Disclaimer: If I owned these characters at the very least I would put the show on DVD. Alas, Trush has thwarted my plans to steal the rights from WB.
A/n: Maybe because we know so little about him, the character of Del Floria intrigues me. And as so often happens when a show has holes I feel the need to fill them. I can't begin to express my thanks to periwinkle27, stcrispins and cattylizzie for there help in making this fic possible. Chocolate to all of you.
My grandfather was a sarto, a tailor in the old country, as was his father before him. My father followed in the tradition, learning his trade in the family shop beginning when he was a child. By the time he married my mother he had taken most of the work over from my grandfather, whose arthritic hands did not allow for any of the finer work.
I don't remember that tailor shop, or the home we lived in when I was born. I wasn't yet three when my grandfather died and my father packed up everything we owned. He booked passage for four on the RMS Etruria and moved us to America. My mother, who told me stories of the horrible seasickness that plagued both her and my grandmother during the crossing, refused to travel any farther then the city we landed in. I grew up in New York City, in a cramped apartment above my father's tailor shop. Ironically, the place where that building once stood is only blocks away from where I now work.
I was a stubborn lad, and vehemently insisted that living in the land of promise meant that I did not have to follow in the trade of my ancestors. I could not avoid learning the trade; after all. If I wanted food on the table I had to help out my father on weekends and after school, but I vowed that one day I would find something else. My opportunity came in 1915 with the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. I was eighteen.
I enlisted in the American Army the next week, glad that my recent birthday meant I didn't need a parent's permission. Neither my mother nor father would have approved of their only child fighting for a country that still treated us like outsiders. Maybe that was one of the reasons I was so insistent; if I showed up dressed in an Army uniform no one would dare call me a "dago" or a "wop". I wish I could say that I did it because of some great patriotic feeling, but that wasn't true at the time either. Mostly I just wanted to escape from my dull life. Going overseas with a gun in my hand sounded like an adventure, like the westerns I saw at the Cinema on the occasional Saturday when the shop was slow. It was an adventure, but nothing like the tame and happily-ever-after of a movie reel.
I didn't get to wear my new uniform for long. Shortly after I reported for duty I was told to report to a Captain Singer. He, in turn, led me and three other men to a waiting transport truck. Six hours later we arrived in Washington D.C.. Though none of us had anything in common besides sex and age, we all had something that the Army wanted; specialized skills. My particular talent was the ability to speak flawless Italian in a perfect cosmopolitan accent, a gift gained from my grandmother, who never learned more then a few words of English. I was also able to speak a more guttural form of German, complete with swearing, thanks to my neighbor Gustav. Based on this, my adopted country decided that I could best serve them as a spy. After six weeks of training I was given fake papers, a false history, and a uniform marking me as a Caporal Maggiore in the Italian Army. I was to serve as a deserter, angry that my country had broken away from the Austrio-Hungry alliance. It wasn't hard to play a man without a country to call home.
I don't need to tell anyone that war is an ugly thing. We called it the Great War, the "War to End All Wars", not knowing then that another war would follow so soon after. Being on the wrong side of the enemy lines is the worst possible place to be during a war, and it doesn't matter how much training they give you. With a gun in your hand the person you are aiming at could be a friend. And the enemies that you serve with, the ones that you sleep next to, eat with, play poker with and crouch in foxholes with? They are the very people you betray. Knowing that the cause they fight for is wrong does not help when you watch a bomb fall on their camp after you have given the coordinates to your superiors. Some nights I still hear the screaming of those men that were unlucky enough to survive the initial blast.
I spent almost two years in the Austro-Hungarian Army, and another year and a half wearing the American flag on my uniform. When the war was over I stayed in Europe, traveling on my own time and doing favors for my government when I was called upon. During one such "favor" I happened to rescue a British officer who was a few years younger them myself. The detail of the rescue don't matter, as I have vowed not to repeat them, but suffice it to say that Alex Waverly felt that he owed me because of it. Many years and another war would pass before I would collect.
