This first appeared in File Forty’s gen zine “Dossier Two.” The current version
is not quite the same as what appeared there and now has two endings—take
your pick! I thank my numerous betas but particularly Jane Terry and Astrid
Keynes who suffered through it the most.
Her plan had worked and Miki Matsu still could not quite believe it. He had even opened the car door for her, just like a real date, not that she had ever been on one. Now they screeched down the ramps of the U.N.C.L.E. parking garage.
“You sure don’t drive too well,” she said.
His blue eyes slide toward her, disgusted blue eyes and so pretty. The same look he had given her when she took his gun away, disbelieving and almost hurt. She could still feel his legs around her waist as he gracefully retrieved the gun, as he brought her down on top of him almost in slow motion. Then he had explained its safety mechanism, dismissing her as a threat. She had touched his nose and told him he was cute and God! was he ever cute! That had been apparent from the moment he stumbled into her house, rubbing the back of his head and talking quietly to his partner a week ago. Just a week but so much had changed. She wanted to bite off her tongue. Her best friend Marci had told her boys didn’t like to be criticized and this wasn’t really a boy even.
She wished Marci could see her now.
He turned into traffic, cutting off a cab, and ran a red light at the end of the block. He glanced toward her again and she melted under the gaze. “Where exactly is the Sayonara-A-Go-Go?” he asked, sounding a little bored.
Miki smiled back. “It’s, um, in the Village.” She didn’t know the city too well. She’d lived in San Francisco until last year when her mother had died and her father decided to move to Long Island. She knew the Village somewhat, though the twisty maze of streets confused her.
Trendy Greenwich Village was where she and her girlfriends hung out when they came into the city, trying to pretend they were hippies. Last time she had been there,
Miki and Connie had sneaked out of study hall, scaling a brick wall behind the field hockey pitch and met Marci, who was a day student at Partridge. They’d hidden their shoes and school uniforms in the trunk of Marci’s father’s Cadillac before sauntering barefoot through Washington Square Park, wearing brand new blue jean bellbottoms and their telltale white blouses with the monogrammed P’s. Then they’d dropped in to a nearby coffeehouse and listened to a poetry recital, trying not to giggle.
She saw the frown. Illya Kuryakin was not happy with her again.
“The Village?” he asked. “I live there. Where exactly? I think I would have noticed. Is it new?” Still he turned on Second Avenue, stalled with rush-hour traffic. The frown line deepened.
Her hat bothered her and she removed it, setting it next to her so she could slide closer to him on the bench seat, but not so close he would notice. She hoped she didn’t look too unsophisticated without the helmet-like hat and fluffed her hair, biding her time. She turned on the radio, already tuned to WABC, her favorite radio station… They’ll stone you and then say you are brave, They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave. But I would not feel so all alone. Everybody must get stoned. She and her girlfriends had gotten stoned on their last excursion to the Village. Marci had rolled the joints and they smoked them in the ladies room of the coffeehouse. After that the rest of the poetry reading struck them as unbearably funny, much to the consternation of the poet.
“Do you like Bob Dylan?” she asked as the song ended. Marci had told her boys liked to be asked questions.
All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray… “Do you like the Mamas and the Papas?” she asked, trying to keep the conversation, such as it was, afloat.
He shrugged again and added a small sigh to the discussion as he inched ahead in traffic. She wondered how old he was—late twenties? Maybe he wasn’t familiar with the music.
Despite his long hair he looked a little establishment in that somber black suit. She couldn’t quite figure out the incongruity.
“This song sort of reminds me of home,” she said. “New York can be so bleak. John Phillips wrote it in Central Park. Did you know that?”
He nodded, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited for the light to change. At least he waited this time, though he had no choice. A bus blocked the intersection creating gridlock that lasted for two more lights. “I grew up in San Francisco,” she said. “Have you ever been there?”
He nodded again.
“Where are you from?” She was growing a little tired of the one-sided conversation. Didn’t he ever talk?
“Kiev,” he replied so quietly she leaned closer to him, trying to hear better in case he should add more, sliding fractionally nearer on the bench seat.
“Kiev?” she asked, not certain what he had said.
“Yes, it’s in the Ukraine. It’s the. . .”
“I know where Kiev is,” she interrupted, offended. After tutoring her for a week he should have known she was smart. Then she remembered, belatedly, Marci telling her boys didn’t like smart girls. They certainly liked Marci and Miki wished she had long blonde hair and long legs and big boobs instead of a brain.
She knew Illya hadn’t liked it when she beat him in chess. She should have let him win, but his strategy was so obvious, so direct, she couldn’t quite help herself. Still he beat her the other two times they played. She despised chess, had perused the fashion do’s and don’ts in Glamour Magazine as they played, bored out of her mind and sick of being cooped up. She liked to watch the frown line crease his brow as he concentrated. She’d lost quickly the other two times and not really on purpose. “Kiev is the capital city of the Ukraine,” she said, as if back at class.
He smiled vaguely. “Yes, I know,” he replied.
She made a face at him. God, he could be a prickly thing. They drove in silence for awhile. Marci had told her boys like mystery so she tried not to be a chatterbox. The silence between them made her uneasy.
“Where is this place we’re going?” he asked in his low, sexy voice.
She looked up, startled, as he turned right on Houston Street. She felt a little panicked. Houston Street! How-ston! She knew the pronunciation but what now? How now? What was she going to do? “And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.” She sang along with the song, her voice high but not out of key.
“I like Simon and Garfunkel,” he said, his voice quiet and a little amused.
“Do you?” she asked, grasping at the threads of a conversation. “This is sort of the opposite of what John Donne wrote: ‘No man is an Island, entire of it self.’ Do you know what I mean?”
His shoulders tensed. “Yes. ‘And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.’”
She nodded, impressed, and saw her opportunity. Marci had told her boys liked compliments. “Wow! You sure know a lot of poetry for someone who has a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics.”
He smiled ever so slightly. “I studied a lot of things,” he said. “Do you have an address or do you just want me to drive about?”
She laughed. Driving around sounded wonderful. Maybe they could park somewhere and kiss a little as they recited poetry to each other. She had spent a lot of time these past few days examining that lower lip of his and wondered how it would feel against her mouth. Still, he was older; maybe he wouldn’t be content to just kiss and she didn’t really know how to kiss, much less the rest of it. Maybe she would end up giggling again. Marci said kissing came naturally but all boys really wanted to do was screw. Marci was saving her virginity for marriage, but not much else. She had all kinds of strategies for doing everything else.
“Did you go cruising for burgers when you were a teenager in Kiev?” Miki asked.
He smiled, genuinely amused this time. “What do you think?” he asked, shaking his head.
The early evening sun caught his hair and she gulped down a sigh.
“What did you do when you were my age?” Marci had told her boys loved talking about themselves.
He pondered this for a moment, still smiling. “I was a naval cadet at the Nakhimov Military School,” he said. “Not in Kiev. We didn’t eat hamburgers or meat of any sort if I recall.”
“Why would you join the navy?” she asked, almost disappointed in him. She disliked the military industrial complex, despised her father’s participation in it. She opposed the Vietnam War and argued bitterly with her father about it.
“I didn’t join it,” he said, “it joined me.”
“Did you fight in any wars?”
Illya shook his head. “Miki. Where is the Sayonara-A-Go-Go?” He turned right on Sixth Avenue.
Miki guessed that she had better tell him. “It doesn’t exist,” she explained.
“I always tell my father I’m going there,” she said. “I told him it was a hang-out for Japanese kids. He hopes I’ll meet a nice Japanese boy.” She lowered her head. “He doesn’t understand what it’s like for me.”
“Nor do I,” Illya replied. “I think I should take you home.” The frown line reappeared on his forehead. Otherwise he looked placid. He looked neither angry nor surprised.
“No. Illya! You can’t do that. You can’t wreck this. He’s so protective of me. Ever since my mother died…” A long string of commercials finally ended, concluding with Crazy Eddie shrilly hawking hi-fi’s and TV sets. Then back to the music: Did you ever have to make up your mind, say yes to one and leave the other behind…
Illya regarded her with curiosity, his eyes blazing an intense and perplexed shade of blue. He turned his car on Washington Place and pulled over. “Miki, if there is no Sayonara-A-Go-Go, what exactly did you have in mind?”
