The Exit Stage Left Affair
The ellipsoidal light landed about three inches from Dee Hanning's right foot. She swallowed and only permitted her eyes to roll to the right to Jerome Stratford, her stage ex-husband in this scene. Like she had, he'd frozen at the director's shout and like her, the light had narrowly missed him.
"Uh, Jer...?" she whispered, just in case someone else was listening.
"Yes, Dee?" The tall man was posed in a very awkward position, but she knew neither of them would move until told otherwise.
"I've got to pee really bad now. I mean, I did before we started this scene, but now... man..."
"Is everyone okay?" Don Cummings had finally gotten from his seat behind the director's table in the center of the auditorium to the on stage stairs. He stopped just beside her and grabbed her hand. "Dee, are you hurt?"
"Uh uh, but I'm sure glad we weren't doing our big fight scene... or were off our marks."
Phil Lafferty came racing in; he'd been in the booth. As technical director, he had control of the stage and he frequently made sure everyone knew it.
"Everyone, clear the deck! Fly rail, get ready to bring those electrics in!"
"What the hell are you doing? I'm in the middle of a rehearsal, Phil!" It was expected that Don would protest. It seemed fighting was all that the two of them did these days. The actors and deck crew raced for the safe haven of the backstage wings, more to get out of the line of fire than in fear of their lives. Dee glanced around until she saw the stage manager looking tight-lipped and just a little terrified.
"Hey, Eddy?" She approached the woman while pointing.
"Yes?" Eddy's focus never left the stage.
"I'm going to pee." It was common practice for an actor or tech to not leave the deck without alerting the stage manager or one of her assistants. Eddy gave her a brief nod.
As Dee headed out the stage right exit, she heard Phil yell, "And would you prefer to have a light kill someone next time? I can arrange that. Don't move in the next five minutes! Rail, bring in the third electric. Try to hit Don while you're doing it."
"You son of a..." The closing stage door cut off her director and Dee was glad. There was enough yelling and shouting as it was without this. This show had been plagued with problems since they started. It was as if someone had mentioned you-know-who's name on stage and not gone through the appropriate corrective measures.
A half dozen dancers were in the Green Room as she entered. They were in dancewear with towels around their necks and nearly every one of them had sweat running down their face and a drink in his or her hand. She didn't know much about the show that was opening in their dance theatre, but it looked as if Nanci was putting them through their paces.
"Dee, what's going on in there?" Jenn asked. She and Jenn shared an apartment. For Jenn being a dancer and Dee being an actress, they got along okay. "We heard a thud in the rehearsal hall. Nanci was being a bitch..."
"How can you tell?" Dee quipped and there was laughter.
"Ha, ha, how droll, you actress type," Jenn shot back. "She wouldn't let us leave to go out front to look and the techs won't let us into the Warren."
The Warren was their big theatre and the techs attached to it were both union and hard asses to boot. Only people connected with the show were able to go backstage.
"One of the lights fell. It almost hit me and Jer."
"What?" A tech untangled himself from the actress he'd been making out with. "That's impossible. We just went through this afternoon and safety cabled all the lights. Phil was a little crazy after that run away."
Three days earlier, the batten supporting the grand rag had mysteriously gone arbor heavy and when the fly man took the brake off, the curtain shot sixty feet up into the air. It had only been a fast-thinking tech who got everyone out of the way before the weights came crashing down. No one had been hurt, but the rail was severely damaged and it was going to cost thousands to repair. Thankfully, they would be able to limp through the show without it.
"I'm just telling you what happened." She didn't like the tech. He seemed to have no other interest than to see just how many actresses he could screw during the course of the show. It was the same every time they brought him in. Worse, the man never even made a pass at her.
Dee walked into the ladies bathroom and switched on the light. It hummed, flickered, and buzzed, because why would anyone care about what the actors' facilities were like? She used the toilet, flushed and moved to the small sink to wash her hands.
That's when she froze and felt her heartbeat go into overdrive. Backing away from the sink, she didn't even bother to turn the water off. She merely opened the door and shouted.
"Help!" Well, she squeaked it really and no one heard her. She cleared her throat and tried again. And again, still nothing. She took a deep breath and screamed. This time everyone heard her and the Green Room mob reacted, racing to her side.
"What's wrong, kiddo?" Missy grabbed her hand and tugged her into a tight embrace. Missy was all about physical contact.
"Who was in here last?" Dee asked, looking from one face to the next, studying each person that she thought she knew so well. It had to be one of them, it just HAD to be, but why?
"Don't know. We just got a fifteen minute break from dance rehearsal right before you came in... why? Oh my God..."
The only sounds in the room were the buzzing overhead light and the hum from the Green Room's refrigerator. A can of soda suddenly clunked down in the vending machine and they all jumped in unison. A couple of people laughed nervously and shifted their positions.
"Is that blood?" Joe's voice was hushed, as if afraid of the answer. He pulled away, pressing back into the arms of his sometime lover.
"It looks like it... but whose?" Jon, the tech, moved into the room, sounding braver than he looked. Everything else was the same... the same overflowing trash can, the same cracked and stained tile, the same cruddy paint job. Everything was the same as always, except the mirror.
Scrawled on the mirror were the words, Next time I won't miss, O.G.
"Well, Napoleon, don't you look fine this morning? I swear you get better looking every time I see you."
The receptionist's drawl was so thick Napoleon felt he could cut it with a knife. Still he leaned forward and flirted with her as she pinned on his badge. Illya glanced up from his task of putting his own badge on and scowled. Napoleon knew it was all grandstanding on the Russian's part though, just as the flirting was window dressing on Napoleon's. It was their way of keeping their coworkers from guessing the truth.
The fact of the matter was that the two men had spent the better part of the weekend in bed, eating, sleeping, and making love, not necessarily in that order. Napoleon's lips curled up into a smile as he thought about that last bit. The sensations of Illya's fingers, calloused and rough, yet tender against Napoleon's skin, the feeling of Illya's breath against Napoleon's neck, the crying out as each climaxed in turn and the satisfaction of them lying together afterwards, wrapped in a sticky, sweaty embrace. It had been a very good weekend. Napoleon could feel himself growing hard just at the thought and he straightened his jacket, saluted the receptionist and headed for the relative privacy of the elevator.
Illya followed, as was his habit, and punched the door closed button the minute he got in.
"It isn't my fault, you know," Napoleon protested, staring at the doors.
"I don't ask them to flirt with me."
"I'm not saying a word... you fine thing," Illya's Southern accent first made Napoleon wince in mock pain and then burst into laughter. Illya grinned back at him—a full on, 'I'm loving life' smile. It was something not that many people got to experience and Napoleon was happy about that. "You do look well rested though."
"Spending time in bed is a wonderfully recuperating thing."
They fell silent as the elevator came to a stop and other co-workers entered. The buzz of conversation hesitated and then resumed to include them. Napoleon chatted with Dick about the chances of the Red Sox nailing the pennant, and he remembered to flirt with the two secretaries. Anything to keep his mind off the visual he had of spreading Illya's ass and watching his dick slide into Illya's body, a fraction of an inch at a time.
"Napoleon..." He heard Illya groan and then he became aware that the elevator had stopped and Illya was standing outside it, holding the doors open and looking in. Coloring slightly, Napoleon stepped out.
"Must have been some daydream," Illya muttered, flicking a fast look at Napoleon's groin. There was muffed laughter from the elevator as the doors slid shut. "Hopefully I was partially involved."
"Oh, you were fully... involved."
Illya paused to talk to their secretary as Napoleon slipped into the privacy of their shared office. He knew Illya was doing it to buy him a little time to collect himself. Surprisingly enough, Napoleon seemed to be doing more of that now than before he and Illya had started their relationship. Prior, they had just been lovely daydreams. Now the reality of their physicality sometimes appeared just when Napoleon didn't need it the most.
He sat at his desk and the stack of papers, notes paper-clipped to the covers, was enough of a bucket of cold water to calm him down. The door opened and Illya stuck his head in.
"Hate to interrupt, but Waverly wants us now."
"Why doesn't that surprise me? I mean we've been in the building..." Napoleon checked his watch. "All of fifteen minutes. Nice of him to give us a chance to catch our breath though."
"When you want the very best..." Illya ducked out the door and Napoleon got back to his feet and pointed his finger, gun-style at the reports.
"Keww!" He 'shot' the paperwork. "Let that be a lesson to you, Big Red, never mess with a Solo!" He blew the 'smoke' from his fingertip and Illya stuck his head back into the room.
"Are you coming?"
"Yup." Napoleon adjusted his imaginary gun belt and walked from the room. "That I am, pardner."
There was a girl, Napoleon decided she was about mid-twenties, and two men, both in their later forties, sitting at the circular table when he and Illya entered Waverly's office.
"Ah, Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin, it's good of you to join us."
"Notice how he makes it sound as if we had a choice," Solo said, sotto voce, to his partner and Illya nodded. The men at the table stood as they approached and the closest man held out an immaculately manicured hand.
