Once Upon a Time challenge (26 November-9 December 2017)
Napoleon and Illya are organised to within an inch of their lives
Napoleon and Illya are organised to within an inch of their lives
A Tidy Office
Ginny had a spring in her step as she walked through the staff entrance of U.N.C.L.E. New York. To the envy of her colleagues in the secretarial pool, she had been promoted to the job of personal assistant to Mr Solo and Mr Kuryakin.
The two agents were tidying their office – rather in the manner of households who employ a weekly cleaner but who frantically clean up beforehand.
“Where shall I put this?”
“On that pile. What is it?”
“Oh. Not that pile, then – that one.”
“Hey, look what I’ve found! I lost this months ago.”
His partner cast a dismissive look at the item as Napoleon turned its pages. “I suggest you put that in the discard pile, or hide it.”
His own desk was pure in that respect, and as free of clutter as Napoleon’s was covered. It was a mystery how the laid-back American ever found anything, but he claimed to have an infallible filing system. By dated archaeological strata, presumably, though mixed with an awful lot of confusing backfill from the wreckage of aeons past.
Illya’s drawer of the filing cabinet would warm an archivist’s heart – Napoleon’s might possibly break it. Even the drawers of Illya’s desk were fairly clear of outdated, unused stuff – apart from a collection of pens that he seemed to acquire in quantity. He wondered if he ought to display them somewhere for their original owners to claim. Napoleon, of course, used the collection as a basic resource.
What struck Napoleon quite frequently was the disparity between Illya’s puritanical neatness about files and paperwork (and pens), and his slight air of crumpled untidiness about clothes and shoes. He usually started the day quite well, always well shaved and neat, but often, even by lunchtime, he could be found either covered in dust, or creased almost beyond the capacity of the Del Floria steam press to correct. How did he do it? Napoleon was mystified. Illya naturally rejected the criticism as unwarranted exaggeration.
It was a miracle their partnership survived, given their differences.
“Right. I think that’ll do.”
“What is the name of this personal assistant, again?”
“Oh, yes. Not Brandy.”
“No, and not Whisky, either, idiot Russian.”
“What is she going to do?”
“She’s going to assist us – personally.”
“I see.” No, he didn’t.
Having more-or-less disposed of the detritus of years, they were sitting back reasonably satisfied with their efforts, when the lady herself arrived. They both rose politely.
Faced with two men whose mere glance could put the fear of God into an opponent, Ginny’s knees were knocking. Their glance did little damage, however; Napoleon greeted her with the naturally warm welcome he gave to any female; Illya merely nodded and smiled slightly before sitting down and putting his glasses on. Her sinews stiffened again, and she smiled back.
“So, where shall I start?” she began – to blank looks. “You know – where you keep your documentation, diaries … that kind of thing.”
“Well, there’s the filing cabinet,” said Illya.
“And the wallchart,” put in Napoleon. “– That’s where we try to remember to write where we’re each meant to be… at a given hour.”
“Or on a given day.”
Ginny saw them look at each other meaningfully at this point. Clearly a personal assistant was badly needed. She knew about Section 2 agents – no idea of time-management, or paperwork. If they had to drop everything and run, nothing was ever picked up again.
“Missions aren’t always noted on there – specially if they’re unforeseen.” Napoleon looked apologetic.
“I see,” she said. “How do you keep track of the report-writing?”
“Illya does it,” said Napoleon before his partner could answer.
Illya, masking his expression behind his tinted glasses, said, “And Napoleon pays for all my meals afterwards.”
Ginny ignored this interpolation. “I mean, who checks that a report has been written?”
“Ditto, because I write them,” said Illya.
“Hey, I write some, too.”
“I did one … the other day.”
“Gentlemen, this isn’t getting us anywhere… is it.” She flinched under the combined glare and gaze of the two men. “Perhaps,” she continued warily, “I should keep the diary up to date, and keep a note of who has written up the reports – er, don’t you both have to contribute?”
“Yes,” said Illya. “No,” said Napoleon.
“All right, all right. I get it,” said Ginny, exasperated now. “Now, who types them up?”
“I type my own. Napoleon sends his scrawl – when he does one – to the typists’ room.”
“And you keep copies in the filing cabinet, I guess.”
She observed a smug smile on Illya’s face as he looked at his partner. She turned to Napoleon, “I guess you don’t? So, maybe my first job should be to check out everything you’ve done … what, this year? And see what’s missing?”
The smug smile turned into a grin.
Before they could be exposed to further alarming displays of critical thinking, the two agents’ communicators sounded and they were called away.
It was pretty clear already which part of the filing cabinet was Illya’s domain – the rest wasn’t a domain so much as a lair, full of the bones of previous adventures. Ginny mentally rolled up her sleeves. It was going to be a Herculean task, and before settling down at Illya’s conveniently vacated, and cleared, desk, she went in search of an official log of operations to compare with both men’s desk diaries, the wallchart, and their files.
It was nearly a week before Section 2 saw the two top agents again, and it wasn’t a particularly pretty sight. He was neat and well shaved, but Illya’s normally engaging good looks were marred by bruises, and he wore a brace on his right wrist. Napoleon was sporting fewer bruises, but wore a sling and an air of martyrdom. His dislocated shoulder was no cushion of ease and he had come in to work only because he was uncomfortable wherever he was, and thought that sympathetic companionship would be preferable to suffering alone.
