The Treasure Hunt Affair
Illya watched his partner pace back and forth, going from his deck to the coat rack and back again. "Napoleon, would you please sit down? You're making me dizzy."
"Uh, sorry." Napoleon returned to his seat looking slightly abashed. After a few moments he started fiddling with his pen, tapping it against the desktop in a nerve-wracking staccato.
Illya threw him a dirty look and tried to return his attention to the report in front of him. He was almost finished but Napoleon was making it hard for him to concentrate. More so than usual.
"What time is it?"
Illya looked pointedly at the clock and then at his partner. "It's five minutes later than the last time you asked. What is wrong with you? Surely, whoever it is you're meeting can wait a few more minutes."
Napoleon looked affronted. "What makes you think I'm meeting someone?"
"I can't think of any other reason why you'd be acting like this. Certainly not for anything work related."
"Very funny. Actually, I'm not sure if I do or not."
"Have a date? How can you not be sure? Either she has accepted your offer or she hasn't." Illya personally thought anyone who would turn down a date with Napoleon had to be crazy. But recently he'd starting questioning his own sanity so he had little room to talk.
"I haven't got an answer yet."
"Well, if you must wait, could you do it somewhere else? I'm trying to finish this report and you're distracting me." He propped an elbow on the desk and, gripping his forehead, concealed his eyes behind his hand. He could at least pretend to be working.
"That report isn't due until Tuesday."
"Not all of us wait until the last minute to get something done. Now, would you get out of here? I promise not to tell Mr. Waverly you left two minutes early."
"You don't need to be so grouchy about it." Napoleon got up and walked over to get his coat.
After a moment of silence, Illya looked up. His friend stood, his coat slung over his arm, waiting. "Yes?"
"I'll, uh, see you Monday then?"
"Since that is when I am scheduled to report back, you will undoubtedly see me then."
"Okay. Well, good-night, Illya." Napoleon hesitated a moment longer before finally making his way out of the room.
As soon as his partner left, Illya threw down his pen and shoved the report away, no longer interested in whether he finished it or not.
He didn't know why he had acted the way he had with Napoleon. Well, maybe he did. Maybe it was because he didn't want to hear about whatever woman his partner happened to be squiring about tonight. Maybe he just wanted to pretend his partner was going home the way he was going home. Alone. The weekend stretched before him in an unbroken pattern of boredom.
Why had he even brought it up? There had been enough occurrences recently when Napoleon had made it clear that Illya's was the only company he wished. Yet, obviously now his partner had found someone else to pass the time with. Illya's only comfort was that, in a month, or maybe as little as a week, the woman would be gone and he'd have Napoleon all to himself again. Until the next time.
Perhaps what he needed was to get out himself. His own apartment held little comfort, knowing Napoleon would be wooing some young lady a few stories above him. And it wasn't as if he hadn't made some conquests of his own; he'd dated from time to time, though never like his partner. They had even been enjoyable. Somewhere along the line, he couldn't say exactly when, all that had changed.
Illya snorted. He knew exactly when. When he'd had the unmitigated bad luck to fall in love with Napoleon. His partner. His smug, conceited, irritating and completely irresistible partner. His heterosexual partner.
He gave the report a jaundiced look. Making up his mind, he opened up the desk drawer and shoved the papers in. Anywhere was better than here. Perhaps he could catch a movie. There was an art house just down the street from his apartment. Surely, there would be something worth watching.
Grabbing his coat on his way out, he almost missed the note peeking out from one of its pockets. The gaudy green paper brought him up abruptly. He unfolded it and recognized Napoleon's distinctive writing immediately. The note had only one line:
Close, but the road is icy.
Illya smiled. Leave it to Napoleon to remember something so insignificant.
They had been on assignment, following their quarry to a small hotel on the outskirts of a quaint New England town. The man was a THRUSH courier with papers Waverly was anxious to get hold of. When he took a room, they had followed suit and settled down to wait for dark.
