The Going to the Zoo Affair
Illya raised his eyes, and his eyebrows disappeared under the blond flop. Napoleon finger-combed the bangs aside and grinned at him.
“I rest my case,” he said.
The elevator dinged to a stop and the steel doors slid aside. Solo stepped past his partner into the corridor.
“There’s a canine beautician on 41st”, he tossed over his shoulder then stepped quickly to one side, anticipating the Russian’s lunge. Kuryakin snorted and fell into step next to him.
Their summons to Waverly’s office had been more than welcome. Since their return from Africa three weeks previously, the make-work days had dragged. Illya had put in time on the range and in the gym. Napoleon was working his way through the steno pool. For the sake of appearance. These days his dates usually ended at the girl’s apartment door or sooner. If not, he contrived to wrap it up prior to any serious escalation. Often he was home before Illya. The Russian, as always, made it worth his while. Napoleon inhaled sharply at the memory. He surreptitiously adjusted his pants.
Lisa Rogers greeted them in the alcove outside Waverly’s office and released the door mechanism. She smiled into Napoleon’s eyes. “Go right in,” she said. “He’s waiting.”
As Napoleon stepped through the door Illya’s foot somehow managed to catch his own and he stumbled into the presence of their boss. By the time he’d gathered himself, Illya was drawing his chair up to the big table looking both smug and innocent. Waverly took his pipe from his mouth and tsked.
“Do be careful Mr Solo,” he said.
“Yes, Napoleon,” Illya said into his eyes. “Do take care.”
Napoleon sat, holding the grin off his face with an effort.
Alexander Waverly flipped a few switches on the console in front of him. The window blinds drew down, the lighting dimmed and a projector whirred into life. Spasmodic images began to play on the screen.
“The man in the foreground is Walter Kreutz. In 1939 he was in his final year as a chemist at the University of Vienna. Tipped as a future Nobel laureate. He and his family were abducted by the Nazis and he was coerced into working on their chemical weapons programme.” Waverly paused. “His wife and daughter were never found.
“At the end of the war he was released by the allies and went underground. He reappeared two years ago, working on a humanitarian project in West Africa. Six months ago he was abducted by militants and auctioned to the highest bidder. We have reason to believe that Thrush are picking him up tomorrow here in New York.”
The screen went dark and the lights came up again. Napoleon glanced at his boss. “Where exactly in New York, Sir?”
Waverly looked slightly pained and harrumphed a little. “At the zoo,” he said.
Illya made a choked sound and Napoleon glared a warning at him. “Ah – which zoo in particular?”
“The Bronx I understand. A large crate from Kinshasa arrived there yesterday, carrying…” Waverly shuffled his papers and came up with a bill of lading. “Ah yes – carrying a male mountain gorilla.”
Illya coughed loudly into his handkerchief. Napoleon felt the colour mount in his face.
Waverly glanced up at him. “I trust that isn’t a problem, Mr Solo. I seem to recall you have rather… an affinity for them,” he said. There was a snort from behind the handkerchief. Waverly glared at the Russian then turned back to Solo. “I need you and Mr Kuryakin at the zoo tomorrow to intercept the transfer and to bring Kreutz back here for debriefing. Miss Rogers has detailed plans of the zoo layout for you.” He looked from one to the other and nodded briefly. “Dismissed.”
They rose and headed for the door.
“Oh, Mr Kuryakin?”
Illya turned. “Sir?”
Waverly waved his pipe vaguely around his own head and nodded meaningfully. Illya raised his eyes and flushed. “Yes, Sir,” he muttered.
And Napoleon was certain that his boss’ mouth twitched before the pipe was jammed firmly into place once more.
The zoo was summer-Saturday crowded. They parked off Southern Boulevard and made their way in past the primate house. A huge silverback eyed their transit, knuckling along and paralleling their course. Napoleon grimaced and turned to his partner as they walked. Illya’s face was a rigid mask of innocence. Napoleon raised a finger.
“Much as I love you,” he said, “one word and I’ll take the clippers to you myself.”
Illya’s eyes sparkled. “You and what army?” He lowered his voice and bumped Napoleon’s shoulder. “But you may try later.”
With an effort Napoleon turned his mind to their current situation. Intel was sketchy and the crowds an added dimension of difficulty. He felt Illya’s discomfort next to him. His partner’s natural preference for solitude wasn’t the only reason. Extracting an individual from the hands of Thrush in the midst of a crowd of innocents without collateral damage…?
Illya paused in front of him and pointed to the map they’d been given at the gate. “There’s some higher ground here towards the park centre,” he said. “It will be a good vantage point.”
They made their way along pathways jostling with families, towards a grassy mound in the middle distance. An enclosure of bears on their right was proving very popular with boys and Dads sharing some quality time on a Saturday.
