Napoleon practically fell into the bar, the wind and rain lashing at him. It was as if it were trying to pull him back out into the storm. He struggled to get the door closed and for a moment rested against it.
“Hey! You’re dripping all over my floor,” shouting the bartender.
Napoleon pushed himself off the door and held his arms up in mock surrender. “I know, I know.” He peeled off the trench coat, berating the manufacturers and hung it in the coat room with a few other of its dripping kin. His hat was pretty much a lost cause, but he hung it up as well.
Squishing as he walked, he found a table in the corner of the room and collapsed in one of its two chairs. There was some small mercy in the fact that the jukebox in the corner was dark and silent.
For a moment, he celebrated in his misery, pulling it around him like a long-lost friend. Then he sat back startled as a drink suddenly appeared. He looked up.
Standing there was tall, lanky man, a warm smile.
“Hello, I hope you don’t think it forward of me, but it looked like you could use that.”
“Why, thank you.”
“Hmm?” The man seemed to be listening to something or someone. Napoleon could see no one else. “Oh, I’ll, yes, I understand.” The man looked so earnest that Napoleon couldn’t help smiling. “Harvey says you’re worried about that drink being funny. Now, Ed, here, he’s a good man. A bit sharp, but a good man. When he pours, he doesn’t short you. That’s scotch, pure and simple.”
Napoleon made it his business to read people and make snap decisions based upon that first impression. Instantly he liked this quiet unassuming man.
“Well, thank you, I didn’t catch your name.”
The man reached into the pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a business card. “I’m sorry, my manners. I’m Elwood P. Dowd. The address on the front of the card is wrong. You… you have to turn it over.” He offered it and followed it with a two-handed handshake. “I’m pleased to meet you and now you have the advantage on me.”
“Oh, I’m Napoleon Solo.”
“Napoleon Solo.” Elwood’s expression grew distant for a moment. “Napoleon Solo,” he repeated. “I quite like your name, sir.”
“Thank you. It has served me well.” Napoleon reached into his jacket for his money clip. “May I?”
“No, this round is on me and Harvey.”
Napoleon glanced around, but they were quite alone. “Harvey?”
“Yes, he’s a good friend of mine. You can’t miss him. He’s a six foot tall rabbit. He’s a puka.”
“An Irish spirit.” Elwood smiled and touched his nose. “Which explains his taste for Irish whiskey.”
The bartender appeared then, two glasses on a tray. “Ready for your next drink, Elwood?”
“Thank you, Ed.”
“And I refreshed Harvey’s.” Ed looked over at the bar where an untouched glass stood. “He’s quiet tonight.”
“Thank you. With tomorrow being Easter, I think he’s got a lot on his mind,” Elwood said, quietly. “Busy time. He worries.”
The bartender nodded, eyed Napoleon as if offering a silent warning to behave himself and hurried away.
“How about that Ed?” Elwood lifted the glass. “To absent friends.”
“How did you know…?” Napoleon toasted him and sipped. It was very good Scotch.
“You look like a people man. You like to be with others.” The glass was set aside. “I sense that you aren’t from around here, Mr. Solo.”
“You are very good at reading people.”
Elwood laughed very softly. “Thank you, but I like to think everyone is just a friend I haven’t met yet. Now, I’ve lived in this town all my life and never met anyone called Napoleon. Where are you from, Mr. Solo?”
“Ah, I’ve heard that’s a lovely place, but so, so busy. Everyone rushing. We’re a bit quieter here.” Elwood’s voice grew softer, as if accessing a distant memory, now made wistful by time.
“And stormy. That’s quite the storm you have raging out there”
“Yes, the weather has an edge on it tonight.” He sipped again. “So, tell me, Mr. Solo, if you were home, what would you be doing tonight?”
“Tonight?” Napoleon blew out a breath. “I’d be making sure that everything was in place for tomorrow. My Aunt Amy likes to go to the early church service, then brunch and then to walk the avenue and look at everyone in their finery. Whenever I’m in town, I like to accommodate her.”
“You travel, do you, Mr. Solo?”
“Yes.” Somehow, Napoleon’s glass had grown empty and there was a warming in his extremities. His toes only felt half frozen now.
“Then you must come to dinner tomorrow. I’m having a few friends in, nothing formal. The address is on the back. The one on the front is old. Say, seven?”
“Thank you. I’ll have to check with my partner.”
“I look forward to meeting him
“And meeting Harvey, of course.”
“And he’s looking forward to meeting you, Mr. Solo.” Elwood stood up. “And now I must take my leave, Mr. Solo. There’s a break in the weather and it’s time that I make my way home. Tomorrow night, Mr. Solo.” He again offered his hand. “It was a pleasant turn of events, wasn’t it?”
“Thank you, Mr. Dowd.” Napoleon shook it and smiled. “I’m pleased to have made your acquaintance.”
“Hmm?” Elwood smiled and nodded. “Harvey says your partner is on his way in. Rather slender blond fellow?”
“That would be Illya.”
“Well, good night, Mr. Solo, and be sure to take 18th Street back to your hotel. Harvey says that there are some aggressive-looking men lying in wait for you along your former path.”
“Thank you, again, Mr. Dowd.” Napoleon made a mental note to call the local UNCLE office and have them provide the aggressive looking men with an escort.
“Elwood.” He watched the man walk away, his arm around an invisible companion. He hadn’t been gone for more than a minute when the door burst open and Illya toppled in. He looked around, spotted Napoleon and hurried over.
“There you are!” Illya looked back at the door, his expression troubled. He open and closed his mouth twice, then polished off the rest of Napoleon’s second drink.
“Illya, what’s wrong?”
“Maybe it’s time for a vacation. Maybe I’ve finally just lost it.” He took a breath. “But as I was coming in, I could have sworn I saw a six foot tall rabbit outside.”