But winter had taken hold and in the few hours they had been waiting it snowed enough to make travel difficult. When the messenger tried to slip away his car refused to start. Perhaps he had known what his fate would be if he reported back to his masters without the papers. Whatever the reason, taken by surprise and out-numbered, he nevertheless opened fire.
The gunfire alerted the local authorities and it was only because of Mr. Waverly's timely intervention that they did not spend the night in a jail cell. Illya hated small towns. Too often those in charge had never heard of UNCLE.
It was fortunate their boss had not needed the courier alive; he was upset enough at them as it was. He'd complained about being taken from his dinner but was placated by the fact that they had indeed completed their mission successfully.
Now, hours later, he looked out the window of their hotel room. The snow had stopped falling and the night had gone cold and clear. Not a night to be traveling. With the papers safely in their keeping, they need only wait until the roads were cleared in the morning and they could return to New York.
"Aren't you going to try to get some sleep?"
Illya could feel the heat from his partner's body; Napoleon was standing so close.
"I still feel...." He put out his hand, palm down, and rocked it swiftly back and forth.
"The word is jittery." He followed Illya's gaze outside. "It's too bad there isn't a bar or liquor store nearby. A drink would settle you down."
"I think I saw a liquor store a couple of blocks back when we drove in. We could walk over."
"Are you crazy? It's freezing out there. And the snow's turned to slush."
"Cerkov' blizka, no doroga javljaetsja ledjanoj. Brusok dalek, no ja budu idti tschatel'no."
"The church is close but the road is icy. The bar is far but I will walk carefully.' An old Russian proverb."
Napoleon laughed and, pulling Illya around, shoved him gently toward the door.
It had been cold but the trip had proved well worth the effort. The vodka he'd bought had been surprising good, almost as good as the company.
But what had that to do with this? Why had Napoleon left him a note about a church? And what church?
Illya gave the paper another look. He recognized it, though the last time he had seen it was in the bar Napoleon had dragged him to a couple of months before. Decorated with four-leaf clovers and leprechauns, his partner had laughingly stuck it in his pocket when they left the establishment.
Of course...St. Patrick's. It wasn't far; if UNCLE headquarters had windows, he would have been able to see it from here. This was far too easy, Napoleon. What ever are you up to?
Well, there was only one way to find out and suddenly the weekend didn't seem quite as bleak. If his partner wanted to play some sort of game with him, Illya was more than happy to oblige.
Illya left UNCLE headquarters and started up 50th Street. He hoped all of Napoleon's clues sent him to places nearby; he'd hate to have to hail a cab, especially since he wouldn't necessarily be going to the correct place. Well, he'd worry about that later.
Within ten minutes he turned onto 5th Avenue and found himself in front of the cathedral. Illya studied the massive structure as he approached the front entrance. He'd never been inside but there wasn't anywhere he could imagine Napoleon leaving a message out here, so he took a deep breath and moved inside.
Almost empty, the church was too quiet, the noise of his footsteps unnaturally loud. Illya looked up and around. The place was monstrous. Even if he knew what he was looking for, he had no idea where to begin looking for it.
He tried to think if Napoleon had ever mentioned the place. Nothing came to mind. His partner wasn't an especially religious man. In fact, Illya could only remember one time Napoleon had brought up being in a church at all.
They had been partners for two years, long enough for them to become close friends. Illya had been at his desk, catching up his expense account.
"Here, sign this."
Illya looked up. Napoleon stood in front of his desk, a paper in his out-stretched hand.
"What is it?"
"I'm finishing the update to my personal records. You got one, too, didn't you?"
Illya put down his pen and began shuffling through his in-basket. He pulled out a large envelope from about halfway down the pile. "Is this what you're talking about?"
"Yeah, that's it. Waverly wants them back by the end of the week."
"Why the big rush?" Illya opened the envelope and pulled out the half dozen or so forms inside.
