George enters the HQ office and tosses his hat at the rack in the corner where the other agent's hats are hanging. He misses the rack and his hat falls on the floor. He begins to flirt with Ms. Munynickle as he picks up the hat.
"You better get in there. They're waiting for you!" She admonishes.
"You're late, 0007! Get in here!" 'N' motions as George enters the room.
"Maybe I should say 00028 . . . get it? All of you together . . . 4 x 7
= 28."Everyone laughs out loud.
"Yeah, and if Pierce was here, we'd be 00034!" George adds.
"You mean 00035?" Sean smirks.
"Oh yeah, you're right." George looks humiliated.
Sean looks at 'N' and rolls his eyes in George's direction, 'N' responds with a peacekeeping look that says, be patient.
"By the way, where is Pierce?" Roger asks.
"He's finishing up another mission right now," 'N' replies. "He'll be a few more days. Let's get to this mission at hand."
Low mumbling is heard around the room.
"But what's the deal here? Why are we all at HQ at the same time?"
"Yeah, that's what I'd like to know." Timmy adds.
"As all of you know, or may not know . . ." 'N' begins to explain.
"The 2008 Culinary Olympics is coming up soon in Erfurt, Germany, and while England may be far superior in the intelligence community, we do poorly in the culinary arena. And that's got to change! For years, France and the United States have always led in these Olympics, withCanada and Germany close behind. We, on the other hand, have always been in the rear with smaller countries like Dorgo and Berzong. Well, that has to change in this upcoming Olympics! The Queen is entering her personal Chefs in this competition and she insists on a FIRST PLACEWIN!"
"You mean the Gold? As in Goldth . . . medal?" Sean blurts out.
"Precisely, and this brings us to your mission, gentlemen. In the Culinary Olympics, presentation is everything. To enhance this presentation, a clear gel, sometimes tinted, is sprayed on the food for presentation. This gel is known as Aspic. While derived from many sources, most Aspic is primarily from meat juices, which brings us to this Chef, PAUL PRIMEAUX."As 'N' speaks to the agents, he shows them film clips and slides of Paul Primeaux involved in various endeavors, shots of his restaurants and other enterprises.
"Primeaux once owned a restaurant in New York City but now his entire operation is in Louisiana, specifically New Orleans and Melville."
"He owns a restaurant in the French Quarter in New Orleans and a ten thousand sq. ft. seasoning facility near the port of New Orleans, he ships and receives herbs and spices worldwide. His product is called MAGIC SPICES. More than forty countries purchase these seasonings!"
"He's trying to MONOPOLIZE!" Sean states angrily.
"We believe Primeaux is solely responsible for the United States faring so well in these past Olympics." 'N' continues. "For starters, he's the chief consultant to the US Culinary Olympics Team. But there's more to this guy than meets the eye. Although a US citizen, he brings to the table, no pun intended, a very unique combination of culture and technique. Culturally, he combines a French/Canadian influence handed down from his ancestry reigning from Nova Scotia, Canada, mixed with a French Creole/Spanish influence found only in New Orleans. Now this alone would be hard enough to compete with. But if you travel West from New Orleans over the Mississippi River and across the Atchafalaya Basin, you encounter the so-called 'Cajun' people, of which Primeaux identifies himself. Now, these people have an axe to grind with Britain about that expulsion from Nova Scotia that took place some 250 years ago. It's nothing, really."
"The Cajuns incorporated the German influence of smoked meats and all of these influences combined, equal a melting pot of cultural cuisine. Now this is where it gets complicated. The Germans, because of their climate, have always cold-smoked their meats. But given the climate in Louisiana . . . hot, humid, and somewhat tropical in nature, the Cajun people have taken to hothouse smoking their meats, with the exception of ONE individual."
"PAUL PRIMEAUX!" George exclaims loudly.
"Precisely!" 'N' continues.
