"I want you to go on without me, Illya. I'll make it out of here somehow, but you need to go ahead and make your escape before you get pinned down by another one of these…"
Just as Napoleon was closing in on his main point, a lovely young thing approached the two UNCLE agents and offered a dance to the blond. He could hardly turn her down, so with a smirk for his partner and a bow to the redhead who was waiting her turn, Illya took the young woman's hand and escorted her onto the dance floor.
Napoleon Solo could grouse with the best of them, and right now he felt a righteous one coming on. Normally Illya didn't pose any competition with the ladies, the Russian's tastes had always run to singularly intense relationships with only one woman rather than the plethora of beauties that Napoleon enjoyed. To each his own, and if that meant more than one, well…
"Mr. Solo, is that really you?"
The softly accented voice was tinged with humor and Napoleon knew instantly to whom it belonged.
"Serena, my love. I was just thinking about you", he lied smoothly.
The voluptuous auburn haired beauty was smiling that intoxicating, welcoming smile that had lured him at least once into some riotous lovemaking and an equally steamy shower. The woman was lethal, no matter whose side she was on.
"I highly doubt it, Napoleon. But I will accept that you were thinking of women in general. Perhaps we need to work on narrowing your list to, oh I don't know, perhaps only one or two."
Serena winked, and the lights suddenly seemed brighter on the chandeliers overhead. She was quite a woman.
Illya was taking his turns on the dance floor with the sweet young thing who had invited him to share a waltz, but that didn't keep him from spotting the arrival of the THRUSH femme. He knew only too well what kind of allure she held; his own experience with Serena during that ballet affair had left him with a healthy respect for the woman. It was not a thoroughly unpleasant memory.
The crowded ballroom had the effect of a kaleidoscope, twirling and colorful, Illya thought the scene very much like the pictures that could be created in one of those contraptions. It was a fleeting thought that took his attention only momentarily, and at the end of the dance Illya bowed and made his excuses as he escorted his charming partner to her table.
There was an abundance of diamonds in the room, creating the effect of continuous sparkling. Diamonds were, in fact, the theme for this evening; a celebration honoring the largest diamond brokerage in New York, Van Meter & Gruen. UNCLE was here to make certain no one crashed the party, and with the appearance of the lovely Serena, Illya suddenly felt as though the evening's work was only just beginning.
The Russian debated on whether or not to approach his partner and the lovely THRUSH, his curiosity battling with some other less agreeable considerations. If Serena were here it must certainly indicate that her employers had some interest in the evening's theme. UNCLE had only agreed to this security detail because of the obvious temptation it would prove to some enterprising thieves. Van Meter & Gruen were hosting this event to unveil a diamond of unparalleled value and significance. It would rival all of the world's great gems, and this event had a guest list that included heads of state, royals and celebrities.
There was no point in playing coy this evening, something that Illya accepted with a deep sigh of resignation. He walked over to join Napoleon and Serena just as the orchestra was beginning another number. It was twenty minutes past nine, the main event was scheduled to commence at nine thirty, exactly.
As Illya neared his partner, he spotted another familiar face farther back and in deep conversation with an actor whose name the Russian could not recall. It was funny how certain things escaped his attention, and therefore his memory.
Napoleon watched Serena's eyes wander from their conversation and then past his shoulder. Her pupils dilated slightly, making it very difficult for the handsome American to resist turning to see who had caused the effect.
As Illya approached, the perusal he received noted the fine cut of his tuxedo, and the shimmer of light off of his hair. Not least in her admiration, Serena noted that the blue eyes glinted like the diamonds in this room, a rare cool blue amidst the other less colorful gems.
"Well, well… I should have known that if there was one there would most certainly be the other."
Serena smiled as she said that line, her gaze running over the two men like cream over a bowl of strawberries. In truth, she would gladly have entertained them both should the situation require her to do so.
Napoleon felt suddenly possessive of the Austrian beauty, his memories of their time together tinged with a certain regret that the woman was THRUSH, and therefore not to be trusted. He had always suspected that something had occurred between his secretive partner and the stunning redhead. It was so like the somber Russian to not disclose all of the details, no matter how scrupulously Napoleon worked at pushing him to do so.
