This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
Co-plotted by Mary Morris
Henry wasn’t terribly surprised to find Carter lounging in
Café Diem’s most comfortable oversized seat. Sundays were generally a time of
tradition and habit, and Carter was no exception. His Vinspresso
was sitting on the right corner table, the newspaper was spread out haphazardly
across the coffee table, and he had the sports page firmly in hand. “Morning,
Jack,” he said, sitting down in the next available chair and settling in.
“How was church?” Carter asked, folding the paper up and flipping it atop the other sections.
“Very inspiring. Reverend Harper never ceases to amaze me. She has a positive gift for tying the physical world and its laws to the spiritual totality.” He grinned. “Maybe you should drop in sometime and hear it for yourself.”
Carter smiled weakly and shrugged. “I’m not really the church type. Mom made me go all the time growing up, and I got out of the habit when I became a marshal. You know, always on the road and everything.”
“There is always time to become reconnected.” Henry took his cup of coffee from Vince and sipped at it. “By the way, what’s that box down by your feet?”
“Good question. It was delivered to the office yesterday, but it’s not addressed to me.” Carter looked over at the door; Allison, Stark and Kevin were just coming in. “Speaking of which…” He caught Allison’s eye and motioned her over. “This apparently belongs to you,” he said, handing the parcel over.
“Oh, great,” Stark groaned, rolling his eyes heavenward. “That pretty much confirms it.”
“Hush,” Allison ordered. “Thanks, Carter. Mom wanted to make sure it got delivered safely. Last year it never appeared, even though the postal service swore they dropped it off.” She glanced up at Stark meaningfully.
“Your mom?” Carter said. “What is it?”
“Mom’s coming here for Thanksgiving,” she answered. “She does all the cooking when she visits, and so she sends a few things in advance, like this.” She opened the package and retrieved the contents: a large container of lard, or so the label said.
“I can hear my arteries clogging even now,” Stark said dramatically.
“I thought I told you to hush.” Allison slipped the can back into the package. “Mom loves to cook Southern country—fried chicken, country fried steak, mashed potatoes, green beans with a ham hock. The Coca-cola ham should be showing up any day now, assuming someone hasn’t stashed it away for himself.”
“I’d like to think you know me better than that,” Stark protested.
“I know who kept sneaking back for more last year,” Allison retorted. “Not to mention the strange way that coconut cream pie vanished into thin air.”
Carter swallowed hard. “She must be a fantastic cook.”
Allison smiled. “Well, you can find out for yourself, Carter. You and Henry are invited to Thanksgiving dinner. And before you protest, let me warn you that Mom can’t seem to cook for less than fifteen people.”
“Well, Zoe’s going to LA to spend time with Abby, so I guess I could come,” Carter conceded, his mind awhirl with visions of ham, chicken, mashed potatoes and pie. He hoped he wasn’t salivating too much.
Henry, on the other hand, was a bit more reluctant. “Allison, as much as I enjoy the dinner, I...I’m not sure that it’s a good idea.”
“Earl is coming along,” Allison assured him. “You’re perfectly safe.”
Stark noticed Carter’s slight confusion. “Mrs. Blake is a widow,” he explained with a grin. “And while she’s got a steady boyfriend, she’s always on the lookout for a backup. She’s quite taken with Henry. And she’s not subtle about it, either.”
“Oh, she’s not that bad and you know it,” Allison said. “So, how about it, Carter? How does the Thanksgiving meal of a lifetime sound?”
It took all of two seconds to reply, and that was only because the dreams of fried chicken, coca-cola ham, and mashed potatoes with real gravy were overloading his brain. “Sure,” he said, nodding. “Sounds great.”
Thanksgiving noon found Henry and Carter at the Blake doorstep. “I can’t wait to meet this woman,” Jack said. “I used to pray for assignments down South, just for the food. Those people know how to do it right.”
“Certainly, if you consider high cholesterol and clogged arteries ‘the way to do it right’,” Henry replied. “I prefer a healthier diet, generally.”
“And yet you’re here,” Carter noted with a playful grin.
