My mum used to tell me that men are basically helpless and the reason God put us here was to take care of them. I thought it was a little stupid and kinda insulting as my dad was the smartest, handsomest, most talented and capable man who ever walked this planet... or so I thought until I was about seventeen. Sigh, growing up isn't always as much fun as you'd hoped. Slowly I began to see the small cracks in Daddy's armor and came to realize my mum was much smarter than I'd given her credit for.
I like cleaning, always have. There's something about looking at a room and knowing not only is it as clean as it can be, but knowing I had something to do with making it that way. I liked the smell of Pine-Sol as it dried on a floor, the squeak of a mirror as you made it spotless. And, as I grew up, I learned that there was nothing wrong with cleaning or picking up after someone. I just never really expected it to become my career.
Working for the UNCLE, now that has been different. I was working as a maid at the Motel 6 in Santa Barbara. I was only eighteen, but already head maid. Not exactly the sort of career that a nice girl makes a habit of broadcasting, but certainly one that prepares you for the slobs of the world! So, I was going about the usual daily chores, making out room lists, seeing who was checking out or staying over, and making sure everyone had enough of whatever they needed to get the rooms cleaned and ready to be rented. We had a good boss, if not a great salary. They worked hard to make sure we knew we were appreciated and that goes a long way when you're scrubbing a dozen toilets every day.
That was when I met him, a small quiet man, very neat and tidy - I liked that in a guest. One of my maids had called in sick, so I had to take her section along with everything else. I didn't usually mind as it kept me in the loop as it were and connected with my fellow employees. We started to talk and the next things I knew I was on a plane to New York and a whole new life.
UNCLE is broken up into various departments, sections we call them. Primarily, we work with Section Two. These are the folks who are gone more than they are home. They run all over the world, protecting us from ourselves and the bad guys. A lot of them don't always come back and when they do, the last thing they want to think about is scrubbing their toilets.
What we do is a little more than your average housekeeper. We're trained to keep our eyes open for trouble; the course is really extensive and takes months to complete. We have to learn how to work various security systems, know protocol - is that the greatest word or what? It always makes me feel really special and elite.
We clean, but we also make sure the apartments have a lived in look to them. We collect mail, bring trash in and out, and open and close blinds on a regular schedule. We even do light shopping when we are given the word that an agent is coming in. Depending on their assignments, the agents could have been gone for a few days, a month or longer. We make sure there's fresh milk, eggs and butter in their refrigerator, a couple packages of meat and chicken in the freezer and some fruit and/or vegetables, if that's what they like.
We each have a handful of agents - we call them our boys - who we take care of. The longer you are with the company, the higher up the Section Two or Three ladders your assignments are. Some of the girls do it with an eye out for a prospective husband, although agents don't strike me as good husband material.
Because I started young and tended to business, I worked my way from the sloppy junior agents to the senior agents, finally ending up with the top five agents in Section Two. Talk about a handful! For example...
Special days start out just like regular ones. You get out of bed, do whatever it is you do to get youself out the door, hang on to a strap in the subway - unless you're lucky enough to find an empty seat.
I stumbled into the women's locker room to change and get ready for work. Several others were there, secretaries, file clerks, us. The others sort of looked down on us, but I didn't mind. I knew that none of them had as intimate knowledge of the agents as we did. I mean, how many of them knew what kind of toothpaste Mr. Kuryakin preferred or how Mr. Solo liked his socks folded? I let them play their hoity toity games and went about my business.
The room was abuzz with the exploits of some of the agents. There had been a major blow dealt to our enemy, THRUSH, and we were still waiting to see how everything came together. It was a matter of personal pride that two of my agents were in the thick of it. Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin were good that way.
"Have you heard anything, Michelle?" I sort of started because it was a secretary speaking and they didn't usually even notice us.
She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Are Napoleon and Illya back?"
"As far as I know, Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin are on assignment." That was how we were taught to answer.
"You cleaners are hopeless." She teetered away on her four inch heels and I smoothed the wrinkles from my work skirt.
"Way to go, mija." Maria was my back up and my best friend. "Chismear pollos! Who do they think they are?"
