The CEA of UNCLE Northwest held up his hand, fully intending to deck his partner if he finished the sentence.
"I know, Illya. I know…"
"It was quite a twist, but at least it turned out well. Still, this Hollywood thing…"
Twenty-Four Hours Earlier…
"What do you think, tovarsich? Am I the man who will sweep Darlene Devareaux off her feet?"
The blond smirked at his partner's attempt at modesty. Was there any doubt that Napoleon would succeed?
"Don't you always, Napoleon? I can't imagine that Miss Devareaux is any different from the legions of other women who have fallen prey to your charms."
Solo just smiled.
To the best of UNCLE's intelligence gathering, an actor by the name of Arthur Sellings was going to deliver a contract to the head of Sanctuary Film Studios at a big industry party. In this contract, on the third page, there was a microdot that had the plans for a satellite to be constructed by the studio's own employees; it was a brilliant use of trained but unwitting technicians who normally built the sets and intricately designed props for films. This time, using the THRUSH blueprints, they would construct a real satellite. If all went as planned, no one would be the wiser.
Arthur Sellings was indebted to the head of the studio, Ronald Dupont, over a series of gambling debts from which the venture capitalist had rescued the aspiring actor. Dupont, an investor who had appeared in time to rescue the fledgling studio from bankruptcy, was, by all accounts, an aspiring member of THRUSH. The acquisition of the studio had been a brilliant move on the part of the Hierarchy, allowing their agents to move freely among wealthy and influential people from all walks of life. The allure of Hollywood was not lost on the megalomaniacs whose goal it was to rule the world. Certainly ruling the world's most popular entertainment medium would be a good launching pad for their plans.
All of this had served to signal the U.N.C.L.E. that something was amiss, leading to the people involved and finally to Arthur Sellings. The actor was known for his roles in B movies, and his romances with A-list socialites. Darlene Devareaux was among those women known to have dated Sellings, but more importantly intel had come to Napoleon Solo that Miss Devareaux would be attending the big event in Studio B at the THRUSH owned movie factory. It was his job to intercept her and obtain an invitation to this industry party, something that might seem daunting to a lesser human than Solo. As Kuryakin looked on from his place behind the wheel of a black Lincoln, the suave American went into action.
Darlene was just coming out of a trendy boutique, boxes and bags competing for space in her arms. At just the right moment, Napoleon walked in front of her, causing the entire collection to spill onto the L.A. pavement, eliciting a murmur of disapproval from the attractive brunette.
"Oh my, please let me get these for you. I am so sorry, I …'
Napoleon stopped to look into the face of Darlene Devareaux, his reaction one of stunned appreciation for what he saw.
"… Hello. Please, allow me."
Darlene was impressed, both with his courteous behavior and the obvious attributes she observed. He was very good looking.
"Thank you. Although…''
Napoleon thought he saw a wink in her expression. Bingo!
"I am Napoleon Solo, at your service."
"I'm not certain that I should forgive you. Some things might be damaged."
The tone of her voice told Napoleon that she was being playful, inviting him to step a little closer. He pressed his palm to his chest, feigning distress at the implied accusation.
"I swear to you, on my honor… it was an accident and I am truly, sincerely … sorry, uh … Miss?"
That last came out accompanied by the killer smile that had carried Solo for much of his adult life. He was confident of its effect.
Darlene, for her part, was charmed. It really was quite impossible to resist someone with a smile like that.
"Darlene. Darlene Devareaux. All right, I suppose, but what do you propose to alleviate my distress at this … um … faire une gaffe?"
Illya was listening in via the microphone hidden on Napoleon's lapel; the French reference to a blunder made him smile, although no one saw it.
Napoleon was ready with his reply. This one had been very easy.
"Perhaps dinner? I'm free this evening."
Darlene pursed her lips, considering her options.
"Tonight? I was planning on attending a special event this evening, and I really can't avoid it. Tomorrow?"
Strike now, the iron is piping hot.
"Oh, that's disappointing. I'm flying out tomorrow mid-day… business. Are you sure we can't find a way to make something happen tonight? It could be destiny, you know… us meeting like this and you being so perfect for me."
That did it. What could it hurt to let this gorgeous man escort her to the Studio event?
"Do you have a tux? Because, that really is the deal breaker."
The smile again. It wasn't exactly gloating, but Napoleon knew his partner was rolling his eyes at this seamless operation.
"I have a tux, dear lady, and a car…'
Napoleon extended his arm towards the Lincoln and its blond chauffeur.
"When and where shall I pick you up?"
Pleased with this conversation and the prospects, Darlene proceeded to write out her address and phone number on the back of a sales slip.
"Six-thirty. We need to be there by seven. Does your man know L.A.?"
"He's a native.' Napoleon lied too easily.
"May we give you a lift home, or wherever it is …?"
Darlene shook her head, causing some hair to fall over one eye. Napoleon withstood the temptation to brush it aside; she really was a beautiful woman. When this affair was over… She was replying with a smile to equal Solo's own.
"No, thank you. I have a few more stops to make before heading home. And, I'd better hurry if I'm going to be ready for you when you arrive promptly at six-thirty."