Illya arrived first, being a little less disabled as far as showering and dressing were concerned. He walked into the office head down, reading a file, and went straight to his desk before becoming aware of a change.
When Napoleon came in, shortly afterwards, upright and beaming from recent attentions, he noticed immediately.
“Where did those come from?”
“Brandy – Ginny – probably.”
It was a pot plant – more of a tree really – standing beside the filing cabinet, and on each desk a single flower stem in a slender glass vase.
“What are they?”
“The tree is a Ficus benjamina. Weeping fig, to you.” (It meant nothing to Napoleon). “The flowers are dianthus – carnations. That is what
smells in here.”
“Very fragrant. A bit like a wedding party.”
“More like a brothel.”
“You don’t know much about brothels, if that’s what you think.”
Ginny came in at this point, so Illya was spared the necessity of responding to that, and instead gave him an ironic glance before turning a cool and questioning blue gaze on her.
“Before you ask,” she said, “it’s a known fact that plants in offices are good for stress, and for filtering the air.”
“Do they have to smell?”
“It’s a very nice smell, very soothing.”
Sniffing a little, he sat down again at what he now observed was a suspiciously clean and polished desk. Napoleon, sitting at his, wondered where his careful filing system had gone.
“Now,” she began firmly, to wary looks, “before you start to write up your last mission, there are one or two things I’d like to go over with you…”
They escaped in due course and went out for a coffee, rather than risk the canteen where she might be tempted to follow.
“I had a list of telephone numbers…” Napoleon began.
“My desk is so polished everything slides off it…” Illya said.
“And did you look in the filing cabinet?”
“My drawer is practically empty.”
“Well, it didn’t have anything of value in it, did it?”
“That’s not the point.”
Illya glanced into his filing cabinet domain, and found it as tidy as he had left it. The drawer itself had evidently been cleaned and was now free of dust and crumbs.
Napoleon looked mournfully at him, and then down at the fresh paper and pen waiting on his desk.
“Do I have to?”
“Looks like it, partner,” Illya replied, putting his own fresh paper and carbons into the typewriter.
“Have you seen the wallchart?”
Illya turned. Every line was now marked up with missions undertaken, and annotated with a file number. He got up and went back to the filing cabinet. All his files had been annotated and put in date and file-number order. That was all very well, but he now saw that there were white tabs here and there, marked with the word “Missing”, and groaned aloud.
“Found you out, has she?”
Napoleon, arriving back very late after a solo mission, decided to stay on and finish the paperwork – he had a date the next evening, and wanted to write it up in order to leave early. He had paper, he even had an idea of what he was going to write, but when he looked there was no pen. He went over to Illya’s desk and rummaged there. No pens – no pens? It was unheard of.
Opening his communicator, he gave the call sign for his partner, and then belatedly noticed the time and rather nervously waited for him to answer. It took some time.
Profoundly annoyed, Illya freed an arm from a tangle of entwined limbs, felt around under the mass of chestnut hair on the pillow for his own communicator, and fumbled to open it among the rumpled bedclothes.
“Kuryakin,” he snapped.
“Hi, partner. Did I get you out of bed?” the tinny voice said breezily.
“But you are in bed?”
“Wake you up?”
“Ah. Sorry to interrupt. Do you have a pen anywhere?”
“Where are all your pens?”
Amid the swearing, Napoleon gathered that his partner neither knew nor cared. He also heard muffled giggles, emanating, he assumed, from someone other than his furious friend and colleague; someone, he hoped, who would calm him down before morning.
He gave up on the report and went home to his own, unusually-empty, bed.
Evidently some sort of calming effect had been achieved as Illya was his usual self, next day. Neat, well shaved; perhaps a little more taciturn than usual, not particularly aggressive. But, understandably a little fearful of his partner’s wrath, Napoleon kept his head down, just in case.
“Did you find a pen?” Illya finally asked, after half an hour pounding the typewriter.
“No. Had to bring one in. Where are they all? You used to have dozens.”
“Minnie probably knows.”
“Minnie – short for Minerva.”
“Goddess of Wisdom?”
The goddess in question now entered, and found them laughing together.
She had, it seemed, done just what Illya had been guiltily thinking of, and had displayed the pens for their owners to reclaim. Unhappily, she had not left either agent with one of his own.
“I needed one last night,” said Napoleon gravely, “to write my report.”
“Perhaps, as our personal assistant, you’d like to find us a supply,” said Illya politely.
When she returned with a whole box of pens, she said, “You know, now that I’ve organised your office, I ought to be organising your schedules and meetings, doing research for your missions – that sort of thing. I know a couple of languages, if that helps. So, what do you need next?”
The two men exchanged a look.
“We go and we do what we are ordered to do, by our chief. You can’t organise him.”
“We do our own research,” said Napoleon.
“That is, I do it,” said Illya, adding, “and I do any translating that’s required.”
“And I’m afraid meetings tend to be arranged at short notice – if we’re free.”
“If we’re available.”
“You could water the plant,” Napoleon offered, placatingly.
“Perhaps you’re wasted on us. We should share your undoubted skills with other agents,” said Illya, kindly.