My Dinner with Angelique
by Linda Cornett
(Appeared in Can You Get Channel D On a Satellite Dish?
Angelique waited, watching unobtrusively from the doorway, as Ward Baldwin made his way across the elegant restaurant. He moved with deliberate slowness, accenting the limp. Protective camouflage the old man could move with deadly speed when necessary.
He stopped at the table for two pressed against the far wall and nodded down at his companion for dinner. Alexander Waverly, who had been unobtrusively aware of every move Baldwin made, raised his head as though surprised to find his nemesis had arrived.
With an exchange of slight smiles that acknowledged the deception that each was practicing, the two old warriors settled down to the meal and their battle of wills. The dinner was an annual rite, nominally a periodic attempt to settle the differences between their two organizations. Realistically, it was an opportunity to feel out one another's weaknesses and to negotiate the rules of the war that showed no signs of ever ending. This year, U.N.C.L.E. New York was playing host.
Feeling the eyes of the maitre d' on her, Angelique shifted her stance with almost unconscious ease. The movement slid her hips seductively beneath the snug gold silk dress. Angelique was not ready to be disturbed with an offer of unwanted assistance and long practice had taught her how best to keep a man's attention diverted.
Adjusting her hips again at just the right moment, she scanned the restaurant. That waiter, patiently walking a demanding diner through the evening's specials, was one of Baldwin's personal guards. The busboy with the unruly red hair filling water glasses at the corner table was also familiar, as were the middle-aged couple three tables from Baldwin and Waverly who held hands and gazed into one another's eyes with apparent abstraction.
Angelique's eye was caught by another busboy, solicitously offering a clean fork to a clumsy diner, a sous chef who had emerged from the kitchen to answer a question about the cordon bleu. She narrowed her eyes. Really, there was quite a lot of help available for a weeknight. Impossible to say how many were theirs, how many were U.N.C.L.E.'s.
Her lips twisted into a crooked smile. Wouldn't it be amusing, she thought, if every one in the restaurant were part of the charade, all watching each other while they ordered and dined, cooked and served and cleared. She wondered idly which side had been stuck with the washing up.
The smile widened as she let her attention fix on the solitary figure at the table nearest the door.
Accentuating her movements for the benefit of the maitre d' she was capable of generosity when it cost her nothing Angelique glided to the table and slid into the empty chair.
The blond head rose with reluctance, the blue eyes regarded her sourly.
"Darling," she breathed, "you look so lonely and I'm here alone myself. Why don't we make it a twosome?"
Illya Kuryakin laid his soup spoon aside carefully, as though it were plastique instead of silver. "What an intriguing offer, Angelique," he said coldly, "but I'm afraid I am expecting someone."
"Well, I'll just keep you company until she arrives." Angelique settled herself more comfortably in the chair, then said, as though suddenly struck with a possibility, "Oh, it is a woman, isn't it? Or are you expecting a...gentleman companion?"
Kuryakin eyed her coldly.
The Thrush waiter and another waiter raced toward the table from opposite sides of the room, faces determined. By sprinting the last few steps, the Thrush agent won the race.
"Would you like something to drink, Madam?" he inquired somewhat breathlessly, handing her a menu.
Laying the menu aside, Angelique requested a fine and quite costly French wine. "I'll have the wine now and order dinner later. Bring two glasses," she instructed, and turned to Kuryakin. "You'll have some, too, won't you darling?"
"I prefer tea."
"Really, you are too grim. I must try to loosen you up a bit tonight."
"I'm afraid you are working on the wrong half of the team," Kuryakin said dryly and returned to his soup.
"Yes, where is dear Napoleon?"
"I believe he has a date," Kuryakin said with quiet malice.
"Oh, you are cruel! Determined to break a poor girl's heart." The wine arrived. Angelique knowledgeably sniffed and tasted the sample and nodded her approval.
"I didn't think you were burdened with one."
She frowned a moment in confusion, traced the conversation back and smiled appreciatively. "Darling, you wound me. I don't know why you persist in having this poor opinion of me."
"Let us say, you are not my type."
"No?" Angelique cocked her blonde head and lowered her eyelashes seductively, running the tip of her tongue along the rim of the wine glass. "Are you sure?"
"Quite. It is Napoleon who is the arachnophile."