I laughed and threw my arms around her. "Not us - their loss, our gain."
"They look like prostitutas. We look professional." She sat down to lace up her comfortable and flat work shoes.
Inwardly, I agreed. Now, don't get me wrong. I gossip, I mean, you really can't help it. You get three women together and the inevitable happens. Daddy used to call them hen parties and I would laugh, but now I feel that the term isn't quite right. Men are much worse gossipers than women are.
UNCLE stocks each apartment with what we need for general purposes, but we all have our preferences. I got my personal supplies together and went out to meet the van. It delivers us to each one of the agents' apartments.
I tend to organize mine from the bottom up, starting with Mr. Volk's very cheery loft and ending with Mr. Solo's rather palatial apartment. It's as near a penthouse as I've ever been in. Not all of the agents are usually away at the same time, so we don't clean every apartment every day. Sometimes we just pick up the mail and adjust the curtains.
Today I had Miss Dancer's apartment and Mr. Slade's flat, as he called it, to clean and would just look in on Mr. Kuryakin's and Mr. Solo's apartments. They weren't due back for another week.
The minute I walked in Mr. Kuryakin's apartment, I had the sense that something was very wrong. It felt weird and there was an odd smell, sort of sweet or something. That's when I noticed that the small table in the hallway was moved. I caught my breath and wondered if he'd come back and no one had known about it.
I walked slowly to the bedroom, but it was just as I left it, the bed neatly made and the curtains partially opened. I could tell there was no one in the bathroom and took a deep calming breath. Maybe the super had come in.
Walking back into the hall, that's when I saw that a stack of magazines had tipped over. The one thing you learn fast about cleaning Mr. Kuryakin's place is that you never move anything. He likes things just so. If you do move something, you have to be really careful to return it just so.
Making a face, I hurried over to the magazines and began to restack them as best I could. There was that smell again and I looked over at the couch. There was this large dark stain on it. First I thought it was gravy, that's what my mom always called spaghetti sauce, but it wasn't thick enough for that. And it was the wrong color for wine.
Carefully, I stood up and walked back to the door, unclipping the communicator from my apron as I moved.
"Open Channel Four."
"Channel Four open."
"Mr. Burton in Housekeeping, please." I waited and tried to keep from looking around too much. I didn't want to know if anything else was wrong.
"Mr. Burton, this is Michelle. I'm at Mr. Kuryakin's apartment and I think something bad has happened here."
"Why do you say that?"
"Things were disturbed and there's a big stain on the couch." My lip started to tremble and I tried so hard to keep my voice steady. "I think it's blood."
"Okay, Michelle, I want you to do me a favor. Just go ahead and leave. I'll call the van and let the Section Three boys know. They'll look into it."
"You did exactly right, Michelle. Go downstairs and wait for the van."
"Okay." The communicator went dead and that's when I realized tears were trickling down my cheeks. I'd never really met Mr. Kuryakin, but I like his apartment and he seemed like a nice enough fella. I didn't like the thought that something might have happened to him.
I stood down, eager to be away before the Section Three agents arrived. They scared me.
Dougall arrived and gave the van's horn a little beep. I jumped and then hurried to climb inside.
"That was fast, Miss." Dougall is a little challenged, but he's a good driver and if UNCLE trusted him, then so do I.
"Yes, not much to do today."
"Where to, lunch or Mr. Solo's?"
I yearned to just leave and go home, but work is work. "Mr. Solo's, please. He's not home, so it'll just be a few minutes." I tried for a brave smile. "Afterwards, maybe you and I could go to the park and have lunch."
"Are you okay, Miss? You look a little funny, like you've taken a misery."
"I'm just tired, but I feel better being here with you." He blushed a little at that and I laughed. He really did make me feel better.
We were quiet the rest of the way to Mr. Solo's apartment and I watched Manhattan slip by from the car window.
"Maybe we can feed the pigeons," Dougall suggested as I climbed from the van.
"Okay, I'd like that." And I gave the van a little wave as it drove off.