"Gentlemen, these are the two agents I was talking about." Waverly said, by way of introduction. "Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin, meet Don Cummings and Phil Lafferty." They shook hands in turn and Napoleon glanced over at the young woman, his eyes twinkling.
"And who might this charming young creature be?" He offered his hand to her.
"My granddaughter, Diana Hanning... and you'll do well to remember that, Mr. Solo," Waverly said.
"Ah, yes, yes, I will." He shook her hand gently. "How are you, Ms. Hanning?"
"Just call me Dee, everyone does, and to answer your question, I'm scared as all hel... get out."
"There have been some incidents at our theatre—" started Cummings.
"Theatre?" Illya asked and Napoleon hid his grin. Illya wasn't overly fond of theatres.
"We work for the Coughlin Center for the Arts."
"I've heard of it," Napoleon said, more to himself than anyone else. "It's got a good reputation for presenting shows that no one else will."
"We, quite frankly, have our backs to the wall with our current production."
"There was an attempt upon my granddaughter's life, Mr. Solo, so I don't think I need to convey my distress in this matter."
Both he and Illya sat in their customary seats and immediately Illya went for the file folder, fumbling with his glasses one-handed. "What sort of incidents?"
Cummings and Lafferty exchanged looks and Lafferty cleared his throat. "At first, they seemed harmless enough, now I'm not so sure. One morning we ran out of hot water. The tank was new and under warranty, so I immediately got someone out."
"Good thing he did, too," Cummings took up. "Somehow, within the space of a few days, the intake vent had gotten completely clogged with feathers."
"Feathers?" Illya's attention shifted from paper to person. "A bird got into your hot water heater?"
"Not a bird, Mr. Kuryakin, a boa..."
Napoleon hid his smile. He loved it when Illya got confuse, but rarely did he see it happened.
"A feather boa—dancers wear them?" Cummings offered helpfully. "You know, like a muffler?" Illya still looked blankly at him. "Where did you get these guys?" he asked Waverly, who was busy lighting his pipe.
"Oh..." Illya's brow furrowed even more and he shook his head. It was apparent, at least to Napoleon, that his usually erudite partner was bamboozled.
"Anyhow, we were lucky the damn thing didn't go sky high and take the Coughlin with it."
"And you didn't think to question the incident?" Napoleon asked. He pushed his folder aside, preferring to collect his information in person.
"You haven't been around theatres very much, have you, Mr. Solo?"
"I do enjoy attending when my job permits." Napoleon shot a look over at his partner, but Illya's head was bent back to its task of studying the report. And when Illya lets me out of the bedroom, he added mentally.
"Then we had the crisis of someone being locked in the prop closet," Lafferty said.
"That's a crisis?" Again, Illya refocused his attention.
"It is when some fool has filled the lock with glue, and the person inside is a claustrophobe prone to panic attacks. There's a very expensive dimmer rack housed in there as well. If Frankie had lost it, he could have taken out the lighting system by damaging the dimmers. Strangely enough, Frankie rarely goes into the prop closet because it's so small." Lafferty glanced over at the director and shook his head. "Whoever called Frankie told him that Don needed a prop right that minute and would he be so good... it was a long morning, on both sides of the door."
"Then there was the runaway..." Cummings looked from one to the other. "You do know what a runaway is?"
"Within your reality, doubtful," Napoleon answered smiling to show there was no ill will.
"I think they are referring to when a fly arbor is over or under-weighted and the batten goes out of control." Illya had spent some time on a fly rail years earlier until a crazed UNCLE agent had winged him. He'd spent the rest of the production in the booth running the light board.
"Grandpa, are you sure about this?" Dee looked from one man to the other and Napoleon suddenly felt that he was being measured up against something. "I think the other way around might be better—"
"Mr. Solo, a moment if you will." Waverly interrupted her.
"Please don't," Illya murmured softly and Napoleon kicked him none too gently in the shin. Illya grinned and pushed his glasses back into place.
"Ah, sir, my voice isn't quite up to par." Napoleon had no illusions when it came to such things. He sang because there were just times when singing best expressed the happiness he felt. It didn't mean he was good at it or particularly gifted.
"Let me be the judge of that."
"Sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Mr. Solo, or Happy Birthday."
A little self consciously, Napoleon started and within a few bars, Cummings held up his hand. "Thank you. And you, Mr. Kuryakin?"
Illya stared at him for a moment, then cleared his throat and sang.
Da nóchu lúnnuyu,
Da pjèsny toi shto vdáljeke zvjinát,
Taskói starínnoju da semistrúnnoju
Shto pa nachám tak múchila minjá.
"That sounds familiar," Cummings said. "Wait... is it Those Were the Days?"
"Do you always sing in Russian?"
"I do see what you mean now, Grandpa." Dee leaned back in her chair and smiled kindly at Napoleon. "You really can't sing, can you? But you sure are cute."
Waverly harrumphed and Napoleon tried to keep from chuckling at the grandfather's concern.
"It's not usually a problem." Napoleon let his attention drift from the young woman back to his employer. "Or is it?"
"Have you had any stage experience, Mr. Kuryakin?"
"Liar," Napoleon cut him off. "He was in an off Broadway show as a matter of fact. He got very good reviews." Napoleon grinned at Illya's You are so dead look. "Why do you ask?"
Waverly took control of the conversation again. "I want you and Mr. Kuryakin to join the company, Mr. Solo. Since, unfortunately, they are in the middle of rehearsing a musical, it will be Mr. Kuryakin's turn to play the part of the actor."
"And me, sir?" Napoleon was now all attention.
Lafferty spoke up before Waverly could answer. "We need a sound designer, Mr. Solo. How are you at mixing sound?"
"I dare say he'll not disappoint you," Waverly answered. "Both Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin are professionals in everything they attempt."
"Excellent. Then there's really only one more question to ask," Cummings said, studying Illya closely. "How do you feel about full frontal nudity, Mr. Kuryakin?"
"You can't sit out here forever, Illya." Napoleon parked the car and shut off the engine. He opened his door and was halfway out it. His partner still hadn't unbuckled his seat belt yet.
"You can say I developed a bad case of laryngitis." Illya resolutely crossed his arms over his tee shirt. The sunlight caught and reflected back on the earring he wore.
"Then you can at least learn your dances."
"I'm not a dancer." He pressed back into the bucket seat.
"You are now, and a singer and an actor." Napoleon studied him and shook his head. "And a bit of a prima donna apparently."
"I am not."
"Then get out of the car and fulfill your mission. The sooner we get inside, the faster we can get this figured out and they can bring a real actor and sound designer back in." Illya glared over at him. "Don't hate me because I can't sing."
"I don't. I hate you because you are right. The Full Monty though..."
"What's wrong? You're hung like a -"
"Napoleon!" Illya shot a shocked look over Napoleon's shoulder as two women walked by. They paused to admire Napoleon's well proportioned assets and walked on. And to think, Napoleon had protested when Section Eight handed him these jeans. From the looks he'd been getting all day, he might just have to switch to black jeans from now on.
"Just stating the obvious, Mr. K. Now, out!" Napoleon straightened and slammed the car door behind him. He adjusted the denim work shirt he wore over his black tee shirt and waited. Reluctantly, Illya climbed from the car, taking a moment to readjust the pants he wore. They were tan and made the most of his slender frame and generous... Napoleon grinned... very generous attributes. It was firsthand knowledge that let him know that everything packaged in those tight pants was 100% Russian and only his for the asking.
Napoleon walked to the stage door and held it open. After a moment, Illya stepped through and into the backstage area of the theatre and looked around.
"This is much smaller than the other place and a lot brighter." The last time either man had been backstage, it had been at a larger regional theatre. This theatre was tiny in comparison. The backstage door opened into a short hallway with the Scene Shop immediately to the right and three steps away from it was the stage right door. The Costume Shop was across from that. All three were just yards from each other. "So much... smaller."
Three people were standing in the hallway reading a bulletin board and Illya froze as they turned to look at them, eyeing both men critically.
"You can do this, partner," Napoleon murmured softly, settling a hand in the small of Illya's back to keep him from retreating to the car. "Remember, an assignment is an assignment."
"I wish I had as much faith in me as you do."
The stage right door opened and Don Cummings walked out, his arms waving about his head. "How many times do I have to say this, you dotty old bat? I want blue, not purple."
The woman following behind him had an armful of fabric, which Napoleon thought looked very blue to him. "This is blue, you color-blind, old queen!"
Cummings spun, apparently to yell and instead saw Napoleon and Illya standing there. "It's about time you two showed up. Solo, report to the booth! NOW!"
"Where—" Napoleon started and Cummings cut him off.
"Back of the house, you idiot! Where do you think the booth is?"
One of the people in front of the bulletin board approached and offered his hand. "I'm Danny and I'm headed up there. I can show you the way if you'd like."