"Beats me. Ours is not to reason why,' remember?" Napoleon rattled the paper in his hand. "Come on, sign it so I can turn it in."
Finally taking the form from his friend, Illya quickly scanned its contents. He looked up in surprise. "You're making me executor of your will."
"Why not? You're the only one who'll probably be around when I go to the big UNCLE headquarters in the sky."
"Did it ever occur to you that I'm more than likely to be right behind you?"
Just for a second Napoleon had the strangest look on his face. Then it was gone. "It occurred to me; we should be so lucky."
Illya felt a warm glow. As illogical as it seemed, it was the finest compliment he'd ever been given. To know that Napoleon wished them to go together so that neither would be alone was an unexpected confirmation of his place in his friend's life. "Won't your family be upset? I'm little more than a stranger to them."
He'd met Napoleon's brother and sister the previous Thanksgiving. Though polite, he could tell they resented his presence. It was hard for him to grasp the concept that the two people were related to his friend, the differences between them like night and day. It was as if his partner had inherited all the charm and grace allotted his family and left nothing for his two younger siblings.
"That's their problem." Napoleon chuckled. "I can see it now, my brother and sister sitting at the front pew, right in front of the coffin, doing their best to look properly grief-stricken while throwing daggers at you from across the aisle."
"Then I will be sure to sit further back. Three or four pews, at least."
"I'd make it more like half a dozen, tovarisch, just to be on the safe side."
Illya gave the form another look. "If you're sure about this..."
"Sure, I'm sure. Illya, it's no big deal, just sign the damn thing."
But Illya had known it was a big deal, to his friend, who, for all his easy ways had just as hard a time dealing with strong emotions as he did, and for him, too. Perhaps the biggest "deal" he would ever be given. He had taken the paper and signed it, hoping all along that he would never have to fulfill the duty Napoleon had honored him with.
Half a dozen pews back, Napoleon had said. Illya walked down the center aisle of the church. Six pews from the front, he turned to his left and sat down. In front of him, a large book nestled in the slot that ran along the back of the bench. Looking down the pew, he realized it was the only one, the rest of the holder being taken with several small missals. He removed the book and turned it over. Across the cover read "A Book of Angels." A red strip of silk kept a place and, when pulled, caused the book to fall open to a picture of seven angels, each blowing a long, slim trumpet. Underneath was a quote.
"When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Revelation 8:1-2."
Illya laughed silently. Napoleon wasn't making it so easy after all. Very well...seven was obviously a major clue. But angels? What was it about angels? Trumpets? Music perhaps? He thought back on all he had ever read about angels; it wasn't much. But then he remembered something, a quote from an essay. According to Thomas Carlyle, music was said to be the speech of angels. Yes, his next destination must surely have something to do with music.
He thought about what was around the church. Radio City Music Hall was only two blocks away; that would be just like Napoleon except that there was no connection to the number seven. The Hall was on Sixth Ave. He grinned as the answer dawned on him. Carnegie Hall was on Seventh Ave.
It was already getting dark by the time he exited the church. Cold too. The light jacket he wore cut the chill but that was about all it did. Illya was long done with suffering through the unpleasantness of inclement weather when he didn't have to. Besides, he was far too eager to see where this was all leading. So, rather than walk the almost mile to the Hall, he reluctantly hailed a cab down and gave the driver his destination.
Ten minutes later, he was being dropped off in front of Carnegie, where a few people were already milling around the entrance. He glanced at his watch. Just going on six. Much too early for a performance. Whoever would be gracing the stage tonight must be in great demand.
Illya made his way through the small crowd to the box office. A young girl, not more than twenty, stood behind the glass.
"I was wondering—"
"I already told them," she nodded toward the couple who stood off to Illya's right, "we're all sold out."
"No, I'm not here for tickets. What I wanted to know was, if there had been anything left here to be picked up? Something other than tickets."