“A treat every so often is beneficial to the soul,” Henry intoned as he rang the doorbell. “Just do me a favor. If Mrs. Blake starts making advances on me, please distract her in some way.”
“Okay,” Carter nodded. “I’m a reverse wingman today.” The door opened. “Stark.”
“Gentlemen, come in,” Stark said, holding the door for them. “Glad you could make it. Hang your coats in the closet and make yourselves at home.”
Carter sniffed the air and frowned. “She hasn’t started cooking yet?”
“Ah, that. Sudden change of plans,” Stark replied. “Ally got a call late last evening. Her mother’s been hospitalized—initial thought is heart attack, but they’re running tests to confirm the diagnosis. I took Ally and Kevin to the airport a few hours ago.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that, Nathan,” Henry said, slightly relieved. “Well, I confess to being disappointed, but we can just head down to Café Diem and sample Vincent’s Thanksgiving feast instead.”
“Why?” Stark asked, looking puzzled. “Hell, we’ve got the bird and the sides. There’s no sense in letting it go to waste. Let’s just make the dinner ourselves. I mean, we’ve got two scientists between us. Cooking is just the scientific application of heat and chemistry to food. How difficult could it be?”
“Have you ever done this before?” Carter asked, concerned.
“Not really, but I’ve watched Ally and her mom do it for years. And if they can do it, surely a Nobel winner can manage.” Stark rubbed his chin. “We’ll need a pot or something for the bird,” he mused. “Gotta be something in here…I mean, they’ve cooked a bunch of turkeys over the years…”
“Tell me he really has watched Allison do this?” Carter begged softly.
Henry took a deep breath. “That would depend on your definition of ‘watched’,” he said slowly. “If, by the term you mean ‘sat in the living room with a scotch on the rocks and entertained the guests while occasionally poking his head in the kitchen and asking when the food would be ready, then yes, he has ‘watched’.”
“He doesn’t even have a cookbook,” Carter groaned. “Henry, tell me there’s some way to stop him before he burns the house down with us inside it. Please.”
“I’m open to suggestions. You know how determined…or perhaps ‘obsessed’ is the better word...Nathan can be at times”
“Yeah, I noticed he whipped out his Nobel right off the bat. So what do we do?”
“We stay, we assist so as to minimize the damage, and we attempt to keep ourselves from getting caught in the fallout.”
“Here we go! Found a pan!” Stark announced happily. The two men peered into the kitchen; the bird was dangling over every side of a bright blue LeCreuset casserole pan. “Should do the trick,” Stark noted. “Good heat distribution with these babies.”
“So do we retreat into the den, where there’s a quick exit when the fire erupts, or do we offer to assist in killing ourselves by food poisoning?” Henry whispered.
Carter considered it for a moment. “We stay,” he concluded. “I want to know exactly what he’s using to kill us and how he’ll do it.”
“So, what else is on the menu?” Carter asked. “Anything we can do to help?”
“Actually, no,” Stark replied confidently as he shoved the pot and the dangling bird atop it into the oven. “I did some poking around and found some decent stuff that’s easy to cook. Just toss it into the microwave and voila! It’s done.” He lifted up an oddly-shaped bag. “See? Frozen peas. And right next to them was a big bag of tater tots. Kevin went through a stage where he couldn’t get enough of ‘em.” He grinned and shook his head. “I don’t know why people think this stuff is so complicated.”
“Jack.” Henry’s eyes were wide.
“That bag of peas. I haven’t seen that brand or packing style since Bush was in office.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad…”
“The FIRST one. Jack, those things are so freezer-burned they’ll have the consistency of plastic…” Henry frowned and sniffed the air. “Nathan?”
“What is it, Henry?”
“Uhhh…you did remove the giblets and neck before you put the bird in the oven, right? They’re usually put in a small plastic bag and placed inside the cavity.”
“What?” Stark shook his head and retrieved a set of tongs. “Dammit, that is the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard of. Why the hell would anyone do…” As he opened the oven door a cloud of rancid smoke erupted, setting off the smoke alarm almost instantly. Carter and Henry hurried through the house, opening doors and windows, ignoring the steady torrent of baritone profanity coming from the kitchen.