“Well, what do you do with your other dates? You do date, don’t you?” She couldn’t resist the dig and she couldn’t resist laying a beseeching hand on his forearm, sliding it to his biceps. She felt as if she was going to cry. He didn’t even look displeased, just weary. Still, he felt wiry and strong, and she rubbed her hand against the muscle, squeezing it.
Illya blushed, pulling his arm away in a sudden gesture. “Yes, I do date,” he said.
“Can’t you take me somewhere you usually take your dates?”
Illya rubbed the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. He looked like he had a headache, but backed up the car, took the corner in reverse and lurched into the traffic on Sixth Avenue to a cacophony of honking horns and screeching breaks. Miki held her hand to her mouth and resisted making a sound.
“No, Miki. I told your father I was taking you to the Sayonara-A-Go-Go and that’s that. I’m going to have to take you home and you can explain.” He was headed uptown.
“All right,” Miki said, defeated. Her father never imagined she lied and she didn’t quite know how she would face his disappointment, had no experience with it. “Mr. Waverly is having dinner there with my father. Corned beef and cabbage—that’s what he always has our housekeeper make when company comes. He thinks it’s cute. I guess we could join them. I’m sure they’re already on their way.”
Illya made a face. He turned left on Fourteenth Street and left again on Seventh Avenue heading back toward the Village. Miki didn’t know if it was at the prospect of eating corned beef and cabbage or the idea of eating dinner with his boss that caused him to change his mind. He pulled over again on Greenwich Place and switched off the ignition right in the middle of “Strangers In The Night.” “I guess we could go for a walk,” he said. He sounded tentative.
Miki felt dizzy and could not believe her luck. “Like a dog,” she said, recalling a complaint she had made when they had been cooped up together and she’d thought she would die of boredom. She immediately regretted her outburst. Why did she always blurt out the first thing that came to her mind? Illya started, fumbling with the car keys in his hand, deliberating. She could almost feel his hesitation as he glanced out the window.
“I do not take dogs on walks,” he finally said. “I don’t like dogs.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” She almost clapped her hand against her mouth to shut herself up.
Illya stared at her. He reached to his tie and loosened it, then pulled it over his head. He continued to stare at her as he threw the tie in the backseat of the car and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt.
Miki swallowed, unsure of the scrutiny and the gesture. She scooted across the seat to the passenger side, pushed her hat on the floor and flung open the door before he could change his mind.
They were parked in a no parking zone, almost in the crosswalk. Illya didn’t seem to notice and joined her on the crowded sidewalk. They walked together, shoulder to shoulder and she wondered what it would feel like to walk hand-in-hand. Oh, if Marci could see her now, even without holding hands! Illya was so much cuter than anyone Marci had dated, even that sophomore from Fordham. They walked in silence. Illya’s eyes continuously swept the street, his presence vaguely menacing. He moved fast and Miki struggled to keep up with him. She wore new shoes and they hurt.
They stopped in front of a window of a brightly lit clothing store where live models stood almost as still as mannequins. It looked more like an art gallery than retail space. One of the models wore an orange vinyl mini-dress with adhesive foil daisies. Periodically she would rearrange them, repositioning them in endless variations. The other model wore an even shorter dress in silver that looked like it was made of insulating material from a rocket ship. She hardly moved at all, just blinked her big green eyes occasionally. Miki had never seen fashions so outré, dresses you’d spray with Windex instead of dry clean. She suddenly felt dowdy in the outfit she had bought at Bonwit Teller’s. Illya looked transfixed, stared at the models, his eyes wide and thoughtful until the daisy girl winked at him. He backed up a step.
“Fashion must be an easy way to make money in America,” he muttered as they continued their hurried stroll down the street.
“Up or down?” A bearded man with hair much longer than Illya’s asked them.
Illya glanced at the man and shook his head almost politely but his eyes blazed a warning. The man retreated, did an about face and hurried down the street. Illya took Miki’s forearm for a moment, squeezed it protectively, and then released it.
She had thought she looked sophisticated but surveyed the crowd. None of the guys wore a suit like Illya, but still he seemed cool enough, especially without the tie. She looked like she was from Long Island, not cool at all, not like the Village girls with their long straight hair and short, short dresses or frayed blue jeans.
They continued to walk until she couldn’t stand it any longer. Her feet were killing her, pinched in her thoroughly unhip beige pumps. She felt like Tricia Nixon at a pot party.
“Let’s go to a coffeehouse,” she said.
Illya shrugged and she noticed again that he looked tired or perhaps just bored. “All right,” he said. She took Illya’s hand, not thinking, and pulled him down the stairs of the next coffeehouse she saw. He followed her, the way he had at U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters, though she didn’t yank his arm out of its socket this time. He opened the door for her into a small smoky room with small round tables no bigger than record albums and a warped tin ceiling. Tables for two, most unoccupied. A rotund man with long white hair and a longer beard who looked like Santa Claus played chess with someone who looked like one of his elves, even wore a red and white striped stocking cap. Illya and Miki sat down on hard wooden chairs and she tried not to stare at the other patrons.
A girl with long black hair and eyes lined with kohl strummed a guitar and sang an old English ballad, something about a red, red rose intertwined with a fragrant briar. Cool as the Village was, sometimes it seemed caught in a time-warp.
“Do you like folk music?” Miki asked and decided she would agree to like such music if Illya did. Marci had told her boys liked having their opinions, no matter how idiotic, reinforced.
The folksinger was beautiful with sad, dark eyes and a sad, dark voice. She reached forward on the stage for a glass of what looked like whiskey, her dramatic eyes sharpening as she noticed the new arrivals.
Illya nodded, squinted at the singer and cringed. A waitress approached them and flipped her long blonde hair as she took their order. She addressed herself to Illya alone, as if Miki were invisible. He ordered coffee, black, and Miki did the same. She didn’t drink coffee but decided she liked it just the way Illya did. The waitress didn’t seem to hear her but brought two chipped mugs of coffee, again flipping her hair as Illya paid her.
The singer introduced her next song, her deep voice taking on a bitter edge. Miki sipped her coffee—also bitter—and listened. Something about Donovan reviving the folk song. “Yellow is the color of my true love’s hair. In the morning, when we rise. In the morning…”
Illya’s chair scraped as he turned it toward the door. Then he looked at the exit as if measuring the distance. He seemed nervous and Miki took his hand, squeezing it boldly. Touching him was like sticking her finger in the flame of a candle—you couldn’t hold it there for long, you had to be quick or your fingers would get burned. He didn’t object. He didn’t seem to notice.
They had spent a lot of time together and he had been an absorbing tutor—erudite yet sarcastic and impatient—nothing like any teacher she had ever had. Despite what Marci said, he became irritated when she played dumb and so she hadn’t. But her intelligence hadn’t impressed him either. He moved restlessly from one subject to the next as if bored both by her and the subject matter. She only got his attention, really, when she misbehaved. So she did. Then he was unpredictable and fun.
In retrospect, she had to admit he was a terrible teacher. He didn’t like to teach and still she had learned so much, remembered everything he said. The Punic Wars came to life when he read about them to her, though he didn’t seem to know the first thing about history, especially American history. He said something to her about a Cambridge professor telling him, “Americans do not have a history.” When he quizzed her on the subject, his eyebrows jutted up, startled, as she answered. Then he’d look back in the book and nod as if bewildered, his mouth slightly open in wonderment. She caught him reading the textbook during their breaks.
He was very good at math but didn’t know how to explain the concepts and unknowingly reverted to Russian in frustration. She now knew the Russian words for quadratic equation and logarithm but doubted this knowledge would ever prove useful. Not that it mattered; she had already aced the math portion of the SATs.
When she practiced her conversational French she had seen him dry swallow a couple of aspirins before he simply gave up. She sensed he didn’t like to be cooped up any better than she did but had had more experience with it.
She leaned in close, sipping her coffee. “This is a pretty song,” she whispered.