"This is a ticket booth, Mister. What else would there be?"
"I don't know. But I was sent here to pick something up."
The girl opened the drawer beneath the counter and shook her head. "There's nothing here."
"Are you sure? Is there someone else you could ask? Another worker, perhaps."
She looked ready to refuse and Illya found himself getting desperate. Surely, it could not end here, like this. "Please, it would only take a minute of your time and," he hesitated, "it's very important."
"Oh, all right." With a grumble, she turned and started away from the counter.
Illya waited impatiently. The next clue had to be here. It had to be. If not, where else could he look? He surprised himself, how quickly and completely he'd been drawn into this, as if whatever he found at the end would be worth all this trouble.
Was he that much enthralled by Napoleon? To be so swept up in a silly game that its completion could take on such importance? He should just walk away. Go home and forget all about it.
He meant to; he really did. But a minute later the girl returned with an older woman in tow.
"Mr. Kuryakin?" The woman peered through the window at him.
"Yes! I'm Mr. Kuryakin! You have something for me?"
She handed over an envelope, a look of disapproval on her face. "This was left this morning. You know, Mr. Kuryakin, this is very irregular. We're not usually in the habit of being a messenger service."
"Oh, I understand completely." He grabbed the envelope, as if afraid she'd change her mind and not let him have it. "Thank you. I....thank you very much."
He moved away and walked over to the nearest streetlight. It was a plain, white envelope with his name written in bold strokes on its front. He tore it open and removed the slip of paper inside.
Old spies never die.
Illya stilled and their conversation, only two weeks before, came back to him in a rush: the invitation, Napoleon's melancholy because of it, but mostly, the empathy he had felt for the man most affected by it.
The lunchroom at headquarters had been crowded but after getting their meals they'd managed to grab a table near the back of the room. As the time had gone by, Illya realized that Napoleon appeared to be playing with his food more than eating it.
"Don't you feel well, Napoleon?"
His partner started, drawn from wherever his thoughts had taken him.
"Hm? Oh, no, I'm fine." He frowned, apparently decided to share what was bothering him and removed an envelope from the inner pocket of his suit jacket. "I got this today." Napoleon tapped it against his lips a couple of times, obviously debating with himself. Finally, he handed it over.
Illya studied it. He noticed it had been sent to Napoleon's home, not office. The writing was neat and the paper of high quality. "What it is?"
"A wedding invitation."
"Really?" Illya gave it another look before handing it back. "The way you're behaving, one would think it was to yours."
Napoleon made a face as he replaced the invitation in his pocket. "No, not mine. Actually, it's from someone I hadn't heard from in years."
"A fellow agent?"
"Yes. Rick Carlton. He had already been with UNCLE for almost five years when I first became an agent. He transferred to the Tokyo office less than a year later."
"He is an agent and he is marrying? I assume he's transferring out of section two."
"He'll turn forty sometime this year, if I'm not mistaken." Napoleon leaned back into his chair and continued, though his words seemed more for himself than for Illya. "Old agents never die, they just marry."
"I beg your pardon?"
"He used to say that."
His partner looked at him, slightly bewildered. "And' what?"
Illya had to made an effort not to throttle the man. "What's it supposed to mean?"
"It was supposed to be a joke. You know, a play on the MacArthur quote. He always said he'd play the field until he was forty and then marry. That way he could stay an agent as long as possible."
"What's wrong with that?"
"I don't know, doesn't it sound sort of contrived? No sooner does he get near forty that he finds someone to marry? It's almost like he had her waiting in the wings."
"And this bothers you because?"
Napoleon chuckled. "I don't know. It just does. I suppose I think love should be more...spontaneous. You meet someone; you fall in love. And, somehow, you fit it into the rest of your life."
"You better be careful, Napoleon. People might get the impression you're a romantic."
"There are worst things. Besides, I am a romantic."