"That would be fine." He glanced over at his partner as Cummings jabbed a finger into Illya's chest. "You get measured and then go to the dance studio; I'll be damned if I'm holding up my show for you two slackers." Cummings stormed away muttering about inconsiderate actors and techs.
"That was... awkward," Napoleon said.
Danny grinned. "Don hates techs, so get used to his abuse. Of course, he's not that much fonder of his actors. You are...?"
"Oh, Napoleon Solo and my partner, Illya Kuryakin."
"You're the guy replacing Mickey?" Danny's eyes dropped to Illya's groin and Napoleon repressed a grin.
"I am to assume," Illya said. Napoleon had to hand it to him. Illya didn't look half as distressed as Napoleon knew he was. Instead he gave the impression of nonchalant disregard, as if he knew he looked like sex in a bottle. "I was handed a script and we were told to report here."
The woman juggled the blue cloth from one arm to the other. "Well, come along, dear, and we'll get you measured for your G-string." She took a step towards the Costume Shop. "Oh, come along now. There's no need to be shy. I'm told I have very warm hands."
At Illya's suddenly stricken look, Napoleon smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "Just stare at the ceiling and think of Mother Russia. I'll catch up with you later."
Napoleon stared down at the board. It wasn't as much of a terror as it had been when he'd sat down at it four hours earlier. He'd spent some time with a friend of a friend who knew someone on Broadway. It had garnered him a few hours sitting with a professional and he took copious notes. Napoleon was hardly an expert, but he'd passed himself off as many other things with even less preparation.
"Give me a level on five," he murmured into the mic attached to his headset. Downstairs, a tech moved to one of the floor mics and began talking. Napoleon pulled the headset off and listened, quickly adjusting the various sliders until he was satisfied that the voice was balanced. He wrote down the levels, not daring to trust his memory for this task. If nothing else, it made him appear anal and he could live with that. Headset back in place, he murmured, "That's good—last one now."
"Hey, Napoleon, we are getting ready to break—you coming?"
Napoleon glanced at his watch and frowned. It was four in the afternoon. "Now? Can you give me five minutes? I'm almost through setting levels."
Danny laughed and slapped Napoleon's back. "You haven't even started. Don will make you reset the levels on those mics a dozen times and you'll end up right back where you started. 'Sides, what good is a union if you can't take advantage of all its benefits? It's company policy, too—we have two hours before the night run."
"We're breaking," Napoleon said into his mic and the tech on the stage gave him a thumbs up before he disappeared almost instantly into the wings.
Danny led the way down the stairs from the booth to the lobby. Unlike in the other theatre Napoleon had worked in, this booth didn't have an exterior door except to the roof. That one had been huge, well lit and filled with the latest equipment. This one was tiny and dark with a sloping roof and a sense of claustrophobia that hung about it like stink on a three-day old fish. The equipment was not ancient, nor was it cutting edge.
Out in the lobby, it was an instant left into the auditorium. Again, this place was different, only two hundred seats as opposed to five hundred. Napoleon looked around as much as he could without tripping on the stairs or looking too apprehensive. Lunch would be the perfect time to get the techs to open up about the accidents.
They walked into the Green Room and a group of actors glanced over.
"Ooo, look, fresh meat," an actress piped up and Napoleon belatedly realized she was talking about him.
"Fresh, but unavailable," corrected another. "Weren't you listening to the intro this morning? He's with that little blond guy who's taking over for Mick."
Both agents had spent considerable effort keeping their relationship private. Waverly knew because the man simply knew everything and it seemed the most appropriate path for them to take if they wanted to keep their jobs with UNCLE. Waverly hadn't been exactly pleased, but he didn't seem entirely displeased either. Still, most of their coworkers saw Napoleon as a hopeless flirt and romancer and Illya as a bit stand-offish and not the casual dating sort. It felt odd to have their relationship in the open here and have people so accepting of it.
"Gotta say, I don't envy you though." Danny stared at the offerings in the vending machine as Napoleon took a seat on one of the three beat-up couches.
"What do you mean?" Napoleon wanted to wait to see if Illya would make an appearance before getting anything to eat. He had a feeling the Russian would be ready to chew through the trunk of a tree.
"Have you seen the guy who's his on-stage love interest? Geraldo is drop dead gorgeous and I'm straight. You are a lot more secure than I am."
Napoleon thought furiously, trying to remember. There hadn't been any real indication... had he not read the script closely enough?
Six men walked in and all eyes went to them. The leader was tall and lanky, not thin, but not fat either, as opposed to the man behind him. His stomach jiggled when he walked. There was an Asian looking man, then a Hispanic who might be attractive if you liked that look—Napoleon didn't. A black man followed them and Illya brought up the rear. He looked as if he was ready to drop in his tracks.
Napoleon watched Illya scan the room and then his shoulders seemed to relax as he spotted his partner. Illya ignored everyone else in the room and walked directly to Napoleon. On an impulse, Napoleon reached out, grabbed Illya's hand, and pulled him down to the couch. It was only the unexpectedness of the move that actually dropped Illya down onto his lap.
"Napoleon, what are you doing? I'm a mess." Illya scolded without even moving his lips.
"Relax." That was when Napoleon suddenly realized that Illya's clothes were wringing wet with sweat. "Ugh, you're sopping wet."
"And hot." Illya, however, made no effort to move, even though Napoleon could feel the tension in his body. Illya was very uncomfortable with this arrangement. "I did warn you."
"Are you hungry?" Napoleon slipped a proprietary arm around Illya's chest and began to massage a shoulder with the other hand.
"Always." Illya, apparently deciding there was no escape, leaned back into the hand, grimacing as Napoleon's fingers dug into the tight muscle.
"Вы должны расслабиться (You need to relax)," Napoleon murmured softly for Illya's ears alone.
"Я должен быть застрелен для того, чтобы согласиться на это (I need to be shot for agreeing to this)."
An older man appeared in the doorway, "Kuryakin?"
Illya struggled to sit up. "Here."
"They want you in the rehearsal hall—right now. They want to hear you sing. Shouldn't take more than ten minutes."
With a grunt, Illya got to his feet and looked wistfully back at Napoleon.
"Go!" Napoleon made a gesture with his hand. "I will have something for you to eat when you get back."
"Oh, the places my thoughts just went," quipped one of the actors, the tall one, as Illya passed him.
"I'm just going to go on record as saying you are one lucky son of a -" another actor started to say, watching Illya's ass just a bit too closely for Napoleon's taste.
"Yes, I am," Napoleon finished and got to his feet. "Where's a good place to get some food around here?"
"Hey, Napoleon, if you are going out for food, can I come, too?" Dee was instantly by his side. "I know all the good local spots."
"Ah, sure... Dee, isn't it?" He offered her his elbow and she took it, giggling.
"You are good with names."
"I'm good with everything," Napoleon responded automatically, then hurriedly added when several heads turned in his direction, "Ask Illya." He was so used to flirting that it was hard to remember he didn't have to here.
Dee followed him quietly to his rental car and waited as he unlocked the doors. Instantly, she climbed in and rolled down her window, while waiting for Napoleon to do the same.
"How are you holding up in there?" she asked as they pulled away from the curb.
"I'm not the one I'm worried about. How is Illya doing?"
"Holding his own..." Dee said, laughing. She let the wind blow through her hair. "Heck, he's even better than a couple of the regular guys. It won't exactly endear him to them, but they can all see he is really working hard at it."
"He got a few lessons before we left New York."
"Well, thankfully the one thing this show has going for it is that the dancing isn't too demanding."
"For not being demandeding, Illya looked pretty exhausted."
"He's also the oldest one up there and not used to it, but I'd be willing to bet another week and he'll be running rings around them. Turn here."
"Where are we going?"
"He's going to need some protein to keep him going..." She broke off chuckling as she pointed to a fast food sign. "I didn't mean that sort of protein."
"My dear lady, I have no idea what you are talking about."
"I bet you don't. Anyhow, he's going to need some protein and some carbs, but no chocolate and no dairy."
"He's going to be singing this afternoon and chocolate and dairy will mess up the mucus in his throat."
"I didn't know that."
"Which is why I'm here. Plus, someone had to take the first step and accept you as part of the company. The drive-through is just to the left of that purple bush. Have you had any chance to talk to people?"
"No, I've been pretty busy just trying to look as if I know what I'm doing."
"You and half of the cast."
"You mentioned there had been other things?"
"Odd phone calls, some weird mail. We had one letter that addressed the theatre as 'Dear Scum of the Earth.' We put that one up on the bulletin board. It disappeared the next day."
"Someone took it down?"
"Or took it as a souvenir; it's hard to tell with some of the people around there." Dee waited for him to put in his order. "I'd like a number three, please, no onions." She smiled at Napoleon. "Kissing scene this afternoon with Dale," she explained.
"Who are the men Illya came in with?"
"Jerome is playing the lead, Jerry; the heavy guy is Lucas, he plays Dave. Lang is playing Harold, Horse is the black guy, William..."
