“Hey, Illya – are you satisfied with your new apartment?”
Illya Kuryakin stopped trying to balance the salt shaker on top of the mustard bottle and stared blankly at his friend.
“I mean,” Napoleon continued, trying to swallow a too-large bite of scrambled egg, “I know you just moved out of office quarters, but surely you have some opinion. Is your landlord a reasonable man?”
“Actually, Napoleon, I have a landlady. And if by ‘reasonable’ you mean ‘tolerant of overnight guests at strange hours’… I have not had occasion to discover. Have you been evicted again?”
Napoleon answered with a half-grin that would have seemed sheepish on anyone else, but coming from him, it was just the Napoleon Solo charm. “It wasn’t the overnight guests this time,” he said, “it was having the room blown up twice in one week. That was just too much for him, I think.”
“Yes, I can imagine,” Illya replied dryly. “Well, I will take you to visit my landlady. Are you going to finish those eggs?”
Illya’s landlady turned out to be small, Russian, and much more attractive than Napoleon had expected. “Lyaneshka, this is Napoleon Solo,” Illya introduced them. “Napoleon – my landlady, Illyana Ivanova. Napoleon is looking for an apartment; his last one got blown up. Twice.”
“And of course you had nothing to do with that, Illyusha?” Lyaneshka teased. “Well, don’t worry about it. Any friend of yours is welcome here – especially if he behaves like a gentleman,” she added with a stern look at Napoleon. “But I am busy at the moment; why don’t you show him the empty rooms yourself? You know which they are.”
“Yes, indeed, ma’am,” Illya smiled, and kissed her hand politely before she fished the passkey out of her pocket for him and hurried away.
“’Behaves like a gentleman,’” Illya mimicked as they climbed the fire stairs; neither man liked to risk getting trapped in an elevator. “She… has you pegged, Napoleon, is that the expression? You should not look at every woman like something in a fish market!”
“I wasn’t,” Napoleon retorted. “Only you would think of comparing your landlady to a dead fish!“
Illya ignored him. “Here we are,” he announced. “There are really only two empty rooms: one on this floor, the other a penthouse above.”
The empty apartment was small, just a bed-sitter and bath, with a tiny balcony outside the window. “All the apartments on this floor are identical,” Illya explained. “I have a sort of kitchenette in mine; Lyaneshka doesn’t mind me cooking if I clean up for myself. But she won’t let me do science experiments except on the balcony.”
Napoleon chuckled. “Who else lives on this floor?” he asked.
“Let’s see… my apartment is closest to the fire stairs, then there is the Irish lady across the hall.” Illya chuckled – actually laughed out loud. “She will draw a comic portrait of you if you ask nicely; she’s done several for me. Next are two retired English hairdressers—“
“Two? Retired English hairdressers? What, are they married?”
“No – yes – they are in separate apartments. They are both female, and married. To clergymen.” Illya pushed his blond hair out of his eyes. “It does sound rather unusual when I put it that way. Anyway, they have both very kindly offered to cut my hair for me; you know how the UNCLE barber always makes it too short. And one of them also does my laundry and mending when I haven’t time to do it myself. She says it’s no trouble. Then there is the authoress who keeps some very nice cats and likes to bake me cookies…” He trailed off, looking rather puzzled by all this female attention, now enumerated at once.
Napoleon, on the other hand, was not puzzled in the least. You really have no idea, do you, Illya? Five women all alternately mothering you and ogling you – yes, I saw how “Lyaneshka” looked at you – and you don’t even realize it!
“Wait,” he said. “That’s five apartments accounted for, plus this empty one – who’s got the one at the end of the hall?”
“Oh, that’s the young lady typist who has been helping me with my English writing.” Illya’s rare smile flickered across his face. “She says I am much improved.”
Make that six women. “I think I’d like to look at that penthouse apartment,” Napoleon said. “This one is too small for all my stuff.” And I’m not settling down in the middle of this… this hen coop with a Russian bantam ruling the roost!