She sighed. "One little lapse in judgment, and you refuse to forgive me. Tell me how we can be friends, Illya."
"I don't think that would be healthy for either of us." After a glance at Waverly's table, he returned his attention to his soup.
Sipping her wine, Angelique studied what she could see of his face. There was an intriguing hint of innocence in the smooth cheeks, the wide sweep of thick lashes. She felt a tingle of interest. She hummed softly, contemplating possibilities.
Kuryakin jerked his head up, his eyes alarmed.
Angelique smiled innocently. "I wonder," she said dreamily, "why we have paid so little attention to each other. I suspect we could have a very good time together."
"Angelique, I cannot imagine anything we could do together that would not be extremely unpleasant for at least one of us."
She tsked. "Darling, you remind me of my father. He was Russian, too, you know."
"Angelique LaChien? It doesn't sound very Russian. And, as I'm sure you know, I am not Russian."
"Oh, you're from one of those little satellite countries, aren't you? Well, it all comes down to the same thing. As for my name, my mother was French and my father was uninterested in marriage. He visited quite often, however. A very unhappy man. He found solace in vodka and my mother's bed."
"And I remind you of this drunken, irresponsible, depressed man? Forgive me if I am not flattered."
Angelique poured out another glass of the wine, watching the blood-red liquid wash against the side of the glass and felt an undefined uneasiness. "My dear, I am well acquainted with your legendary sobriety and your somewhat Puritan notions of morality. However, you do share the Russian characteristic of finding something negative in almost every situation."
"Have you considered that your perception may be flawed? Perhaps I am quite jolly when you are not around."
"Tsk. None of Napoleon's gallantry has rubbed off on you, I see."
Kuryakin tensed abruptly and she followed his gaze. Waverly and Baldwin were being served their salads. He relaxed when Waverly's salad was placed on the table by an U.N.C.L.E. agent, Baldwin's by a waiter he recognized from a Thrush dossier.
"Service really is rather slow, considering the level of staffing," Angelique said casually, taking another sip of the wine.
Kuryakin smiled slightly. "I expect there is more than the usual attention to quality in the kitchen tonight," he said. "Perhaps you should go lend a hand."
Angelique shuddered delicately. "I will leave that to those who are paid for it, and who have the inclination. I wonder do you cook? My father was really quite a good cook, when he chose to be. He made these lovely little dumplings filled with grain or vegetables..."
"Yes! Terribly rich, of course. I'm afraid they left me with a heartbreaking tendency toward plumpness." She shifted her 36-inch rump on the satin-covered chair, a reminder that it was not so. The effort was apparently wasted.
A waiter arrived to remove Kuryakin's soup bowl and replaced it with a serving of stuffed pork chops. Angelique squinted at him. He was dark, Italian perhaps, with slicked-back black hair and wonderful dark eyes. She was, however, unable to determine which side he was on. It was possible, she assumed, that he was actually an employee of the restaurant. Kuryakin seemed at ease, at any rate.
"Aren't you eating?" Kuryakin asked her.
She smiled sunnily at the waiter. "I'm really not very hungry," she assured him. "Besides, I do have to watch my weight." The waiter, at least, appreciated the results. He grinned back, and Angelique treated herself to the fleeting notion of taking both of them home. Bound back to back, they would make a lovely contrast...
She brought herself back, to find the waiter gone and Kuryakin giving her an odd look.
"You didn't answer me," she said. "Can you cook? How can I coax you to make piroski for me sometime?"
"Try Little Russia," he said, gesturing with his fork, "about four blocks that way." He stopped and looked her over, a scientist examining a specimen, not at all the sort of scrutiny she was accustomed to. "Are you sure you don't want something to eat?"
Angelique shook her head, and found the movement made her rather dizzy. "This really is excellent wine. Are you sure you won't have some?"
She raised the bottle and was surprised to find it nearly empty. "Well, we've just about killed this one." She waggled the bottle, catching the attention of the Thrush waiter.
Looking uneasy, the waiter glanced toward Baldwin, but the Thrush chief was involved in a particularly intense exchange with Waverly. With a shrug, he headed for the wine cellar; LaChien had quite a reputation as a boozer, but, as she often pointed out herself, she had survived thus far and managed enough coups to satisfy Baldwin. It was wisdom on the part of her co-workers to give her what she wanted and stay out of her way.