"He's the only Cajun, in fact, he is the ONLY one we know of in the United States, according to our latest intelligence, who uses this old-world German technique of cold-smoking meats. If he is combining this German cold-smoking technique with Cajun hothouse smoking, along with his Magic Spices, in an impossible climate like Louisiana, he's had to incorporate some new-world technology!"
"This whole blend of culture, technique, and technology has leftBritain at a sad disadvantage in these Culinary Olympics. The Queen's Chefs don't stand a chance! Now we believe Primeaux's New Orleans seasoning facility and restaurant are just a front. Our intelligence has revealed that the REAL heart of his operation is the smoking facility in Melville where the secret to his success is hidden."
Suddenly, a huge table rises up from the middle of the floor and displays a full-scale model of the small town of Melville, Louisiana. The agents and 'N' gather around the table.
"As you can see, gentlemen, the town is completely surrounded by levees on all four sides." 'N' produces a pointer and taps at the sides of the model.
"Our intelligence tells us that a massive flood in 1928 nearly destroyed the entire town. Then, the US Army Corps of Engineers constructed those levees. Our 'friend,' Mr. Paul Primeaux has cleverly tucked his smoking facility within these levees thereby creating a compound out of the natural environment!"
"Man, this guy is good . . . hiding in plain sight!" Sean says sarcastically.
"Maybe he's just plain BRILLIANT!" George adds with enthusiasm.
"Diabolical is more like it!" Sean counters.
Ignoring the outburst 'N' continues. "Our best satellite surveillance, to date, indicates mostly swamp around these levees with the exception of the East levee that borders a river. We have concluded that the river would be your best approach. There are also a few pipeline crossings above the river and a railway trestle. A ferry runs on weekdays. There's a road running parallel with the East levee and satellite photos verify the road is impassable due to road construction."
"We know that every aspect of Primeaux's operation is computerized. Your mission, gentlemen, is to go up the river, infiltrate his compound, gain access to his computers, and bring back the data specifically related to the aspic. It is crucial that we obtain this information if the Queen's Chefs are to place in the Olympics. We need to know the exact makeup of Primeaux's aspic, so we'll know what we're up against."
"That's it? Is that it? This is such a simple mission . . . so why do you need all of us?" Sean is incredulous.
"There are other aspects to this mission. There's the public relations factor. We would like to generate some PR within MI-60 to appraise the need for appropriating funds for future missions such as this one. These missions will be known as Semi-classified/Unclassified/Classified (SUC Missions). Our accounting department did some number crunching and concluded that subcontracting crews would be in our best interest. The United States is doing this with some of their smaller CIA operations. If all goes well and it proves profitable for our intelligence division, MI-60 will allocate funds for this program, code named AMALGA, which will become a permanent unit of MI-60, contractually, of course. Initially, the program will be experimental and we will be on a shoestring budget and it may involve some improvising at first, until we get it off the ground."
"We have a great deal to achieve on this first mission. For centuries, the French have led the world in fine cuisine and the world has come to expect that. Now Primeaux, with his talent and resources and unique blend of influences culminating in this bayou-brand of Cajun/French cuisine, could very well turn the tide and surpass the French! The bottom line is this. We don't know if the world is ready for such a tidal wave in the culinary arts. The ripple effect could mean worldwide shortages of specific herbs and spices. We could see the development of Black Market trafficking in a certain spice such as Cayenne, which is a main staple of Cajun cuisine!"
"You're talking about DOMINATION!" Roger blurts out.
"Worse than that! MONOPOLIZING DOMINATION!" Sean counters.
"What do the French say about this?" George asks.
"They haven't the insight to see what's going on!" 'N' assures the agents.
"Is Britain the ONLY country to recognize this attempted DOMINATION?" Roger frowns and looks over at Sean.
"Probably. After all, we are the world's leader in intelligence!" Sean leans back in his chair with an air of smugness.
"Absolutely! Our intelligence indicates this could be the beginning of the domination of the world's taste buds! We may be headed for a ONE WORLD TASTE!" 'N' states emphatically.
