"Is this Room 127? Leon and Elijah? You gentlemen asked for a script girl?"
"Hey! You startled me showing up in the doorway like that. No, we didn't ask for help, Eli here types."
"I asked, Leo. I'm tired of typing. Come in, come in. So you're from the pool? What's your name?"
"You can call me Nicki."
"You should've said something, Eli. Alright, sit here, Nicki. We'll be brainstorming first, just type and keep notes as we work on the script. Any questions?"
"Piece of cake, gents; you ain't the first writers I've helped."
"We’re working on the Christmas special, it's a very special Christmas special. You got any ideas, Leo?"
"Title, title. I like to start with a title. It gets the creative juices flowing. Christmas Special Title. Something edgy, just a bit different, something you don't see every day but that still reflects the spirit of the season, with just an added je ne sais quois."
"I got an idea, Leo. War movies are always big. Let's do a Christmas riff on that: Santa Goes to War."
"Hmm. Not bad, Eli, not bad. Take that down please, Nicki. Working title: Santa Goes to War."
MFU Christmas Special
Working Title: TBA
"Setting? Where do we set it, Leo? Methinks New York's been done to death."
"How about LA? Christmas in the sunshine. Palm trees, ocean, girls in red bikinis with white trim and oooohhh yes... little Santa hats..."
"Oh dear no. No atmosphere."
"What'd you say, Nicki?"
"I said Perry Como's already doing LA and Dean Martin may too. How about setting it in the land of the Christmas Tree, the Weihnachtsmarkt, Silent Night. Set it in Germany."
"I don't.... "
"Blonde Fräuleins with, you know..."
"Hmmm. Well, OK, since you're already typing..."
Harry Beldon's voice trumpeted out of the open door and into the hallway, stopping Gerald Strothers in his tracks. He allowed himself a private wince, then backtracked the two steps to Beldon's office.
"Come in Gerald, come in." Beldon gestured to him from one of the wing chairs by the window. "Good News! You can substitute for me as the Weihnachstmann at the Christmas Party. It looks like I'll be able to get away to Gstaadt after all."
Strothers made a manful effort to smother his dismay. "We're so short handed over the holidays Mr. Beldon, I thought you'd decided to stay in Berlin," he answered after a beat, deciding his best bet was to tackle the more obvious problem first.
"I talked to Waverly. Illya's assignment in Warsaw wrapped up early and he'll be on loan to us for a week to cover for Dieter and Emre. They should be back on their feet by then."
"Solo's flying back to NY for the holidays." There was an amused gleam in Beldon's eye.
"I don't think I'd make a particularly good Weihnachtsmann sir, someone like Noack... Or even Kuryakin, he can pull it off."
Beldon brushed him off. "Don't be ridiculous. Illya is a heathen. The head of the office always dons the robes, you're in charge while I'm gone; unless you'd rather not be? Right. The costume's in my closet. I'll authorize you to get some small presents for the staff to fill up the Weihnachtsmann bag." He frowned at Strothers. "You really need to stop looking so sour Gerald, 'tis the season after all! And I can tell you from personal experience, the ladies love a red robed man. You can always give out pieces of coal if it'll make you feel better. Ho ho ho," he ended with a laugh that wasn't and waved Strothers away. "Tell Neumann I want to see him. And tell the staff to decorate, put on some music, liven the place up a bit for the holidays."
"Nice set up, if I do say so myself."
"So um, what exactly are we setting up, Leo? We got the setting, but we need a villain; what's the Thrush plan this time?"
"They're going to infiltrate UNCLE Berlin, spoil the Christmas party."
"Well yeah, but why... "
"It's Thrush! Disruption and destruction."
"Um... UNCLE has something they want. A MacGuffin so to speak."
"Right. Nicki, write down MacGuffin. We'll fill in the details later."
Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
It's the best time of the year
I don't know if there'll be snow
but I'll be full of cheer...
Klaus Vogelfutter sang to the little golden bird on his desk. He pushed up the sleeves of his white mohair sweater, then picked the bird up and tapped it on its glass beak. Vogelfutter, Vogelfutter, the bird chirped.
