Most Russians, on entering a room and discovering it to be inhabitated by irate West Germans, would have beat a swift retreat. But even had U.N.C.L.E. not assigned the Russian in question to work with NATO on a certain delicate matter, this particular Russian was not easily intimidated.
"Illya Kuryakin," he introduced himself. "You must be Major von dem Eberbach."
"Yes. We've been expecting you to join your colleague," the Major snarled. The other Germans were giving him furtive looks. Illya's lips thinned as he realized his partner had done it again. Napoleon couldn't be left unsupervised for one minute. Probably had gotten himself into a compromising position with Eberbach's sister. Or Eberbach's wife. Or-
The door opened and most of the Germans flinched, excepting Eberbach, whose glower merely intensified. Illya looked to the door and saw the source of the trouble at once. There was his partner, looking quite contented as usual to have a striking blond hanging on his arm. It was a little unusual that the striking blond was a man, but the rest was par for the course.
Napoleon had the grace to look slightly abashed at Illya's withering look. The blond was oblivious to everything except Napoleon; he was watching him with a besotted smile.
"So," Illya remarked, "this is what you've been up to while I was being roasted alive in the Sahara."
Napoleon glanced at him with a sly smile. "Your suffering troubles me," he said earnestly, and then gave a we-share-a-secret smile to the blond on his arm. "But not very much." The blond laughed and tossed his hair like a model in a shampoo commercial.
"We almost had them this afternoon," Eberbach growled, "but somehow they slipped through our fingers."
"Don't worry, Major. I am used to straightening out Mr. Solo's messes," Illya said meaningly.
Napoleon reluctantly dragged his attention away from the blond and spoke with professional authority. When would he learn that his constant romantic conquests made people underestimate him? "Ah, I can explain," Napoleon was saying, serious now. "They were ready for us. They had been warned and were leading us into a trap."
The blond also made a visible effort to speak seriously. It wasn't only his fawning over Napoleon that made his sober tone incongruous. One just didn't expect serious things to come from the mouth of someone with long curly hair any movie actress would have killed for, one who was wearing a billowing purple blouse and a great quantity of jingling gold jewelry to boot. And tight high heeled black boots, speaking of boots. Nonetheless, the flamboyant blond talked sense. "Someone tipped them off," he said. "And I think I know who."
As Napoleon and the blond continued with the explanation, the Germans listened and grudgingly conceded the logic of their words. Napoleon's charm, however, was wasted on them; indeed, it worked in reverse. It was always the way; Napoleon's charm got him into trouble and rarely got him out again.
That was Illya's job.
"My superior gave me some information which is on a need to know basis, Major," Illya informed the officer. The Major unenthusiastically ordered his men out.
"That includes you, Limey," the Major snarled at the blond, who sauntered out, swaying his hips just a little. Illya briefly evaluated the blond's buttocks, which was easy to do since the "Limey" was wearing very tight pants, and decided the Major had good reason to be irate.
Napoleon had stayed put. Illya gave him a cool look as he seated himself across from the Major. "You do not need to know." At the rebuff, Napoleon left with an air of congenial martyrdom.
"Well?" the Major demanded once the door was closed behind Napoleon. "What is this confidential information?"
"Who is the exotic parasite attached to my partner's arm?" Illya asked in return. The "confidential information" had only been a ruse to determine what his partner and his new symbiote were up to.
The Major's face darkened. "A fucking foppish nuisance my Chief always insists we employ."
"To do what?"
"He's a damned thief. We hire him to get us through security systems."
Illya had to get the lay of the land before he could straighten out this fiasco. "And why is a professional criminal willing to work for NATO? Are you blackmailing him with the threat of arrest?"
The Major blew his stack at this. He shot to his feet and started yelling, while Illya watched in bemusement. "Like hell we are! I've been trying to get rid of the fucking pervert for years and he just keeps hanging around. He's only bothering so he can make more of his perverted conquests! And he'll screw anything in pants." The German reined himself in with obvious difficulty, still fuming as he dropped back into his chair. "If that shit-friendly Yank is a friend of yours, you'll get him away from that flighty hot-pants pervert before it's too late."
"And why exactly should I be concerned if my partner runs around with some overdressed thief?" Illya inquired.
"Because the bloody fickle faggot will be running around with someone else next week! He has no sense of loyalty. He'll seduce your friend and abandon him."
Illya frowned as if in thought. "Now that you mention it, it seems to me that I heard something about the thief who works for NATO. But I thought I had heard that it was you he was carrying the torch for."
The Major shot to his feet again. "Me? Hah! Sure, he threw himself at me for years, but he was just amusing himself. Next week he'll find someone else to pester."
"And how long did he 'pester' you before choosing a new target?" Illya asked carefully.
"Five years," the German muttered.
Illya had had a lot of practice hiding smirks and laughter from his partner, so controlling his expression now wasn't too difficult. He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms as if pondering the matter, even though he had already reached his conclusions.
"I think I can clear this matter up, Major," he said after a long moment of pretended thought. "Right now we have to show up for the rendezvous, but this evening, I will wear a wire and let you listen in when I… discuss this matter with Mr. Solo."
The Major snorted. "Not that it'll make any difference."
The agents and the thief made the rendezvous, and spent the rest of the day playing tag with the KGB, with no real progress being made for either side. By the time they had all repaired to the hotel for supper, everyone was tired and grouchy, except for Napoleon, whose usual cheerfulness was impervious to a single wasted day, and the thief Eroica, for whom the KGB was low on the priority list.