"My God!" Sean swears.
"That's exactly what the Queen said!" 'N' responds. "That's why she wants us to move as expeditiously as possible on this matter. As luck would have it, it will be Mardi Gras weekend and everyone will be in New Orleans. Melville will be a ghost town. It's a simple job, in and out, piece of cake! There are also some fringe benefits in it for all of you. When your mission is completed, the Queen is treating you to a week of Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, all expenses paid!"
"That sure beats the hell out of a gold watch!" Roger smiles broadly.
All the agents agree in a big thumbs-up.
"Sean, you'll be the head of the mission." 'N' nods in Sean's direction and Sean responds with an arrogant smirk.
"We've acquisitioned a yacht and have anticipated everything you'll need, equipment-wise, to execute the mission. The yacht crew doesn't need to know much about your mission. Keep them in the dark. You will rendezvous with the yacht under the Hwy 190 Bridge outside the small town of Krotz Springs. From there, it will be twelve miles upstream to Melville. We have arranged plane tickets for all of you on American Airlines."
"What about transportation once we get to the United States?" Sean stands and stretches.
"You'll rent a couple vehicles at the airport."
"Hold it right there! I'm NOT going anywhere without my Aston!" Sean explodes.
"Then, what do you propose?"
"Put my car on the plane!"
"Don't forget, we're on a shoestring budget, that's going to strain it."
"The gadgetry alone on that vehicle is indispensable." Sean crosses his arms across his Chest defensively.
"You're right. We'll list it as a vital piece of equipment so accounting won't have a shit fit!"
'N' makes a notation on a note pad then gets on the intercom and asks Ms. Munynickle to switch the airline tickets from American Airlines to British Airways and to have Sean's car put on board immediately. "Your plane will be leaving soon." 'N' turns back to the agents. "Ms. Munynickle will drive you to the airport in a shuttle van. She has all the documents you'll be needing—passports, drivers licenses, and credit cards."
Everybody stands up and walks toward the door. Sean pulls 'N'aside.
"Do we have to take George?" He asks.
"The Queen insists. It's all part of that PR thing. Everybody knows there's bad blood between the two of you, but try to make the best of it."
Sean agrees, begrudgingly.
As the meeting is coming to an end, Ms. Munynickle sits at her desk outside the briefing room thinking about all the years she wasted, waiting on the agents when all they did was break her heart, one by one. Now, seeing them all together, it's almost too much to bear. It's a rude awakening for her.
What did I do with my life? She asks herself. I've never married because of those carousing playboys! I have no children. What have I done to deserve this misery? They RUINED my life!
The agents emerge from the briefing room and enter into her office.Everyone projecting a very high-energy, let's go get 'em attitude. They barely notice Ms. Munynickle. Sean stops at her desk.
"I understand you're taking us to the airport."
"Yes, I am." Ms. Munynickle answers icily.
"Have you sent my car ahead?"
"Yes, I have! Here are all your documents!" She flings four envelopes across the desk toward Sean.
After retrieving her purse from a bottom drawer, Ms. Munynickle leads the agents out the door to a small white van. Sean follows, while Roger, Timmy and George collect their luggage from their cars and load it into the van. As Ms. Munynickle drives, the agents boast about past missions with beautiful women, casinos, and five-star hotels in exotic places along with fine wine and caviar. Ms. Munynickle listens to their conversation.
I can't believe the years I've wasted. I feel like an old maid librarian. Nearing the airport, she begins to fume as the agent's laughter becomes unbearable. Arriving at the terminal, she stops in the loading zone and they all exit the vehicle. Ms. Munynickle walks to the rear of the van and opens the doors to remove the luggage. By now, she is boiling! George, first out of the vehicle, approaches her.
"Just like old times!" He says enthusiastically.