“There is no way we survive this,” Carter sighed.
“Morituri te salutant,” came the grim reply.
“Okay, so we just don’t eat any of the inside meat,” Stark said, sliding the tortured turkey back into the stygian depths of the now-blackened oven. “Not a problem. We’re good.”
“How long are you going to keep it in there?” Carter asked, resigned.
“Till it’s done, obviously.”
“And how…fine.” Carter raised his hands in surrender and joined Henry in the den. “You know, I’ll be the first to concede that I don’t know much about cooking, but I did watch Abby’s mom when we were there for the holidays.” He shook his head. “I’m not sure, but I think he’s violated just about every possible rule of thumb and the day’s still young.”
“What he lacks in experience he makes up for in determination,” Henry said grandly. He’d taken over the most comfortable chair and was watching a documentary on the discovery of the gluon. Carter had heard that
“I don’t suppose we could switch to the Lions-Packers game,” he said plaintively.
“What’s the point? The Lions will lose by two touchdowns. They always lose on Thanksgiving Day. Now watch this part, Jack. I never get tired of this…”
“Nathan!” Allison was standing just outside the hospital, cursing the non-Eureka cell phone coverage. She never had this problem inside Global Dynamics. “Thought I’d give you a quick update. Turns out Mom didn’t have a heart attack. Her gallbladder was full of stones and had to come out.”
“That’s great, Ally. How is she doing now?”
“They’ve gotten her back to her room. She’s resting and looking much better already. Kevin and Earl are up in the room with her. How is everything there? Have a good Thanksgiving dinner with Carter and Henry?”
“Actually, we haven’t eaten yet.” There was a pause. “So any idea when you’ll be back?”
“They’ll probably discharge her tomorrow, barring complications. We’ll stay with her and help Earl get her settled, and probably return to
“I’m glad she’s going to be fine. Ally, I hate to cut you off, but I’ve got to finish a few things before we eat…”
“No problem.” Allison paused for a second, thinking that something sounded…odd about his voice. “Nathan, is everything all right up there?”
“We’re all good. I miss you guys. Hurry back, okay?”
“I will. Love you.” Allison snapped her phone shut, still puzzled. There was something going on up there, she was sure of it. It was simply a question of what…
“Hmmm?” Her phone buzzed and vibrated. Reopening it, she discovered that someone was sending her a series of emails with attachments.
“Problems?” Carter asked from the safety of the doorway.
Stark’s attention was focused on a large green chunk in a serving dish. “I don’t get it,” he said, to himself or to Carter one couldn’t be sure. “I set the damn microwave on high. I figured five minutes ought to thaw them out enough that I could spread them out, but they’re still one big clump.”
Henry took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and waded into the fray. “Nathan…I suspect they’re freezer burned, if they’ve been sitting in there as long as I suspect they have. They’re dried out. Nothing on earth is going to make them edible, much less palatable.”
Nathan gave the mass a critical look. “You think?”
“I’m reasonably sure, yes.”
“Oh well.” Stark tossed the contents into the trash bin. “I think Ally’s got some corn or green beans in a can. That’ll work just as well, I’m sure.”
“Nathan, as much as I appreciate all the hard work you’ve put into this, I really do think that…” Henry’s nose picked up an odd odor coming from the stovetop. “Nathan, are you cooking something in that pot?”
“Oh yeah. I was boiling some tater tots. Let me check…” He took a quick look, considered the options, and tossed pan and contents into the trash. “Guess I let all the water evaporate while I was battling the peas. No problem. I can boil up another batch.”
“Stark,” Carter called. “I think you bake them. In the oven. Which you’re currently using for the turkey.”
“Really?” Stark turned around to confront the heretic. “And how would you know? When’s the last time you ever used that kitchen of yours, as opposed to letting SARAH do it for you?”
“Last week,” Carter answered confidently. “I made my pasta primavera for Zoe and her friends. They were having a study session.”
Stark blinked. “Where in the hell did you learn how to cook pasta primavera?”