Mr. Solo's doorman greeted me and I went through. This was one of the nicest places I'd ever been in and I wondered how much it cost to live here. It's nice, but also sort of lonely at the same time. I mean, when you walk through the halls, you don't hear babies crying, or smell dinner cooking. It's like you are all by yourself in spite of being surrounded by people.
I set down my supply tray and that when I notice that there's a strip of light underneath the door. That's not normal and just as I thought that, I realized the door was ajar.
Instantly, I found my communicator and hit the panic button, then suddenly my hand was grabbed and I was yanked inside and the door was slammed behind me.
I let out a little yip as I stumbled in and skidded on the hall throw carpet, this lovely plush thing Mr. Solo told me was Turkish.
"Was that quite necessary?" At first, I didn't recognize Mr. Solo's voice, it was almost tinny sounding. I looked around and then at the person who'd grabbed me.
He was very fat and had a bad odor; Mom would have called it B.O. "Don't want to take any chances. No matter how cute she is." He tried to touch my hair, but I evaded his reach. This guy was just nasty.
"Leave her alone, Calhoun. She's nothing to you!" I nearly shouted for joy when I heard Mr. Kuryakin, but that's when I noticed he was tied to one of Mr. Solo's nice dining room chairs... only it didn't look so nice anymore. It was all scuffed up and that's when I realized Mr. Kuryakin looked about as good as the chair did.
The guy who grabbed me... um, Calhoun, pushed me over towards the sofa and that's when I saw poor Mr. Solo. He looked really bad, all covered with blood and ... stuff. I half stumbled, but caught myself and hurried to his side.
"Are you okay?" Dumb question, but it's the first thing that pops out of your mouth at a time like this.
Mr. Solo managed a smile. "I've seen better days."
Behind me, I heard a noise, sort of like the sound a sopping wet rag makes when you drop it on the floor. I turned my head and saw Calhoun hit Mr. Kuryakin. Blood and spit flew and I very nearly passed out. It was only Mr. Solo's hand, cold and trembling on my arm, that kept me here.
"How about you, Michelle?" His eyes were franticly searching my face and I winked, hopefully letting him know that I'd sent a signal. Section Three would already be on pins and needles because of Mr. Kuryakin's place.
"Mr. Solo, you're trembling like a leaf."
"A little cold," he murmured. "Would you get me a blanket from the linen closet?"
I straightened up and started to walk towards the bedroom. Calhoun was on me before I'd taken three steps. "Where are you going, missy?"
"Mr. Solo's cold. I'm getting him a blanket."
"I don't think so. You are going to do what I tell you to."
That son of a bitch... pardon my French. I'd had it with pushy men. I stuck my chin out and crossed my arms. "Or what? You're going to hit me, like you're doing to Mr. Kuryakin? I bet you wouldn't be so brave if he was untied and able to defend himself."
Mr. Kuryakin spit and I cringed, trying not to think about having to clean that up. "You have that right, Michelle. He's brave, as brave as only a coward can be."
Calhoun growled and left me for Mr. Kuryakin. The noises I heard were awful, but I kept my mind focused on getting a blanket.
I opened the closet and reached for an old blanket - I wasn't using his Mama's nice hand quilted one. I slipped my hand halfway down the stack and gasped. Something hard and cool met my touch. A gun... a real gun... pistol, whatever. I knew how to shoot; it was part of our training, but I hadn't touched one in years.
I wrapped the old blanket around it and took both back to Mr. Solo. I think Mr. Kuryakin was unconscious, the way his head was dangling.
"I have the blanket for you, Mr. Solo." I started to fluff it around him and slipped the pistol into his hand.
"You shouldn't have, Michelle." His voice sounded a little stronger. Can you shoot? I saw his lips form the words.
"Oh yes, Mr. Solo." I kept my voice bright. "This was exactly what I should have done."
Take the gun. He glanced over at the THRUSH guy. "Illya looks like he could use a break."
"Want me to start on you again, maybe work on opening up that bullet hole a little?" He had his fist pulled back to hit Mr. Kuryakin again, who I guess wasn't as unconscious as I thought.