"And the Hispanic man?"
Dee poked Napoleon playfully in the ribs, "That would be Geraldo and he's playing Illya's love interest, Malcolm. They are the six guys who go the Full Monty."
"Dee," Napoleon started, then stopped.
"Yeah, uh huh?" She looked up from her task of digging money out of her pocket.
"Nothing..." He smiled at her and eased the car along. "It was just a thought..."
"Have you thought this might be an inside job?"
"Of course, it was the first thing that crossed Don's mind." The car ahead of them moved and Napoleon got to the window. He pulled out his wallet and peeled off a twenty, shaking his head as Dee held up a crumpled five.
"You can buy me a cup of coffee when this is all over." He got back his change and passed the bag and drink caddy to her.
"If you don't mind me saying, you seem really stressed about something, Napoleon."
"Yes, but it's my stress and I'll figure my way around it in time." He smiled in a way he hoped seemed confident and headed back to the theatre.
They'd just barely returned when a less than ecstatic Illya came plodding back in. He didn't look very happy until he saw the food sitting on the table. He glanced over at Napoleon, who nodded and Illya sat, reaching first for the paper cup of dark liquid. He had obviously been expecting coffee, but he drank the soda thirstily without complaint and then went about the task of inhaling his burger. He finished that, his fries and most of Napoleon's onion rings before he seemingly took a breath.
"Okay, that was impressive..." Danny said, peeking out from behind the Stage Directions magazine.
"That's nothing." Napoleon reached into the bag and pulled out another burger, offering it to his partner. "You should see him when he's really hungry. Never make a bet over food with him and never, ever, under any circumstances, try to drink him under the table."
"I'll remember that," Geraldo said, winked at Illya and stood, stretching as he walked. Napoleon watched him check for a reaction, but Illya totally ignored him, bent to his task of eating. He never even seemed to notice the man and that didn't sit too well with Geraldo.
"Hey," Napoleon said softly and instantly Illya was all attention. Napoleon wanted to shoot Geraldo a look that said, Nice try but no cigaro. This man is spoken for. Instead he smiled at Illya.
"Something wrong?" Illya half turned to shield his face from most of the crowd.
Napoleon handed him a napkin and Illya took it, wiping his mouth while frowning. Napoleon could tell Illya knew there was something going on that he'd missed. "Finish up and I'll help you run lines."
"That won't be necessary. So, you don't sing." Jerry looked down at the table top and then back up at Illya.
"No." Illya sounded positively overjoyed by the admission.
"You don't dance." Jerry delivered his line deadpan.
"I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but what the hell do you do?"
"Well, I thought maybe this."
Napoleon watched, amused, and just a little shocked as Illya, with his back to the audience, dropped his trousers. The men facing Illya leaned backwards, their mouths agape as the older woman leaned forward and grinned happily. Napoleon was just happy Illya wasn't going commando.
"Gentlemen, put on your sunglasses. We suddenly have a lot of glitter."
There was a ripple of laughter through the house and Napoleon noticed just how many cast and crewmembers had moved closer to the stage to get a better look at Illya's ass through his underwear. Napoleon found himself wishing Illya had gone with boxers that morning in of jockey shorts.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph..." Lang looked a bit shell shocked.
"Oh, hello, Mr. Nichols. I didn't see you there. I plastered his bathroom." Illya, his pants still around his ankles waved happily to the man.
"Nathan, close your eyes." Jerry suddenly remembered his 'son' was there and wrapped a hand over the boy's face.
"Is there anything else you want to see?" Illya asked happily.
"No!" the men chorused and Cummings stood up.
"That was good. Take five and get ready to run all of Six C starting from Reg's strip."
Illya tugged his pants back into place and left the stage, fastening his fly as he disappeared into the wings. A moment later he appeared in the house and Napoleon lifted a hand. Illya saw him and walked resolutely in that direction.
"We are going to make an actor out of you yet," Napoleon announced as Illya collapsed into the seat beside him.
"Comforting." Illya shook his head. "I cannot believe people want to do this for a living."
"Hey, guys, fresh fudge in the Green Room," Dee announced, walking past them. "You better go now if you want some."
"I'm past my fudge-eating days," Napoleon admitted, patting his stomach.
"How about you, Illya? You aren't watching calories."
"It's too sweet—it makes my teeth hurt." Illya shook his head and reached for Napoleon's water bottle instead.
"Suit yourself; it's great!" Dee scampered off and Napoleon watched after her.
"Like she needs more sugar in her diet. By the way, you were making my teeth hurt. Are you really going to drop your pants like that?"
"They tell me I will have a dance belt and a long hem on my shirt to preserve my dignity. That will not help with the final scene."
"Cummings's really going for the Full Monty."
"Can't wait for that rehearsal. The place will be packed."
"We were reassured that there will be a closed house that night, just the director and us."
"You guys want some fudge?" Jerry came into the house carrying a handful of the stuff. "If you don't want it now, you should take some as a bedtime snack."
Napoleon made a face at the smell. "It's a long story, but I don't eat fudge." Illya held up a hand in refusal and the man continued on, offering it to various people along the way. "I thought chocolate was bad for singers' throats."
"You wouldn't know it from the spread back in the Green Room—there is about every chocolate treat known to man." Illya re-settled back in the seat and winced, apparently uncomfortable.
"And you haven't partaken?" That was news to Napoleon. He knew Illya loved chocolate.
"Right now, I need neither the sugar nor the caffeine. Rather I need something to relax me." He glanced over at Napoleon, a shy smile on his lips. "Pity we aren't home."
"Save that thought; we'll be out of rehearsal soon." Napoleon reached out and caressed the back of Illya's hand. "I think we both have what the other needs for a good night's sleep."
Napoleon permitted Illya all of three paces into the motel room they were sharing before pulling the man into a rough embrace. Illya permitted it, even seemed to welcome it, but it did nothing to relieve the anxiety that Napoleon could feel building in his stomach.
"What's wrong?" Illya raised a hand to brush Napoleon's hair free from its usual constraints. "You have been acting a bit distressed all afternoon and most of this evening."
Napoleon caught Illya's face between his hands and kissed him, kissed him until they were both short of breath and Napoleon was feeling a bit weak at the knees.
"Now I know there's something wrong." Illya licked his lips as Napoleon pulled back. "The last time you kissed me like that, a bullet had just missed me." Napoleon tugged him back into his arms, relishing the familiarity of his partner's shape, of his scent, of his mere presence.
"It's stupid." Napoleon finally permitted himself to confess into Illya's ear. "And unnecessary."
"If there's something bothering you, it is neither stupid nor unnecessary. Talk to me, Napoleon. I'm your partner."
Napoleon hesitated, using the moment to pull off his work shirt and kick off his shoes. Finally, he started to speak, his words slow. "That's the problem. I'm your partner. How am I supposed to stand back and watch another man kiss you?" It sounded so proprietary now that he said it aloud. "I mean, what if he has AIDS or something?"
"He's not going to be Frenching me, Napoleon. It's a closed mouth kiss."
"I don't trust him. He looks... smarmy and he definitely has eyes for you."
"And this really is bothering you?" Illya's question was soft and Napoleon nodded hesitantly.
"Very much. There are so many dangers that we can protect each other from, but this one frankly scares me... a little."
"Then I won't kiss him. In the script, the action is very vague. According to the stage directions, Ethan and Malcolm 'have a moment of self realization'—that does not mean we kiss. Later we embrace, but again, the action is vague. I will simply refuse to kiss him. They can always fire me."
"But Dee—" Napoleon started.
"...is mistaken." Illya brought Napoleon's fingers to his mouth and kissed them, one by one. "There is only one man I am the least bit interested in kissing at the moment." He turned Napoleon's hand and kissed the inside of his wrist, working his lips over the silky skin. Illya moved to the inside of Napoleon's elbow. "Did I tell you how becoming that outfit is?"
"Ah, no, now that you mention it..." Napoleon smiled as Illya's hand began to work at undoing his belt. He caught his breath as Illya eased open the fly and slid the pants down his legs.
"It is quite flattering and has very nearly been incapacitating me. Do you know how uncomfortable a dance belt is with an erection?" Illya was on his knees now, eyes half shut in contemplation.
Napoleon let his head tip back, grimacing as it clunked against the pine paneling of the wall. That momentary stab of pain was washed away as Illya's fingers found Napoleon's penis and drew it out of his shorts. Already partially erect, the feeling of Illya's cheek against the tip brought the organ to its full attention. Illya ran his lips up the shaft to the tip and kissed it tenderly, then down the other side.
"Illya...." Napoleon tried to protest, but it just felt so good to stand there, helpless as a kitten, unable to resist the offer being made. He locked his knees and let his eyes drift shut as hot wetness engulfed him. It was almost too much, but with a final effort of will, he pushed Illya back, grinned as his penis pulled free of Illya's mouth with a wet pop.