"Well well well, it looks like it's truly the season to be jolly. My little birds, chirping my name in Thrush Central's ear. Demonstrating the power of persuasion.” He pushed himself away from the desk and twirled around in his chair. "New ideas for a new generation, yes. I'm not the master of the jingle for nothing. They'll all be singing Vogelfuttter, Vogelfutter when we're done.”
His call brought a tall young man in a white jumpsuit scurrying.
"My special ornaments should be ready. Go over to the shop and pick them up will you?"
"Yes, sir," Schornstein said, and sneezed.
"Ah, the special ornaments, Strothers' gifts. I'm starting to get the picture, Leo. The old switcheroo."
"We're motoring now, Eli."
Five Million Francs
Four Body Guards
Three Girl Friends
Two Porsche Coupes
and A Seat on the Thrush Board
Vogelfutter hummed as he carefully sliced open the tape sealing the box, and just as carefully pulled out one of the ornaments, wrapped in two layers of golden tissue paper. With a smile, he unfolded the tissue, reached in and held up the beautiful....
Schornstein came running at the high pitched scream.
"WHAT IS THIS?" Vogelfutter held a glittering green glass pickle in his hand.
"Pickle. Heh heh. We need some nefarious Thrush technology too. Let me think, let me think... coming up with anything, Leo?"
"I'm thinkin' it should be Christmas related..."
"How about Christmas carols."
"What was that, Nicki?"
"Christmas carols, you know, music."
"I don't quite see how Christmas carols will..."
"She's got it, Leo! Music hath charms... The power of persuasion!, right, Nicki?"
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.
Vogelfutter stood, looking up at the tree on the roof of the shop. “Are you sure this will work?... I must have my birds back, The thought of them chirping my name to UNCLE…” He nervously smoothed down the agitated hairs of his cardigan.
"Of course it will work. You saw the write up, the Benton & Bowles experiments in America. The power of persuasion. As long as the music is familiar it lowers their guard and makes them susceptible. The sine tones can induce specific hallucinations in the ear and brain. They'll welcome you with open arms. Peace on Earth, good will to all will be the watchwords. "I have explained this before." Professor Spottdrossel ended with a sneeze and cast Vogelfutter's sweater a baleful glare.
"You're good at the tech talk, Eli, don't know what I'd do without you. Alright, what next? We've got IK coming to Berlin."
"Illya, my boy! Home for the holiday." Beldon came out from behind his desk to shake hands. "How's New York treating you? Seduced yet by the excesses of capitalism? Close that door, will you? Don't want to be interrupted by the songs of the season, treacly stuff, but the staff likes it."
"I'm afraid the UNCLE salary is a roadblock on my path to corruption. New York is expensive," Illya responded, sitting down in the chair Beldon waved him to once the door was closed.
Beldon tisked. "It's that Soviet indoctrination, Illya, you lack imagination." He pulled his smoking jacket more closely about him and moved to the credenza to pick up two glasses and a bottle of Kümmel. "But when it comes to seduction I'm sure your partner has enough imagination for both of you."
Illya found himself surprisingly irritated by the dig at Napoleon, but he knew to ignore the combination of charm and almost absentminded needling that Beldon engaged in with his staff.
"We work well together." He kept the words light.
Beldon sat in the other chair, poured out the liqueur for both of them and raised his glass. "Then here’s to us that are here, to you that are there, and the rest of us everywhere." He drained the glass in one gulp and put it down again. "Not much for taste, but good for the digestion. Well, dear boy, I'm off to Gstaad, but I'll see you when I come back on Friday. Mind you, I've put Strothers in charge while I'm gone. Make yourself at home, but try not to get up his nose too much. Thrush has been quiet, but one never knows."
"Gerald's all right. We always got along."
Beldon burst out laughing. "You're good at ignoring him, Illya, and believing he returns the favour. You really have no idea how irritating that is to him. "
"Do we need that, Eli? It's not doing much heavy lifting."
"I like it. It's short, it's fun. It gives IK something to do. What do you think, Nicki?"
"I like it too. Character development."
"Alright, leave it in for now but we gotta get the plot moving. Nicki, write down background music: Christmas carols. Let's move to the next scene."