Napoleon clicked his heels together and bowed, much to Darlene's delight. Oh yes, this would be a fun evening.
Fun. Perhaps it would be fun. Napoleon was very much looking forward to seeing the lovely Darlene again. Illya had another type of fun in mind: his mission was to liberate the contract with the microdot from Sellings' possession before it was handed over to Dupont. As usual, timing would be everything.
At exactly six-thirty the black Lincoln rolled up in front of a Spanish style cottage on the Palos Verde Peninsula. Illya wasn't a native, but he didn't think a half an hour was really enough time to arrive promptly at seven o'clock. Miss Devareaux seemed to have planned on a fashionably late entrance.
When Darlene stepped out her front door on Napoleon's arm, fashion was definitely the word for her appearance. A stunning midnight blue gown hung on her body as though it had been poured from a bottle, the generous décolletage seemed to be supported by nothing more than the satin of her dress. A split in the side seam revealed a very shapely leg, causing Napoleon no small amount of tension as he sought the will power necessary to keep from exploring the origins of her exposed thigh.
The trip into Los Angeles was quicker than Kuryakin would have thought, but their arrival at the front gate to the studio was at seven-twenty, not seven. The guard waived them in when he was presented with Darlene's invitation, and after dropping off his passengers at the entrance to Studio B, Illya maneuvered the big sedan into the space indicated by another guard who was directing traffic.
While Napoleon and Darlene entered the cavernous studio, now decorated as a supper club, Illya slipped out of his chauffeur's coat and hat, revealing a ruffled tuxedo shirt and his signature mop of blond. He donned the tux jacket and emerged from the Lincoln looking exactly like a guest of the party going on inside.
Napoleon and his 'date' were greeted enthusiastically by a number of people, none of whom knew the couple, all of whom were struck by their good looks and elegance. Perhaps they were up and comers, people who ought to be courted with compliments and drinks.
Illya made his way through the crowd, his eyes searching for the courier, Sellers. He needed to get to him before the actor had an opportunity to pass on the contract and microdot to the studio head. In this crowd the task was not an easy one, and more than one person wanted to know who the blond with the long hair was.
Must be European, they all mumbled; another foreigner taking away acting jobs.
Napoleon was chatting with a famous actress who was unconcerned that the handsome man was with another woman. Perhaps he might consider leaving with someone other than the person he'd arrived with.Napoleon caught the innuendo in the woman's voice and politely declined by gathering Darlene a little closer, his hand circling possessively around her slim waist.
"Well, that was rude, even by Hollywood standards."
Napoleon nodded his agreement, glad to be with Darlene, sorry that like so many of the others he encountered, he would probably never see her again.
"You know, I've always wondered how people continue to thrive in an environment like this. Why do you come to these? You don't seem to be one of … them."
Napoleon had swept the room visually, coming back to look into the eyes of Darlene Devareaux, his mind whirling with possibilities, almost forgetting the purpose of this night.
"I think you know, don't you darling? I do it for the same reason you do it."
A frown creased Napoleon's brow at that cryptic remark. He didn't have long to wonder what she meant by it.
Illya had spotted the courier and was heading towards him, gauging the cut of his tuxedo as he looked for signs of the contract supposedly concealed beneath the man's jacket.
"Hello Mr. Kuryakin. I believe you were hoping to get an audition for my next film."
The voice was unknown to Illya, but the intention conveyed by the smooth tone was not friendly.
"I was unaware that this was a dress rehearsal. Perhaps I could just take my script and return home."
Illya turned to look at the man but was hindered by the distinct feel of a gun barrel boring into his spine.
"I think we'd be wise to continue this conversation in my office.'
The prodding was unmistakable as the gun made its point.
"And I think we'll invite your partner to join us. How does that sound to you, Mr. UNCLE man?"
Suddenly flanked by two more hulking, tuxedo clad goons that bore the remarkable resemblance to all THRUSH goons, Illya merely joined the processional that would lead, he assumed, to the office of Ronald Dupont; the Russian had no doubt about who it was wielding the gun. Reluctantly, Illya looked across the room to see his partner, a look of some surprise on his face, being likewise herded along as the lovely Darlene chatted. So, it would seem she was also involved with THRUSH.
It would seem they had miscalculated on some level. Possibly more than just some.
Apparently, quite a lot.
Napoleon was cool as the proverbial cucumber as the THRUSH guards closed in on him. Darlene continued to smile as the situation crystallized for the UNCLE agent; nowhere in the handbook did it say a beautiful woman was more likely to be innocent than guilty. Everything was continually unpredictable.
"So, Miss Devareaux, perhaps we need a new introduction. My name is Napoleon Solo, and yours is…"
The smile he received in return was an illusion, the face she needed for the partygoers to see as the quartet was escorted to the same office where Kuryakin was heading.
"Napoleon, my dear, the names are the same. Only our intentions have been veiled, as I'm sure you now can see very clearly."
Napoleon was looking for a way out, some method of distracting someone, somehow… That's when he saw his partner standing beneath the exit sign on the far end of the building, behind the façade that had been constructed as a backdrop to the nightclub scene. A gun was very clearly in evidence, the muzzle resting in the blond's hair.