"Not what you want tonight?" Illya wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and got up from his knees.
"Eventually, but not what I want just now...." Napoleon stepped out of his pants and pulled his tee shirt off quickly. He stretched out on the bed. "Get undressed... slowly... please."
"Your own Full Monty?" Illya smiled and began to unbuckle his belt, pulling it free from the loops and hanging it around his neck. Then he started on his shirt, one button at a time until it hung free. He undid his cuffs and with a shrug of his shoulders, the garment fell to the floor.
With infinite care, Illya unhooked his pants clasp and slid the fly down. Unlike Napoleon's pants, Illya's were loose and dropped the moment Illya released them. Illya's underwear and socks followed and then he stood naked before the brunet.
"So tell me if you think you're ready."
Napoleon smiled. It was a line from the strip number at the end of the show and he nodded, dragging his hand over his stomach, letting his eyes droop as his fingers found his penis and began to stroke himself. "Very ready, Mr. Kuryakin."
This was now a comfortable routine for them, the giving and taking of dominance. Tonight, Napoleon was willing to let Illya have the upper hand, as it were. He remained passive, although his passion was demanding. Not until Illya was buried up to the hilt inside him did Napoleon feel his anxiety start to wane. Not until he listened to Illya's ragged moans and watched his partner's face contort with the pain/pleasure of climaxing did that final bit of fear let him go.
Then Illya's mouth was on him, determined to finish what it had started seemingly a heartbeat ago. Napoleon pushed everything aside now and let his entire being focus on just one point, just one feeling, just one moment. Then Illya's finger was on his balls, pressing firmly, drawing Napoleon back from the brink, only to drive him back to it again.
Napoleon could feel Illya's semen ooze from him as he arched and writhed in Illya's arms. His climax, when Illya finally permitted it, felt as if it went on forever. Illya continued to suck, milking that last drop of semen from him, until he was apparently satisfied there was nothing left to be had.
Napoleon pulled him up, his mouth seeking his own taste in Illya's. His partner permitted it, lying quietly as Napoleon's tongue probed every nook and cranny of his mouth, beneath his tongue, along his gums.
"Now that is my idea of a bedtime snack."
"The problem with snacks though..." Illya began to nuzzle Napoleon's neck. "They never last long enough and are not suitably filling for me..."
The phone reverberated through the small hotel room and Napoleon's arm shot out. He knocked the receiver to the floor with a loud clatter and there was a grumble from someplace in the bed. Napoleon pushed the covers away from his face and grabbed the cord, pulling it towards him until the receiver appeared.
The voice was a soft whisper. "How did I miss you all?"
"What? Who is this?" Napoleon demanded, but only a disconnect click answered. He dropped his hand back to the bed again and took a deep breath. With infinite care he managed to get the phone hung up and he yawned. Letting his head roll slowly to the right, he saw... a foot?
He reached out and tugged back the covers, frowning at Illya's leg.
"Mph?" A lump shifted beneath the bedding and a moment later, a tousled blond head appeared at the bottom of the bed and looked around confused.
"What are you doing down there?" Napoleon found the energy to smile.
"No idea..." Illya admitted, blinking slowly. Then he groaned. "What were we thinking last night?"
"There was actual thought involved?" The phone rang again and Napoleon brought a hand to his head. "Hello?"
"Mr. Solo, this is Don Cummings. Are you and Illya okay?"
"Of course, we are fine. Why wouldn't we be?"
"Speak for yourself..." Illya grumbled, rolling onto his back. Napoleon reached out and ran a finger up the arch of Illya's left foot. "I do kick," Illya threatened, tugging his foot out of range.
"Half of my cast and crew are in the hospital," Cummings said and Napoleon sat up sharply, so much so that Illya propped himself up on his elbows and frowned.
"Napoleon, what's wrong?"
"What happened, Don?" Illya scooted closer so he could share the receiver with his partner.
"All those treats in the Green Room last night—they were laced with laxatives. What kind of sick bastard laces chocolate chip cookies with Ex-Lax?"
"Needless to say, have a nice day off."
"Oh, I think we'll be pulling a double shift. Whoever is at the bottom of this just called us. Take care of everyone, Don." He cradled the phone as Illya flopped back down, a hand covering his eyes.
"I am trying to remember if I saw anything. There are still so many people I don't know yet, I couldn't say who was or wasn't supposed to be there," Illya muttered.
Napoleon again touched Illya's foot, tracing gently over a red spot—the beginning of a blister. "Shoes too tight?"
"Feet are just not used to doing what I'm asking them to do. I've got some lambskin in my kit. I'll use it today. So whoever is doing this knows we are who we are." Illya moved around and settled, with a grunt, next to Napoleon.
"I'm not sure he knew if we were UNCLE agents, only that neither or us had eaten anything from the Green Room."
"Nor am I likely to after this."
"Well, you and the rest of the company, I suspect."
"So whoever did it had to be at the theatre last night." Illya readjusted his position until he was pressed up against his partner's body, his head resting on Napoleon's arm.
"Are you quite comfortable?"
"Mmmph," Illya muttered, nestling closer. "Sleep now, problem solving later."
The more Napoleon thought about it, the less inclined he was to sleep. Whoever was out to shut down this production wasn't above taking some pretty drastic steps. It had to be someone with the company, who could move around backstage without being spotted. Someone who knew the theatre inside and out and, more importantly, someone who knew the habits of the actors and techs.
He managed to extricate his arm from beneath Illya's head and climbed from bed. The shower, while making him feel a bit more human, did nothing to clear any of the fog from his head. He came out of the bathroom and noted that Illya had turned over, but that was about it.
He hastily scrawled a note to the slumbering agent, grabbed the car keys and headed out to the lot. The car was parked in the shade and its windshield was still wet with the evening dew. Napoleon climbed inside and considered his options. After a moment, he pulled out his communicator.
"Open Channel D, please."
"Yes, Mr. Solo, I wondered when you were going to report in. This isn't a vacation, you know."
"Yes, sir I am aware of that." Quickly, he gave a rundown of the previous day's events.
"But Diana is all right?" Waverly's voice took on an edge Napoleon was used to hearing when the Old Man was worried.
"I believe so, sir."
"Find whoever did this, Mr. Solo."
"We will, sir." Napoleon closed the channel and then reopened it. "Channel L, please."
"Mr. Benson, Solo here. I need some information."
"I'll do my best." The man's voice was cool. He was not a member of the Napoleon Solo fan club. Napoleon didn't have a problem with that as long as it didn't get in the way of the job.
"I need information on the management team for the Coughlin."
"I thought we provided that."
"Not the production staff; I want to know about the pencil pushers, the investors, anyone who might have a financial stake in the company."
"It'll take some time to get that together." The man sounded petulant as if a tremendous burden had been placed upon his shoulders.
"I understand. Just send it along when you have it. Solo out."
He looked back at the hotel room he was sharing with his partner just in time to see the curtain move. Illya was up. That was good.
Napoleon watched the last of the bear claw disappear and sighed. He knew he didn't need that second one, but the first one had been so good. Illya was doing him a favor, eating it, but still... the first one...
"Are you all right this morning, Napoleon?" Illya wiped his mouth and wadded up the napkin to stuff it into his empty coffee cup. "You seem... distracted." More quietly, he added, "I didn't hurt you last night, did I? I know I was bit more... enthusiastic than usual." The pigeons that flocked at their feet didn't seem to notice anything except fallen crumbs.
"Of course not," Napoleon said, shaking his head and leaning back against the metal bench. "I can't get this case out of my head." While it was early fall, the morning air was promising summer heat. Indian summer had arrived. "Why would someone deliberately sabotage a stage production?"
"That's easy. To keep it from being done. Either the person finds the material objectionable, which is very likely in this case, or stands to gain something from the cancellation of the show."
"What are you talking about?"
"Someone was telling me about a movie... The Producers, I think he called it. These two men decide to make the worst show ever, knowing that when it fails, they won't have to pay back the investors. They resell controlling interest in the show over and over again. They spend as little as possible on production and stand to make millions, except the show is an unexpected success and they end up in jail."
"That's a happily ever after for you." Napoleon looked up and down the sidewalk, a matter of practice rather than need.
"Stealing is wrong, Napoleon..." Illya began earnestly and then sighed. "You are being sarcastic..."
"I am. Whoever is doing this apparently feels he or she is above the law in this matter."
"I agree." Illya leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. "Did you not say you had a call from the perpetrator this morning?"
"I did, but the voice was such that I couldn't tell the sex."
"Nothing sounded familiar about it?" Illya cocked his head as Napoleon slowly shook his.
"There wasn't enough to pick up a pattern in it. The only thing the person said was, 'how did I miss you all.'"
"You all or y'all?"
"You all, not the Southern contraction." Napoleon finished his coffee and crushed the cup.
"Deliberate, I think, as if purposefully saying something he or she would never say in normal conversation." Napoleon stood and stretched.