“Freedom is a word I rarely use when I’m thinking about you…”
Illya leaned in toward her, his face so close she could feel his breath. “Perhaps we should go soon,” he said, glancing again at the door. “I should take you home.”
Miki resisted making a face.
“We just got here,” she reminded him.
“Yes,” he said. “But there’s nothing going on. It’s dead.”
“There’s nothing going on at my house either. Do you want to eat corned beef and cabbage with Mr. Waverly?”
He smiled, his face still close. He hadn’t smiled much when he tutored her. He hadn’t smiled at all. Miki leaned into the smile. It was so inviting. He tilted his head and then withdrew, leaning back on the chair.
The singer introduced her next song and sang it like a dirge. “We said our goodbyes, the night before. Love was in your eyes, the night before. Now today I find, you have changed your mind, treat me like you did the night before.”
“Oh, I don’t like this,” Miki said. “I only like the Beatles doing Beatles songs. She’s making it sound like a drag.”
“Let’s go then,” Illya said. He started to rise and the music stopped abruptly.
Illya froze as Miki grabbed his arm. “She’s coming right at us.”
Illya slumped back down in his chair. “Do you like school?” he asked.
“Yes,” Miki said. “It’s been an adjustment but I love it. I’m so glad Miss Burgoyne is going to continue to run it. I couldn’t take another school and I was so looking forward to being a senior. She’s so—”
She turned her head as the beautiful singer straddled a chair, joining them. She felt uneasy and gulped at her coffee, not sure if she preferred it black… maybe a little sugar to combat the bitterness?
Illya’s face was frozen into a blank stare. He also sipped his coffee but his hand reached to his forehead.
“Hello, Illya,” the singer said. She smiled sweetly. “I see you’ve returned from wherever you said you were going. Algiers, wasn’t it?”
Illya leaned back in his chair and glared into the singer’s dark eyes. He looked almost amused. “Diane, this is Miki Matsu,” he said.
“Diana,” the singer almost spat. “Di-An-A!” she repeated, enunciating each syllable.
Illya did not miss a beat. “Diana, this is, Miki Matsu.” He emphasized the final “A” in Diana. Miki doubted he knew her last name.
Miki smiled at her, not sure what else to do. Her smile turned radiant as she saw the raw envy in the singer’s eyes. She could make a girl who looked like this jealous. She felt powerful. “You have a beautiful voice,” she said.
“Illya,” Diana said in low cat’s purr, as if she might scratch. “Is this perhaps your little sister?”
Illya shrugged and sipped his coffee.
“Daddy got around a lot,” Miki replied ambiguously.
Illya smiled at her, an encouraging smile, a smile of complicity and she felt herself melt under its heat. She didn’t exactly want Illya as a big brother but…
“Jail bait,” Diana snarled. “What the fuck’s the matter with you? You said you’d call me.”
Illya spread his hands and shrugged again. He stood up and Miki took his hand. She again felt his protectiveness. He did not look back and Miki didn’t either, even as she heard the singer swear at them, unloading the “F” bomb a few more times.
Once back on the street, Illya withdrew his hand. They walked again shoulder to shoulder. “Why didn’t you call her?” Miki asked.
Illya said nothing. They hurried down the street.
“Boys do that,” Miki said. “Say they’ll call—” Marci had said you couldn’t believe a thing boys said.
Illya stopped for a moment and looked into the window of a used bookstore. The books, leather bound and mildewed, looked as if they had been tossed there, cobwebby with age.
“Why would you say you’ll call and then not? It’s a mean thing to do.”
He turned his attention from the window of the bookstore and stared at her. “Yes, it is. I’m sorry.”
But why should he apologize to her? “So I shouldn’t expect a call either?”
“I guess not,” he said and sounded apologetic. “Look, Miki, I should take you home.”
“But I keep trying to scare you with visions of corned beef and Mr. Waverly. Where do you live? Can’t we go to your apartment?”
“Absolutely not!” He turned to her and frowned. “Miki, you should never invite yourself to a man’s apartment. It’s not proper.”
Miki smiled at him. “But I’m not inviting myself to any man’s apartment. I’m inviting myself to yours. Are you saying you wouldn’t be able to control yourself?”
Illya froze and then stared down at her. He shook his head. “It’s not proper,” he repeated.
“You just don’t want to take me to your home.” She stamped her foot and remembered how much her feet ached. “Take me to a movie, then. I think there’s a Humphrey Bogart festival playing at the Garrick. Do you know where that is, do you know who he is?”
“Yes to both but I don’t like Bogart and I—”
The two-tone beep of his communicator sounded, interrupting their conversation. Illya withdrew it from his breast pocket and Miki saw the puzzled frown line reappear on his forehead. “Kuryakin here.”
“Solo. What is it, my friend?”
* * * * *
Napoleon had pulled this stunt on more than a few occasions and Illya always obliged, even when awoken from a sound sleep. “We’re wanted in headquarters.” That’s all Illya had to say. Then Napoleon could make a graceful and apologetic exit from a dull date and move to greener pastures.
Verity Burgoyne turned out to be as dull as they came. She had not stopped talking about her plans for the Partridge Academy since they entered the Purple Unicorn, a sophisticated, uptown, avant-garde nightclub he frequented. She talked about it over drinks; she talked as they danced. She could not seem to get over her good fortune. Napoleon grew so bored his teeth ached as she enthused about her girls’ chances in field hockey next year, how the sophomores had matured and maybe they would beat their arch rivals Farmington and the Convent of the Sacred Heart. He had stopped listening to her after his second martini and began to mentally catalogue which of his many girlfriends would be available on such short notice. He came up with a list of five or so.
He employed his fail-safe system, surmising Illya was alone, or at least far away from Waverly’s clutches. His friend was clever enough not to be caught in the snare of having dinner with the old man. He would have found a way to make a graceful exit by now.
This ploy did not work with the U.N.C.L.E. communication girls, of course, but an innocent such as Verity was fair game. She wouldn’t know there was no signaling device on the communicator, that he had initiated the call. He would extricate himself from this impossible situation, see Verity home with feigned regret, ask for her number and never call. Illya sometimes complained or teased him about this ruse but usually he didn’t even remember the next day. It was such a small concession and one Napoleon would certainly reciprocate not that the reverse situation had ever come up: Illya probably told his boring dates to get lost.
He waited for the magic words, taking a leisurely sip of his martini. His eyes already shone with regret. But Illya’s voice did not provide the expected out. Not immediately. Maybe he was playing a little prank. Illya did pick the strangest times to be contrary. Napoleon waited and then prodded. “What is it, Illya?”
“I didn’t call you.”
Napoleon stared at his communicator, dumbfounded, as if it had suddenly grown fangs. Damn you, Illya! He could think of no reason for his partner to be mad at him. Maybe it was the concussion, maybe Illya was confused. “So we have to go to headquarters,” Napoleon prodded. Come on, Illya!
“Um, yeah, maybe we do. Is something up?”
Napoleon again stared at his communicator and shook it like a thermometer. He had been partnered with Illya for long enough to sense this was not danger, but still a signal. He tried to figure it out. Did Illya need help? “Um, we, um…” What did Illya want him to say?
“Where are you, Napoleon?”
“Having just the most idyllic time at the Purple Unicorn until you interrupted.”
“I’m so sorry. It must have been a malfunction. I didn’t call you. I’m with Miki.”
“What!” Napoleon struggled to understand. Why would Illya be with Miki? Sure, he liked Oriental girls, probably because they were shorter than he, but wasn’t Miki just a tad young?
Illya spoke slowly, trying to explain. “I took her to the Sayonara-A-Go-Go but I didn’t fit in. We left.”
“You’re with Miki?” Napoleon understood and he didn’t. “The Sayonara-A-Go-Go? You speak Japanese, couldn’t you convince them you were Oriental?” Napoleon had seen Illya’s impersonations. He could fit in anywhere.
“I’m too old,” Illya said.
“Hold on. You can pass for Japanese but not young. That makes no sense at all.”
“Are you and Miss Burgoyne at a nightclub, Mr. Solo?” Napoleon tried not to react as he listened to Miki’s eager voice over the communicator. “Illya, let’s go. I want to see a nightclub. Please. Pretty please. Can’t you take me?”
