A pretty ginger-haired Mary Katherine Houlihan stood outside the entrance to the storefront diner, dressed in her neatly pressed grey uniform. She was tapping her foot in annoyance though it made little difference as her work shoes had thick rubber soles to help cushion her feet and made no sound.
Though she called them her 'old lady' shoes, they helped keep her tired dogs from aching after a ten hour shift of waiting and bussing tables at her job.
It was seven a.m. and the place should have been open already, and Mary Kate apologized to the clientele who showed up to eat or get a cup of coffee, but had to be turned away. Most of them understood as they were used to things running late here at Klingman's New York Diner.
Somehow the business was successful inspite of that fact...
Mary Kate, however, wasn't that understanding as it took two differnent city buses and an unpleasant ride on the subway to get to work every day, day in and day out and she manged to get here on time six days a week.
Bernie Klingman the owner and manager lived literally around the corner in a neat little brownstone apartment building and still never showed up on time to open up.
If she were smart like the other girls, she'd just get here late knowing Bernie wouldn't show up, but just her luck...she'd do it one time and he'd be early and boom, she'd be docked her pay. Funny, he never did that to the other waitresses, especially Chloe.
Not that it was a lot, as her base pay was a pittance and she worked hard for her money . Still Mary Kate liked her job at the diner as the customers were nice, and fair with their gratuities. She was twenty-eight years old, working in a basically dead-end job and they knew it, and seemed to care. A lot of the regulars requested she be their waitress when they came in to eat.
There were times Mary Kate had to apologetically refuse as the other waitresses were entitled to tipping customers too and fair was fair. They understood and appreciated that sacrifice as the girls all put in a long work day.
She needed this job and couldn't afford a screw up, having nearly lost her apartment once already when she'd been laid off due to her old job going out of business.
This Irish-American lass had seen her share of hard times, and had to give up her dreams of going to business school as she needed to survive. With her family gone, she was on her own. She did keep up on her studies though, spending as much time as possible at the city library; she even taught herself short hand.
Mary Kate spotted Bernie schlepping along the sidewalk at a leisurly pace and watched as he walked up to the gate seemingly without a care in the world, unlocking it and pulling open. He didn't even acknowledge her presence as he inserted the key into the door.
"Rough night Bernie?" She commented as she slipped past him to get inside.
"Wadda ya mean?"
"Well you didn't even comb your hair, it's a mess."
"Aw Geeze, thanks," He pulled a comb from his pocket, straightening his toussled hair that looked like it was in need of a cut much less a good washing.
Mary Kate snickered and went about her business; retrieving her white apron and tying it about her narrow waist. She moved effortlessly around the tables checking the salt and pepper shakers and ensuring the condiments were up to snuff.
There were small tapered glass vases on each table and Bernie walked over to her, handing her a bunch of green carnations.
"Put some on each table, you know... for St. Patricks Day. And make sure you push the corned beef, the shepherds pie and oh yeah, that smoked pork butt with cabbage and potatoes too."
"Anything else Bernie?"
He flashed her a 'whatever' look and walked away.
Two other waitresses, accompanied by a burly looking man dressed in black and white checkered pants and a white tee-shirt came through the door.
"Hiya Bernie," the dark-haired Chloe greeted him, snapping her gum in her mouth. "Long time no see," she giggled at that while she put on her apron.
Miss Houlihan now understood why Bernie's hair was a mess...
Marge, the other waitress followed her own routine, putting on her apron and working wordlessly behind the counter; wiping it down, checking that all was in readiness for the breakfast and lunch crowds.
Otto the cook disappeared into his kitchen, where the morning ritual of banging pots and pans accompanied by loud cursing in some foreign language echoed out of the 'pass through' window.
Bernie hit the 'no sale' key on the cash regiser, breaking the silence with a loud 'cha-ching' as he pulled the money, counting out his drawer. Once it was slammed closed that was the signal they were finally open for business.
The usual cast of characters came in for breakfast, ordering locks on bagles with cream cheese and a large slice of red onion, eggs and bacon, flapjacks, oatmeal with fruit. Some just had coffee or tea or took their orders to go.
The women were predicatible, especially the ones who wore that cool uniform... with the black pencil skirts and the yellow or blue blouses. These gals didn't have to wear sensible shoes at all. Of that, Mary Katherine Houlihan was a tad jealous.
From the conversation the waitress easily guessed most of them were secretaries working somewhere in the area, though none of them ever said where it was when asked.
