THE IT’S OVER BEFORE IT’S BEGUN AFFAIR
The sidewalks of Florence were busy with pedestrians enjoying the spate of spring weather. When Napoleon Solo stepped from the taxi, he took a moment to appreciate the brisk air and fashionable ladies. His partner also took a moment; they were not scheduled to start their assignment until the morning.
“I told the driver to take our things to the hotel,” Illya said.
“The weather must be getting to you. You actually gave him a decent tip.” Solo smiled and nodded a greeting to a passing pair of lovelies.
“Well, he does have our luggage,” the blond agent said logically. “Better he wasn’t too miffed.”
“True. And since we don’t start bird watching import car garages tomorrow, I think I’ll take the time to enjoy the sites.” Solo’s eyes had been drawn to the window of a haberdashery across the street where a comely maiden was putting the finishing touches on a mannequin in the window.
Illya followed his partner’s gaze and snorted. “You’re going to run out of closet space some day.”
“Ah, but the space is not the point.” Solo adjusted his tie.
“Yes it is.” Illya said dryly. “Which space you’re filling is the point exactly.”
Solo grinned, taking the jab jovially, and smoothed his hair using the store window behind Illya as a mirror. “Go buy a telescope or something,” he said as he stepped off the sidewalk and waved at the shop behind Illya which had several telescopes on display. “I’ll fill space. You can gaze at it.”
Illya turned and smiled. Pleasantly surprised, he happily stepped inside the store while Solo dodged a bike and ducked into the haberdashery.
The bell on the door tinkled gaily. Solo immediately began to peruse the racks, waiting for the young lady to finish with the mannequin. Hats flanked a mirror on one side of the shop and Solo placed himself in front of it, pretending to admire the fare. The mirror allowed him to keep an eye on the woman, which he did with glee. As she gave the mannequin a final smoothing and turned to face him, Napoleon caught the reflection of a man pass by an open door on the other side of the sales floor. He assumed the door led to the dressing rooms, so seeing someone back there wasn’t what surprised him; it’s who it was that floored him.
Solo and Kuryakin had been sent to Florence as part of a task force to locate Wilhelm Reinhart, a high ranking Thrush official, who had slipped through UNCLE’s fingers more than once. As soon as they’d locate his base of operations, Reinhart would disappear. They only had an excellent description and the fact that he had an affinity for foreign cars; his operations usually involved importing them. Was this how he disappeared so easily every time? Was there always a backup operation, like this clothing store, nearby?
“Greetings, Mr. . .?” The comely clerk swayed to him with an inviting smile and sparkling eyes.
“Um, Solo. Napoleon Solo.” He split his glances between her green eyes and the doorway, knowing he had to check the identity of that man.
“Mr. Solo, then. May I help you with something?” Her voice was a silky invitation, and her soft, manicured hand gently caressed his forearm.
“I want to try something on,” he said quickly.
The woman coyly plucked a hat off the rack and plopped it on his head. “Like this?” She said, pursing her lips and standing close.
He stepped back. “Sure.” He pointed to the open door and moved in that direction. “Dressing rooms over here?”
She blinked, perplexed. The smile faded. “For a hat?”
“I’m very shy,” he explained as the entered the doorway. To his left, one door labeled ‘Dressing Room’. To his right, where the man had gone, an unmarked door. He pulled his Special and put his ear to the wood, where he heard male voices.
“Mr. Reinhart, the vehicle won’t be here until next week. It’s the best Thrush Central can do. They just received the plans and they haven’t been put in the car’s upholstery yet.”
“That’s not acceptable!” Reinhart growled.
'Smuggling things in imported cars. Not exactly original, but obviously successful.' Solo kicked the door and leveled his gun.
“Wilhelm Reinhart, I presume?” He said coolly to the men frozen within. The man behind the desk, Reinhart, made a move that made the hairs on Solo’s nape instantly rise. The shotgun from under the table would have killed him if he hadn’t leaped back and rolled back into the main shop.
The salesclerk screamed. The second man burst onto the sales floor with a very large handgun and a firefight ensued with Solo pinned behind the checkout counter. The mirror, with the girl cowering on the floor in front of it, gave him the sight of Reinhart darting toward the dressing room as well as the exact location of the shooter. He waited for the perfect moment, and popped up with gun blazing. The man went down, and Solo charged to the dressing room.
The open dressing room door revealed a roof access, and he scrambled up the wall ladder in pursuit. He carefully poked his head out the access hole at the top.
“It’s all right, Napoleon. I got him.”
Shocked, Solo saw his partner kneeling on Reinhart’s back as he applied handcuffs. The American holstered his weapon, climbed onto the roof and dusted off his suit as he joined the Russian. “How did you . . .?”
“Fire escape.” Illya stood. “I was looking at some telescopes which happened to be aimed at the shop and in Reinhart’s office window.”
“I see,” Solo mused. “I always said a little voyeurism is a good thing.”
Illya jerked Reinhart to his feet. “Looks like our assignment is over before it even started.”
Solo grinned. “Maybe so, but I still have some space to fill down below.”
Illya rolled his eyes as Solo quickly backtracked to the access opening.