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A Gentleman's Bet

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Two men lounging, alone, on a sailing sloop. The one in black turtleneck and matching slacks peered over his dark glasses – looking more gypsy than sailor. He glanced back at the sleek cabin area, the long length of beautiful wood-work, the filled sails overhead with a moderate breeze. Calm in a world that needed very much calming. He glanced forward at the far shore of one of the Greek lesser-known islands, empty now of people, the azure blue water beckoning to him personally. He took another sip of his chilled Vodka.

His companion, dressed in dapper Captain’s hat, white linen shirt and pants fitting loosely around his trim and fit girth. Currently he was toying at an intricate knot combination with very knowledgeable hands that twisted the ropes this way and that, his Scotch forgotten for now.

“I want this boat” stated the man in black.

The other man chuckled and nodded his head. His hands did not miss a beat as they continued with his knot making.

His Vodka momentarily forgotten, the man in black looked out to the deep blue sea, amused at how his idea was received.

Matter-of-factly the sailor did respond to his friend, “She was built in 1928. Designed by the Cantieri Baglietto yard. In Varazzo. Italy.” His hand momentarily left the ropes and lovingly rubbed the name plate on the console between them. “Nothing like her in the world.” He turned his full attention to the man he knew had a Russian soul, “Rarer than rare.”

With a rakish determination he magically pulled apart his completed rope until it was nothing but a single strand, “However, it’s not for sale.”

“I don’t want to buy it with money,” the first man replied, a mischievous glint in his sea-blue eyes. “I want to win it.” Dead serious.

Immediately this surprised the attention of the man in white when usually nothing ever surprised him.

The Vodka set aside, the Russian added, “I want to win it with a dance.”

As he lifted his Scotch, the gambler in him laughed. The Scotch and Vodka clinked as only fine crystal can, a bet sealed. “With a dance!”

‘What was I thinking?! Clearly, I wasn’t thinking. I get sea-sick for bloody sake.’ Illya Kuryakin wandered down the various streets of mid-Manhattan, making his way deeper into Old Country territory. The tiny Polish woman he met at the old theatre let him in with one of her many keys. “Here we go. Mind your head, many’s a cob web there. Don’t have call to rent this old building out much. No, not much.” She looked up at her new renter. Wouldn’t have shown this at a reduced rate but he spoke to her in Old Country language. Not many take the time nowadays. “This do?”

“Yes. This will do.” Kuryakin confirmed as his torch shone the way around the massive room. Props, tables, chairs all leaning in dis-use against the walls. “Does the electrical work? Can we get it turned on?”

“Tak, sure. It is a nice big place, you know. What do you want it for?”

“A wee bit of fun,” the young man answered.

“Hmm. Idiota!” the woman shook her head at the young.

Late at night, bare foot and shirtless, Kuryakin sat in a corner of his apartment. Gypsy music, Romani music, is usually played on a classical guitar or a smaller travel guitar. For his purposes his own instrument would work fine, and calm his nerves. His phone rang, the sound blaring in the quiet of the night. “Yes,” he listened and shook his head, “Da. Spasibo Yuri. That will be perfect. Until then.” He hung up the phone, all nerves gone. Game on.

Kuryakin leaned over his desk, chewing on his pen in thought. On a note card he wrote:

200 2nd Avenue
Alley behind Pierozek’s
11 p.m. Tonight

He folded up the note and stuffed it in an envelope.

Napoleon Solo’s taxi dropped him off at this darkened end of the street. As he looked around, most shops were closed and vacant. Bringing up the note he had received, he double checked the directions he got from his partner. He eyed Pierozek’s and knew he was in the right place. As he approached the darkened ally around back, suddenly a soft spotlight turned on, showing off all tripping hazards left in the old ally and lighting the way. The door creaked when pushed open, loud in the damping quiet of the night.

“Hello …” he called. “Any body home?”