The second bottle was even better than the first and Angelique drank down the first glass, really, faster than she should have. She sternly reminded herself to slow down; she didn't want to lose her edge, particularly considering the dangerous man sitting across the table from her.
She watched with professional appreciation as he wielded knife and fork with skill, cutting into the juicy pork chop. he carried the bite of meat to his mouth on an upside-down fork. So European. Surprisingly nostalgic.
"He had blue eyes, too."
Kuryakin looked up at her, chewing. Really, the very same shade of blue.
"Who?" he demanded, when he had swallowed.
"My father, silly. Blue eyes and dark hair. I got my coloring from my mother," she added, fluffing her pale blonde hair. It was only a small deception, after all; her mother had had dark hair, too, but a skillful hairdresser had taken care of the problem for many years now.
"He was a very handsome man," she continued. "My mother adored him. Really, she was quite distraught every time he left. The only way she was able to cope was, well..." Angelique sighed and raised her wine glass again.
Kuryakin was looking at her expectantly, patiently. She could imagine him in an interrogation room with just that look of benign interest on his face. Go ahead and tell me, the expression urged, I won't tell a soul.
"Well, let's just say there were a lot of 'uncles' around our apartment," she responded. Then realizing the joke, she snorted with laughter, clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle the unladylike sound.
Even Kuryakin looked amused. "How did your father feel about this arrangement?"
"Oh, he hated it. He had a terrible temper. One time he came home and one of the 'uncles' was there and he almost killed the man."
"Frightening for a child." His face was carefully disinterested, but the sympathy in the words made Angelique vaguely uncomfortable. Why did the man have to take the things one said so seriously? Napoleon never did.
"Actually, I rather enjoyed it," she said lightly.
"Why?" Deadly serious.
"Sometimes this 'uncle' would get in my bed by mistake." Although she managed to keep her face bland, Angelique winced internally. Now, why had she told him that? Truth was something to barter with, not give away so easily.
"Did your mother know?" He was staring at her intently. Really, the very same shade of blue.
Angelique took a substantial sip of wine. "I doubt it. She didn't pay much attention. You know, I think I will have a little something to eat. Where is that stupid waiter??"
The man was at her elbow almost before she finished speaking.
"Ah, there you are. I'll have the pate."
When the waiter had left, she turned back to Kuryakin. "Well, you must tell me about your trip to Sydney. Was it fruitful?"
"What makes you think I've been to Sydney?" His voice was low, warning.
"Darling, please. You know as well as I that neither of us has the liberty of traveling about unobserved. That's how we know all about what happened in Berlin."
"You have me at a disadvantage," he said. "What happened in Berlin? Aside from President Kennedy's gaffe, that is."
"Tiresome of you not to give me even a crumb," Angelique pouted. "Ward is sure to ask what I've learned."
"Very well, I will tell you about Berlin if you tell me about Geneva."
"Lovely city. I spent an outrageous amount in the shops. I got these shoes there." She extended on leg, carefully pointing her toe for maximum effect.
Kuryakin glanced at the shoe not the leg, damn the man with clinical disinterest. "One New York winter will ruin them."
With a sigh of frustration, Angelique slid her leg beneath the tablecloth. "Are you married?" She nodded toward the ring on his left hand.
He seemed startled (and disturbed, she noted for later reference) by the question. After a pause of several seconds, "No," was all he said.
"But you were married, once?"
"I would prefer not to discuss it."
"You are the most frustrating man! We can't talk about work and you don't want to talk about yourself and you don't have a religion and politics brings us back to work. We can't just sit here and stare at our food."
"We could always talk more about you," he said. His voice was remarkably seductive when he wanted; Angelique was surprised she hadn't noticed it before. Careful, she warned herself, and knew as she did so that she was in no mood to be careful.
"Yes. Let's talk about me." Angelique drained her glass again. A very fine wine, as intoxicating as the peril of this verbal sparring. "What do you want to know?"
"How did you come to join Thrush?"
"Tsk. I thought we agreed we wouldn't discuss work."
"All right. Why did you father leave Russia?"
An interesting question, considering the source. "He didn't talk about it, except in the vaguest terms. I believe it had something to do with a bit of trouble with the authorities. I know he missed it terribly."