Napoleon tried to think of something to say. He sensed Illya and he shared the same predicament. “Shall we join you then?” Illya finally asked with a definite hesitation in his voice. He seemed to expect an out, too.
“Sure,” Napoleon said. “The more the merrier.”
“Thanks.” Illya sounded less than grateful.
Miki followed Illya back to the car, struggling to match his pace. She was lost, but Illya negotiated the winding streets like a rat in a maze and soon enough she saw the car. He opened the door again for her and she remembered she was on a date. A real date. He shut the door and then pulled a parking ticket from the windshield.
“Can you put that on your expense account?” she asked as he entered the car.
Illya said nothing in reply but opened the glove compartment and deposited the ticket within it. Miki noticed it was crammed with other parking tickets and Illya closed it with some difficulty, slamming it shut a few times before the latch caught.
“Don’t you ever pay your tickets?” she asked.
Illya started the car and glanced at her. “It’s not my car,” he said. “I guess they get paid.”
They headed uptown and Miki felt excited. She had always wanted to go to a nightclub. She wished she were dressed differently. She had lost faith in her outfit in the Village and sensed at a chic nightclub she would look even more out of it. She turned on the radio. Gloria, G-L-O-R-I-A! Gloria.
Illya raced up Sixth Avenue, darting though traffic and sang along too, his voice low, distracted and quiet but in tune. Miki strong-armed the dashboard and wished she had fastened her seatbelt. Instead she looked out the window, amused to hear Illya singing.
She tried to think of something to say.
“Have you been to the Purple Unicorn before?” she asked.
Illya turned on Broadway, singing almost silently. “ ‘She makes me feel so good, she makes me feel all right.’ “Yes,” he finally said, almost inaudibly.
Miki wished her name was Gloria. G-L-O-R-I-A!
“Do you go there a lot?”
“Is Mr. Solo your best friend? Or do you just work together?”
Illya smiled at the question and turned toward Miki as if the car were suddenly on automatic pilot. “He’s my friend, yes. And we work together too.”
“Do you double-date a lot?” Miki hoped to introduce the idea and trick Illya into thinking this a double date.
Illya shook his head. Then he turned his attention back to the radio and sang along again. “Kicks just keep getting harder to find but if you…” He didn’t seem to know the rest of the words.
The Purple Unicorn wasn’t at all what Miki had expected, a subdued sort of place. A small, purple neon sign in the shape of a unicorn was all that announced it. She had expected it to look like the Cheetah near Times Square, all colored lights and crowds. Instead it looked to be the sort of place you had to know about, like a speakeasy of old, like a joint Humphrey Bogart would frequent. A valet in purple military regalia opened her door and scampered around to the driver’s side.
Illya tipped him and joined Miki on the curb. He took her hand and led her inside. It was a much bigger place than the sign suggested, with a high ceiling and a crowded dance floor. A huge crystal chandelier with pulsating black lights made everything glow purple. Intimate tables for two with purple votive candles surrounded the dance floor and a cloud of smoke wafted to the ceiling. A small combo: two guitars, double bass, saxophone, piano and drums played on a cramped stage accompanying a big-bosomed, middle-aged singer sang. She sang “Lullaby of Broadway” in a sultry but girlish voice. “When a Broadway baby says goodnight, it’s early in the morning—Manhattan babies don’t sleep tight until the dawn…”
Miki caught a glimpse of Mr. Solo and Miss Burgoyne across the crowded dance floor and raised her hand to wave. They looked so adorable together, she almost sighed. This was exactly as she pictured a nightclub, perfect. She squeezed Illya’s hand and pulled him forward.
“Sir,” a man wearing a tuxedo and standing at a podium said. “Sir.”
“I’m meeting friends,” Illya replied, gesturing toward Solo’s table. He seemed ill at ease.
“Sir,” the man repeated. He put his hand on Illya’s shoulder, stopping him. “We require proper attire. A tie.”
Illya sighed and glared at the hand on his shoulder. The man instantly removed it as if he sensed Illya was armed and dangerous.
Miki made a face at the maitre d’. How could you take a man wearing a purple cummerbund and bow tie seriously? She was too close to her goal to be dissuaded by an unreasonable dress code. “You don’t know who he is?” she asked in a shocked tone.
Both the maitre d’ and Illya stared at her.
“You don’t know? Herman’s Hermits’ bass guitarist? You’re going to refuse him admittance?”
“Herman’s Hermits?” The maitre d’ sounded intrigued.
“Yes. Peter Noone, you know, Herman himself is circling in his limousine,” Miki said. “We heard this was a happening place.”
“It is,” the maitre d’ said, beaming. “By all means.” He swept his arms wide, welcoming them.
They almost ran directly into a grinning Napoleon Solo. “You got by Don,” he said. He looked at Illya. “Without a tie. What happened to your tie?”
“I don’t need a tie,” Illya sniffed. “I play the bass guitar.”
Miki took Illya’s hand and pulled him through the swaying couples on the dance floor. “Hi, Miss Burgoyne,” she said.
“Well, hello, Miki. Hello, Mr., uh…”
“Please. I’m Illya.”
“Of course. And I’m Verity.” She extended her hand and Illya took it gently in his, leaned forward and kissed it. Miss Burgoyne giggled at the gesture and Miki felt a momentary stab of jealousy. Mr. Solo, who was pulling chairs over from a neighboring table, made a face.
The jealousy disappeared when Illya helped her into one of the chairs and then sat next to her, across from Miss Burgoyne.
“I understand you have been tutoring Miki,” Miss Burgoyne said. “She’s number one in her class, a straight-A student, all honors classes. Do you find it challenging to teach bright students?”
“No,” Illya replied. He tilted his chair back and looked around as if searching for something.
“I do,” Miss Burgoyne said.
“I’m sure that you do,” Illya said. Miki felt a bit insulted but sensed the jab was aimed at Miss Burgoyne, who seemed oblivious to it.
“Illya’s not a teacher,” Mr. Solo said. Miki noticed he was shaking his head at Illya as if reprimanding him.
Miki wanted to agree with Mr. Solo but held her tongue.
“You’re not?” Miss Burgoyne said. She took a sip from her martini. “Of course you’re not. Forgive me. You’re an U.N.C.L.E. agent like Napoleon.”
“Yes. Not very much like Napoleon, but yes.”
Miki saw Mr. Solo’s eyes meet Illya’s for just a moment and again he shook his head, his lips pursing in disapproval.
“And you and Miki went where tonight?”
Miss Burgoyne smiled but Miki sensed an unspoken condemnation, a protectiveness of her charge, one of the Partridge Academy’s star students.
Illya did not seem to hear and gestured to one of the cocktail waitresses who nodded back toward him and held up a just-a-moment finger. She soon approached their table, and tugged at her short purple skirt, which hardly covered her backside. She bent forward, almost touching Illya’s shoulder with her pointy breasts.
“Can we get a bottle of champagne?” Illya asked Mr. Solo
Mr. Solo waggled his eyebrows. “Of course. Are you buying?”
Illya shook his head once and smiled. “Just deduct it from your tab,” he said obscurely and ordered a bottle of Moet blanc de blancs. Then he turned to Miki. “Is that all right with you?”
Miss Burgoyne scowled. “I think Miki should have a Coke or something.”
“Do you want a Coke instead?” Illya asked.
Miki had never tasted champagne. She remembered Liesl’s lament from The Sound of Music: “I’d like to stay and taste my first champagne!”
“No, I’ll have champagne too,” she said.
“Miki,” Miss Burgoyne admonished, “no champagne.”
The cocktail waitress sighed but not with impatience. She still had her breasts pointed at Illya as if they were missiles.
Miki also sighed. “Okay, I’ll have a Coke, I guess.”
“How many glasses for the champagne?” the waitress asked.
“Four,” Illya said, exchanging a smile with her. “Do you have a menu?”
“We don’t serve food. I can bring you some nuts.”
Illya nodded a bit forlornly and watched her as she sashayed away, winding through the tables.
“Illya, Miki is too young for champagne,” Miss Burgoyne said, a few other implications buried in the remark.
