Art Imitating Life

by Charlie Kirby

Napoleon Solo tapped the pen against the desk blotter and sighed. He wasn't used to having this sense of frustration. Not when it applied to his partner. True, the Russian was a closed book to most people, but Napoleon liked to think he was not 'most people.' He knew Illya better than anyone, except possibly Illya, and likewise, the opposite held true. They shared nearly every aspect of their lives, sometimes not voluntarily, but they shared. They needed that level of involvement to do their jobs and some days just to stay alive. They needed to be able to predict how the other would think and react with unerring accuracy.

So why didn't Napoleon know where Illya went on Thursday nights? For nearly two months now, five o'clock would approach and his partner would slip away. Being a good spy, it had only taken Napoleon a couple of times to realize a pattern. If their job found them in New York on a Thursday, Illya would be 'gone,' and out of touch, except for emergencies.

Napoleon had suggested dinner, a show, a baseball game; nothing would dissuade Illya from whatever appointment he had and religiously kept. And this was making Napoleon crazy. He couldn't imagine what Illya was doing. Napoleon started reading the entertainment section, noting if any jazz clubs were having jam sessions, or museums were having special Thursday night showings. Likewise, an intense study of theater and movies times revealed nothing that sprang out to Napoleon as being something his partner would be addicted to. He'd even gone so far as to see if there were any cultural events in the Russian borough that would draw Illya in.

Then Napoleon mentally slapped himself. It had to be a lover. Illya must have a standing Thursday night date with someone. Napoleon had to admit that Illya's tastes ran a bit more cosmopolitan than his on occasion, so while Napoleon would seldom date the same woman twice in a row, he could easily see Illya sliding into such a relationship. A relationship that would offer a warm shoulder, possibly more, but without an attachment.

He started to study Illya upon his return Friday mornings, but there was no change in his demeanor, no sense of a man who'd spent the hours before in someone's arms. He stole surreptitious looks at his partner in the shower, but likewise, the man's body bore no visible signs of love making, only the hazards of their profession.

There were no mysterious messages, no stolen glances, no oddly worded phones calls, nothing, and Napoleon at last decided again, he was barking up the wrong tree.

Finally, he decided there was no course left open to him and he made up his mind to follow Illya the next Thursday night.

It was like shooting a fish in a barrel to plant the bug on his partner's jacket. Illya frequently left his jacket draped over the back of his chair, tossed on his desk or in a half dozen other spots in their shared office. So when Illya volunteered to get coffee and left his jacket on the coat rack, Napoleon tucked a tracking device onto the back of the collar, a spot seldom checked.

Five o'clock approached and Napoleon kept a close watch on his partner. Sure enough, as the minute hand reached straight up, Illya reached for his jacket.

"Big plans tonight?" Napoleon watched Illya shrug into the coat, adjusting it slightly.

"No, not really." But Napoleon could tell Illya was already distracted.

"Well, I'll leave you to it then. I need to go drop these off in typing before heading out." Napoleon gave Illya a knowing smile, "And I'll be checking out the talent as well."

"I'll see you tomorrow, Napoleon. Have a good night." Illya raised a hand in a half hearted farewell gesture and was gone.

Napoleon gave him until the count of twenty before leaving the office. As a cover, he did actually make it to typing and drop off their reports, but he didn't tarry. Instead, he quickly turned on his heel and left. Once out on the street, he checked the tiny hand-held device he'd palmed, sweeping it in an arc until it registered.

"I don't believe this." Napoleon looked up at the brownstone building that housed Illya's studio apartment. "He goes home?" Napoleon checked the device again, but it held steady. "So much for the wild party animal I was imagining. Perhaps the entertainment comes to him..."

He tucked the receiver away in his pocket and quickly mounted the stairs up to Illya's place. He knocked on the door, a standard knock, then their coded one, and finally even lent his voice to his request for admittance. When he could bear it no longer, he dug out his key and opened the door. It took him just a moment to work the security code and turn off the alarms, but it became apparent that the Russian was not in the small apartment. Not that there was any place to hide except the bathroom and the door to it stood open, surfaces inside still damp from a recent shower.

Napoleon reached down to retrieve Illya's jacket from the arm of the couch where it had been dropped and removed the bug. No use letting it go to waste or having his partner find it later.

He carefully reset the alarms, made sure there was no trace of his ever being in there, and headed back out. Just as he was locking the door, a woman came shuffling out of her apartment. Clad in a house dress and slippers, she had a look that spoke of a life-time of worldly experiences.

"You need somethin', sweetheart?" She looked Napoleon up and down and her expression was hopeful.

"I was trying to find Illya, but I guess he's not home."