Suddenly I realized what Mr. Solo was doing; he was pulling the man away from his partner, giving me a free shot by offering himself up as bait. I grabbed the gun and hid my hands under my apron, trying to look like I was a cowering little chicken. He sneered, his face was so ugly. "And when I finish making you scream, maybe I'll start on her."
I think he still thought he was better than me when my first shot caught him in the stomach. One of the first things they teach you in weapons class is to not stop shooting in an emergency situation until the gun is empty. Twelve rounds I fired into him, although a couple might have gone wide. He was staggering so.
I was still pulling the trigger when a cold hand slid over mine and I took a sobbing breath and looked at Mr. Solo. Then the front door was kicked in and everything got more than a little crazy. I was starting to feel really funny, lightheaded, and my last thought was Dougall was going to have to feed the pigeons by himself that afternoon.
I left UNCLE after that. It was too scary real and I didn't think I would ever be able to see the inside of either apartment ever again without throwing up.
I got a nice job as a live-in maid to an older woman; Mr. Waverly's doing, I'm sure. The work was easy and she was lovely and kind. It was very different from what I'd known with UNCLE and that was fine with me.
It was a lovely summer afternoon and she was sitting on her usual bench, sort of dozing in the sun. I was reading, a bittersweet romance, about two star crossed lovers. A shadow passed over my book and I gasped.
Looking up, I saw Mr. Solo standing there and Mr. Kuryakin was right beside him. Both of them looked fine; they'd long since healed up from Calhoun's attack.
"Michelle, how lovely to see you." He made it sound like an accident, bumping into me here, but I knew it wasn't. Accidents like that don't happen to men like Mr. Solo or Mr. Kuryakin.
Miss Willis's head bobbed, but she didn't wake up. I rearranged her lap rug and smiled.
"It's good to see both of you looking so well. Last time, you were both a bit peaky looking."
"We are fine, thanks to you." Mr. Solo held out his hand and I took it. It was warm now and very steady. "You saved us."
"Oh, I think you would have gotten out of it somehow."
"Our reputation precedes us," Mr. Kuryakin said and I laughed. Likewise, he held out his hand. I was amazed at how tiny my hand looked in his, but it had been the hand that had saved them both - small but mighty. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. It's a person's duty to help when she can."
"Well, I, for one, am delighted you feel that way. You are happy?"
"I am. Miss Willis is wonderful to me." I looked around and dropped my voice. "And I don't miss the violence."
He laughed and shook his head. His communicator sounded just then and Miss Willis's head popped up and she looked around for the odd-sounding bird. I laughed.
"It's okay, ma'am." I gestured to the two agents, heads bent over the communicator. "I used to work with them."
"Some of Alexander's nephews."
"Yes, Ma'am. Are you ready to go home?"
"I think so, yes."
"You're leaving?" Mr. Solo was tucking his communicator away.
"Yes, and I suspect you are too." I could see the excitement in their eyes. They'd nearly died at the hands of THRUSH and yet they were eager to do it all over again. I don't understand men, I truly don't.
"Duty calls, I'm afraid." He nodded politely and shook Miss Willis's hand. Mr. Kuryakin bowed over her and lightly kissed her fingers. She giggled like a school girl and then they were off.
I started to turn and suddenly was caught and spun. The next thing I know Mr. Solo was kissing me, not mean or aggressive, but ever so sweetly. "Thank you, Michelle. We have you to thank for our lives and we won't forget you." Then they really were gone, off to fight the good battle and ready to sacrifice everything, even themselves in that battle. I hadn't realized it before, but it was a war we all fought, from the agents right down to the little folks, like me, keeping their toilets clean and the rugs vacuumed.
You see, I learned a lesson that day of the shooting- one that I think will stay with me for the rest of my days. Big or small, it's not the size of the hand, but the task we place it to, that matters. I may not work for UNCLE any longer, but I will never ever forget them or be less than thankful to the men and women who work for it. And I know that as long as there are folks like them, Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin, I mean, and folks like me, willing to do what it takes to help, we'll all be okay. And isn't that what life is all about?