“Don't look now,” Napoleon said, closing the door behind him as he addressed the guntoting Santa Claus, “but there's one man too many in this room, and I think it's you.”
Napoleon obediently held his tongue, and his hands up, as he was searched for weapons. Maggie, standing at the other end of the room, leaned on the back of a cane chair with elaborate casualness. Next to her, Lydia stamped one foot, hoopskirt swaying.
“Face the door.”
“Zip ties again?” Napoleon groaned as the loop went around his wrists. “I cannot wait for this year to end.”
“Wait a second...” He yanked the glasses off Napoleon’s face. “Solo!”
“It took you that long to recognize me, Trent old boy? I’m hurt. Of course, there’s the soup strainer, that probably threw you. Now me, I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception --”
“My God, did you always talk this much?” Teasdale’s voice darkened. “Hang on, where’s your partner?”
“You know, it could be worse,” Napoleon said, pitching his voice so he could talk to Illya without interrupting the ragged, cellwide singalong of “Happy Christmas (War Is Over.)”
“How?” Illya asked without removing the arm draped over his face.
“We could be in Times Square.”
When Illya deigned to expose one eye, the better to display a raised eyebrow, Napoleon added, “True, it’s just as crowded here, and more fragrant, but at least it’s warm. And there are fewer drunks.”
That elicited an eyeroll. “One: by my standards, this is beach weather. Two: at the rate things are going, the revellers will get home hours before us.”
A bearded young man on the other end of the bench snorted. “Hours? We’ll be lucky to get out of here by Monday.”
“New Year’s in the Tombs,” a dreadlocked kid leaning against a nearby pillar said. “That’d make a great title. Wish I had my guitar.”
There was a spatter of applause as the Lennon song ended. Someone yelled, “What next?”
“Anyone else know ‘Sweet Adeline’?” Dreadlocks asked.
“Ah, the classics,” Illya mumbled, and raised his hand.
They were warbling “You're the flower of my heart, Sweet Adeliiine,” when a guard walked in, shouting, “Kuryakin! Solo! I’m looking for Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo! You’ve been sprung, let’s go!”
The two picked their way to the door, bestowing handshakes, fistbumps, the occasional shoulder pat, and wishes for a happy new year. At the threshold, they gave a last wave to the men who’d shared their bench.
“Happy New Year, Boney, Little Father,” the bearded one called. “Don’t forget us!”
“Cheeky whippersnapper,” Illya said.
Napoleon shrugged. “At least he knows some history.”
In the lobby, they were hailed by a thirtyish brunette. “Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin, hello, I’m Maggie Dumont. I’ve got your coats and the rest of your things.”
Napoleon shook her hand. “Thank you.” He took a quick peek at the ID card she’d slipped him before passing it to Illya under the guise of helping him don his coat. “How’s the old firm?”
“Busy as usual.”
“In that case,” Illya said, clasping her hand (and returning her UNCLE card), “we are all the more grateful.”
“Well, my motives weren’t altogether altruistic,” she told them as they headed for the exit. “I wanted to invite you gentlemen to a costume party in Brooklyn, tonight.”
“I find it hard to believe you’d have to go to this much trouble to get a date for New Year’s Eve,” Napoleon said, following her outside.
“Two dates,” Illya pointed out. “Perhaps she has a friend.”
“More like a mutual acquaintance.” As they turned north on Centre Street, she asked, “Do you remember Trent ‘Turncoat’ Teasdale?”
Illya nodded. “Thief. Not bloodthirsty, but fights dirty when cornered.”
“Last I heard he was in prison again,” Napoleon added.
“‘Was’ being the word. Sometime between the last cell count of Christmas Eve and the morning whistle, he escaped.”
“How’d he manage that?”
“No idea. For all we know, he imitated Santa and stole the sleigh. But I think I have a line on how I -- or we, if you’ll help -- can put him back inside.” As they reached the intersection of Centre and Canal, she pointed. “There’s a Starbucks. How about we get some coffee, and I’ll fill you in.”
“I’ll get the drinks, if you and Napoleon will claim a table.”
“Oh, thanks! Just a small plain coffee for me, please.”
