William hummed to himself, while tasting and chopping and adjusting the heat under this pot, stirring this one, adding a spice to that one.
I stood in doorway for a moment, enjoying his bliss, before announcing myself.
He looked up and beamed.
* * * * *
Sometimes in my line of work you need an alias.
* * * * *
I smiled back.
"How are you, William?"
"I'm so glad you came. Stay here in the kitchen with me—away from the rampant networkers. I hate parties. I don't know why I give so many."
"It gives you an excuse to cook."
I lifted the top off the nearest pot. It was a garlic cream sauce. I picked up a spoon and sampled it. Nobody cooks like William.
William reached for a wedge of cheese, then grimaced.
"This isn't Brie." He glanced up at me and the grimace vanished. "You know that big deal I was telling you about?"
He looked back, over his shoulder, at Nick, who was working behind him.
"Nick! This is Camembert!"
William's sister, Betty, slipped through the door and gave me a nervous glance. But I wanted to keep William on the subject.
"You mean the pipeline?"
"Wobbling, Nick," he said, "wobbling."
I tried again.
"This big deal. It's the pipeline?"
He grinned at me. "Yes—the pipeline. We sign it tonight. Five years negotiating…"
Betty reached for the spoon in my hand.
"Do I get a taste too?"
William snatched the spoon away and handed her a clean one.
"Where is that son of yours?"
Nick spoke up from behind him.
"He'll be here. He's a…"
"A good kid—I know. I'd prefer a punctual kid."
Betty smacked her lips. "Delicious, as always. How should I know? He's staying with you."
"He was supposed to be here at seven. I'll give him till eight, but if he's one second later…"
She laughed. "Would you like me to stand in with the guests…"
"…just one second later!"
"…so you can slave away in the kitchen?"
"If you see Tim out there, tell him to keep his girlfriend out of the library. There's something in there I don't want her to see."
Nick followed her out, to answer the doorbell, and for a few minutes William tended to his creations in silence. I let him, waiting for him to continue on his own. Finally he did.
I smiled. "Don't worry. Tim will be here by eight."
"Do you have to leave tomorrow?"
"I'm afraid I have to."
William sighed then. It was very touching.
"I'll miss your bizarre point of view. I have a gift for you. Sort of a combination going away present and thank you. If it weren't for you these last few months…"
A gift. I could see it coming.