Mary Kate heard some names whispered now and then, Mark, a woman named April and a couple of unusual ones, Napoleon and...Illya. "What was that all about," she wondered what sort of names they were, much less what the guys who they belonged to looked like.
A few hours later the breakfast crowd was gone, and the girls did a quick cleanup; bringing out more flatware and napkins, checking everything was in readiness.
Like clockwork the lunch crowd came in at noon. The uniformed secretaries never showed up to eat this time of day; it was always men in suits. Some looked like eggheads wearing thick glasses, and seemed sort of out of it. They were always talking shop in hushed whispers. Some seemed a little cagey, always looking around or over their shoulders.
A place called the commisary was mentioned in passing conversation now and then, apparently a company cafeteria that didn't always serve the best of food; making Klingman's the next best choice. There were other eateries in the area frequented by these people. Chang's Chinese Restaurant was a popular place, and a Polish mom and pop place as well as several typical New York delicatessens.
A skinny fellow in a dark suit and narrow tie walked in the door wearing a pair of heavy-rimmed glasses; his dark hair neatly combed in place with plenty of Brylcreem. It was George...one of the regulars.
He was nice, though a bit geeky. Still he was friendly enough and always left a good tip. He was one of the ones who did seem to genuinely care and always asked Mary Kate how she was doing.
Normally he came in by himself but today he was accompanied by two of the most drop dead gorgeous men Mary Katherine Houlihan had laid eyes on in a very long time.
One was dark haired with dreamy hazel eyes and a dimpled chin. He had an air of authority about him, but when he smiled...oh my God, it made a girl weak in the knees. The other fellow, bringing up the rear was a short guy, really thin and wirey from the looks of it, but there was something cat-like and sensual about him as he moved.
Mary Kate watched as his bright blue eyes scanned the room, but it was his blond hair that really caught her attention. It was long, like a Beatles haircut and framed his boyishly handsome face, looking so soft that it made her want to run her fingers through it. She felt something odd when looking at this one, almost as if she could have an orgasm right then and there. "Oh Gawwwd," she shook off that wicked feeling.
Marge and Chloe were staring at these handsome men too; probably jealous they'd seated themselves at Mary Kate's station.
She approached the table, pulling out her order book from her apron pocket.
"Hi George how are you today?" She tired to make her voice sound alluring, sexy even. Why she did it, she didn't know as she never flirted with customers, other than making them feel special.
"I'm great, thanks. How are you today Mary Kate? Sure 'tis getting close to your holiday isn't it?" He put on a fake Irish accent.
"Oh I'm fine George, yes it's getting close to the big day..." Not that she celebrated St. Patrick's day anymore; she hadn't since her dad died. He was big for the wearing of the green and going to the parade on Fifth Avenue, but that tradition passed with him. It was sad, not just losing her father but the things they did togehter. He really did love that parade.
"Say, these are my friends Napoleon and Illya and I told them what great food you have here, along with the great service."
"Really George? Well thanks and hi Napoleon and Illya. I'm Mary Katherine Houlihan and I'll be your waitress today. What can I do to you...I mean, get for you?" She recovered her faux pas, hopefully quick enough not to have been noticed.
She watched the blond pull out an oversized pair of tinted glasses from his pocket and pick up the menu, not saying a word.
"Hi there," the one name Napoleon practically purred at her. "What's good on the menu today, besides you?"
She wanted to curl up in a ball and die...
"Well," she lowered her voice, recovering from her embarrassment." I was told to push the corned beef, shepherds pie and smoked pork butt because St. Paddy's day is coming up, but there's no problem as it's all good."
"Smoked pork butt?" Illya finally spoke." I am familiar with corned beef and shepards pie being served here in America as tradtional Irish fare but the other I have not heard of, can you elaborate on it?"
She was taken aback for a second, as he was speaking so formally and not what she expected to come out of his mouth, and she tried to place his accent. It sounded British, but then it didn't.
No one ever questioned about items being offered on the menu.
Luckily Mary Katherine Houlihan being of Irish extraction could answer his question.
"Corned beef isn't considered an Irish national dish, and the connection with Saint Patrick's Day is just part of Irish-American culture, It was used as a substitute for bacon by immigrants in the late 19th century. Corned beef and cabbage became the Irish-American version of the Irish dish of bacon and cabbage," she rambled on.
"Now shepherd's pie I'm pretty sure came from Scotland and northern England. It was made by wives who were looking for different ways to serve leftover meats to their families. The name supposedly originated from the region where sheep were plentiful."