It was quite admirable the way Strothers managed to look up, scowl and continue to hum at the same time. As Illya began to repeat his question, he unhappily stopped humming to answer. "I don't think it's loud at all, it's a way to imbue the office with holiday spirit. Gifts of the Season, even if they mean nothing to you." He glared at Illya.
"You don't find this... this constant blare of constrained exuberance slightly disturbing?"
"They're Christmas Carols, Kuryakin, a message of Joy, obviously not something you're familiar with." Strothers was truculent, daring Illya to argue.
"Look Gerald, I already said I'm sorry but I am not going to play the Weihnachtsmann. Beldon assigned you and I wouldn't dream of countermanding his orders. And I find the non-stop music a distraction."
"It's all of a piece isn't it. You won't help with the party, you don't like the music."
"It's not my holiday after all. Is there somewhere I can work on these calculations without piped in music chirping at me?"
"A little something I'm helping Noack with."
"Mr. Beldon's office is the only place where..."
"Fine." Illya interrupted him. "I'll use that for the time being."
Strothers frowned. "I hardly think that's appropriate, Mr. Beldon is very particular about...."
"It's alright Gerald, he told me to make myself at home. I'll take full responsibility. I promise not to touch the Kümmel."
The intercom buzzed before Strothers could say more. He switched it on. "Is Mr. Kuryakin with you, Mr. Strothers? There's a call for him on Line 3. It's Mr. Solo."
"You know what's missing? Girls, Eli. Girls. There's a lack of pretty Fräuleins so far."
"We got Wanda, don't we? Or not Wanda, it's Berlin, it'll be Inge. Nice looking blonde, legs up to here... she's humming too."
"Isn't it time to bring in Napoleon? Maybe IK can pick him up at the train station?"
"You're right. But I have a better idea. How's this sound Eli, Nicki .... let Inge pick him up. A little flirting, a bit of double entendre."
"I think IK would be better, they can talk about...."
"I appreciate your enthusiasm, Nicki, but we know what we're doin'. Just write down train station, Inge picks up NS."
"There's no law against being pleased to see me you know," Napoleon said with a grin on his face.
Illya was pleased to see him; because he wasn't ready to acknowledge how much, he managed to subdue his answering smile. He grabbed Napoleon's bag and took his arm, steering him out of the station to the waiting car.
"Warsaw's fogged in, London is fogged in, Frankfurt's fogged in, the whole of Northern Europe seems to have decided that I need to spend Christmas in Berlin. There must be a reason. Is anything special going on that I shouldn't miss?"
"You would think the weather is acting solely on your behalf. There's a party at the office tomorrow, you can chat up the female staff without disturbing them at work. And," Illya could hardly keep a trace of glee from his voice, " you'll be able to see Strothers play Santa Claus."
"No." Napoleon stopped dead in his tracks, making Illya do the same. "Strothers? As Jolly Old St. Nick? I'm... I'm speechless. But intrigued, my friend, intrigued. I knew Lady Luck had something up her sleeve for me."
Illya did smile at that. "Of course, that means you'll miss Beldon in the role, but needs must."
"No Beldon for Christmas. This is starting to look like a better and better idea. So where am I staying, the Hilton, the Savoy?"
"No room at the inn I'm afraid droog moi, you're going to have to bunk with me. It's not the most up to date accommodations, my old landlady agreed to put me up--but it's a roof over your head."
"Oh? Well, it looks like I owe Lady Luck another one then." Napoleon said with a sideways glance at Illya.
Illya caught his glance, opened his mouth... then turned aside. It was best to ignore him. For now.
"Whatever you want gents, I'm just one of the people who watches the show.”
"What we want? Nicki, it's what the audience wants. Guns, gadgets, girls, we got a formula that works. What's that face you're making?"
"They should spend some time together. That's what we want. Character development, like I said."
"Hmmmm. Maybe you have something there. Listen, Eli, what do you think of this? The next scene, NS and IK go to a nightclub together. Girls in short little dirndls and oh my...little Santa Claus hats; a floor show, a sexy singer? What do you think?"
"Nightclub, I like that. But why do they go there?"
"Why not? OK, OK; mistaken invite? anonymous tip? they don't realize it's a Thrush hangout? Something. We'll figure it out. Anyway, they go there, run into trouble, there's a fight, girls running every which way... are you getting this, Nicki?"