“From Vinny “The Shark” Castellano. I was part of the team that protected him during the Gotti trials. He saw us eating fast food and insisted on cooking for us. I almost hated to see that thing end, we ate so well.” Carter shrugged nonchalantly. “You hang around those guys enough, you learn a few things.”
“Well hardy-har-har for you, Carter.” Stark harrumphed indignantly for a moment or two, then retrieved a baking sheet (everyone gets lucky sooner or later) from the cabinet and poured a mound of tater tots onto it. “That should be enough,” he noted, taking the pile over to the oven.
“Nathan, you’ve still got the bird in there,” Henry pointed out, alarmed. “It’s not a good idea to put two different things in there at the same time—especially two things with markedly different recommended heat settings.”
“Henry, I’m not an idiot,” Stark reassured him. “I’ll just keep these in long enough to get cooked and then pull them out.”
“Crap.” Stark stared forlornly at the thoroughly-charred remains of his beloved tater tots, which were clinging determinedly onto the blackened baking pan. “Guess I waited a bit too long.”
“Nathan, we still have time to have a nice dinner at Café Diem,” Henry pleaded. “And I am sure Carter will help us clean this mess up afterwards, won’t we, Jack?”
The good sheriff was peering through the oven window. “Stark, what temperature do you have this thing set on?”
“Five hundred. The bird was frozen, so the higher heat will make it cook faster. It’s basic physics, Carter. Even you should know that.”
“Well, yeah. But this doesn’t look like it’s cooking properly.”
“Let me see.” Stark elbowed his way into prime viewing position. “Huh. Let’s pull it out and get a closer look.” A minute later, the turkey was resting atop the stove for all to see. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The skin was black and brittle. Wisps of smoke drifted from the cavity. The legs were almost obscenely spread apart, and whatever moisture might have remained was dripping ominously onto the stove surface.
“That doesn’t look too bad,” Stark said after a moment of reflection. “Let’s cut her open a bit. I’ll bet she’s nice and juicy once you get past the skin.” He retrieved a carving knife from the butcher’s block and dug in. The meat within was a bright hue of pink.
“Nathan, that meat’s raw,” Henry said quickly, cutting off all possible positive interpretations. “We can’t eat that.”
“Sure we can,” Stark replied, slipping the oven mitts back on and picking bird and pan up. “Carter, open the back door. I’m taking this baby outside.”
“Do I really want to know?” Carter said, complying nonetheless. Curiosity had gotten the better of him. Stark set the pan down in the middle of the back yard and headed back into the house; moments later he returned, bearing something that looked like a sci-fi rifle.
“Oh my god, Nathan, no,” Henry pleaded. “The bird has suffered enough…”
“Do I really want to know what that is?” Carter asked.
“It’s a microwave transceiver and directional array inducer,” Stark said with a satisfied smile. “We use it to clear the driveway and sidewalks when it snows.”
“Dear god, have none of you ever heard of a SHOVEL?”
“Oh please, Carter. Anyway, this thing shoots bursts of concentrated microwaves a short distance. It should be more than enough to finish cooking the turkey. We’ll be dining in minutes.” He raised the blaster and took careful aim.
“Jack…step back, duck, and cover,” Henry whispered.
Stark fired. There was a bright halo of light, a wet-sounding splurt, an aroma that defied description but had faint echoes of burnt flesh, and a subsequent massive explosion of turkey in all directions
A few miles away, Dr. Anne Young and Christopher Dactylos were enjoying a very traditional and very intimate Thanksgiving dinner. Dactylos was just deciding between a breast and a thigh when the dog started barking furiously from the back yard. The couple roused themselves, slipped on robes and slippers, and headed outside.
Thunder was growling at something sticking of the ground. “What in the hell…?” Young said, kneeling down to get a closer look. “It looks like a drumstick.”
Dactylos studied the skies. “Probably the Tesla students,” he observed. “They must be trying to put a turkey into orbit.”
“Well, it’s too hot to touch,” Young commented, rising to her feet.
