?" He looked at Napoleon in case it was one of his employees or friends, but Napoleon was shaking his head slightly. "I don't understand."
"She was involved in an accident last night. Hit some folks and then wrapped herself around a tree. There was a bottle of wine in one of your restaurant bags in her car."
They did make a habit of permitting guests to take their unfinished wine with them, as did just about every other restaurant in the area. Illya was perplexed. "I still don't understand, officer."
"We are trying to reconstruct her footsteps to find out who overserved her."
Napoleon shivered and gestured to the couch. "Forgive my manners, Officer?"
"Officer Hadley, Vic Hadley."
"Would you like to come in Officer Hadley? Some coffee?"
"That fire does look mighty warm. And it is awfully cold." He wiped off his boots on the mat and stepped in.
"My bartenders know when to cut off a patron." Illya shut the door and wracked his brain to ID the girl.
"What if someone bullied them into it?"
"They would have called me and I would have dealt with it. My restaurant doesn't usually attract a drunken crowd as a rule."
"According to the hours posted, you were open last night."
"We were closed for a private affair from two until closing." Illya nodded to Napoleon. "His birthday party."
"Was she one of the guests?"
"Not that I'm aware of... and while it was well attended, it was by invitation only," Illya said, as he left to get coffee. He could hear them continue to talk through the open door.
"Do you own Vinea?"
"Yes, but we closed at six last night. When did the accident happen?"
"Around one a.m.. Who was in attendance at this party?"
Illya carried the tray in and set it down on the table. He poured a cup for each of them and handed one to Napoleon.
"The mayor, our local rep from the County Seat, the lieutenant governor." Napoleon ticked people off on his fingers. "Even your boss was there for a while until he had to go relieve the babysitter, along with a few dozen others."
"Hmm, he must not have seen her here then."
"So why send you here at all?"
"She had an empty bottle of wine in a Taste bag. It was a place to start."
"Why don't you simply ask her?"
"She's dead." The officer closed his book. "Needless to say, the family is anxious for information and closure."
"I can understand," Napoleon said sipping the coffee carefully. "What about the people she hit?"
"They are doing okay." The officer poured some cream into his cup and added about three teaspoons of sugar. Apparently he was not watching his waist.
"Where did the accident happen?" Illya lifted Buerre Noir to his lap and petted her.
"Just outside of Sutter Creek, coming down off the long hill."
"And you think someone drunk could have negotiated the roads between here and Sutter Creek without hitting anything else first? Not to mention that's on the opposite side of Sutter Creek. It would mean she'd driven through town, then turned around and driven back in from the other direction. I'd look for a local connection there first."
"My boss sent me here."
"It's the way police work is sometimes," the young man explained and Illya hid his smile. If only he knew.
"I can't believe this!"
Napoleon looked up from the newspaper and over to his partner. Illya was holding an envelope in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other.
"We're being sued by the family of Helena Dunlop."
"What?" Napoleon held out a hand. "How can they do this?"
"They say we contributed to her accident by the sheer fact that we permit alcohol to be taken from the premises."
"That's stupid... " He scanned the papers and then demanded, "Wait, they're suing Vinea as well? For allowing people to sample and purchase wine? It's a tasting room, what am I supposed to do?"
"Welcome to my world." Illya flopped down in an arm chair and massaged the bridge of his nose.
"I'm calling Joe." Joe Monty was their lawyer.
The phone interrupted him and Illya snatched up the receiver. "Kuryakin. Good morning, Joe. We were just getting ready to call you." He listened for a moment. "Yes, we were just served. What? You have got to be joking." He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "They are also suing all the other restaurants in the area, the wineries, and all the tasting rooms in between."
"They actually found a lawyer stupid enough to take this on?" Napoleon muttered, then he shook his head. "I don't mean to belittle their grief. I can understand their anger, but suing us isn't going to bring their daughter back."
"They are suing collectively for $46 million, Napoleon. Justice has nothing to do with it. We are a litigious society these days." Illya returned his attention to the phone. "What do we do, Joe?" He sighed and nodded. "I understand. Thanks." Illya hung up the phone and grimaced.
Napoleon rose and walked to the window. Something by the road kept catching his attention. "What did he say?"
"Just sit tight and wait it out. Chances are it will be tossed long before we are ever engaged."
"Then you need to come and see this."
"What's wrong?" Illya joined him at the window. There were several people carrying signs and blocking the entrance to Taste and Vinea's shared parking lot. Murderers! Taste Kills Children! Children Killers! their signs proclaimed.
"We're being picketed."
"The hell we are. That's private property. We own to the other side of the street and a hundred yards in either direction."
"You didn't know that? You signed the papers." Illya scowled at the picketers. "That's restraint of trade."
"The restaurant isn't open."
"But your tasting room is and people are being chased away. Look." Illya pointed to a couple who were doing an about face.
"What?" Napoleon grabbed his jacket and pulled on his boots. "I don't think so..."
Illya watched his lover clump across the parking lot and approach the picketers. Even while he couldn't hear what Napoleon was saying, Illya knew the problem was resolved. Napoleon, if nothing else, was a gifted persuader. And barring that, the man still possessed a formidable right cross.
There was something very calming about watching the chickens go around in the rotisserie. Golden brown, their skins flecked with various herbs and spices, they moved slowly, rolling lazily over every few minutes to assure a perfect doneness.
Illya stared at them, partially to give himself a break from the stove and partially out of impatience. He needed to pull those birds off at just the right moment and then give them time to allow the juices to resettle. And it all had to be before he ran out of tonight's special.