As they all dispersed to their rooms after dinner, Illya slipped a receiver into the Major's hand. "You will be listening?" he asked in a low voice as he checked to see that his wire was turned on.
"If you insist," the Major replied grudgingly.
"I insist," Illya said.
"All right, all right. Dammit."
Thus assured, Illya followed his partner to their room. As soon as the door was closed, Solo turned to him, holding out his arms, but Illya folded his own arms and gave Solo a coolly exasperated look. "You wouldn't want to make your new blond jealous, would you?"
Napoleon stepped back, abashed, but of course laid on the charm. He always tried to charm his way out of tight spots. Or into them. "Oh, come on. I thought you would know what's really going on."
Illya did, but he thought the Major could use some clarification, especially from an unimpeachable source. He went to his suitcase and took out some vodka, making sure to keep his expression annoyed. "Explain it to me."
"Well, I suppose for some people, things have to be spelled out." Napoleon sat down and accepted a glass. "Did you ever hear that the thief, Eroica, has been in love with Major Eberbach ever since they worked together in Rome a few years ago?"
"I had heard something about it," Illya agreed. "Don't you think that stealing our colleague's boyfriend could make working together somewhat awkward?"
"That's just the problem! Eroica's been pursuing the Major for years without success. I just agreed to help him out."
"Let me guess: you agreed to pretend to have an affair with Eroica to make Major von dem Eberbach jealous."
"And why were you willing to play along with this absurd idea?"
Napoleon smiled winningly. Illya would walk over hot coals before letting it show that that smile was as effective on him as it was on everyone else (with the exception of Major von dem Eberbach). "Eroica is madly in love with the Major. You can't see someone that head over heels without wanting to help their cause."
"That is just the kind of stupid idea you would come up with."
"I don't see what's stupid about-"
"What conclusions did you think a man like Iron Klaus would draw when he saw Eroica running around with you?" Illya demanded.
"Well, that he can't take Eroica for granted. That if he doesn't take him up on his offers, eventually he'll move on. Besides, people respond to jealousy."
"Hah," was Illya's succinct comment. "Your plan backfired. If I had been here, I could have told you that it would. The Major's conclusion was that clearly Eroica wasn't really interested or he never would have betrayed him by running around with you."
This hadn't occurred to Napoleon. "Do you really think that's what he thinks?"
"Of course it is. All the English thief did was destroy what little trust the Major had in him."
"Oh, dear." Napoleon took a swallow of his vodka. "We're going to have to undo the damage. What do you suppose the Major would believe?"
"I'm sure I'll think of something," Illya answered calmly.
Napoleon responded with an ingratiating smile as he rose and approached his partner. Illya stood up before the other man could reach him. Solo put his hands on Illya's shoulders. "Now that that's settled…." He started to lean in.
Resisting the urge to melt against the other man, Illya held himself stiffly and averted his face. It didn't do not to make Napoleon work for it. "Perhaps you would prefer to be with someone with longer hair and flashier clothes," he suggested.
"You knew I like to flirt before we got together," Napoleon reminded him, undaunted. Illya spent a second on nostalgia for the days when Napoleon had been comparatively dauntable. That had been fun.
"But perhaps now your adventures in flirting have awakened you to the greater charms of fair English roses," Illya sniped.
"If it had, that would be too bad for me," Napoleon assured him with mock ruefulness. "Eroica's still very much in love with Major Eberbach."
"Then I suppose you can bring yourself to settle," Illya retorted, but finally allowed himself to be kissed.
"You'll do in a pinch. Ow! I should know better than to use idioms around you, you crazy Russian."
Chuckling evilly, Illya stealthily switched off the transmitter under his shirt before getting down to the business of reunion with his partner.
In his own room, the Major heard the soft click as the transmitter was deactivated. He sat scowling at the receiver for several minutes as he pondered his course of action. Then he stood and tromped to Eroica's hotel room and pounded on the door.
The door was opened with alacrity. Klaus noticed the satisfied gleam in the thief's eyes and relished the thought of knocking the smugness off his face.
"Why, Major, what a surprise! What can I do for you?"
Silly fop probably expected him to declare his undying love and beg him to dump the Yank. Well, he was in for a surprise. Klaus took up a position near the door, hands clasped behind his back, almost at parade rest.
"I simply wanted to say," he said calmly, "how glad I am that you have found a more receptive target for your attentions."
"What?" Eroica squeaked. Klaus really wanted to laugh at the sound, but forced himself to remain grave.
"Yes, Mr. Solo is a very decent man, as Yanks go, and will no doubt suit you very well. Of course, you would probably be better off with someone with a firmer hand to keep you out of trouble, but he's very handsome and amiable and I'm sure you'll be very contented with each other."
Eroica had collapsed onto the edge of the bed, knees wobbling visibly, face chalky. "But," he choked out, and could say no more.
"So I suggest you go to him right now, with my blessing," Klaus said magnanimously, allowing himself a small smile. "I'm sure Mr. Kuryakin will be understanding about leaving the room to the two of you."
With that, the Major turned and headed for the door. By the time he opened it, Eroica had recovered his voice.
"But – wait! Major! Let me explain!"
Knowing the thief couldn't see his face, the Major allowed his smile to spread wider. He would let the thief stew for at least half an hour before allowing himself to be convinced, he decided. After that, well, perhaps it was high time he yielded to temptation.
Besides, he couldn't help reflecting, the next time might not be a sham.