Suddenly he caught sight of a single lamp sitting on a lone small Bistro table surrounded by two chairs. Solo removed his overcoat as he did a visual inspection of the seemingly empty premises. ‘Could Illya not have picked a cleaner local?’ he thought as he tossed the coat over one of the chairs. As he sat, he noticed one crystal glass, half filled with his favorite Scotch waiting for him next to the lamp. Ah the taste brought him home.

Suddenly a spot light in the center of the room. Kuryakin in black (of course) alone with a guitar. The strings were plucked, invading the quiet of the room. The notes began slowly, separately, awakening the sound. The music was European, Romani Solo guessed. Kuryakin stopped suddenly and looked up to check if his partner was watching. He was.

He began again. Slowly the strings built in power and speed. Suddenly he was joined by two men, two minstrels that intertwined their music with Illya’s. With a flourish, the Russian set his instrument aside and moved his body to the music, to the drama that was unfolding.

A glance over at the table and he couldn’t help but notice his friend calmly, unaffectedly, cross one leg over his knee in boredom. Illya winced.

He threw himself into the dance. As the tempo increased, so did Illya’s athletic dancing, whipping around the room. Whirling, and stamping his feet. The passion of the harmony could not help but enter your blood.

Again, he glanced over. He caught Napoleon tapping his toes to the beat, his head lightly nodding.

More musicians entered from the side; bringing their violins, the lute, tambourines, and lap bongos. All the rhythm and tones and notes adding to the dance that Illya was performing. Napoleon grinned to watch such passion harmonize in music and dance.

Then, just when Napoleon thought, ‘What, this is all?’. From every corner of the room, Romani belly dancers in full dress of bangles and wild colors joined in the dance. Beautiful women, masters of their craft, shifting and sashaying and gliding around Illya. He was the center of a Universe Napoleon dearly wanted to be a part of.

With hardly a nod from Illya, Napoleon quickly set his glass aside and jumped into the fray. He quickly made a spot for himself next to several talented dancers and laughed so hard he was hard pressed to call himself dancing. Illya could barely keep his shout of triumph contained and he jumped higher than before. Feet stamping, belly’s shaking, hands waving; the celebration of the dance was shared by all, on into the wee hours of the new dawn.

The graceful sloop was somewhere in the Caribbean at the moment. The sky was clear and a soft breeze gently blew across a mast without sails as they were anchored in a lovely bay, far from the noise and commotion of civilization.

With a glass of Vodka close at hand, one man lay out in swim attire, white polo shirt to protect from the sun, and dark glasses to hide from the glare - comfortable that as new Captain he had no plans to move himself nor his boat anywhere in the near future.

The other man, sipping his cherished Scotch, was sitting close by in a deck chair, less comfortable in his blue tailored shirt and slacks, less comfortable with the loss of motion of any kind. He finally said, “I want to buy this boat.”

The lounging man lifted his head, dropped his dark glasses and chuckled.

However, the man in blue simply leaned his head to the side and waited.
At his leisure the pretend-sailor responded to his friend, “She was built in 1928. Designed by the Cantieri Baglietto yard. In Varazzo. That’s Italy.”

Leaning back in his chair, the sailor simply nodded.

“There is nothing like her in the world,” he continued setting his Vodka aside and turning his full attention to the man he knew had the soul of a true gambler. “Rarer than rare.”

He then promptly laid back down, “It’s not for sale.”

The gambler let out a small smile and sipped his Scotch. Then he brought his gaze back on the lounging Russian. “I don’t want to buy it with money.”

Hearing this, the man lifted his head once again.

They stared at each other, transfixed, evenly matched.

“I want to buy it …” the hazel eyes alight with fire continued, “… with a story.”

The man paused, tipped his blond head to one side. Thought. “With a story …?”

The man in white tipped his glass of Vodka to the man in blue. You could hear laughter and the clink of fine crystal glass, Vodka to Scotch, in a confirmed new bet.