Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat

New York City. October 31st, 1966.

The little boys headed down the steps leading to Del Floria's, scrambling, tumbling, crowding each other, then crashing through the door like a Thrush commando squad, forcing Solo to step aside to let them pass. Below, he could hear Del scolding the intruders in both Italian and English and muttering dark threats about what happens to children, even on Halloween, who don't mind their manners.

Smiling, Napoleon Solo turned up his collar against the chilly drizzle. It was more of a fine mist than an actual rain, and certainly not enough to dampen the spirits of the trick-or-treaters who were shaking down the First Avenue merchants for lollipops and Hershey bars as dusk settled over the city.

"So what have we here?" Solo asked as he nudged his way into the shop, catching the knob just before the door slammed shut. There were four boys, all under ten years old, brandishing two plastic hollowed out pumpkins and two slightly soggy paper shopping bags. One was dressed like a vampire, complete with a cape fashioned from an old tablecloth dyed black and a set of plastic fangs from Woolworth's. One was a ghost in an old bed sheet with eyeholes cut just below a line of faded flowers. One was a pirate, a cardboard patch obscuring one eye and a tattered babushka's kerchief wrapped and knotted around his head.

The theme of the fourth trick-or-treater's costume — a belted oversized raincoat and his father's snap brim hat pulled low — was not so obvious.

"And what are you supposed to be?" Solo asked, lowering himself to bent knees so he could engage the boy at eye level. He extended a fingertip to the brim of the hat and gently tipped it upward to reveal a fresh freckled face.

"I'm a spy."

"Oh?" Solo's mouth quirked in amusement as he exchanged a knowing glance with Del Floria. "And how do you know what a spy looks like?"

"They wear trench coats. I saw it in the movies."

"I'm wearing a trench coat," Solo replied reasonably and indeed, he was, a black one. "Do you think I might be a spy too?"

The boy's brow furrowed and he scanned the rest of Solo's wardrobe, taking in the neat business suit, the crisp ivory shirt, and smooth satin tie under the unbuttoned coat. "You don't look like one."

"Ah," Solo said as he straightened back to his full height, "but that's the fun part, isn't it? You just never really know."

He kept his gaze on the boy, enjoying the shift of emotions on the latter's face as they passed from skepticism to confusion to a dawning recognition of a truth made possible by Solo's response.

"Holy mack ..."

The words barely cleared the boy's lips, more a breath than a sound, when Del Floria interrupted.

"Hey, kid, d'you want the candy or not?"

Still staring at Solo, who simply offered him a conspiratorial, self-possessed smile, the boy held out his bag. As the Snickers bar announced its arrival with a thump, he abruptly broke away, tearing through the door and bolting up the cement steps in hot pursuit of his departing companions.

"Say 'thank you!'" Del Floria bellowed after them and was rewarded with a ragged chorus of high-pitched thank you's in return.

"That's better," the tailor muttered, satisfied. "Kids today ..." Shaking his head, he turned to the agent. "You like to live dangerously, don't you Mr. Solo?"

Solo chuckled. "It's all part of the fun, Del." He reached for the coat hook and gave it a twist, and the secret door, now visible, swung open, allowing him to slip inside. "Like I said, it's all part of the fun."