Illya's only response was to snort in disbelief.
"Well, I am." Napoleon suddenly brightened. "You want to go?"
"To the wedding, of course."
Illya gave him a look. "Aren't you planning on taking a date?"
"Are you kidding? Never take a woman to a wedding, Illya. It gives them ideas. Besides, he's going to need the support, what with his partner and all."
"What's with his partner?"
"Chris Essex. He quit and went back to Australia."
Illya couldn't help but think that would be his response, too, if he and Napoleon could no longer be partners. If Napoleon wed. "Did he give a reason?"
"Something about not wanting to break in another partner. Chris isn't that much younger than Rick, so it isn't like he'd be giving up all that much. But still. He could have waited until after the wedding. Rick wanted him as his best man and he let his partner down."
"They aren't partners anymore, Napoleon."
Napoleon's eyes narrowed slightly. "You agree with him, then? With his leaving?"
With a shrug, he tried to toss off his friend's questions. "It's not a matter of whether I agree with him or not. It's just the way things are. They are no longer partners. Your friend Carlton saw to that."
He hadn't meant to add that last line and he knew he'd piqued Napoleon's curiosity when he saw the way his friend was studying him. "What?"
Napoleon only smiled and shook his head. "Nothing. Anyway," he took a bite of his sandwich, his appetite seeming to come back to him, "the wedding is in a month...."
The conversation had turned to other things after that. But for the rest of the day Illya had wondered about the man he'd never met. How would it feel, for your partner to come into work one day and tell you he was leaving? That you were on your own and would have to get yourself another partner? That all the years and shared adventures meant nothing at all? How would it feel?
Illya hoped he never found out.
Looking at the four words now, he wondered what it was Napoleon was trying to tell him. He suddenly had an awful thought. Was this a way for Napoleon to tell him he was getting married?
No, his partner would never do that to him. Never. If Napoleon were in love, he would have told him. Illya tried to convince himself of that, that this game had something else entirely different at its end. It was only when he felt something cutting into his hand that he realized he had crumpled the paper and the envelope it had come in, in his clenched fists. He opened his hands, tucked the note into his jacket pocket and straightened out the envelope. Inside, he found a key.
There was a number stamped into it, so he imagined it was a key to a hotel room. Illya let out a sigh of relief, feeling immediately better. The game was continuing. Now all he need do was figure out what hotel, out of the thousands in the city, Napoleon wished him to visit.
He studied the key for a moment longer before slipping it into his coat pocket. Still in the dark as to his next step he looked up. And knew exactly where to go next.
Five minutes later, Illya found himself outside the elegant art-deco building. He hesitated. During the walk over, he had deliberately kept himself from thinking about the conclusion he had rather precipitously jumped to.
The sign above the Essex House has shone like a beacon, cementing in his mind the idea that held such allure and promise. But what if he were wrong? It was a leap; there was no getting around it. Napoleon had never given him any cause, by word or deed, to believe he had understood Illya's empathy for the partner left behind or, understanding it, be willing to make sure it never happened to them by being open to the idea of more between them.
Yet, nothing else made sense. Napoleon never did anything without a reason. Step by step, he had led Illya here, to this place, using memories of times spent together as clues. Their past had led him here. Could it be anything else but a path to their future?
Illya took a deep breath, let it slowly out, and pushed through the revolving doors. He had nothing to lose. If he were wrong, the key would not unlock the door. Napoleon would not be here.
He kept telling himself that as he took the elevator up to the correct floor, walked down the long hallway to the correct room and approached his destination. It took both hands to insert the key into the lock. With a pounding heart, he gave it a twist and turned the knob.
The door swung slowly open.
The room was expensively appointed. Actually, a suite, for Illya could see from where he stood the sitting area and the double doors that led to the bedroom. He walked in, closing and locking the door behind him. The place was quiet except for the Chopin nocturne that wafted from the next room.