"ALL my time!" Ms. Munynickle screams hysterically. "Forty friggin' years of my time! Being fooled into thinking I was special to a bunch of martini-sucking, high-falootin, womanizing bastards!" Sheyells.
Ms. Munynickle slings their luggage onto the ground in a fit of rage all the while shouting obscenities and crying uncontrollably. She slams the cargo doors and rushes to the driver's door. Yanking it open, she quickly jumps into the seat, slams the door, and collapses into tears. Roger opens the passenger door, leans across the seat and in his sexiest voice he tries to comfort her.
"C'mon, baby. You know I never truly led you on. I was always getting held up. Look, when I get back from this mission, maybe we can . . ."
"You mean it?" Her expression softens and she smiles trustingly atRoger.
"Sure, baby. As soon as I get back." Roger soothes. While Roger is comforting Ms. Munynickle, Sean steps to the back of the van.
"What the hell did you do to her, George?!" Sean accuses.
"I didn't do anything!"
"You must have done something!"
"I swear, I didn't do anything!"
"Then, you must have said something." Sean turns and walks over to Roger just as he's closing the door to the van.
"As soon as I get back, baby." Roger smiles at Ms. Munynickle reassuringly.
"Now, why the hell did you say that?" Sean demands. "You know she's gonna take that bullshit to the bank!"
"I don't know." Roger looks confused. "It must have been a reflex."
The agents head into the terminal where Sean distributes the licenses, credit cards, passports, etc. They check their bags and board the plane. The flight attendant directs them to the rear of the aircraft and to their seats. Sean is deeply offended at her suggesting they sit in coach. He's sure there must be a mistake with their ticket.
"COACH?" He chokes out.
"COACH?!" Roger echoes.
The attendant rechecks their boarding passes. "Yes, coach," she says.
"There must be some mistake!" Sean insists.
"You're with Universal Exports, right?" She asks.
"Yes, that's correct."
"Then there's NO mistake, sir. You're in coach. Move along, please!"
Sean and Roger walk to the rear of the plane and take their assigned seats on the left, near the toilet. Timmy and George sit up front on the right.
"I don't know why we couldn't sit in first class!" Roger says with disgust. "Those seats were half-empty! I know HQ said we were on a shoe string budget but this is ridiculous!"
"I've never sat in Coach! These seats are so low class!" Sean sulks.
"I wonder if this is Ms. Munynickle's idea of revenge."
"That flight attendant looks a little bit lesbian to me, perhaps I can charm our way up to first class." Roger muses aloud.
"I had a roll in the hay with a lesbian on that Goldthumb mission." Sean leans back in his seat and closes his eyes.
"Do you want me to try, I'm up for it!" Roger leans forward in his seat.
"Nah. Just let it ride. We'll discuss this matter with 'N' whenever we get back. He's going to have to define shoestring!"
Despite the seating arrangements there's an air of excitement about the mission; Mardi Gras, casinos, women, etc. Up ahead, on the other side of the aircraft, Timmy and George discuss the possibilities.
"We're going to have a blast! I hear there are casinos everywhere down there!" Timmy rubs his hands together.
"With Sean calling all the shots, I don't know about that." George muses.
Meanwhile Sean notices Roger hungrily eyeing the women on the plane.
"Don't be lining anything up just yet, Roger. Let's get the job done first."
"How long could it take? This mission is a piece of cake! Even 'N' said so. We could stay in New Orleans and you could send either of those two to take care of this."
"I don't know about that." Sean rubs his chin. "Maybe we could send Timmy down there but George . . . I don't think so." Just then, George spills his drink, trying to be cool while flirting with a flight attendant.
Sean notices the mishap. "See what I mean? Those two never had any class!"
Anthony Lomas, a proud Cajun and lover of all things James Bond, has managed, with Operation Aspic, to combine his two loves in a humorous, yet heartfelt tale of hope and hilarity. He also loves cooking Cajun food and divides his time between the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Lafayette, Louisiana. He enjoys hearing from readers, you may write him at email@example.com