"Chef, we have a problem." Rocky came in, looking just a bit worse for wear. Illya didn't know where all the people were coming from . It was the holiday season, didn't people want to stay in and celebrate? Apparently not in Jackson or the surrounding areas. This was a Thursday night and they had been packed since opening with a line out the door.
"What's wrong?" Instantly, Illya's mind began to race over the entrees he'd sent out. Had something been plated wrong, not cooked enough or too much? Had he forgotten a substitution? Any of those could be a ding against their rating.
"There's a guy at the bar and he's giving Celeste a hard time because she won't serve him anymore."
"Chef... I think it's that girl's father. You know, the one who died last month..."
"I'll take care of it." Illya unbuttoned his soiled chef's jacket. "Matt, keep an eye on the birds for me. Pull them off in five."
"Si, si!" Matt was focused upon plating a delicately carved melon rose.
"Henry..." Illya started, but his sous chef held up a hand.
"In five, Chef."
Illya pulled off his apron and slipped on his clean jacket, buttoning it quickly. He ran a hand through his hair and followed Rocky out of the dining room. The moment people saw him the room started to buzz and heads turned in his direction. It was going to take a gentle hand to pull this off in front of an entire restaurant and not infuriate anyone.
Instead of pausing at tables as was his habit, he walked straight to the bar. It was instantly apparent who the problem was. The man was swaying on a stool and repeatedly slapping the bar with his hand.
Illya caught the arm of a passing waiter. "Call a cab right now. I want it out front in five."
"Yes, Chef." The waiter had been there long enough to know one didn't argue with Chef when he took that tone.
The man raised his hand to slap the bar again and Illya caught it. The man glared at him, then whispered, "You."
"Yes, I am Chef Kuryakin and you are?" He lowered the hand to the bar and fastened a steely-blue eyed look on the man. THRUSH used to pale at that stare, but this man was different. He was fueled by anger and sorrow.
"A hapless and grieving victim of your greed." The man's voice, a moment ago slurred, was now unaffected and clear.
"I beg your pardon?" Illya blinked at the change in the man.
"If you weren't so greedy, you wouldn't have killed my daughter." The buzz in the restaurant had ceased and Illya swore he could hear dust settling. But that was ridiculous as there was no dust in Taste.
"Sir, it is apparent that you have been pushed to your limit, so I will use small words. Not. My. Fault." Illya blocked the view of the man from the rest of his clientele. "Your daughter was a minor; she was not served here. The wine bottle they found in her car, while wrapped in a Taste bag, is not a wine we carry here. We did not kill your daughter. I did not kill your daughter." It was then that Illya realized the man had never taken his eyes off Illya's right hand.
"They have fingerprints on the bottle; they will prove it was you," the man blurted out.
"Is that what this is all about? You were pretending to be drunk so I would come out and deal with you?" Illya sighed. "Celeste, I need two clean glasses and a wax crayon. Pick them up with a bar towel and polish them first to make sure there is nothing on them." As the glasses were placed in front of him, Illya picked up one with his left hand and marked a precise 'L' on the bottom of the glass. He then placed it in a bag. He repeated the procedure with his right hand, even though he had no fingerprint on the hand any longer. Let them figure it out. "There you are. Knock yourself out."
The waiter appeared at Illya's side as Illya was rolling the bag shut. "The cab is here, Chef."
"Excellent. Celeste, see to his bill. Then, Vince, if you will show Mr. Dunlop out. I have a restaurant to run."
As he turned back to his patrons, Illya held his breath, but he was met by nods and smiles. Salvaged, but for how long? Wearily, Illya returned to the kitchen.
"I'll be a son of a..." Napoleon's voice trailed off and Illya glanced up from the table. He'd been working on an agenda for the class he was teaching in holiday cooking. They'd offered it last year and had been pleased with the turnout. This year, the demand was so great they were holding two sessions. Not surprisingly, some people had signed up for both.
"What is wrong, Napoleon?"
"There is another article in the paper about the death that occurred earlier in the month."
"There have been several articles. Why is this one different?"
"Not like this one. The girl... she was babysitting."
"Do you remember what Bruce said just before he left?" Bruce was the head of the highway patrol in the area.
"He had to go take the babysitter... no, you have got to be..."
"The wine was from his stock. She had apparently stuffed it into her car before he got home. Either she started drinking once the kids fell asleep or she drank it down after she left."
"At least we know why it was in the Taste bag now." Illya stood and walked to where Napoleon was seated. He leaned over Napoleon's shoulder to read the article for himself. The captain was a frequent diner at Taste and usually never finished his wine. The man probably had a bag lying around and she just grabbed it. "Why didn't he come forward before now?"
"She was fine when she left and he'd gotten the wine as a gift. He didn't recognize it as his. It wasn't until they analyzed the fingerprints that it came to light. At least the family has some closure."
"They lost their daughter to her making a very stupid, but common teenage mistake; I doubt they will find any comfort in that." Illya dropped a hand to Napoleon's shoulder and squeezed it. "And they are going to have a hard time showing their faces in town after all the accusations they made."
Napoleon made a face and then stood. He walked to the desk and started going through the drawers. "I know it's here somewhere."
"The phone book."
"What do you need the phone book for?"
"Every journey starts with a single step. I'm going to call the Dunlops and express my condolences. They can take it or not, but the olive branch will be extended."
Illya smiled at that and joined him. "Napoleon?"
The man looked up and Illya bent to kiss him.
"What was that for?" Napoleon asked as their lips parted.
"For being a good man... for being my good man." Illya cupped the back of Napoleon's head with his hand and drew their foreheads together. "Thank you for being you."
"Just doing my job, ma'am."
"Ma'am?" Illya tried to keep a stern face, but instead he smiled, then grinned, then started to chuckle. And life in the Foothills rolled on.