Serena felt a sort of dizzying giddiness at her proximity to these two men. They were both dangerous, savagely attractive in a way only men who lived on the edge could project. The benefit of their undeniable good looks and certain other attributes caused a wave of something like euphoria to wash over her and she felt a sudden blush on her cheeks.
How completely unacceptable for a woman of her experience and talents to become enamored of the enemy.
Napoleon spoke first, his observation of the slight flush tucked away for further inspection at a later date. Serena wasn't a woman given to crushes, but he could swear…
"Serena, my love, are you all right? It's only Illya."
A small twinge of a smile caught at the Russian's lips, just enough to send a message of his own memories, but not enough to give an actual clue. Even Serena now doubted that he remembered her fondly.
"Mr. Kuryakin, how delightful to see you again. As usual, your dancing appeared flawless."
Illya bowed slightly, took her gloved hand and kissed it, lingering a little too long, Napoleon thought. Yes, he had most certainly missed something.
At precisely nine thirty, the band queued up with a lively rendition of Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, complete with a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like doing the singing as she flaunted a hand full of diamond rings in addition to the lavish cluster around her neck. Illya was struck by the gaudiness of the act, and wondered if this was really and truly the American Dream of which he had heard. Certainly people would not ever actually strive for this type of falseness in their lives.
Napoleon was keeping one eye on Serena and the other anticipating the diamond in question. Van Meter & Gruen had insured a crowd with articles in the newspapers and trade journals, invitations to elite members of society and a boast that their gem was unrivaled in size and beauty. The unveiling was an unprecedented event within the industry, an invitation to thieves and guests alike.
Martin Gruen, the junior member of the house of Van Meter and Gruen, approached the stage and did a lithe swirl to the music as he grabbed the Marilyn character's hand and dipped her dramatically, pleasing the crowd and heightening his own enthusiasm for the next phase of his act. As he straightened and faced his audience, the lights dimmed slightly and he cleared his throat, the preamble to his big reveal.
Two more lovely women in red sequined dresses rolled out an impressive cart that was draped in pale blue silk and trimmed with opulent fringe, cording and tassles. The effect was of a miniature ottoman, complete with a tufted top that held a large black box. The audience knew, of course, that within that box was the much heralded diamond for which this evening was being held.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I take great pleasure in introducing to the world the Mercury Diamond, from Van Meter & Gruen."
With that and a large sweep of his arm, Martin Gruen pulled off the lid to the black box as the orchestra produced a single chord that grew in intensity as it crescendoed and then crashed, an homage to the latest Beatle's phenomenon perhaps, A Day In The Life.
Whatever the intended effect, it fell flat as the onlookers emitted a single groan at the sight of an empty space where the Mercury Diamond should have been.
Martin Gruen was caught in his dramatic presentation at mid stride, his arms above his head as he reacted to the lack of response from the audience. When he finally realized why there was no burst of applause, he looked as though he might pass out. Another member of the famous diamond house came running up to the stage, as well as several security men. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin both turned to look at Serena, who was no longer between them.
"Mmm… is it that obvious, Illya?"
The blond shook his head. She hadn't actually taken the diamond, she was right there between them up until the moment of the reveal.
"I do not think so, although suspicion does naturally fall upon her and THRUSH. My question is, how did these people not keep track of the diamond between the time they loaded it onto the presentation cart, and its arrival on stage? Certainly someone saw it before this little act began."
Napoleon was puzzled. UNCLE's participation had been merely to observe; it was Van Meter & Gruen's choice to have their own people in charge, only allowing the UNCLE agents access to the room, not the diamond itself.
"I suggest we go and report to Mr. Waverly before this has an opportunity to gain more momentum. If THRUSH is involved, we'll know of it sooner than later, I believe."
Napoleon nodded, his enjoyment of the evening now completely dashed as he considered how it might have ended had Serena not disappeared, possibly along with the Mercury Diamond.