"A red herring?" Illya got to his feet as well and held out a hand for Napoleon's trash. He carried it to the can and paused. "Or not... what if this is a way to draw more attention to the show, for the sake of publicity."
"What do you mean?"
Illya reached into the pail and pulled out the morning paper. Splashed across the front page was the headline, More woes befall the Coughlin. "You can't buy this kind of publicity."
Napoleon expected the theatre to be quiet, but it was hardly that. He eased their car into the last space in the small parking lot that abutted the theatre.
"I believe I heard that there is a dance show this weekend." Illya climbed from the car and headed for the stage door.
They entered and walked down the hallway. The music from the stage was muffled, but Napoleon swore the walls were vibrating. They had nearly reached the Green Room when a mob of young men and women abruptly poured from the stage left door, nearly colliding with them as they raced towards the dressing rooms.
The looks several shot them were nothing less than hateful. Napoleon glanced at Illya who just shook his head. They walked into the Green Room and Napoleon let the door close behind them.
"What was that all about?"
"Those who aren't for me are against me. "
"We aren't part of the dance troupe or they would know us. Therefore, we must be part of the theatre group and l'objet de scourn." Illya dropped to a well worn couch and stretched his legs out.
"So I am guessing the 'all for one and one for all' theory falls a bit short." Napoleon walked to the coffee pot and poured some of the thick black liquid into a cup. He sniffed, sighed and added some nondairy creamer to it and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar before joining Illya on the couch.
"According to Geraldo, there is no love lost between the two sides of the house."
Napoleon kept himself from bristling at the fact that Illya had mentioned the man's name. Silly really, he thought. He knew Illya loved him and that his love was secure, but a little wisp of worry still curled in his stomach, making the Danish he'd eaten earlier curdle. "What about the techs?"
"They are a group unto their own. They don't like actors or dancers."
"At least they spread the dislike around evenly."
The door opened and Dottie, the costumer, walked in. She looked at them and smirked. "I thought you two would be gone like the others."
"Two of the non-fudge eaters present and accounted for," Illya said, watching her. She got herself some coffee and helped herself to a box of doughnuts marked, DANCERS ONLY!
"When you are ready, come by the costume department. I have your G-string ready for you to try on." Dottie slurped the coffee as she walked out.
Napoleon grinned and Illya shook his head. "I'm going to be hearing about this for the rest of my life, aren't I?"
"Possibly even longer." Napoleon stood and poured his coffee out without drinking any of it. "I'm going up to check out some of the wireless mics. I've got a short in one. Considering where you are going to be carrying them, the last thing I want is to give one of you a shock."
"Do you need a hand? I mean after I do this, I've nothing else to do."
"Sure. Do you know how to get up to the booth?"
"I'm a smart guy. I'll figure it out."
Napoleon was frowning at the voltmeter and shaking his head. "Even if what you are saying is true, it isn't true." He was sprawled on his stomach, half under a console, trying to run sound cable.
There was a pounding on the booth door and Napoleon got up from the floor with a grunt.
Expecting Illya, he was startled to see a young girl, her blonde hair caught up in a careless pony tail and her neon-colored dance tights almost hidden by towels, catch herself on the doorframe.
"Illya needs you right now." And she was off.
Napoleon frowned and made sure the door was locked and pulled shut behind him. He raced down the stairs just in time to see the girl disappear around the side of the stage. He followed, making sure to keep one hand on the rail due to the irregular steps.
He got on the stage and looked around. The girl was at the stage right rear exit and motioned him wildly. For a moment, Napoleon debated whether he was racing into a trap or not.
"In here!" Illya's voice came from beyond the door the girl held open.
Napoleon raced across the stage and into the hallway. The girl was standing at the Costume Shop door and he could see Illya kneeling beyond that.
He trotted in and squatted down. Instantly, Illya's hands were on him, one hand cupping his forehead, another hand reaching for his wrist.
"Did you drink any of the coffee?" Illya demanded.
"What? No, never got around to it. It smelled burnt."
"Oh, thank God." Illya flung his arms around Napoleon and pulled him close.
The dancer giggled and then gasped. "Oh no... is that... Dottie...?"
"Yes, call 911."
The girl started to keen and Illya stood, releasing Napoleon. "None of that! Go do as I say!" That was when Napoleon saw the costumer, her face frozen in a silent scream, her spilled coffee staining the front of her blouse. There was a paper towel draped over her stomach. The words, Missed you, maybe next time were scrawled across it with tailor's chalk.
There was a noise at the back of the Costume Shop and Napoleon went for his weapon.
"Okay, now this is what I call blue!" Don Cummings came out of a storage locker, carry an aquamarine jacket. He froze when he saw Napoleon and the Walther pointed at him. "What the hell?"
"It's game over, Mr. Cummings. I'm shutting you down. Your Opera Ghost has just committed murder."
Napoleon looked at his watch again, looked at the front of the police station, and let his head fall back against the headrest. Illya had been inside, being interviewed for nearly two hours and Napoleon was getting more than annoyed—he was getting worried. In spite of Illya's credentials, there was the simple fact that he had discovered the costumer's body.
Napoleon had watched Don Cummings stumble out of the entrance half an hour ago and into the waiting arms of family and friends. Then Napoleon sat up as a familiar figure walked out the door. Illya looked around and started to walk to the car, with an officer flanking him.
"Just remember what we said, Mr. Kuryakin. Don't be leaving town!" The policeman seemed to be talking awfully loudly and Napoleon cocked an eyebrow in question.
"Drive, Napoleon. I am weary of this day." Illya climbed in and slammed the door shut harder than was necessary.
"Are you okay?" Napoleon started up the car and glanced in his rear view mirror before pulling out on the road. Illya was poking around in the glove compartment and withdrew a small device. It looked like a replacement cigarette lighter and Illya swapped out one for the other. Napoleon recognized the UNCLE jamming device. Illya apparently thought the car might be bugged.
"I'm fine, thanks." Illya slumped back to the seat and massaged his temples with the fingers of one hand. "The police are as in the dark as we are. My money is still on one of Cummings's backers, but they all check out."
"We're being followed."
"Yes. By mutual agreement, I have become the chief suspect in the hopes that the killer will use it to his or her advantage."
"Poison is traditionally a woman's weapon."
"That's a bit sexist of you, partner."
"I agree, but I also don't think we should rule out sex."
"I absolutely agree with that. Angelique was one of the most deadly women I knew."
"Knew? Please tell me she's passed away?"
"A little jealous, my friend?"
"No, although the lessening of the playing field wouldn't be a problem."
"Last I knew she was alive and living in Europe. She made it very clear that she didn't want anything to do with me after the night she broke into my place and found you walking around naked."
Illya grinned at that. "Mmmm, a good time that was. Her face was..." His grin grew even bigger. "Anyhow, the cops are putting out the word that I am a person of interest."
"You always have mine..."
"If you don't stop interrupting, I shan't tell you the rest."
"Sorry, do go on."
"They will be watching me and hopefully the murderer will make a mistake. In the meantime, it will be business as usual at the theatre."
"You know what they say, the show must go on. It's very much a reality of the theatre."
"I'd always thought that to be just a saying."
Napoleon pulled into the motel parking lot and into a space near their room. He waited while Illya changed out the cigarette lighter and then said loudly, "Hey Sleeping Beauty, we're home."
Illya looked at him and then nodded. If someone had bugged their car, there needed to be an excuse for the silence. "Why did you wake me up? I was having a nice dream."
"Hmm, so I see. Please tell me it was about me. Otherwise, you have some explaining to do."
"Jealous?" Illya climbed out of the car and stretched as if he'd just woken up.
"You're playing the lover of a man half my age; you bet I'm jealous." Napoleon slammed the car door and led the way to their room.
A quick check of the room revealed nothing and Napoleon sank to the bed in relief. "Why do I have the feeling we are out of our league here?"
"What do you mean?" Illya pulled his tee shirt off and tossed it over the back of a chair.
"With THRUSH, there are certain rules of engagement. We know what to expect and when. This... it doesn't seem right somehow." Napoleon bent to untie his sneakers and pulled them off, wiggling his toes.
"A woman is dead, and it very well could have been you, Napoleon. There is nothing right in that."
"The police have no idea?" His socks followed and then he sighed as he flexed his toes.
"Lots of people had opportunity and a twisted sense of purpose, I suppose..." Illya moved to the double bed and flopped down on his stomach, his head pillowed on his arms.
"You suppose?" Napoleon joined him on the bed, but settled back against the pillows instead, staring up at the stucco ceiling.
"What would make you take the life of another human being, Napoleon?" Illya looked in Napoleon's direction, the blue eyes very serious.
Napoleon regarded him back just as seriously. Neither of them took a life without profound necessity. As far as Napoleon was concerned, it was the one thing that separated them from the enemy. "Desperation, a 'kill or be killed' sort of situation, and then only as a last resort."