"I'm right with you, Leo. Night club. Girls. Fight. Escape."
"Good, Nicki. Hey, Eli, we need to do something at the office, some set up for the Christmas party. And the carols, don't forget the carols."
"Did you see this new memo from Strothers?" Neumann sailed the offending piece of paper towards Noack's desk.
Noack caught it, stopped humming and took a look. " Is this the one where he's asking for a volunteer to play the Weihnachtsmann?"
"No, that was the last one. This one, he's offering a bribe. How did you get out of it anyway, I saw him asking you."
"He asked me to bring my accordion. I am the band." Noack wiggled his fingers. "What... what?" he added at Neumann's horrified look, "It's Christmas carols, Peace on Earth, good will to all--I like to play my accordion." He smoothed out the paper and held it in front of him. "A preliminary schedule for the Christmas party?"
"No, never mind that," Neumann came to Noack's desk and pointed at a sentence at the bottom of the page. "This is what I mean."
Non-alcoholic refreshments will be served.
Noack blinked and read the sentence again. "He's actually saying no alcohol will be served? At the Christmas party? "
"It was the conga line last year, Strothers had that look on his face."
Noack shrugged. "Strothers is Strothers. Come on, Rolf, it's the Season of Good Will, let him send his memos around if it makes him happy."
"You're being very mellow about this. We need to do something."
"It's not that I don't agree, but aside from the hallowed tradition of spiking the punch, I don't really know what we can do." Noack went back to his papers and his humming.
"You could start by not making that awful noise," Neumann grumbled.
"Neumann and Noack, good, some comic relief. Look at the time, no wonder I'm feeling a bit peckish, shall we break for lunch?"
"You always feel peckish, Eli, but we did get a lot done. Lunch coming up. You take a break too, Nicki."
"You go ahead, guys, I'll take the time to clean up my notes and put them in some kind of order."
"Well, if you're sure..."
"Good, they're gone. Let's see... We need a scene at the Weihnachtsmarkt, I think."
"Must you make that infernal noise?" Illya pushed his calculations aside and glared as Napoleon came into Beldon's office, muffler wrapped around his neck, overcoat draped over one arm.
"You're humming. It's not enough that I have to listen to that ... that elevator music every time I step outside that door, now everyone is humming, even you. Why are you humming along?"
"If you're in the mood to bite heads off, it's just as well that I came early to take you to lunch."
Illya's glare intensified, then he sighed. "I'm sorry, but I don't understand how all of you can be so happy with these ditties constantly rattling in your head. "
"They're not ditties Comrade, they're Christmas Carols; of course they put us in a good mood, Good Will to men and all that. Everybody loves carols. I've heard this one since I was a boy."
"Symbols of ridiculous invented rituals," Illya muttered, then winced as Napoleon broke into song.
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!
As in thy deep and dreamless streets
A golden Thrush stops by!
At Napoleon's last line he blinked, then held up his hand. "What was that? What did you just sing?"
"O little town of Bethlehem, every one knows it... "
Illya shook his head. "You're not as funny as you think you are Napoleon."
"Funny? I wasn't.... Oh nevermind. Let's go Illya, stop being a Killjoy . You promised me lunch and a visit to the Weihnachtsmarkt."
Napoleon lost Illya within a few minutes of entering the market place. He'd become fascinated by the huge variety of ornaments, colorful decorations and geegaws and wandered about looking for one to bring back to his Aunt Amy as an apology for missing her party this year. A half hour later, he found his partner again, to no one’s surprise, at one of the food stands.
Illya was chatting with a sturdy looking old woman presiding over baskets of roasted nuts and candied fruits, the shelves behind her filled with decorated jars of teas and spices. He wasn't close enough to hear the conversation yet, but he saw her raise her eyebrows then laugh, suddenly looking downright jolly. She reached under the counter and pulled out a small net bag filled with shiny globes of orange. Illya took them, sniffed them and broke into a smile as well.
"Tangerines?" Napoleon asked startling Illya into an unguarded glance of both embarrassment and pleasure.
"Ja, ja, Tangerinen. Aber eine besondere Sorte," the vendor was the one who answered. "Diese kommen aus der Kaukasus."