"No, no, he has class on Thursday nights."


"At the local women's, just a minute, it'll come to me..." She puzzled for a long moment. "It starts with a 'B'."

"Barnard?" Napoleon suggested and the lady nodded.

"Yup, that's it. He has a class there every Thursday night."

Well, it was obvious that Illya must be teaching, since he obviously wouldn't be taking any classes there. That would be a piece of cake then. Barnard was on the upper side of Manhattan and not all that far from his own apartment. It struck him how ironic it was that he'd been looking all over the city for his partner and he was, in short, just a few blocks away.

He put on his best smile as he approached the front office counter. The blonde there glanced up once, and then again, this time with a much happier expression.

"May I help you, sir?"

"Yes, I'm trying to get in contact with a Mr. Illya Kuryakin; I believe he teaches here?"

A quick scan of the roster and the girl shook her head. "No, he's not on the faculty here, sir."

Another dead end. Napoleon sighed and was turning to leave when his eye caught a charcoal sketch. It was fast and some of the proportions were off, but it was definitely Illya. He pointed. "Him, I'm looking for him."

The girl followed his point and smiled weakly. "Nicky?" She studied Napoleon for a minute, obviously trying to make up her mind about him one way or the other. "He's not in trouble, is he?"

"Of course not, we work together and there was a bit of an emergency. His mother, she's not well. And..." Napoleon did his best to look truly concerned. "His uncle needs him."

"I thought there had to be a reason other than the obvious as to why he was here." She paused for a moment longer and then added. "Schermerhorn Hall - Room 940. He's there until nine."

"And how can I find...?"

She handed him a mimeographed map of the campus. "We're here and you just go out this door...."

Following the girl's instructions and those of several others, Napoleon eventually found Schermerhorn Hall. The few young women he passed studied him with a practiced eye and Napoleon found himself frowning. Never had so many women turned such a critical eye to him. He felt like a proverbial side of beef.

There was a spill of light from an open door at the end of the corridor and Napoleon guessed that was his destination. Now what he was going to tell Illya when he got there was an entirely different matter.

As he drew closer, he was surprised at how quiet it was. With the exception of classical music softly playing, Stravinsky, if he wasn't mistaken, there was not a word being spoken. Odd for a lecture class, Napoleon thought as he drew closer.

Then he glanced in and his mouth dropped, his breath caught and his eyes widened. Holy Mary, Mother of God! he thought and quickly backed up a pace, well out the view of anyone in the room, but especially out of his partner's line of sight.

The last thing he wanted Illya to know was that he was there. Not like this, not right now...

"May I help you?"

Napoleon looked sharply at the speaker, guilt and embarrassment dogging his features. "I think I got turned around."

"I think you are looking for our Nicky, yes?" She led him a few feet away from the door. "From his description, I would guess you to be Napoleon Solo. I am Olestra Markov." She offered her hand as she studied him.

"You're Russian." Napoleon took her hand and resisted the urge to wiggle beneath her gaze.

"Yes. He was right."

"About what?" He released her hand and started to adjust his tie and jacket.

"About you." She walked around him, slowly, appraisingly.

"Is it part of the Soviet makeup to be cryptic?"

At this she laughed and shook her head. "No, just those of us who have the sense to leave."

"How long has Illya...Nicky been...?" Napoleon gestured back toward the room.

"Posing for us as a model? Two semesters now. He's quite popular with the advanced students."

"I can see why."

"The human body is nothing to be embarrassed about, Mr. Solo."

"Well, some of us prefer to do our disrobing in slightly more intimate settings."

"He was right about that as well. Our break is coming up in a few minutes if you'd like to talk to him."

"No, please, don't tell him I was here. I was just... "

"Curious. He was right about that as well. It was nice to have met you and have a pleasant evening." She walked back to the door and waved a good bye to him. "Ladies, charcoal down now. We will take a break and then we will see what you have captured."

Napoleon hurried out as if the devil himself was on his heels. Had he paused for just a moment and looked back, he'd have seen his partner, now modestly clothed in a robe, watching his departure with amusement. Olestra joined him as he stood watching. She offered him a cigarette, but he shook his head. She lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply. "After the break, you will recline for us, yes?"

"As long as you don't let me fall asleep again." He watched Napoleon disappear through the doors.

"Nonsense, that inspired wonderful results from the girls. He's a nervous one, your friend, but you are right. He is very good looking. You have a good eye."

"Not to worry. He'll be back. Napoleon can resist anything, except a challenge." He wrapped an arm around her waist and side-by-side they walked back into the art studio as Napoleon made good his escape from Waterloo...

For anyone wanting to see the actual sketch that started this piece, drop me a PM

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