“My friend is from Europe,” Mr. Solo said. “I think they drink Champagne from their baby bottles there.”
Miki saw the two friends exchange rolling-eyed looks of barely controlled amusement. They both smiled. Then, as if mirroring each other, they both leaned back in their chairs, folded their arms and directed their attention to the stage as the singer launched into her next number.
“A fine romance with no kisses, a fine romance, my friend, this is. We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes, but you’re as cold as yesterday’s mashed potatoes.”
“She’s very good,” Illya said. “The bass is a little behind the beat.”
Miss Burgoyne interrupted the critique. “Does Mr. Matsu know you are with Miki?”
“Yes,” Illya said and frowned toward Mr. Solo, who shrugged at him with Gallic eloquence. Illya then reached forward, extracting the speared olives out of his friend’s martini, offered one to Miki and ate the other.
Miki accepted the olive and realized she was hungry too. She was a bit surprised by the music at the Purple Unicorn. It seemed a little square.
The cocktail waitress reappeared balancing an anodized metallic purple tray with the champagne, a small bowl of nuts, an eight-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola, four champagne flutes and a tall glass of ice. With a purple straw. She set the tray on the table, leaning her breasts into Illya. But she had trouble popping the cork. Both men stood to assist her. Illya, the closer of the two, took the bottle, tugged and sent the cork flying into the dance floor where it hit a gyrating lady in the back of her beehive hairdo and then lodged there unnoticed.
Illya turned to hide the bottle and his misdeed. He started to laugh, joined by the cocktail waitress. Miki had never seen him laugh and giggled along with him. As did Mr. Solo. Miss Burgoyne even smiled.
“It means it’s too warm,” Illya finally said.
“The drinks are watered down, too,” the cocktail waitress told him, a wink in her voice, her eyes streaming with merriment. Miki saw her put something in Illya’s pocket as she took the champagne bottle from him, tapping his hip with a manicured purple nail so that he noticed. She poured four glasses of champagne and just left the bottle of Coke next to its glass as if it had crashed the table uninvited.
“Thank you,” Mr. Solo said but he stared at Illya’s side pocket, the flap now tucked into the pocket.
“Doesn’t miss a trick, does he?” Miki thought.
“I wonder if she will ever find the cork in all that hair?” Mr. Solo asked.
Illya took a long swig from his champagne flute. “It really is too warm,” he said. He pulled the bowl of mixed nuts in front of him. He sorted through them, selecting the cashews and popped them into his mouth, one after the other.
Miki risked Miss Burgoyne’s disapproval and took an experimental sip of champagne. The bubbles tickled her nose. Illya was already pouring himself a second glass. Again he focused on the combo and shook his head. He scowled at the bassist. “He’s terrible.”
“Oh, are you a musician?” Miss Burgoyne asked. There was something haughty, almost challenging in her tone.
Illya said nothing. He inclined his chin toward the singer. “But she’s marvelous, just marvelous.”
The singer seemed to sense Illya’s approval and looked right at him as she introduced a Gershwin medley.
“The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the memory of all that…no, you can’t take that away from me…”
“Who’s George Gershwin?” Miki asked.
Illya just lifted an astonished eyebrow in response, his mouth opening in dismay.
Miki took another sip of the champagne. “I’m just not familiar with this type of music,” she said.
Illya looked at her sympathetically. “Would you like to dance?” He clasped his hand over hers as he asked.
Miki froze. Yes, of course she would like to dance. But… “I don’t know how to dance,” she confessed and felt miserable. Not this kind of dancing anyway.
Mr. Solo interceded. “Then Illya will be the perfect partner. He doesn’t know how to dance either.”
She took the extended hand and ignored his glare, directed at Mr. Solo. “Miki?” Illya said.
* * * * *
Napoleon watched his friend squire Miki to the dance floor. Illya positioned her hands, instructing as he had evidently once been instructed, his face rapt with concentration. They took a few tentative steps. And then they were dancing. Napoleon smiled like a proud papa.
“. . . and though I can’t dismiss the memory of his kiss, I guess he’s not for me.”
Dreary Verity also watched. She shook her head. “I don’t like this,” she said. “He’s too old for her. I can’t believe Mr. Matsu—”
Napoleon patted her hand. “You needn’t worry. Shall we dance, too?”
Both Illya and Miki were too intent to notice Verity and Napoleon joining them on the dance floor. Napoleon remained amused; Illya was not a dancer but they were doing just fine. Illya and Miki. What the hell was his friend was doing with a girl of Miki’s age? He dismissed the thought. Instead, he twirled Verity on the dance floor and wondered how long he would have to endure her.
And then a purple-hued spotlight found Miki and Illya.
“We have a special guest,” said the singer, reading from a card.
Napoleon saw Illya and Miki blink into the spotlight, confused.
“Peter Noone, from Herman’s Hermits.”
Miki laughed and parted from Illya, bowing slightly. Napoleon expected Illya also to bow out of the spotlight but instead he shrugged and ascended to the stage. He headed straight toward the double bass and wrestled it away. The hapless musician glared at Illya as if he had cut in on his date.
The singer and Illya nodded toward each other. Illya plucked a few notes and the singer nodded again. And sang: “It ain’t necessarily so…”
When the song ended, she turned toward Illya, beaming. “I thought you rock and rollers just played the guitar or the drums,” she whispered, half into the microphone and half at Illya, her tone intimate, as if they were co-conspirators. “You had better give Eddie his bass back before he has apoplexy.”
Illya backed up a step and was now almost hidden by the large instrument. He appeared to be trying to disappear behind it.
“Come on now,” the singer urged. “Come to the microphone; we’ll do one of your numbers. You’re not shy, are you? I thought you were the lead singer. C’mon, Peter.”
Oh, this is going to be fun! Napoleon grinned in anticipation. His friend approached the microphone as if heading to the gallows.
Napoleon smiled wider when he heard the lady with the cork in her hair stage-whisper, “That’s not Peter Noone! Who do they think they’re kidding? Look at his hair!”
Napoleon led the applause as Illya stood at the microphone, squinting into the audience. One of the guitarists played a few familiar, bouncy chords. Even Napoleon knew the song.
With his head bowed and his eyes almost closed Illya began singing. “Mrs. Brown, you’ve got a lovely daughter.” His voice was low and quiet but he had the cockney accent down to perfection. “Girls as…” He hesitated and raised his eyes to the chandelier on the ceiling, as if the lyrics were written there.
“Sharp!” Miki called from the dance floor. She moved closer to the stage.
Illya smiled at her and started again. “Girls as SHARP as her are something rare.” The guitarist struggled to follow him. The rest of the musicians just stared at their instruments, trying to pick up the tune. The singer took Illya’s hand as he continued. “But it’s sad, she doesn’t love me now. She’s made it clear enough…”Again, his voice faltered.
“It ain’t no good to pine,” Miki supplied and Illya followed her lead. Both Miki and Illya sang the next stanza, Illya one beat behind.
The singer put an encouraging arm around him but seemed bewildered by his stumbling performance. Once in awhile, he sang without prompting. “Walkin’ about even in a crowd, well, you’ll pick her out. Makes a bloke feel so proud.” Eventually, as the lyrics grew repetitive, Illya’s voice grew stronger and the combo chimed in with a competent though not rousing backup. Then Illya gestured to the audience, urging them to sing along. “Everybody! ‘Walkin’ about even in a crowd...' "
No one danced. Couples stood on the dance floor singing self-consciously. Illya sighed with relief as the song ended. He bowed slightly in acknowledgement of the friendly applause.
“Shall we do another?” the singer asked, sounding chirpy.
“Bravo! Yes!” Napoleon enthused loudly. “Henry the Eighth!”
Illya’s eyes slid toward Napoleon and he glared. Then he turned toward the singer and shook his head. “I think I’ve diverted you long enough,” he said and not in a cockney accent.
“Who’s your girlfriend?” the singer asked, nodding toward Miki.
“Miki Matsu,” Illya replied.
“Can you spell that?” a man called from one of the tables.
Napoleon recognized him—the gossip columnist from the Daily News.
Illya turned toward the voice and peered into the darkness. “Yes,” he said, but he nodded again at the singer, mumbling “Thanks,” as he hopped off the stage.