"Russian tangerines, who'd have thought there was such a thing. And why are they so special?" Napoleon asked.
Illya shrugged, added a paper cone of freshly roasted chestnuts to his haul and pulled out his wallet. "Russian tangerines smell like the New Year."
Napoleon took the bag from Illya's hand and smelled. The fruit had the familiar fresh slightly bitter orange smell. "Oh?"
Illya grabbed them back from him. "You wouldn't know."
Napoleon nabbed one of the hot chestnuts instead and started peeling it. "You can explain it to me sometime. Right now I need your help, I want to buy an ornament for my aunt, but I... um, haven't changed my money to Deutschmarks yet."
Illya rolled his eyes and moved the rest of the chestnuts out of Napoleon's reach.
It was larger than the other stalls, one of the few enclosed with glass, positioned at the farthest edge of the market. Napoleon hummed along with the music wafting through the space as he held the golden glass bird up to admire it. "Pretty, isn't it?" It sparkled in the light, golden beak open, wings half unfolded as it perched on the small metal clip that would attach it to the tree.
Illya gave him incredulous look. "You do know what that bird is, don't you?"
"Who cares, it's pretty. Look, it's even got a little gold halo over its..."
"Take a closer look at it." Illya hissed. "The beak, the wings, the tuft on top. You're buying your aunt a Thrush."
Napoleon blinked and stared at his prize. He blinked again. "You're right."
"Beautiful, isn't it." The shopkeeper, in a fluffy white sweater and a salesman's smile appeared beside them. He took the bird from Napoleon's hand. "Unfortunately, it's not for sale. This was a private commission." He gently stroked the little bird before putting it down on the counter with a sigh. "It's so lovely, though, I couldn't bear to keep it hidden. Perhaps I can help you gentlemen with something else?"
"A cuckoo," Illya said. "If you have a cuckoo, that would be perfect." He held on to Napoleon's arm to keep him from reaching for the bird again.
Illya was observing the ornament stall from the far side of the market. The name Vogelfutters was splashed in a golden curve across a board hanging under the eaves. On the roof was a bushy tree decorated with colorful bird ornaments, a squat, slowly turning, golden star on top. Napoleon was observing Illya.
"You know, we're partners for more than two years now, and this is the first Christmas we'll spend together," Napoleon said.
"I haven't kept track. You know it's not my holiday."
"So if Christmas isn't your holiday, what is? New Year's?" Napoleon asked.
"I suppose so," Illya begrudged.
"And what do you do at New Year's?"
"Honestly, Napoleon, this is hardly..."
"No, I want to know. What do you do when you're home. "
"We decorate a tree, children get gifts, we eat, we drink. ‘Kak Novyy god vstretish', tak yego i provedesh’."
"And that means?"
"’As you see the New Year in, so will you spend the rest of the year. It's just a saying."
"No New Year's carols?"
"At midnight we sing the Internationale. To ward off the evil spirit of capitalism for another year."
Napoleon shook his head. "You're laughing at me."
"I want to get a closer look at that tree on the roof. Do you think you can go back and make enough of a fuss inside that they don't notice any noise I might make up there?"
"I'm not sure I can keep from grabbing at the bird again. There's something about being in that store...I couldn't help myself, I had to have it." Napoleon's fingers were twitching in his pockets.
"Surely you can distract yourself from the music for a few minutes. Think of girls."
"I don't know, right now I'm not sure that's enough."
"Alright then. Hold these." Illya handed Napoleon his tangerines and his chestnuts and looked around, then drew him farther back behind a stack of empty crates in the niche between two stalls they'd been loitering in. He took Napoleon's head between his hands, looked into his eyes, and kissed him full on the mouth. "Think of that." He slipped away without another word.
"That..." Napoleon said to the air as he watched his partner make his way towards the back of the Vogelfutter store. "...could work. That is definitely a distraction."
"Ready to get back to work, Nicki? Where were we?"
"At the Christmas market. Illya climbed up to get a good look at Vogelfutter's tree while Napoleon caused a distraction inside the store. "
"Did we get that far?.... I thought..."
"That's what I got, Leo, right here in black and white. Vogelfutter is muttering ugly Americans, while he's sweeping up. Broken ornaments, squashed tangerines..."