Napoleon continued along without incident.
Illya was considering his options, which were, admittedly, not much. He needed his partner in order to carry out their Plan B, and this did seem to call for something other than the original. As Napoleon and Darlene drew closer he felt the pressure of the gun barrel lessen slightly: the guard was distracted. Okay, just stand still, perhaps the gun will be lowered completely …
No. When Darlene and Napoleon were within a few feet of his position, Illya's arm was grabbed from behind, jerked into a very uncomfortable position as the gun was rammed into his skull. Napoleon stopped short of jumping into action at the threat to his partner, something that Darlene noted.
Waiting at the door was Ronald Dupont, Albert Sellings and the two THRUSH goons. Napoleon and Darleen, and their two escorts now joined them.
"Hello dear Ronald, so sweet of you to meet us here."
The two THRUSHES smiled at each other, their sentimental repartee limited to that cynical greeting.
"Darlene, you are ravishing, as always. I see we have our two UNCLE agents well in hand, just as you said it would be. It's too bad they won't be staying for the party, I understand the best is yet to come."
Napoleon was ready, and gauging by the look on Illya's face, although unreadable to most, it wouldn't be the UNCLE agents who would miss the party.
"I think you must have made a mistake, um… Mr. Dupont, is it. You see, my friend here is loaded with explosives, and if you kill him, as you seem to be threatening to do, then when his body hits the floor, the impact will detonate those explosives. In fact, if you annoy him much more than you already have, he might just … implode."
Darlene laughed, a hearty laugh that competed with the noisy background of the orchestra and conversations in the soundstage turned nightclub.
"Oh, Mr. Solo, who are you kidding? Do you really believe that we …''
Her expression changed suddenly as Illya tore open the ruffled front of his shirt, exposing what appeared to be a flank of explosives and wires.
"You see, my dear, I never kid. And Mr. Kuryakin is a morose and fatalistic Russian who has the blood of revolutionaries running through his veins. He will die for the cause. Willingly, I might add."
The look on Illya's face was enough to convince the other men that he was exactly as Napoleon described him, and the icy blue eyes conveyed nothing but cold determination.
"Let him go! Now, let him go!"
Dupont screamed at his men, the sudden image of destruction and blood … He was a money man, not one of the bloodthirsty monsters that he had to contend with.
"What do you want?"
Napoleon was smiling now, hoping that this charade would get them out of here.
"Why, the contract, of course. If you will just hand it over…'
He looked at Sellings, who was white with fear. He hadn't signed on for this type of drama, although there was the small hope that he might land a big role in return for keeping his mouth shut. He reached into his jacket's inside pocket and withdrew the envelope containing the contract.
"Please give it to Mr. Kuryakin. Gently, I think that would be best."
Sellings did hand it to Illya as though passing a fragile relic. Illya took it, opened it up and perused the third page. Satisfied that he recognized the microdot, he re-folded it and tucked it into his own pocket.
"Let's go, Napoleon. I don't really care for parties, and this one has lost its bang.''
Napoleon had by now taken everyone's guns and was gesturing to them all that they should get into a small room that was conveniently close to the exit. After herding them inside and closing the door, Napoleon jammed the doorknob, hopefully derailing their escape for as long as it would take him and Illya to get away completely. Illya held the door open and the two took off at a gallop towards the Lincoln. Illya slid behind the wheel as Napoleon took the passenger seat; they were through the front gate and heading for the Los Angeles Headquarters in record time.
After all of the debriefing and report writing, the two New York agents had a quiet dinner and retired to the suite that had been reserved for them by the L.A. office. Napoleon couldn't help but think about Darlene, the plans he'd hoped might come to fruition and the ultimate betrayal of yet another THRUSH temptress who would just as easily kill him as give him a good night kiss.
Illya didn't entertain those types of fantasies. He preferred his women to be honorable, for the most part. If a woman must be full of intrigue, let it be something other than espionage.
Both men eventually had a good night's sleep, and conversation over morning coffee is where the conversation turned once again to the previous night's surprise.
"I hate to state the obvious, Napoleon, but …"
The CEA of UNCLE Northwest held up his hand, fully intending to deck his partner if he finished the sentence.
"I know, Illya. I know…"
"It was quite a twist, but at least it turned out well. Still this Hollywood thing…"
"It isn't real, I know. Unlike your pragmatic soul, my friend, mine enjoys the romance of the fantasy. I just didn't see it coming; Darlene took me by surprise."
Illya understood. His life held a few romantic fantasies, in spite of what Napoleon thought. Perhaps they were simply inspired by more traditional things, stories of his youth or the influence of hill top castles on the horizon.
"This type of fantasy is as fragile as the film on which it is captured. She is merely a reflection of that, Napoleon. Like this town, perhaps. It is, in the end, nothing but smoke and mirrors. An illusion."
Napoleon nodded. He understood what Illya was saying, but somewhere he believed that a woman did exist for him who was everything he desired and more.
"Perhaps, tovarisch… perhaps. I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with that. At least, for the time being."
The flight home didn't come a minute too soon.