“Don’t thank him, the only reason he’s buying is so I can’t get my coffee the way I like it,” Napoleon groused as they filed inside.
“You got us arrested, you don’t deserve a peppermint mocha with whip.”
“I got us...!” He huffed as Illya stalked towards the counter. Napoleon joined Maggie, who was fighting to keep a straight face as she draped her jacket over a seat. “He could have sent an intern to the Occupy protest with the donated clothes, but noooo, he had to see for himself.”
“And you were there because...”
“Okay, I was curious. Then someone mentioned that the wifi had been cutting out, and I offered to help them figure out the problem. But he’s why we were there at all.”
“You were the first to hit a cop,” Illya claimed, returning with two coffees and one tea.
“Someone swings a baton at me, reflex kicks in,” Napoleon replied.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Kuryakin, you’re the one who wound up on YouTube,” Maggie said, pulling a tablet computer from her shoulder bag.
Illya froze with his cup of Earl Grey halfway to his mouth. “What?”
“That’s how I knew where to find you two. Someone posted cellphone footage of the incident, and the UNCLE search algorithms flagged it. Here...”
She tapped the screen. Napoleon leaned over her shoulder. “Oh, perfect. ‘Tsar Vanya versus the Cossacks.’”
“WHAT?!?” Illya grabbed the device and glared.
“Um.” Maggie gently tugged the tablet from his hands. “Perhaps this would be a good time to return to our previous topic.” After a few seconds of typing, she turned it around to show a webpage headlined “Golden Age of Hollywood New Year’s Eve Extravaganza.”
Illya remembered his tea and took a sip. “This is the costume party you were talking about?”
“And you think Teasdale’s coming?” Napoleon asked. “Why?”
Maggie pointed at one of the names listed on the page. “Her.”
“Lydia Lascivia,” Illya read aloud. He touched the attached link, and a photo of a buxom redhead whose assets were barely hidden behind an ostrich feather fan popped up.
“I would definitely break out of jail for that,” Napoleon breathed. “But why rendezvous at the party?”
“Sorry, I wasn’t clear. They’re not a couple; he was stalking her before he went away.”
Illya frowned. “Does she know he’s out?”
“I called her as soon as I heard.”
Napoleon rubbed his chin. “And she’s okay with playing bait?”
“She’s resigned herself.” Maggie set down her coffee and leaned in. “Look, to be honest, the rest of the section thinks Teasdale is long gone -- there was a possible sighting in Saint Lucia, though given his Lon Chaney shtick that means very little -- so I’ve been working this angle alone. And while I definitely want to catch the guy, if I have to choose between making the collar and protecting Lydia, I’m picking the latter.”
“Given that your backup is claiming Social Security, that’s probably best,” Napoleon quipped.
Napoleon and Illya exchanged small nods. “Well, this is your show. What the plan?”
“You’ll need costumes...”
“I have an idea,” Illya said. “I just need to figure out the logistics. Where are we going?”
Maggie hit a link labelled “Directions” and showed them a map. “The venue is the Montauk, a private club in Park Slope, do you know it? Number Twenty-Five, Eighth Avenue, about a block from Grand Army Plaza.”
Napoleon snapped his fingers. “Venetian looking building, lots of terracotta on the outside, wood panelling inside?”
Illya was studying the map. “And where is Lydia now?”
“She’s in her Midwood apartment. I’d planned to drive her to the party. We should get there around nine.”
“That’s fine. Napoleon, can you go back to our place and put on a black suit, white shirt, and a patterned tie? Then grab a white shirt, gray or tan pants, a tie, and my trenchcoat for me.”
“Sure thing. What’ll you be up to?”
“I’ll assemble the rest of our outfits, and meet you either at our place or in Park Slope. Luckily, between Ricky’s and Party City, I should be able to find everything.”
Napoleon sighed. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I.”
Napoleon huffed on his glasses and polished them, set them back in place, smiled at the girl selling tickets, and fought the urge to scratch his itching upper lip.