"Tangerines? Hey, Eli, what do you know about tangerines?"
"What's to know about tangerines. Small, round, orange. They squish when you step on them."
"All right, all right. IK climbs, that's always good. He discovers the antenna. They go back to UNCLE... everybody's humming."
"What are they humming? We got to give some examples of what's going on there. What is going on there, anyway? We really got to get this thing moving."
da da da, da da da daaa
da da da, da da da daaa
"Stop that humming, will you?” Neumann hissed.
“It's this song, doesn't it get to you too? Walking in a winter wonderland..." Noack sang.
"No. And there's no music in here anyway, what are you singing to?"
Noack blinked in surprise, turned his head as though listening. "That's funny, I thought I heard..." he shook his head. "You're right, there's no music here in Beldon's office is there, how strange."
"Not strange at all, Beldon's no fool. That caterwauling we've been subjected to the last couple of days would drive any sane person mad."
"Don't be ridiculous. Everyone loves Christmas songs. Peace on Earth, good will to all, it's the season of love for our fellow men."
"What's wrong with you? Are you telling me now that you love Strothers?"
"Well no, not exactly, but still the message of Christmas... " Noack looked down at the box next to him. "He's going to know it was us, I should never have let you... "
"What's he going to do, run to Beldon? He's got no proof, " Neumann said with all the assurance a half empty bottle of Kirschwasser can provide. "Let's get on with it, what's taking so long?"
"It's not that easy rigging a burlap sack to pop a bunch of cherry bombs. I should have asked Illya, he knows a lot more about these trip wires."
"Thank you Inge," Illya took his badge and pinned it on. "The song you're humming, can you sing it for me?" he asked as she handed an unusually quiet Napoleon his.
"It's so pretty," Inge said. "One of my favorites."
Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
kling, Glöckchen, kling!
Children have some pity
It's so cold and wintery
Keep your doorways open,
Don't let Thrush stand outside frozen.
She stopped and smiled. "It's the sentiment that's so wonderful isn't it? It's the season of Peace on Earth, good will to all, no one should be left out in the cold."
Illya nodded. "Indeed. " He put a hand on Napoleon's back and steered him towards Beldon's office.
Neumann and Noack blinked at Illya as the door opened and the lights came on. Illya stared at them then pulled Napoleon into the office and closed the door.
He'd caught them kneeling in front of the open closet with an untied burlap bag between them. They'd been taking prettily wrapped gold foil presents out of the bag and stowing them in a box next to Neumann. There was another box next to Noack, filled with wire, tools and small red cylinders.
"Oh it's you." Neumann huffed with relief. "A surprise," he added cryptically nodding at the red cylinders.
Illya looked at them for a moment, looked from one box to the other, then shook his head. "It's a bit early to be hitting the Christmas spirits isn't it? "
"I've been off duty since noon. A little Kirschwasser never hurt anyone." Neumann was unfazed.
"Never mind that. Sit down over there Napoleon. You don't feel the urge to hum at the moment do you?"
Napoleon removed the wads of cotton from his ears. "No, not at all." His voice was thoughtful.
Neumann nodded at Noack. "He's been humming."
"Not you, though, " Illya said. "I haven't seen you humming away."
"Tone deaf. Always have been. All the songs sound alike to me, learned not to pay attention. You're not humming either. I know you're not tone deaf."
"I think.... They're not my songs, I don't know them," Illya answered slowly. "It's not my holiday. The songs mean nothing to me. I'm not subject to that induced nostalgia that seems to have addled the rest of you." He turned to Napoleon. "Earlier today, what was it you sang? ... a golden Thrush stops by."
"It just came out. I don't know where it came from."
"Ekkehardt," Illya turned to Noack. "Neumann said you were humming. What were you humming?"
"Winter Wonderland, catchy tune, I've always liked it:
Gone Away is the blue bird
Here to stay is a new bird
A Thrush full of Song
Can't we All get Along
Walking in a Winter Wonderland
He stopped, looking confused as three sets of eyes stared at him. "It just came out."
"I'll check the tapes," Neumann started up.