Illya approached the grouping of couches and chairs that huddled around a small coffee table. On its surface, a bottle of vodka was stashed in a silver bucket of ice; a tall glass sat next to it. He smiled. It was a good sign.
Now that he was fairly sure he was right, he found himself relaxing. He took the time to open the bottle and pour himself a generous amount of vodka. Taking the glass with him, he sipped the cold liquid as he made his way over to the bedroom doors.
He stood in front of this last barrier and took one more drink from his glass before setting it down on the desk placed to the right of the bedroom entry. He grabbed the brass knob on each door and swung them wide. The sleeping area was dimly lit but he would know that form anywhere. With a laugh of pure joy, he entered the room.
He woke to the sound of Napoleon's heartbeat, a steady rhythm beneath him.
"You finally awake, sleepyhead?"
Illya raised his head and smiled at his tousled-haired lover. "What time is it?"
"Almost eight. That's eight in the morning. I thought you'd be hungry by now."
"No," he laid his head back down. "It would be too much trouble getting up."
Napoleon chuckled softly and slowly worked his fingers through Illya's hair. "That must be a first."
"You forget, I've already had breakfast."
"You have? When?"
"A couple of hours ago. It was a protein drink."
That brought a bark of laughter from his lover, who then changed the caress of Illya's hair to a sharp tug. "Smart-ass Russian."
"Ouch." Illya playfully poked his lover in the ribs but couldn't keep from then running his hands up and down Napoleon's torso, touching all the places he'd wanted to touch for longer than he could remember. Now, he could, whenever he wanted, touch all the places he'd become so intimately acquainted with during the long, love-filled night.
"You're insatiable, you know that?"
"For as long as I've had to wait for this, do you blame me?"
"No longer than I did."
"Perhaps." He stilled his hands and then brought them up to rest on Napoleon's shoulders. "But you feel very good."
Napoleon forced Illya's head up for a slow, prolonged kiss. "So do you," he announced as they finally broke apart.
Illya rolled away to lie on his back. "Napoleon, may I ask you a question?"
"What would you have done if I hadn't shown up? I mean...you must have been awfully sure of me to be waiting here."
Napoleon snorted. "Hardly."
"But the room, the exact name of the hotel."
"Well, uh, I've got a confession to make. I sort of fudged the details of the story."
Illya came up on one elbow, dismayed. "You mean there wasn't really a Chris Essex?"
"Of course there was. That just wasn't his real name, that's all."
"Why would you change his name?"
"Because, as far as I know, there's no Tallbas hotel in New York City." Napoleon made a noise of exasperation. "Illya, when I told you that story, I was already setting this up."
Illya narrowed his eyes. "Just how much of that story was true, then?"
"All of it, except the names, of course. Juan Tallbas did go back home. But to Portugal, not Australia. And Larry Stuart is getting married and leaving UNCLE." He pulled Illya down on top of him. "And I do think love should be spontaneous and something you make room for in your life, no matter what the circumstances."
"Da, me, too." As he gazed at his lover, a thought suddenly occurred. "Rick Carlton. Ritz-Carlton."
Napoleon grinned. "That's right. There's another bottle of vodka, sitting in a roomful of balloons and a blow-up doll in the bedroom. And if you think getting the hotel manager to change the lock so that this key would fit wasn't expensive, think again." He sobered. "You see, I wasn't that sure of you. I wanted to tell you how I felt but I was afraid what would happen if you didn't feel the same way. So, I gave you a way out."
"If I had thought of Carlton first..."
"Exactly. You would have gone there, not here. I know you well enough to know you'd be willing to follow the clues."
"But I am here."
"Yes, you are." Napoleon lightly touched Illya's face. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't shown up. I knew you cared for me as a friend but I wanted more. I played on your curiosity in order to find out but I didn't know where your hunt would eventually lead you."
Illya nodded and once again lowered his head onto Napoleon's chest. "To you."