"The killer apparently wants a theatrical event not to happen; that's hardly a cause for murder and yet this person is and was willing to kill for it. That makes it pretty twisted to my way of thinking."
"So what do we do now?"
"Everything starts back up tomorrow. All of the affected people are out of the hospital and on the mend. Don is bringing in an assistant designer to finish the show. I just want to find the guilty party before the 12th."
"Why's that?" Napoleon began to trace the words Illya had tattooed in the small of his back. "Are you afraid of carpe'ing one particular diem?"
"It's when the show opens and I intend to be well out of town by that point."
"Illya, I'm surprised at you? Not willing to bare it for UNCLE?"
"If necessary, but only if necessary. I just don't want the body count to go any higher." He twisted and caught Napoleon's hand. When Napoleon's head turned in his direction, Illya locked eyes with him. "I don't want to lose you to some crazed madman with a twisted sense of propriety."
"From now on, I swear, no food or drink at the theatre that you or I haven't actually had possession of the entire time."
"Agreed. Now all we have to worry about is the sky falling on us... literally." Illya released Napoleon's hand and reached out to touch him, cupping his cheek gently. Napoleon turned his head to kiss the palm and then looked back.
"You seem to need a little reassurance."
Napoleon smiled and drew Illya's hand down to his groin, thrusting against it gently. "I have something that might take your mind off things."
"Oh, I hope so..." The answering smile was a little shy and a little sly.
Napoleon angled in for a kiss and for a long moment, everything stopped. There were no crazy opera ghosts trying to kill them, no innocent victims, just them, until there came a knock on the door.
Illya flopped back with a groan.
"Don't go anywhere," Napoleon said. He rolled off the bed and crossed the room, checking the peephole before opening the door.
Don Cummings and Phil Lafferty were standing there.
"Can we come in?" Phil looked past him to Illya, still stretched out on the bed. "Or are we interrupting something?"
"Nothing that we can't take care of later." Napoleon gestured them in and walked over to Illya's suitcase. He pulled out a shirt and tossed it onto the bed. "What is on your mind?"
"We've been given a chance to move the show to another venue and we are considering it." Cummings walked in and sat down in one of the two ugly orange chairs that flanked a scarred table. "I've had enough."
"You do that and we run the risk of never catching the person responsible," Illya said, sitting up and reaching for the shirt and pulling it on.
"At what price though? That's what I'm afraid of. Before this, it was mostly to scare us, but whoever is doing this is twisted enough to kill. I won't have any more blood on my hands." He stopped and looked off in the distance. A moment later he started to sob. "Poor Dottie..."
Phil gathered him into his arms and began to rock him back and forth. "Shh, shh, it wasn't your fault."
"It is, it is! I should have just shut the show down. It's been cursed since the first."
"It's a good show—it has heart and love. It's about friendship, sacrifice and wanting to do the right thing. How is that twisted and perverse?"
"She died doing what she loved. I'm going to miss her, too, sweetheart."
There was another knock to the door and Napoleon shrugged his shoulders. "It's like Grand Central Station in here." Again, he checked and opened the door to a huge bouquet of flowers.
"I Curry something. Sign here." A clipboard was thrust into Napoleon's hands and he made a face.
"You have an admirer, Illya," he said as the flowers were handed to him. Instantly, Illya held a finger up to his lips and approached Napoleon. After a moment, he found the small listening device and drew Napoleon's attention to it. "Why don't I just take these to the bathroom and give them some water. The note says that they are thirsty."
Quickly, Napoleon carried the flowers to the bathroom and set them on the sink. He turned both the hot and cold taps on full and walked out, closing the door behind him.
"We only have a few minutes before whoever sent that bouquet is going to realize something is up." Illya watched Napoleon rejoin them and continued, "Mr. Cummings, do you want to do this show?"
"Shh, keep your voice down." Napoleon cautioned. "We don't know how good that bug is."
"Yes, I do," Cummings whispered.
"Then follow our lead. Illya, it's time to force their hand and get them out into the open."
"You said that the police are letting it be known that you are a person of interest."
"Now a Secret Admirer has sent you flowers."
"Seems to me like someone is attempting a 'divide and conquer' on us."
"Or they could just be from a secret admirer," Lafferty murmured and Cummings looked sharply at him. "What? He's a good looking man."
"Phil, I swear..."
"This is it exactly, Illya, but not you. Us." Napoleon gestured to himself and then Illya. "Perhaps if the guilty party thinks he or she has broken us up, she might make a mistake."
"Or you might be walking into a trap," Lafferty argued.
"We're pretty much able to take care of ourselves, Mr. Lafferty. Illya?"
"I'm game if you are." He looked around and sighed. Then loudly said, "Napoleon, the note said the flowers were thirsty, but you don't have to drown them." Illya walked into the bathroom, turned off the water and carried them back out into the room. "You're just jealous that no one sent you flowers."
"If you'd stop parading around, maybe you wouldn't attract so much attention." Napoleon escorted the two other men to the doorway and held up a finger.
"I am only doing what I have been asked to do." Illya spoke directly to the flowers.
"Right, now say it like you mean it. I've been watching you, all those sly glances. It's not my fault I'm not twenty!" Napoleon hitched a hip up on the bureau beside the door.
"Even when you were twenty, you weren't twenty. I've never met anyone as repressed as you are."
"Me? Listen to yourself! You are actually starting to believe your own press, Kuryakin. You aren't a god. The only reason you got this job was because your uncle knew someone." He grinned and Illya shook his head at the pun. "And now it's getting too dangerous."
"Why? Because someone sent me flowers? Because someone finally appreciates me?"
"Give me a break. What's to appreciate? You walk across the stage wiggling your ass and expect the world to come crashing to your feet."
Illya's eyes widened slightly and he looked over his shoulder. "Bull shit. I worked..."
"Not a day in your life. I've been carrying you for years. All you want is the glory and none of the garbage."
"I sleep with you..." Illya set the flowers down on the table.
"What are you implying?"
"You little..." Napoleon picked up a magazine and slapped it against the countertop. Cummings jumped and Lafferty scowled at him. Napoleon made a knocking gesture at Lafferty, who knocked on the door. "Who is it?"
"Ah, Phil Lafferty and Don Cummings. Can we talk to you?"
Illya glanced at Napoleon and shouted, "No! I'm beyond words at the moment."
"Stuff it! Just shut up. You can lie to everyone else, but not to me," Napoleon said. "What do you want?"
"We made a decision about the show." Cummings started, staring at the UNCLE agent as Napoleon hastily scratched out a note 'go ahead with it.' "We've decided to go ahead with the show. Dottie would have wanted it that way and you know what they say about the show must go on."
"Excellent!" Illya pounded him on the shoulder. "Fabulous! This is too important a piece to abandon, no matter the cost—"
"You glory hungry little bastard. I don't believe this!" Napoleon shouted. "I'm through."
"With everything, you, this damn production, the whole stinking lot. You want to die, fine, go die. I'm going home, but don't expect to see me when and if you get there."
"Not a problem."
"Mr. Lafferty, Mr. Cummings, it's been a pleasure. Have the office mail me my check. Good day and good riddance." Napoleon opened and closed the door.
Illya shouted then, a string of Russian curses that were designed to peel wallpaper from the wall, and he threw the flowers against the wall. As they fell to the floor, Illya located the bug and squashed it beneath the heel of his shoe.
"That was some incredible acting. I thought you two were really going to go at each other."
"One thing my Aunt Amy taught he very early in life, gentlemen, is that you never attack a man with the capability of blowing up your car."
"And do you?" Lafferty looked at Illya with a whole new respect.
"It's how I relieve boredom on Sunday afternoons." Illya turned to his partner. "Now this has taken you out of the picture, Napoleon."
"Not necessarily. I might be in an ironclad contract. I'm going back to the theatre and take a look around." Napoleon sat to put his socks and shoes back on. Accomplishing this, he stood and reached for his jacket.
"Hey," Illya's voice stopped him. Napoleon half turned as he pulled on the garment. "Be careful."
Napoleon walked into the backstage hall and paused. There was still yellow tape over the door of the Costume Shop and he tore it off with a sigh.
"What are you doing here?"
Napoleon spun at the voice and frowned at the small woman. "Who are you?"
"I'm the resident choreographer, Nanci Walsh." She crossed her arms over her chest. "And I repeat, what are you doing here?"
"Working. I'm the sound designer for The Full Monty."
"Huh... what a waste." She stared at the Costume Shop door. "She used to be someone, you know."
"She still is."
"No, I mean, she used to design for important projects, like the Met. Then she let that old queer bully her into coming here."
"You mean Don?"
"Who else? Then between him and that gay squeeze of his, they've managed to make a mockery of the Coughlin. We can't even attract third rate companies here now... all because of his new brand of theatre."
"I thought his theatre was cutting edge."
"Then you're as brainwashed as the rest of the assholes who listen to him. Don't stay here... don't be stupid. Bad things happen here to stupid people... like that dumbass partner of yours."