Illya stopped him. "It's not tapes. That music is being beamed directly into our sound system. We found the transmitter. "
"Illya? Look at this." Napoleon had unwrapped one of the golden boxes. He held up the golden bird ornament he'd found inside. Vogelfutter, Vogelfutter it chirped when he tapped its beak.
"Strothers, Eli. We can't forget Strothers."
"Did you have to knock him out?" Napoleon helped Illya lift the unconscious Strothers onto the daybed in Beldon's office.
"You saw him, he was getting hysterical. Just because we turned off the speakers."
"Without his permission. That's what set him off. You didn't ask his permission."
"At least it got him up here, he refused to come when I asked."
"Yes, hard to believe you're not giving classes in diplomacy."
Illya shook his head but couldn't help the tiny grin.
Strothers groaned, then struggled to sit up. "You hit me." He glared at Illya, then his eyes narrowed as he looked around the room at the other faces staring at him. "What's the meaning of this? It's insubordination. I'm going to report ..."
"Yes, yes." Illya said impatiently. "Gerald, that carol you've been humming incessantly. Can you sing it?"
Strothers goggled at him.
"In the spirit of the season Gerald, good will and all that. I was really struck by the melody." Illya tried a friendly smile.
"I have no interest in doing anything for you. You and Solo, you waltz in here and..."
Illya started to hum.
Strothers winced. "Not like that. You really are hopeless. This is how it goes,
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn king!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
Thrush and UNCLE...
he stopped as though searching for the accompanying music.
He finished, then looked at the faces around him. "Where did that come from," he said slowly. "It just came out."
"And this?" Napoleon handed him the golden bird ornament. "What do you know about this?" He waved at the box of gold wrapped presents.
Strother's eyes widened. "But I ordered pickles," he complained.
"Nice, Eli, very nice. We're getting there."
"When you rub your hands like that Leo, I know we got a script. Big scene coming up, now Santa goes to war. So Napoleon puts on the Santa costume...."
"Nope. I have a better idea."
"Well then," Napoleon stood up and looked around. The group in Beldon's office had expanded to include Moldau, the other Section 2 agent on site and two members of Section 3, all liberated from their auditory itches. "Are we all agreed?" There were nods around the room. "Good. Let's go catch ourselves a sack of Thrushes. Where's that Santa outfit, Strothers? I'll lure them into the cafeteria."
"No." Strothers waved him off. "That's my job. I am the Weihnachtsmann."
"Oh yes, I like that better. Infused by the spirit of Christmas, Strothers takes up the mantle of the Weihnachtsmann. Got it Nicki?"
"Infused.... spirit... yeah, sure."
Don we now our gay apparel, fa la la la la la la la la
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol fa la la la la la la la la
Klaus Vogelfutter checked his reflection and tilted the white Santa hat at a slightly more rakish angle. He adjusted the fluffy white collar of his jacket, made sure the golden Thrush pin was in place, then turned around. "Ready?”
A dozen men in white jumpsuits and white jackets faced him.
"Remember everyone, this is not a raid, this is an insinuation. We get that bag of presents and get out. Peace on Earth, good will to all are the watchwords. We radiate peace and goodwill, and the bag," he snapped his fingers, "falls into our hands."
"What if it doesn't work?" came a voice from the back.
"It will work, Schornstein." Vogelfutter glared. "Remember, peace and goodwill. And anyway, we still have our guns." He patted the bulge under his arm.
The doors to the UNCLE office did indeed open for them on their arrival. The striking blonde at the front desk beamed at Vogelfutter. "Oh, you're just in time, the party is about to start, Santa Claus is almost here," she said, then leaned over to touch the golden Thrush pin on his jacket. "Such a pretty bird. Go down that corridor," she waved. "It leads right to the cafeteria."
Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann,
Kommt mit Seinen Gaben
The booming voice rolled towards them in the hallway, just before the white bearded figure in a red robe appeared. "Ho ho ho, there you are." He very deliberately adjusted the sack he was carrying over his shoulder when he saw them, then gestured with the staff in his other hand. "Well, come on, everyone is invited, Peace on Earth and good will to all tonight and presents for everyone. It's the season for giving after all." He disappeared through a set of swinging doors with another booming "Ho ho ho."
Vogelfutter followed him with an I told you so smirk at his men.