Miki engulfed Illya in a twirling, giddy hug and laughed. They both laughed.
* * * * *
The rest of the evening passed in a whirl. Miki managed to sneak two glasses of champagne and ignored Miss Burgoyne’s pointed stares. It made her light-headed and confident. She danced with Illya a few more times. She danced with Mr. Solo. Illya did not dance with Miss Burgoyne.
Illya even signed a couple of autographs but Mr. Solo shooed a man with a reporter’s notebook away from their table.
When Miss Burgoyne excused herself, saying she had to powder her nose, Illya ordered another bottle of champagne, though this time the cocktail waitress opened it without incident. Miki overheard Mr. Solo whispering in Illya’s ear, something about “a two-by- four up her rear end.” Illya grinned at the comment and whispered something back.
Miki never wanted to go home. When Illya and she were sailing along the Long Island Expressway at ninety miles per hour (she had risked a peek at the speedometer) she tried to think of a way to forestall the inevitable.
“I’m hungry,” she said, shouting over the radio, cranked to full volume. I saw her walkin’ on down the line, yeah, you know I saw her for the very first time.
And that worked too, much to Miki’s delight. They stopped at an A&W root beer stand near her house and ate hamburgers and fries in the car, still listening to the radio. Illya did not talk much but he seemed relaxed, boredom and fatigue no longer etched on his face.
“You’re finally getting your chance,” Miki said. “Cruising for burgers.”
Illya grinned and started in on her fries. Then they both laughed as the DJ introduced a “golden oldie!—Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” They sang along. This time Illya had the lyrics letter perfect, not to mention the cockney accent.
They pulled into the circular driveway in front of her house a short time later. Illya took the corner a little too tight and ran over one of her father’s prized azaleas but Miki resisted comment. If Illya had driven over the lawn and into the picture window she would have held her tongue. She was learning.
She let him open the door for her. Like a real date. She had been on a real date!
A real date!
She had danced! She had gone to a nightclub! She had drunk champagne!
But it was over. And yet…
Miki sighed as they approached the front door. “You won’t call, will you?” she asked.
Illya smiled at her, his little half-smile. He shook his head. But then he reconsidered, cocking an eyebrow. “I’ll call you on your twenty-first birthday.”
“You don’t even know when that is.” And so she told him. “February 14th.”
Illya raised his eyes as if calculating. “Valentine’s Day,” he murmured. “1971.”
Did she imagine it? He seemed to look a bit wistful at the impossible distance of the date.
“You won’t remember me by then,” he said.
No, she didn’t imagine it. He sounded wistful.
“Of course I will,” she said. She put her arms around him and, just as Marci had told her, kissing came naturally. Illya pulled back at first and then pressed into her. Yes, kissing was easy. Her eyes were wide open and she watched his close, almost reverently. Just as his hesitant tongue brushed against hers, the door opened and they tumbled into the cavernous living room.
“Oh, Mr. Kuryakin,” Waverly said, “I’ve been waiting for you to drive me home.”
Mr. Waverly glanced at his watch, his unruly, expressive eyebrows knitting into a frown far more aghast than any of Miss Burgoyne’s censoring glares. He looked as if he were about to yank Illya back to the car by his ear.
“Did you have a nice time?” her father asked.
Miki smiled her dutiful-daughter smile at her oblivious father. “Oh, yes, Father,” she gushed. “We had so much fun. We met up with Miss Burgoyne and Mr. Solo at a place called The Purple Unicorn.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Waverly harrumphed. “It’s quite late. I’m afraid Mr. Kuryakin and I will be leaving.” He had his hand firmly on Illya’s forearm and gave him a little shove. “Thank you for dinner. A pleasure.”
Illya kept his head down. But he lifted his eyes once as he turned to leave and winked at Miki. She winked back.
* * * * *
Her father called Miki on her twenty-first birthday at the exact minute she had been born, just after noon, twelve-twelve to be exact. Marci called closer to dinnertime; she could never figure out which way the two-hour time change between them worked. Her baby girl fussed in the background. They no longer had much in common but still talked on occasion. Marci no longer gave advice.
Miki hadn't really expected Illya to call and yet waited by the phone. How was he supposed to find her at Stanford anyway? Of course, he could have called her father for her number…he probably just didn't remember. Five years is a long time.
Late that night, emboldened by a celebratory jug of Gallo Hearty Burgundy she’d shared with her friends, she placed a call into New York's U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters. She kept the number on a card in her pocket for good luck along with the little purple cocktail pick that once held Napoleon’s olives.
"Hello," she said. "Is Illya Kuryakin there by any chance?"
"Illya Kuryakin?" the receptionist purred. "That's a blast from the past."
"Is he there?"
"Do you know where he can be reached?"
"No. He resigned quite a while ago." The receptionist laughed. "Things aren't nearly as decorative around here without him and Mr. Solo." She laughed again.
"But do you know where he is? Do you know if he's all right? Or what he's doing?"
"I'm really not at liberty to release any more information than I already have." She said, sounding officious and no longer friendly.
"Can't you just tell what he's up to? How's that going to hurt anything?" Miki felt like stamping her foot.
"I've really told you all I know."
"No, you said you've told me all you're at liberty to say."
Another laugh. "It's one and the same in this case. Goodnight, miss. There's a lot of us in the same boat."
Odd, he no longer worked for U.N.C.L.E. Surprising really. She wondered what he was up to and worried about him. Maybe he wasn't able to call. Miki entertained all sorts of dire conclusions, mulling them over in disquieting detail, rummaging through possibilities as if dislodging a scab. She imagined Illya back in the USSR on a submarine in the Arctic Ocean, Illya as permanent captive of Thrush his big blue eyes staring through the bars of a cell, Illya incapacitated in a hospital, maybe with his partner as a roommate spooning broth into his mouth. Such drama!
Miki didn’t imagine Illya dead. No, no, no! She sensed she could feel him then, as some sort of surrounding void like a talisman.
In the wee hours of the morning, Miki led her college buddies in a raucous, drunken version of Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter. She stumbled through the lyrics; she hadn't heard the song in years.
How absurd! She had really expected him to call after all. He said he would and somehow Miki felt sure he had meant it. To her, anyway. She was special. Different. She really did think he would have called if he could. What could have gone wrong in his life?
She decided not to dwell on it. Instead she imagined Illya with a fat blond baby on each knee.
She hoped he was just too busy with everyday bliss he forgot to call. She wanted that for him. She really did.
"Don't let on, don't say she broke my heart, I'd get down on my knees but it's no good to pine."
Miki's eyes filled with tears.
(Quite a few readers said that Illya would have/should have called, that the ending is too sad. So here is an alternative ending where Illya calls. Be careful what you wish for.)
Her father called Miki on her twenty-first birthday at the exact minute she had been born, just after noon, 12:12—his time—and woke her up from a sound sleep. It was Sunday, for God’s sake!—did he have no decency? Her stepmother picked up the extension and sang her a rushed Happy Birthday as her new little brother gurgled along, sounding cheerful.
Marci called closer to dinnertime. She had never been able to figure out which way the three-hour time change between them worked, in a fog as usual, and still she got it sort of correct. Her baby girl, Miki’s goddaughter, fussed in the background. They no longer had much in common, but still talked on occasion. Marci no longer gave advice.
Joel’s card had arrived a few days before from Kyoto, full of homesickness, fond expressions of yeaning but mostly a thorough description of Samurai, shoguns and shinto. She finally had the Japanese boyfriend her father so desired for her. Amusingly, her father found Joel too Japanese, too unassimilated, and seemed almost happy he was spending his junior year, not only abroad, but far away in Japan. Miki found she didn’t miss him too much. Out of sight, out of mind.
Still, Illya had been out of sight (in more ways than one) but never far from her mind.
Miki hadn’t really expected Illya to call but didn’t really want to wander too far from the phone just in case. Since her father had awoken her, she’d felt a sense of needles and pins anticipation. She reminded herself of that pathetic girl in that ridiculous song: Let it please be him, oh dear God, it must be him but it’s not him and then I die…” She had never before waited by the phone in such a histrionic way and mocked herself for her foolishness.