“I thought the same thing about you until recently,” Dactylos noted, guiding her back inside.
Jim Taggart was taking a post-feast stroll through the woods surrounding
It so happened that he was staring up at the late afternoon sky in search of migrating flocks of geese when his eyes caught something soaring through the air, leaving a long plume of smoke behind it. The object crashed into edge of the lake, steam hissing from the impact. Taggart considered leaving well enough alone, but his curiosity was piqued. He found a long tree branch lying on the ground and with considerable skill managed to rake the thing out of the lake.
He knelt down to study it for a moment or two, then stood back up, shaking his head sadly. “You tell ‘em and tell ‘em, but they never believe you,” he said to himself. “
Nathan Stark stood stoically in his back yard, bits of char-broiled and still-raw turkey splattered all over his clothes and hair. He said nothing for a long time, merely stared at the twisted, melted, charred remains of the cooking pan. The body of the turkey was nowhere to be seen.
Henry slowly uncurled himself and looked around. “Nathan?” he called, concerned.
Stark’s shoulders slumped ever so slightly. “Gentlemen,” he finally said, “give me a minute to clean up, and then we’ll head to Café Diem for dinner, okay?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Carter noted. “Let me give Vincent a call to let him know we’re coming.” Oddly enough, his cell phone was already open, but no one paid it much mind at the time.
Allison Blake smiled as she pulled up to her house. There were two large panel vans in the driveway and a pile of burnt, smoky paneling sitting beside the trash can. Kevin made a face from the smell as he helped her get the suitcases out of the trunk. As they walked up the drive, she noted a charred, twisted pot amid the garbage. In a former life it might have been a Le Creuset dutch oven. Now…well, to be honest, it wasn’t much of anything.
To his credit, Nathan got outside to meet her in record time and made it look natural. “Ally!” he said with considerable surprise. “Why didn’t you call me? I would have picked you up.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” she assured him, kissing his cheek in greeting as she came inside. “I thought you might be busy, and figured it’d be just as easy to grab a GD car.” There was a tremendous clamor coming from the kitchen. “What’s going on? Did something happen while we were gone?”
If nothing else, Nathan Stark could think fast on his feet. “Well,” he said, rubbing his neck, “to be honest, it’s a surprise. How’s your mother?”
She laughed. “I stopped worrying when she spotted the empty pizza box in the trash and gave Earl twenty-five minutes of hell about it. Apparently, she has three or four meals stored in the freezer at any given time—and he committed the unforgivable sin of passing them up for ‘a cheap pre-packaged pile of cheese and who knows what’.” She put a maternal arm around Kevin and laughed. “I think she’ll be okay. She was talking about coming up for Christmas instead. She loves cooking in my kitchen, you know.”
“Well, speaking of which…this was supposed to be a surprise…”
“I’d say it’s very much one,” she noted wryly.
“You’ve been talking about remodeling the kitchen for awhile, and I figured…well, I hope you don’t mind, but I went ahead and got things going as an early Christmas present.” He smiled sheepishly. “I was hoping to make it a better surprise, but you got in a day early.”
“Nathan, you’re so thoughtful,” Allison said, beaming. She peeked into the kitchen. “You found the design sketches I had drawn up! This is going to be so nice when it’s done. Though, I think we’re going to be having more than a few meals at Café Diem,” she added, gazing at the mess in progress.
“The contractor said it should be done by tomorrow,” Nathan assured her. “They’ve got three teams working around the clock. Like I said, I was hoping to make it a surprise, but as usual you got me first.”
“Well, I missed you and Earl said he could handle Mom, so I figured why not. Can we maybe get some food? We’re starved. That reminds me…how was dinner with Jack and Henry? Did you three have a good time and stay out of trouble?”
“Oh, it was all right,” Nathan said casually. “No big problems, nothing we couldn’t handle. Tell you what, we’ll head down to Café Diem and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“That sounds wonderful.” Allison smiled to herself. Yes, she could bring up the deceased cookware and the pictures Carter had sent her, but all things considered, it might be better to just leave matters alone.
Sometimes it was better to hold the evidence back…just in case.