As they passed a picnic area a middle-aged man wearing a Homburg and a long trench coat, despite the season, almost cannoned into Napoleon. He was closely pursued by a big man in a bad suit.
“Whoa, steady there my friend,” Napoleon said, catching his balance and grasping the man’s arm to steady him. The hat skittered away along the path and Napoleon looked up into a face grey with fatigue.
At the same moment Illya flashed past him and tackled the big man to the ground. It took Napoleon only a further second to quash his immediate instinct to wade in after his partner. Enough for Bad Suit to land a roundhouse to Illya’s head that left his partner reeling as the big guy took off into the crowd. Illya staggered to his feet.
“Go! Take Kreutz,” he bellowed at Napoleon then took off in pursuit.
Napoleon turned to the man whose arm he still held. “Dr Kreutz, I presume?” The man glanced at him, wary despite his exhaustion. Napoleon flashed his ID and introduced himself. “We need to move quickly, Doctor. I need to get you someplace safe.”
He was turning back the way they’d come when there was a hoarse cry from somewhere in the midst of the increasingly restless crowd. He spun round in time to catch the sight of two men up on the dividing wall of the bear enclosure. Only one of them had shaggy blond hair. There was the sound of a shot, and both men disappeared.
The next few moments were a blur of noise. Shrieks and wails from the crowd, roars from the enraged bears and the pounding of his heart that seemed to drown everything else. Still clutching Kreutz’s arm, he plunged into the tide of bodies, some surging forward with him to see more, others – many carrying small children – fighting to get away from the spectacle and blocking his path. Somehow he fought his way through to the front and looked down.
On the floor of the polar bear enclosure, half in, half out of the pinking water was Bad Suit. His head was gone, his right shoulder was crushed and the rest of the arm lay some distance away. A polar bear cub was gently nosing and pawing at it. A blood-stained adult bear slowly made its way out of the water and went to join its cub. There was no sign of Illya.
The crowd noise around the polar bear pit changed from shrieks to whimpers and weeping. Keepers with rifles began to appear. Next door, the noise from the crowd peering into the grizzly pit was louder, different, and Napoleon battled his way along the wall until he could see what they saw.
Down in the pit a huge grizzly rose up and sniffed the air. It stood well over seven feet tall. Moving cautiously along the base of the wall, Illya was doll-like in comparison. He was bleeding from his forehead. The bear turned toward the movement and immediately picked up the stronger scent of blood. With a low rumble she dropped to all fours and loped towards Illya.
Napoleon took a quick glance at Kreutz, then vaulted the safety rail landing up against the wall. He whipped off his suit coat and twisted the end of a sleeve around his hand. Trusting to the quality of Del Floria’s tailoring, he planted himself belly-first over the wall and flung the remaining length of the coat towards Illya.
The bear swung at his partner as Illya leapt for the coat, her claws claiming a shoe as her prize for the effort. Illya swarmed up the makeshift rope and finally clasped Napoleon’s forearm. Napoleon dragged him over the wall into a hug that took his breath away.
“Mmph… the bear would have been gentler, my friend,” Kuryakin mumbled.
“We’ll test that hypothesis later,” Napoleon whispered before releasing him. He lifted a lock of his partner’s hair, sticky with blood, away from the gash on his forehead. “You OK, moi droog?”
Illya nodded then winced. “I’ll live.” He glanced down ruefully at his stockinged foot. “But I may limp a little.” He nodded towards the crowd. “Kreutz…?”
Napoleon spun in momentary alarm. Armed zoo staff were sweeping in to clear the area of shocked bystanders. “Call it in,” he said, with a final pat to his partner’s back, then vaulted the barrier to prevent them sweeping up a dazed Kreutz.
Napoleon lay on his sticky belly, panting and sweaty and blanketed by a sated Russian who was breathing like a steam-train in his ear. Gradually his heart rate slowed and he felt his partner slip out of him. Illya rolled him and mopped up the evidence of their lovemaking. Then he wrapped his arms and legs around him and nuzzled Napoleon’s neck. Napoleon tucked his partner’s head under his chin and sighed.
“This is nice,” he murmured drowsily.
“Mmm…” Illya nibbled a bit. “It’s been a while,” he said.
“About twenty-four hours by my reckoning.”
“Like I said...”
Napoleon dropped a kiss on the blond head. “So, did you enjoy your day at the zoo?”
“Mmm… the bit where I almost got eaten by a bear was most exciting.”
“Lucky for you a handsome spy was passing and snatched you from the jaws of… well – grizzly.”
“Really? I must have been asleep for that part.” Illya yawned hugely. “Speaking of which…”
“No stamina, eh?” Napoleon planted a soft kiss over the Band Aid on the Russian’s forehead then turned him onto his side and spooned against him.
Illya’s breathing was slow and regular before Napoleon managed to clear his mind of the images of blood and teeth and razor claws slicing through the air. He hugged his partner once, hard, before finally drifting off.