Now, that sounded almost a human response. "Do you?" she probed, hiding her interest by gazing into the wine glass.
"I miss my home."
"But, why? I mean, it sounds such a bleak place. Why would you miss it so? Why did he?" Her voice faded as the question that had troubled her for much of her life slipped out.
She stiffened as she felt the brush of the waiter's sleeve against her shoulder. He smiled wanly as he set the pate and a plate of brown bread before her. She spread a slice of bread and took a bite before deciding that she really wasn't very hungry and the bread seemed rather dry.
Kuryakin watched patiently, then asked, "You've never been there?"
"With all the world at my disposal, why would I go to Russia?"
"To find out if you have family there, perhaps? To better understand your father."
"The thought never crossed my mind," although it had, dozens of times, but the task had seemed so daunting. He had told her nothing about his home or family. Had he even given the right last name? And Kuryakin had raised a new possibility was he even actually Russian? She brought herself back to the conversation. "The question I asked, in case you have forgotten, was why anyone would want to go back there."
"The question you asked and you'll find I never forget was why I miss my homeland and why your father missed Russia."
"Well then, why? Wherever you're from, you must have some insight about the Russian psyche."
Kuryakin laid the fork and knife aside carefully, giving his full attention to the answer. "There are no former Russians," he said seriously, "only Russians who must live away from home."
Angelique blinked at him but her vision remained frustratingly fuzzy. She sighed internally; one of these days she would have to surrender vanity and get the damned glasses the Thrush optometrist was after her to wear. Kuryakin had been saying...something. Oh, yes.
"Tell me about Russia," she demanded, leaning closer, focusing on his lips.
"This time of year," he began, his voice soft as a storyteller's, "the wheat fields are ready for harvest. Miles and miles of gold that moves and shimmers when the wind passes over. Like your dress."
He had noticed. Angelique smiled.
"The small villages are busy with farmers bringing in produce to trade for goods. The streets are filled with vendors' tables and trucks and carts animals, too, cows and sheep and chickens. And children, everywhere, running and shouting. There is a smell of strong tea and charcoal from samovars set up outside." He paused, sipping at his tea.
"In the cities, babushkas are sweeping up the leaves from the streets. Students are exercising in schoolyards and the heroes of the Great Patriotic War are playing chess in the parks under a canopy of scarlet leaves."
"And drunks are sprawled in the landings of barren apartment buildings and people are standing in line for toilet paper," Angelique interrupted.
Kuryakin sighed and nodded. "Also true. But that is not what one remembers."
"No, of course not. 'One' remembers this Norman Rockwell version of the place. You're crazy, all of you." She felt her anger rising, an old anger. "It is a backward, cold, grim ... stupid country!" Her voice had risen, quite against her will, and she was aware suddenly that most of the people in the restaurant were staring at her, including Waverly and Baldwin. Smiling reassuringly at Baldwin, she turned back to Kuryakin with a calm face.
Again the clinically assessing stare. "Did you father go back?"
"No." She finished off the wine in her glass in one gulp that threatened to choke her.
"What happened to him?" Seduction, again. Well, she was through with that game.
"He lives in Paris and continues to be a trial to my mother."
Kuryakin shook his head, unbelieving. "What happened to him?"
"Why do you care?"
"As you said, we share a kinship."
The truth, she decided with sudden irritation, would do well in this case. "He couldn't go back so he killed himself. Perhaps you should consider doing the same."
"Ah, but I can go back."
"Then why the hell don't you?" She clamped her mouth shut.
"My work is here. How old were you?" His words were quite clear, but really didn't make sense to her.
"How old were you?" he repeated, when she didn't answer.
"Thirteen." Her voice sounded far away. Had she spoken aloud?
"You found him?"
"Yes." She closed her eyes, and the image was there waiting for her. He was sitting in the big green armchair, where she had curled in his lap a hundred times. One of the records of Russian ballads was still playing on the gramophone. The return was off; it might have been playing for hours. It could play on and on forever, if she left it alone. His face was turned to the side, resting against the wing of the chair. There was a black and swollen hole in the side of his head, and blood on the blue shirt she had picked out for the day she celebrated as his birthday. She had sat at his feet and listened to the music for a long time, before going to find one of the neighbors to tell.