How was Illya supposed to find her at Stanford anyway? Of course, he could call her father for her number. Moreover, locating people should be right up his alley, if he wanted to take the time. He probably just didn’t remember and finding a love-struck girl from his past probably would not rank high on his list of priorities. Five years was a long time.
Her restlessness (she still hated being cooped up) propelled her to the chemistry lab to pick up her problem set for the following week. She asked her roommate, Faye, to monitor the phone. Dear Faye, her best friend since orientation grumbled what sounded like assent from the top bunk. “Say hello to Todd,” she muttered. “If that drip Joel calls I can’t promise I won’t hang up on him.”
“It won’t be Joel,” Miki told her, hurrying out to the lab. Though not apparent, she had dressed with care—frayed, wide belled blue jeans, a tie-dyed tee shirt she had made herself and a fringed suede jacket, her prize possession. Her stepmother had bought it for her on her last birthday. It cost a fortune.
Todd Whitney, the o-chem TA who seemed to live in the lab, sat in a stool and gazed out the window. “Hi, Miki,” he mumbled, sounding as if his mouth was full of potatoes. Or Hostess Twinkies, anyway. He not only haunted the lab but subsisted on junk food, washing it all down with an ever-present bottle of Coca-Cola. His blond hair glinted in the morning sun and Miki gulped.
“Hi,” she said as if she didn’t expect to see him. “I have to pick up—”
“Over there,” Todd pointed in the general direction of a beaker of chartreuse liquid and a pile of mimeographed papers. “Nice jacket. Rich hippie shit, dig it.”
He smiled at Miki as she collected her assignment. Usually they would have more to say, but she wanted to return to the phone. Todd did not seem nearly as attractive as he usually did.
Miki spent the better part of the afternoon reading Lord Byron’s “Don Juan.” She used a pink highlighter to stress key stanzas and found herself doodling with it as though the epic poem was about as complex as a coloring book. Hours later, Faye interrupted her desecration of “Don Juan,” carrying a store bought cake, a sloppy “Happy 21st Miki!” smeared in shiny red cursive on the yellow frosting. “You study too much. It’s your birthday.” The candles wavered but relit as Miki tried to blow them out. Her hall-mates who had followed Faye into the room, laughed at her futile efforts as if they this were a novel prank.
They ended up devouring the cake and shared two celebratory jugs of Gallo Hearty Burgundy while passing around a joint. The stereo blared: way, way down inside, honey you need it—I’m going to give you my love, I’m going to give you my love…
Emboldened by the Hearty Burgundy, not to mention the pot, Miki made a decision. Why should she wait for a call that might never come?
She kept the number Illya had scribbled long ago (five years ago) in the inside pocket of her purse, alongside the purple cocktail pick that had once held Napoleon’s olives. These mementos brought her luck, the matchbook with the number from a jazz club called the Blue Note and the pick from the Purple Unicorn. She often touched them in stressful times, during finals and such, like a rabbit’s foot. They seemed to keep her grounded and also kept her from pulling inane stunts, like calling U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters. She paid no heed to their magical good sense and curled with her princess phone in the corner of her bed, the bottom bunk. The expression “drink and dial” occurred to her but her fingers twirled the number as she read them from the matchbook.
“Good evening.” The crisp voice on the other end said. “You’ve reached The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement’s emergency number. Go ahead please.”
“Hello,” Miki said, startled by the greeting. She evidently had dialed a hotline number. “Is Illya Kuryakin there by any chance?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
”Mr. Kuryakin.” A long pause. “No. May I connect you to the agent on call?”
Miki tried to unscramble her mind and could think of no particular message—he tutored me once and promised he would call on my 21st birthday – she sensed the girl on the phone would hang up on her. “He’s not there?” she asked.
“Do you need help? I will connect you to Section Two. Right away. Mr., um, Crowley will assist you.” The girl on the other end sounded cool and efficient, as if she could handle any crisis: help deliver a baby, talk a caller off a ledge.
“No,” Miki said. She thought of the purple pick, her other good luck charm. Wouldn’t Napoleon Solo remember her? “How about Mr. Solo? May I talk to him?”
“Napoleon Solo?” The voice on the other end laughed. “There’s a blast from the past. No. He resigned quite a while ago. Things aren’t nearly as decorative around here without him.”
“Where is Illya?” Miki asked. “Mr. Kuryakin.”
“Please state your name. I’m really not at liberty to release any more information than I already have,” she said, sounding officious and no longer friendly. “I can direct your call or get a message to Mr. Kuryakin within the hour.”
“Can’t you just tell me what he’s up to, what they’re up to? How’s that going to hurt anything?” Miki felt like stamping her foot.
“As I’ve said, I’ve told you all I know.”
“No, you said you’ve told me all you’re at liberty to say.”
Another laugh that sounded more like a harrumph. “I can’t tell you more. Would you like to leave a message? Is this an emergency? If so I can reach Mr. Kuryakin and give him a message or direct your call. Your name please.”
“OK. Give him a message.” Miki knew she should just hang up, but the Hearty Burgundy urged her folly. She almost shouted, suddenly aware of the stereo and wondered what the serene operator made of Led Zeppelin roaring in the background. Inspiration’s what you are to me, inspiration love you see. At least it was a ballad and relatively quiet. “Tell him it’s my birthday,” she said. “Miki’s birthday, Valentine’s Day. Five years hence.”
“Is that Mickey like the mouse?”
“Got it. Birthday. Valentine’s Day. Five years hence. Can you be reached by phone?”
“Yes.” Miki gave her number, realizing the operator had written everything down as if it were a code. She held the buzzing phone to her ear for a long time, feeling a sense of dread. Sliding the matchbook back in her purse, next to the cocktail pick, she tried to forget she had just given some bogus code words to a powerful, multinational organization. It was like placing a prank call to the White House or perhaps the CIA, something you didn’t do when you were twenty-one unless you were a crackpot.
How absurd! She had really expected Illya to call after all. He said he would and somehow Miki felt sure he had meant it. To her, anyway. She was special. Different. Not like that Dian-A chick from the coffeehouse. She really did think he would have called if he could.
So maybe you call me another guy’s name as I try to make love to you
Had the stereo been that loud?
Faye poured another measure of wine into Miki’s paper cup. “Who were you talking to?” she asked. “Not Joel I hope.”
Miki shook her head.
Less than an hour later the phone rang and Miki picked it up on the first ring. “Hello.” She croaked out the greeting, too eager. Too, let it please be him oh dear god…
A heavily accented voice enunciated almost painfully: “Please, a person-to-person call for Miki Matsu from—” the line crackled.
“Yes. This is she.”
Static and then another “hello” that sounded as if it came from the bottom of a well. “Miki?”
“Yes.” She brought her hand to her mouth. “Illya?” She waved her hand and brought the stereo to silence. The stylus screeched to a halt on Carole King’s “It’s Too Late.”
“You remember me?” His distinctive voice sounded garbled and still amused. “I’m not sure what time it is where you are. The wee hours of the morning here. Happy birthday! I hope it’s still your birthday.”
“You remember me?” Miki shushed her giggling friends to silence so she could hear the uncertain connection. Her friends stared at her with wide-eyed, solemn curiosity. Faye mouthed, “Joel?” and Miki shook her head. “You remembered to call.”
“Not quite.” Illya said, sounding lighter than she had remembered him ever being. “I received a cryptic message from Headquarters. I put the clues together and sensed the emergency. How are you?”
Miki pressed the receiver close to her ear, pushing herself back in the cocoon of the lower bunk. “Fine,” she said, at a loss for words. She had waited for this call all day and now could think of nothing to say.
“Happy birthday.” The rest of whatever he said was garbled.
“I can’t quite hear you.” Miki again urged silence from her friends. They stared at her, a kind of hush from them. A kind of hush all over the world? Miki shook her head; no one listened to Herman Hermit’s anymore. Jimmy Paige had replaced Peter Noone in her affections. Jim Morrison too. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, her other favorites, had died of drug overdoses less than a year ago and within a few weeks of each other. This struck her as unbearably sad and she wondered whatever happened to Peter Noone, who seemed a part of a happier time, as did her former tutor. “Where are you?” she asked.