"Yes Mary Katherine, if I may address you by your given name," Illya lowered his glasses, flashing those blue eyes at her." Your knowledge is impressive, though I am familiar with the origins of corned beef and shepherds pie, but it is this 'smoked pork butt' that has caught my interest.
"Oh for goodness sake just order it, " Napoleon grumbled.
"Excuse me, but I will not order something I might not like."
"Tovarisch, I haven't seen anything edible you haven't liked."
"Napoleon, you recall whale blubber?"
It was Solo's turn to roll his eyes.
"Now as I was saying Mary Katherine,"Illya continued,"the smoked pork butt?"
"That's all right Napoleon I don't mind telling him. When I grew up my mother made it instead of corned beef, telling me it was as close as you could get to Irish bacon, served with potatoes and cabbage, though that cut for the bacon was from the back of the pig. Anyway a pork butt actually has nothing to do with the hindquarters of a pig. The 'butt' is the cut that refers to the butt of the upper shoulder. I love the way the smoked flavor of the meat infuses into the cabbage and potatoes when they're boiled together. It would all practically melt in your mouth... I have very fond memories associated with that food."
Mary Kate zoned for a second, smiling to herself as she became lost in her happy recollections of home and family.
Illya finally broke into a smile, removing his glasses and putting them in his breast pocket.
"Sounds delicious Mary Katherine. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I will have the smoked pork butt please."
She shook herself, returning to the present with a contented sigh.
"Okay that's one pork butt with cabbage and potatoes, and what about you fellows," she looked at George and Napoleon who both agreed upon the Shepherds Pie.
After placing their orders Illya noticed the greasy-haired man behind the cash register eyeing Mary Katherine with an annoyed gaze. He watched as Bernie pulled her aside, reaming into her with a harsh lecture.
Illya cocked an ear; listening to her being berated for having talked to them too long and wasting time lecturing on the origins of the food. He threatened to dock her pay as well as to fire her if he ever saw her flirting again with customers.
The girl's face flushed red with embarrassement, but remained silent and offered no words of defense or protest to Klingman; her need for the job forced her to just take what he'd dished out.
Minutes later she returned to the table delivering the food orders, though looking quite down- hearted.
"You okay sweetheart? Napoleon asked.
"I'm fine, thank you for caring. Is there anything else I can get you fellas?"
"Not at the moment, thank you," Illya spoke up, though he cast a cold gaze in Bernie's direction.
The three men finished up but Illya and Napoleon excused themselves to George, heading towards the cash register and Bernie. Illya leaned across the counter, letting his suit jacket drift open allowhing his shoulder holster and gun to be visible.
Klingman turned white as the blond whispered to him; the words inaudible to anyone else. Solo stood behind his partner with his arms crossed in front of his chest, looking the part of the 'tough guy' but not saying a word.
"I do not appreciate how you spoke to Mary Katherine and I recommend in the future you treat her right." He held up his UNCLE business card. "She should be a valued asset to you. If I hear otherwise, I will be back." Illya flashed him his patented cold blue-eyed stare that had stopped enemy agents dead in their tracks.
"Yeah sure, I got ya yeah...yeah sure." Bernie broke into a sweat as he watched the men join their friend at the door and disappear onto the street.
"Geeze Illya," George whispered. " Was it a good idea to threaten him like that. He's the owner you know."
"I do not care if he is the Mayor. The girl was doing her job and did not deserve such mistreatment. I was the one who asked her to elaborate on the menu and it was therefore my place to defend her actions."
Mary Kate cleared the table, finding a nice tip and Illya's business card with a note written on the back."
"When you are ready for a better job, contact me."
She smiled, tucking it into her apron pocket and as she carried the dirty dishes to the kitchen Bernie again pulled her aside.
"Hey why didn't you tell me your Uncle was some sort of crazy mob guy. He had an accent...is he Irish mafia?"
He held up Kuryakin's card, showing it to her and not missing a beat she responded, "It's something we just don't talk about."
"By the way, I changed my mind about docking your pay and I want to tell you I do appreciate that your hard work and are really good with the customers. That being the case... I'm giving you a raise."
"Gee thanks Bernie, that's real decent of you," she smiled to herself thinking..."thanks 'UNCLE Illya."
Bernie was as nervous as a chihuahua and she swore his eyes were bulging. "And Mary Kate as a matter of fact, you can have St. Paddy's day off with pay...go to the parade and enjoy yourself."
"Thanks Bernie, I just might do that… I should call my UNCLE to see if him and his friend might want to go with me," she grinned, cocking her eyebrows.