After a few years I finally returned to New York. Time and experience had taught me that the quiet life was not a bad one, and so I took my place at my father's side. By that time my grandmother had passed on, and it was just me and my parents living in the apartment above the shop. My days fell into a routine of work and social life. I dated often, but never stayed with the same girl for more then a few months. Despite my mother's pleas I had no desire to settle down with nice Italian girl and present my parents with bambinos. I didn't want a wife, and children were even lower on the list of things I wanted. There was no way to make my mother understand though, any more then I could explain to her what I had experienced in Europe.
The Great Depression was aptly named, both for my country and my family. We were able to keep the shop open for a while, but by the winter of 1932 our customers were too few to support the business. When a person can't afford to buy clothes they have no need for a tailor. That following spring my mother began to have trouble breathing. Although she grew better during the warm summer months, fall brought with it a deep rumbling cough and winter, a funeral. My father was lost without her, and by 1934 I was alone in the world: no family, no job, no home.
I fell back on what I knew best, calling my old commanding officer and letting him know that I was available for what ever my country needed me to do. A month later I was once again in Italy, tracking down rumors on the Underground. The coarse Italian I had learned from Gustav and in foxholes served me well in the back rooms of bars. I learned many things, and reported most of them back to my bosses.
War came again, even more ugly then it had been before. I never saw the front lines but I saw plenty of action. For a few months I worked alongside a British regiment, and it was there that I met Alex Waverly again. We drank cheap alcohol and played chess on slow nights, and talked of everything but the night we first met. The night before I left his regiment he confided in me a dream he had of an international peace keeping organization. The world could not afford a third World War, either because of the countries destroying each other or because of an outside force attacking. Thrush was only a rumor then, but already we dreaded their potential. I admired Alex's idea but doubted it was possible. I didn't tell him that, though. Even back then one didn't disagree with Alex to his face.
Ironic, but after serving in two wars the closest to death I came was after peace had been declared. A malfunction in the engine of the jeep I had been driving caused it to explode, landing me in the hospital. I was lucky; I only had a broken leg, a few fractured ribs and some bruising. Well, there was the coma, too. For almost a week I was unconscious. When I awoke, Alex was next to my bed. He brought chocolates and coffee, and an offer to stay with him in London while I recovered. With nothing in New York to return home to, I accepted.
I can't share much about the six months that followed my arrival in London. The names of most of Alex's visitors are still classified, as are the details of their meetings. I can say that by the time I could walk without the aid of a cane U.N.C.L.E. was no longer the dream of a single man. It was well on the way to becoming a reality. In less then two years the first affair was assigned to the first agent. It was almost five years, though, before the headquarters in New York were completed.
After spending the last decade in Europe I was reluctant to return to New York City. Alex asked me to accompany him, and if disagreeing with the man is difficult saying "no" is nearly impossible. So, I went to New York City. We took a cab from the airport directly to our destination. Avoiding looking at my surroundings, it wasn't until after I stepped out of the cab that I noticed the sign. In elegant script my name was hung above a door, proclaiming me the owner of a tailor shop. I looked to my friend in confusion.
It was a front, he explained. There were five secret ways to enter the building, and this was the one that would be used by the enforcement agents. It was a fully functional shop, and I could take advantage of that fact if I desired, or I didn't have to. All he wanted of me was to stand guard over the men who were so vital to the work that needed to be done. He showed me the secret door and the button to unlock it cleverly worked into the steam press. He also showed me the drawer under the counter where my gun would be easily accessible.
I never gave Alex a formal answer, because he never offered me the job. There was an understanding between us, the knowledge that we both had something to offer the other. Without a word I stepped behind the counter of Del Floria's and pressed down on the handle twice. I heard the soft click of the lock being disengaged and watched as Alex turned the coathook and disappeared from viewing. There was a small sign hanging in the middle of the front glass door. I walked over and turned it so that the word "open" faced out, then returned to my post behind the counter, and waited.