“I’m in a little village in Yugoslavia,” Illya said. “The phone lines are probably strung between two tin cans to the local operator and who knows—“
Miki could not make out the rest. “What? How are you?”
“I’m fine. Many happy returns.”
Illya did not sound as she had remembered. He sounded almost giddy, as if he had drunk as much Hearty Burgundy as she had. No one stays the same and she felt old
“I asked about Napoleon when I called,” Miki said, almost shouting into the phone. “They said he resigned.”
“Oh. Well. Yes.” That was the explanation, without static and not clear all the same.
“What is he up to?” she asked.
The phone line crackled and Miki could not make out the answer, something about what Illya, not Napoleon, was doing. She heard a cut-off bit ending with the word “married.”
“What?” she asked. “Did he get married?”
“Not that I know of,” Illya replied. “Maybe. We’ve lost touch. Anything’s possible, I suppose. I never saw him as the marrying kind.”
Illya sounded a little more subdued and Miki, quite clearly, heard a girl’s voice asking who he was talking to and a muffled reply.
“I heard you say ‘married,’ ” Miki said.
“Yes. I’m getting married. I just proposed tonight, on St. Valentine’s Day. Rather bourgeois and sentimental, don’t you think? You’re actually the first person I’ve told other than her.”
Miki couldn’t think of anything to say and bowed her head, feeling her friends’ prying stares burn into the top of it. She wished they would go away. An honor to be the first one he told?—other than whoever this ‘her’ was. “Does she have a name?” Miki finally asked, and heard the bitterness in her own voice.
“Yes. Madeline.” But Illya seemed to pick up on Miki’s tone. “What would you want with an old man like me? I’m almost forty. I’m sure you have many boyfriends now.”
“Of course,” Miki replied. And it was true. Perhaps she should mention the too Sayonara-A-Go-Go Joel or even her goofy o-chem TA with the platinum blond hair. It was not as if life had passed her by.
“I thought so.” Illya sounded patronizing. “So, what are you studying? It seems to me you could have chosen almost anything.”
Miki did not wish to get involved in a “What’s your major?” discussion. Chemical engineering sounded so dull. “Quantum mechanics,” she said, pulling the imagined course of study out of her hat and immediately changed the subject. “Do you have a new partner then?”
“At U.N.C.L.E.? No, not really,” Illya said. “On this mission I’m working with someone called ‘Janus.’ ”
“Janis?” Miki thought of Janis Joplin and imagined Illya with her: he in his somber black suit, she with a feather boa in her ratty hair. “You’re partnered with a girl?”
“No.” Another burst of static cut off the rest. “Janus as in the Roman god of gates and doors—’”
“Janus! I know Janus.” Miki interrupted what sounded like a lecture. “Two-headed, don’t forget.” She wanted to remind him of her intelligence. “It sounds a bit alarming.”
“The name ‘Napoleon’ did to me once.” Illya chuckled. “‘Janus’ is just his code name.”
“It’s kind of a creepy one, don’t you think? Does it make sense in context? Do you know all you should about Roman mythology?”
“What?” Illya sounded distracted and then the phone crackled once again.
“What happened to Mr. Solo?” Miki asked recalling how difficult it had been to keep him talking. “I can’t believe you lost touch with him.”
More static followed by a “did though.”
“Tell him you’re getting married. He could be best man.” Miki seldom gave advice but now that she was twenty-one, well, she thought she would give it a whirl. “I keep in touch with my friends.” Now she sounded patronizing, but she did keep in touch. Hadn’t she just chatted with Marci? Sure, she had been disappointed to pick up the phone and find Marci, not Illya, on the other end. But they kept in touch.
“I don’t know where he is, Miki.”
The phone connection had all at once grown clearer, the sigh loud and clear, as if Illya sat next to her on the bottom bunk of her dorm room. They had been close once—a few lessons, a few dances, a kiss—a little close anyway. “You should call him,” she urged.
“I don’t know where he is,” Illya said. “He resigned when I was away.” Once again the connection sizzled as if it had caught fire. Miki only heard “frosty winter” and could make no sense of whatever else Illya had said.
“And you could find him if you wanted to as well, couldn’t you?” Miki looked up and saw her friends sprawled in the hallway outside the room, so silent now. Something odd and intimate about this conversation had chased them to a discreet distance away.
“I could.” Perhaps the phone crackled once again. Or maybe Miki heard a break in Illya’s voice. “It’s so obvious he doesn’t want me to look him up. He knows where I am.”
“In general, he knows where I am. Possibly not at the moment.”
A voice in the background said something that sounded cross in a language Miki did not understand. “Should you go?” Miki asked. “You shouldn’t make your fiancée angry on the night you propose.”
Illya laughed but paused, as if not ready to hang up. It almost seemed as if he longed for a link to his past (a less complicated past?) even though Miki felt sure she would have been a tentative connection to it, more insignificant than a footnote.
“Are you getting married in Yugoslavia?” Miki asked.
Again the fiancée interrupted, a lengthy lament in what sounded now like French.
“She sounds like a bitch.” Miki brought her hand to her mouth. She had learned, long ago, not to say the first thing that popped into her head.
Illya laughed and then Miki heard him say, “You’re a bitch,” followed by a pleased and agreeing burst of laughter in the background.
“Come to our wedding, Miki, and you can see how perfectly awful she it.”
A giddier laugh from the background and then something whispered.
“Will you invite me to the wedding?” Miki asked. How ridiculous to suppose her twenty-first birthday meant a thing to Illya. He called. Their lives had diverged and really, it had been five years. He had called. That should be enough. Still…
“I’ll send you an invitation,” Illya said. “But we have to get married soon. City Hall, no ceremony. New York.”
“Oh.” Miki put two-and-two together; Marci had married with City Hall rapidity.
“We’ll go out to dinner afterwards—and then perhaps to the Sayonara-A-Go-Go. Or to the Purple Unicorn should we be unable to locate your club. ‘Mrs. Brown you’ve got a lovely daughter,”” Illya sang, sounding silly, the cockney accent once again perfectly recalled.
Miki giggled into the phone. “Invite Mr. Solo too. He could be best man.”
“I told you, I don’t know where he is.” Illya sounded abrupt and no longer silly.
Miki heard another complaint in what sounded like yet another language from Illya’s Madeline. And then in
English, no accent, or rather an unreadable one: “Illya! Say goodnight. Please.”
“I should go,” Illya said. “Happy birthday. I remember you fondly. Were you joking about quantum mechanics?”
“Yes, it’s jazz dance,” Miki said, recalling his instruction, his arms around her. “I hope you’re out of Yugoslavia soon.”
For no sound reason she felt apprehensive for him.
“Oh, we will be gone soon. It’s snowing here. It’s really quite lovely. Would you really come to our wedding?”
“Yes, send me an invitation. Or call. It’s good timing; spring break is just around the corner.”
“I’ll do that,” he promised. “It won’t be a grand affair.” Illya paused for a moment. “I really enjoyed our time together. I’m sorry I didn’t remember to call without help.” Illya sounded nostalgic and too sentimental. He sounded lost.
“Illya, you take care. I mean that.” Miki did mean it.
The phone buzzed in Miki’s ear as if Illya had hung up suddenly. She cradled the receiver to her ear, long after the connection had been severed.
When she finally hung up, she grinned a brave smile at her friends. She dug through her record collection, rejecting album after album, before she located her prize. She dropped the stylus too hard on her selection, scratchy from use.
“Oh, not this again,” Faye moaned.
Her hall-mates looked at her as if she had lost her mind but joined her, the Hearty Burgundy urging their participation. “Don’t let on. Don’t say she broke my heart…” They remembered the lyrics. Hell, it was played on the radio once or twice every hour when they were young. Younger.
Miki never received an invitation to Illya’s wedding. Unlike the phone call on her twenty-first birthday, she had never expected to receive one. If she tried hard (and it was a challenging image to conjure) she could imagine Illya bouncing a fat, blond baby on his knee.
I have been told all the song references can be annoying if one cannot place them. Email me and I will provide the soundtrack for the cost of materials and shipping—say $5.