"Ex-dumbass partner. We've had a parting of the ways."
"Yeah." Napoleon threw the tape towards a garbage pail, but it fell short. "Now if you will excuse me, I have to get busy. Unfortunately, I have a watertight contract, so whether I want to be here or not, I'm here. Of course, if his microphone fails opening night, it might just merely be coincidence."
There was a long pause and Napoleon started to walk away. "What if I were to tell you there might not be an opening night?"
"I'd say keep talking." He stopped and held his breath.
"What if I were to tell you that there is a small but determined faction at work to see that The Full Monty never opens?"
"You? You killed...?" Napoleon looked back at the Costume Shop door.
"No, that was a mistake. It wasn't supposed to be Dottie."
"Then who? What if one of the dancers...?"
"They know better. If I even have a hint that they are drinking anything caffeinated, they are out of the show."
"So you were... one of the actors? Like Illya?"
"Maybe, but it was more aimed at the techs. Or so I was led to believe." She paused and studied him. "This is all just stuff I've heard, you understand."
"Of course. And if I'd like to hear more of it?"
"Come back tonight... after dance rehearsal..."
"Are you sure about this?" Illya whispered as they drew closer to the theatre. He was dressed entirely in black, down to the black knit cap he wore to hide his blond hair. "The place looks completely dark."
"She said to come back after dance rehearsal. That ended at ten. It's now 10:05."
"And all's hell."
"I'm going in."
"This time I am serious, Napoleon. Be careful."
"What do I have to worry about? You'll be around."
"That's my plan. If nothing fouls that up, I'll be able to keep you in my sights. If not... well,"
"I will simply have to rely upon my good looks and innate charm."
"You're in trouble now." Illya squeezed Napoleon's forearm and was gone, disappearing into the night as only a trained agent could. Napoleon stood there for a moment longer, then squared his shoulders and tried the backdoor. For a moment, he wondered if it would be locked, but it yielded easily.
At this time of night, the backstage of the Warren was eerily quiet.
"Hello?" He paused and waited. At the lack of the noise, he tried the door to the Scene Shop. It was locked as was the door to the Costume Shop. Only the door to the stage yielded to him.
"Just like a lamb to the slaughter," he murmured as he opened the door.
Only the ghost light illuminated the stage and he picked his way carefully through the set pieces and the various platforms on wheels. He walked out onto the lip of the stage, in front of the silver and gold Mylar curtain that stage hands had been hanging that very afternoon.
A spotlight flashed on, blinding him, and he froze.
"Napoleon Solo." The voice sounded familiar, but unfamiliar at the same time. He couldn't tell if it was male or female.
"You must think me a fool for believing that a little lovers spat could break up the pair of you. I wasn't born yesterday or even the day before that, you know."
"Considering I don't know you at all, that would be passing a judgment I'm not entitled to pass."
"And we shall keep it that way... Look above your head, Mr. Solo. Do you know what that is?"
Napoleon tilted his head back and looked at the mass of metal struts and lighting equipment. There was no way he could outrun it if it dropped. "An accident waiting to happen?"
"That's a Tomcat Truss. It weighs a few hundred pounds and those lights add a few hundred more. Your accident, Mr. Solo, and it's such a pity that it had to take out such a fine sound designer and several thousands of dollars worth of lighting equipment."
"And you expect me to stand here and let you drop it on me."
"Well, you can try to run and risk tripping over scenery or falling into the pit. In fact, that might just be the way to go, but you can't avoid being hit when this comes down. A man your age can't move that fast."
"If you're going to kill me, which is I am guessing the whole object of this little ruse, do I at least get a hint as to my executioner?"
"Sorry, I've seen too many movies. I spill my guts and you somehow get out of this and it's game over. It won't be game over until I've closed down this show and this theatre."
There was the sound of a scuffle and Napoleon took that opportunity to run from the stage and into the safety of the backstage area, well away from the truss. He grabbed onto one of the black legs, a thick curtain that hid the backstage activity from the audience and panted.
"You need to come up here."
He looked around until he found the stairs leading into the house and walked carefully up the aisle, still blinking and waiting for his eyes to adjust.
He found the booth door swinging wide, the knob partially melted—Illya's calling card. He drew his gun and eased his way up the narrow staircase. The lights were on, but it was still dim and filled with menacing shadows. He instinctively used the shadows to give himself as much cover as possible.
Entering the long narrow room that served as a booth, he paused, but it stood empty. He moved to where the spotlights stood, one still on and shining down onto the stage. Then he looked through the wide glass windows and saw Illya out on the catwalk.
The man was standing guard over a lump and Napoleon walked gingerly through the rest of the booth and to the door leading to the catwalk.
He paused at the base of the catwalk. "Illya?"
"You need to come out here, Napoleon, and see this for yourself. Then you need to tell me how I am writing this up."
The tone of Illya's voice made Napoleon grimace and he swiftly climbed the short metal ladder leading to the catwalk. He stepped carefully over the twisting mass of cables that littered the floor to come and stand beside Illya.
On the plywood floor was a body, but it was the body of a man long deceased.
"I got one solid blow in, Napoleon, and he went down. That's what I found when I flipped him over."
"He's dead? This is Danny, I know this guy."
"Long dead, judging from the condition."
"What? How? Illya, we deal in the concrete, the real."
"Then you tell me what to put in my report and I will." Illya toed the body and looked around. It was obvious to Napoleon that Illya was deeply perplexed.
"Well, he did sign his notes Opera Ghost."
"Don't be funny, Napoleon. He was going to kill you... except, how does a dead man achieve that?"
There was a noise and both men looked to the entrance of the catwalk. From the shadows, Nanci emerged, with a very large firearm pointed at them. Napoleon had walked right past her and had never seen her. He was getting old.
"Just a bit of theatre magic, gents, but you're in the theatre. You know things are often not what they appear."
"Amen to that, bitch." Nanci spun and Don planted a fist in her mouth. "No one, NO ONE, threatens my theatre or my employees."
The woman stumbled back and both Illya and Napoleon moved, using that momentary distraction to grab the choreographer.
"Good shot," Napoleon murmured as Cummings shook his hand.
"Ow... that hurt," Nanci whined and Cummings glared at her.
"Good. My only regret is that I didn't get to punch you a second time."
"How did you know?" she mumbled as Illya used a length of tie line to bind her wrists tightly.
"I was in the Costume Shop when you confronted Napoleon in the hall. I heard you. Why?"
"Simple, with you out of the way, the Warren would be ours. We could finally dance in a theatre that was worthy of my work."
"But Monty is your work. You choreographed it."
"It's a cheap puerile attempt at theatre. It's pornographic."
"No, it's not. It's about what a man is willing to do for his son and what his friends are willing to do for him. This isn't about sex or nudity. This show is about heart and love. I'm sorry you can't see that."
"Is anyone here?" The group looked down at the stage as a police officer slowly walked out. "We had a call from your alarm company that someone tripped a door sensor."
Cummings smiled tightly at Nanci. "Oops, clumsy me."
Napoleon settled back in his seat and split his attention between the stage and his employer. Mr. Waverly had not moved since the second act, his full attention on the stage. Mrs. Waverly's hand kept busy fluttering back and forth from her lap to her mouth as she gasped at the colorful language all the men used. Napoleon did have to admit that the language was a bit salty.
The audience was getting noisier as cast members rushed down to the stage and shouted encouragements to the dancers.
All the men were dressed as policemen and while each took a turn with the last song, it was Illya who started with an appropriate grinding of his pelvis.
Did I capture your imagination?
Did I break you down and make you smile?
It's a serious little situation
Why don't we loosen up and dance a while?
The others followed suit and Napoleon could hear Mrs. Waverly gasp each time another article of clothing went flying. Suddenly there was nothing between the dancers and full frontal nudity except their hats and boots. Napoleon heard himself whispering a mantra, "Don't let her miss the cue. Don't let her miss the cue." If the light board operator's finger hesitated for a moment, all six men would be fully exposed to the audience.
The men abruptly threw their arms into the air just as the lights behind them flashed on, blinding the audience.
Napoleon let go a breath he'd been holding and then he was on his feet with the rest of the audience, applauding and shouting. When Illya came out, he whistled and the Russian grinned.
"So what do you think?" Napoleon asked Waverly as the crowd started to filter from the theatre.
"The language was a bit strong, but I thought their heart was tremendous and I applaud Mr. Kuryakin's nerve."
"At least he looks good naked. Some of the other gentlemen need to lose a few pounds around their tums." Mrs. Waverly murmured and both men looked at her.
"I'm sorry, ma'am?" Napoleon's smile grew a bit concerned.
"Oh, I'm not. Where I was sitting there was a bit of a shadow. You could see Mr. Kuryakin quite plainly in profile."
"I'll talk to the lighting designer tomorrow," Napoleon said, making a grimace. "Please don't let Illya know."
"Mum's the word, my dear, but he's very... healthy, isn't he, dear?"