Alright, here comes the action. Whadda ya think, Leo? "
"Well, they get into the cafeteria, all of a sudden the lights go down..."
"Right, then the Santa Claus bag starts to glow, it explodes, fireworks start shooting out of the Christmas tree... there's a fight..."
"We'll just do a placeholder for now, Eli, yeah? The director's gonna figure out how to choreograph the big fight."
"But we can have some fun, we can make some suggestions can't we? Vogelfutter and Strothers start to wrestle with each other, white Santa vs. red Santa..."
"Let's go have some coffee and talk it over, Eli, I could use a break. We can check out the cafeteria layout, that should give us some ideas. Go ahead and break too, Nicki. You want us to bring you back something?"
"Naw, thanks. I'm just going to finish up with some odds and ends here, I'm hoping to get out early today. You gonna need me for the ending?"
"Up to Eli. You willing to type up the end, Eli?"
"Can do. Endings are easy, the bad guys vanquished, the UNCLE party in full swing, lots of girls, maybe everybody singing a carol together. Just put in a placeholder for the big fight, Nicki, then you're done."
"Okey-doke, gentlemen. Go have your coffee, take your time, get the action right ... it's been a pleasure. "
SANTA GOES TO WAR
Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann,
Bringing toys to charm me.
Doll and dollhouse, Teddy Bear
Sugarplums for us to share
Pair of skates for me to wear,
All things to make me happy.
Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann
Bringing toys to charm me.
Flags and sabers, pipes and drums
Rocket launchers, A-bombs, guns
We will fight until we've won -
He's bringing me an army!
"Girls, guns, gadgets. War Santa. Honestly. Blockheads. I know exactly how to finish this off."
"The fireball in the punchbowl was spectacular," Napoleon said.
"It's always laced with enough liquor for a regiment; I no longer need to wonder what the effect of a cherry bomb striking it would be."
The fog had lifted and Illya had brought Napoleon to Tempelhof to catch his flight out. They were sitting in the lounge together, Napoleon sipping coffee, Illya staring at the planes taxiing outside the windows.
"Battle Santa suited Strothers."
"At least until he started sneezing."
Napoleon took another sip of coffee. "Not much of a Christmas, was it."
"I don't know, I'd say it was unforgettable. If not exactly what you'd planned."
"Will you be back in New York for New Year's?"
"I'm here till Beldon gets back. It's not up to me."
"I've been meaning to ask you," Napoleon said after a pause, "what was that at the Weihnachtsmarkt?"
"You started it," Illya's eyes slid towards him. " In Warsaw."
"Incidental contact," Napoleon said.
"Strategic distraction," Illya countered.
They both concentrated on watching the stairs being wheeled towards Napoleon's plane.
"And what are we going to call the next one?" Napoleon asked.
"Dangerous," Illya said staring straight ahead again.
Since he hadn't notified UNCLE New York he was coming back until just before the flight, of course Illya wasn't disappointed that no one met him at Idlewild. It was New Year's Eve after all. It was exactly what he'd expected.
When he arrived at UNCLE in the late afternoon, Napoleon's office was empty, his own filled with a pile of unanswered mail and several small wrapped packages on his desk. He winced, then left them alone. Holiday induced anxiety when it wasn't even his holiday. He laughed at himself. He'd made no effort to buy presents for anyone, and had no intention of doing so now.
"Did Napoleon say when he's coming back?" he casually asked Wanda when he stopped by her desk to see if there happened to be any phone messages that hadn't made it to his office yet.
"He won't be coming back today, Illya. Not 'till after New Year's. He's taking tomorrow and Thursday off. You know Napoleon. It's New Year's, I'm sure he has a hot date."
"Ah," Illya frowned.
She laughed. "He must have something unusual planned. He said he had to go see a man about some tangerines."
They were on his kitchen table when he got home. A small net bag of bright orange tangerines, and a note.
Why not live dangerously. Как Новый год встретишь, так его и проведешь. 8:30 PM, my place. Napoleon.
Illya took one of the tangerines out of the bag, tossed in in the air, caught it again, held it in his hands a moment, then smiled and began to peel off the soft skin. The scent of orange and pine filled the air; he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He knew that scent. It smelled like home.