“Good evening, Mr. Firefly!” she said brightly. “Or is it Mr. Driftwood? How many --”
She jumped in her chair as the front door banged open and a blonde ran through the lobby, shrieking, with a loping figure sporting a tan trenchcoat and a battered black top hat perched on a riot of orange curls close on her heels. Napoleon snagged the pursuer’s sleeve and held him in place as the woman, now giggling, vanished down the hall.
“Two passes, and half a dozen drinks tickets, please.”
Napoleon raised one greasepainted eyebrow as Illya, grinning, repocketed the bicycle horn. “On second thought, make it an even dozen.”
The party filled the building’s first two floors, so Illya, Maggie (very dapper in a tuxedo and white tie a la Dietrich), and Napoleon took turns making sweeps of the downstairs ballroom, where the various performances were taking place, and the upstairs salon. At one point, Napoleon’s and Illya’s paths crossed on the main staircase.
“You know, I feel a little conspicuous,” Napoleon said. “I’ve been asked to pose for pictures four times.”
“Really?” Illya sipped from a plastic champagne flute. “I’ve been in six.”
The hours rolled past. Napoleon kept circulating, scanning faces, looking for Teasdale, though when he heard the MC declare, “Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Lydia Lascivia, ecdysiast extraordinaire!” he made his way to the ballroom to watch. To the strains of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” she peeled out of her opera gloves and evening gown -- and then, to his surprise, began peeling off some tattoos as well. By the end she was down to her shoes, a g-string, pasties, and the flower in her hair -- which she tossed to Maggie.
Oho, thought Napoleon.
Maggie approached, fiddling with the bloom she’d tucked in her buttonhole. “You’ve been on your feet for ages. Want to switch off and hang out backstage with Lydia for a while? She goes on again in an hour.”
“Be glad to.”
They made their way around the fringe of the crowd, then down the service corridor leading to the kitchens. Maggie tapped on the door to the room that had been set aside as a changing area. “It’s me! Are you decent?”
“Never! Also, my zipper’s stuck. Come help?”
Maggie grinned. “Mind waiting a second?”
“Anything to oblige the ladies.”
Napoleon was rocking on his feet, heel to toe and back again, when he heard a muffled squawk. He gingerly turned the knob, opened the door a crack, and peeked in. Maggie was interposing herself between Lydia and a man in a Santa Claus suit. Judging from his stance, and the women’s expressions, he had a gun.
“Dammit,” Napoleon muttered, and stepped in.
“Look,” Trent said, advancing on Lydia, keeping the gun aimed at Maggie, “I don’t have a beef with her, and I’m willing to leave him --” he jerked his head at Napoleon, now seated with another zip tie around his ankles “-- alone. Let’s get outta here before I get arrested.”
"Nah, I'd like to stay and see that," she said, crossing her arms.
Several things happened at once: Napoleon got his hands free; Lydia fell backward as the front of her skirt flew up and a stream of water hit Teasdale in the face; and Maggie swung the chair, knocking the gun free. Napoleon threw himself forward and grabbed it. “Hold it, Trent!”
“I’ve got him,” Illya announced, setting a seltzer bottle aside and pulling a roll of duct tape from inside his coat.
“What were you doing under there?” Napoleon marveled.
“Ooh, soooo many jokes,” Lydia snickered as Maggie helped her back onto her feet.
“Mr. Kuryakin wanted to surprise you,” the agent said. “It was sheer dumb luck that Teasdale picked that moment to make his entrance.”
“That should hold him,” Illya announced, tearing off a final length of tape.
“Let’s check,” Lydia said, and kicked Teasdale in the shin.
“You bitch! I'll teach you to kick me!” he howled.
“You don't need to teach me, I already know how!” she yelled back, and suited action to word.
“Okay, honey, stop that, please. Here’s my phone, call this number, it’s the local precinct, ask for Captain Spaulding, he’ll take Teasdale away, all right?” Maggie led her off.
Meanwhile, Illya crouched, produced a knife, and freed Napoleon’s legs. “How are you doing?”
“I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.”
“There will be free champagne at midnight.”
“Ah, the night is looking up. Happy New Year. Let’s get a jump on the merrymaking.”
For the record, kisses involving a greasepaint mustache leaves both parties looking like a minstrel performer. Luckily, Illya still had the seltzer bottle and a handkerchief.