The well-honed senses that had served her thus far alerted her to a change in the room. Her eyes snapped open. Waverly and Baldwin were standing, preparing to leave. Waiters, busboys, diners, even the maitre d' were focused on the two men as they nodded solemnly to each other and turned toward the door.
Baldwin glanced her way as he walked past, a mixture of concern and censure in his eyes, but he did not stop or speak. Surrounded each by a coterie of agents, Waverly and Baldwin separated outside the restaurant, slid into their waiting cars. There was a palpable slump in the energy level of the restaurant. A stout man in a chef's hat stepped from the kitchen and gave Kuryakin a questioning look and got a nod of reassurance. Scattered diners began making their way to the door. The Thrush waiter stopped at the table. "Can I get you anything else, Miss LaChien?"
"No." Ridiculous that her throat should be so uncooperative, but the word came out as a croak. The man hovered. "Go on," she rasped out impatiently, and he left.
Kuryakin was still there, watching her. "Goodbye," she said, wearily. "What a pity your date didn't turn up."
Nodding toward the door, he said quietly. "Come on. I'll give you a ride home."
She managed a smile. "Darling, it would hardly be good form for me to let you know where I live," she said.
"32110 West Sixth Avenue," he said promptly. "Apartment 2913."
"Oh, dear," she sighed. "I suppose this means I'll have to move again."
"Not on my account. We're the good guys, remember?"
"I remember." She pulled herself up, with a hand on the table and another on the back of the chair. "I believe I will take you up on your offer. I find I am rather tired."
He helped her into her coat, but there was no hint of the caress that Napoleon always built into the courtesy. When they came to the restaurant's front steps, he clasped her arm impersonally as a nurse helping a geriatric patient.
His car, a nondescript sedan, was parked quite near. Angelique leaned her head against the seat back and drifted with the gentle motion of the car and the hiss of passing traffic.
When the car stopped, she raised heavy eyelids. "I'll be right back," Kuryakin said as he slid out. They were in a commercial district. Angelique squinted her eyes at the sign over the brightly lit doorway he entered, but the letters refused to come clear. Glasses. She sighed.
He was back shortly, carrying a paper bag. When she gestured at the bag quizzically he said, "Piroski. They're good for breakfast."
Ah, breakfast. Angelique smiled to herself.
When they reached her apartment building, Angelique made her way carefully across the highly polished floor of the lobby, under the unsympathetic scrutiny of the doorman. Damned high hells, even if they did give her legs just that extra important length. She wobbled and grabbed Kuryakin's arm, and he allowed it.
They didn't speak during the long elevator ride.
Angelique fumbled out her keys but left the unlocking to him.
His eyes flickered around the sumptuous apartment, taking inventory. Would he write a report? she wondered. An extra bit of detail added to the masses of detail they constantly collected on each other.
He turned to her and Angelique ran her hand lightly over his chest and stomach. He caught her wrist gently. "Get ready for bed." He raised the bag. "I'll put these away."
The black gown or the blue? Or nothing? She settled on the blue, slid between cold sheets, lay back on the pillow, drifted. Waited.
He was quiet. She didn't know he was in the room until she felt his weight on the side of the bed. Dreamily, she opened her eyes. He was still wearing his coat, sober-faced.
She tugged at the lapel, but he pulled away.
Angelique pushed herself up on one elbow, her eyes narrowing with irritation at the rejection. She was accustomed to reading the situation a good deal more accurately. So, this meant...what?
"Are you queer?" she demanded.
"No." He sounded slightly amused.
She lowered her lashes. "Good, because I've been having the most wicked fantasies about you."
"I know. And I am flattered. But that's not what you need right now."
"Really? And what do I need?"
"You need to go to sleep and wake tomorrow, ready to be a difficulty for me and a temptation for Napoleon."
"You didn't give me any crumbs for Ward."
He turned away and hesitated so long she didn't think he would answer. Then, "My father died, too, when I was 12."
"Tell me what happened."
He shook his head. "A crumb, you said. No more."
"Why not? I told you. Everything. More than I should have."
"That's because you are drunk and I am not."
"Perhaps. Go to sleep."
"We would regret it, later." He smoothed the blankets absently, then smiled at her.
"Spakoynay nochi, Angelique." And really, if she wanted to badly, Angelique could imagine the voice was the same, too.