Queen Of Spices
by Abbey Carter

She met Bourne after coming from the airport. Her clothing carried the essence of three continents and five meals, and she was past caring. The Indian sun reclined, and Pam Landy felt ready to as well.

Landy searched Bourne's face for signs of suspicion. He certainly had every reason not to trust CIA employees. Even though she had helped prevent his being killed, he was surely smart enough to understand that in the shifting world of intelligence, alliances changed.

She knew that well. She'd gotten over the shock of a colleague pointing a gun at her face fairly quickly.

"Do you have the papers?" Bourne said, maybe with a trace of anxiety.

She did. And she didn't feel compelled to share them as a civil servant, per se, but as a person.

They walked as briskly as was possible. He led her past the Jewtown fish market, through mazed alleys. A slight wind sung of patchouli, and carried three dialects to her ears. Landy didn't have to look for signs of the Portuguese in Kochi; the architecture was omnipresent. A history lesson came alive before her, and she continued walking, mindful that a missed step would separate them.

His apartment was a single room up three flights of cracked wooden stairs. Landy mentally noted his conspicuous habits; he had still made no attempt to change from military drab, nor slow his pace. No wonder he had been found.

Bourne quickly picked a few shirts off the floor, and cleared a low table of beer bottles and empty plates.

"This is what I could get you," Landy said, spreading his file out. "I pulled every clearance I could get my hands on. I don't think there are more files. Certainly not many."

She watched him become instantly absorbed in pictures of his childhood, of his family. In orders given him years later, in the faces of forgotten comrades, and, she supposed, repressed demons.

"Thank you," Bourne said absently, continuing to read. It was humid. She took off the business jacket and slung it over a chair, looked around the room. An unmade bed in the corner, and a closet near the door. She realized she leaned against a gas stovetop, burdened with a heavy, though it seemed, unused skillet.

Slowly, Bourne rose from the table and retreated to a stack of papers. "I found these for you. What memories I've pieced together of Treadstone. Probably nothing you don't know."

"It's appreciated. We'll use it in the internal investigation." His fingers were rough, the folder heavy in her hands.

"Would you tell me," she asked, "why you came back to India?"

He made a frustrated sound that was far too masculine to be a sigh, and gripped the back of his chair. "I liked Goa. But I couldn't stay there. This was down the coast." He balled his other fist. "I had good memories here. And you. Why did you come here?"

"To give you what you deserve. I think that's abundantly clear."

He gave her a searching look; she thought him perplexed by the notion that she had no hidden agenda, no scheme.

"Where are you staying?" He came to stand next to her quickly, and she was aware of the sweat in the silk of her blouse, the limited space in the room, and between them.

"My flight leaves at four a.m.."

He grinned. "Do you sleep?"

"When I feel like it."

There was a strange noise, and she laughed on realizing it was his stomach.

"Do you cook?" she asked, voice lilting.

"Not really. I may have been taught, but the memory was lost along the way."

Some things are better said unspoken. She opened the cabinet over the stove, and pulled out a matchbook, spices, and oil. The stove ticked and flared to life under her hand, and she put the skillet over the burner.

She had eight hours left in the city. She knew Bourne wasn't only a former assassin, and as he looked over her shoulder to the stove, she could tell he didn't think of her as only an operative to be outwitted, or a woman to be avoided. He had many secrets, and she had several of her own.

Landy tipped cumin into the hot oil and flicked turmeric and cardamom into the bubbling mixture.

"What will you make?" he asked.

What could be done but to tell these secrets straight into morning, until the air wept with spice and the weight of whatever said?

"Watch," Landy said, her blouse already traced with smells of their food. "In Indian, this is how every dish begins."


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