The Living Daylights Affair
Disclaimer: All characters belong to their respective owners—Sony, the estate of Ian Fleming and whoever has the rights to the Man from UNCLE. I lay no claim to any of our favorite spy guys and present them here for entertainment purposes only.
Author's note: Basically, Illya takes the place of James Bond in "the Living Daylights." The framework I'm using is a blend of the original short story as well as the film adaptation, and I do directly quote the original film script. Only the basic plot and non-UNCLE characters are borrowed, set pieces for an UNCLE story.
At least he had chosen Vienna instead of Berlin. Die Stadt der Luugen, the City of Lies, made espionage a way of life, and yet each defector was desperate or deluded enough to think that he could triple-cross the next spy. Secrets were the only currency of any real value, and barely worth a pack of cigarettes to use for the next meet at that. Postwar Vienna, at least, could be romanticized as Third Man film noir, with the dust of the golden age hovering over the rubble and whatever hallowed stony skeletons remained.
The site of the defection, the Volksoper Opera House, had an element of the people, even if tonight's program of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart smacked dangerously of the bourgeois. Looking over a damning dossier, Illya Kuryakin had wondered how the defector had survived so long in Russian intelligence with such decadent tastes, but it wouldn't surprise him if tonight's concert was meant as a final snub to the Kremlin. At any rate, the accompanying KGB minders were most likely deaf to all but torture-extracted confessions and orders from the higher-ups.
Judging from the records, the defector had no ear for caution and more than a touch of flamboyance, reminding Illya Kuryakin of a certain American secret agent. However, Napoleon Solo, despite sharing a name with a literary fascist pig, had a fundamental sense of responsibility and compassion that transcended his rumored hedonism. Solo had once told Kuryakin of a proverb he learned in school from a Spanish nun: "Take what you want and pay for it, says God." Kuryakin sensed that even if the defector hadn't been raised among the officially godless, the man would never understand.
If it had been any other night, the defecting general would have gone after the performance to the shop of that expatriate wine dealer who smuggled microdots in the corks. Somehow those corks would wind up in the high-end champagne bottles, Renaudin Bollinger if it was available; naturally the means of transporting these messages had to disappear somehow. The general was possibly the only known Russian who genuinely preferred bubbly to vodka; unluckily for him, the KGB now smelled treachery in the wine and eliminated the source of this dangerously bourgeois debauchery. Kuryakin planned to whisk away the defector at the sweetshop across the street before the KGB had time to move in on charges of corruption that weren't so illegitimately founded for once.
But first things first—check to see if the general had made it the opera house as he said he would. Kuryakin slipped into back row of the balcony as unobtrusively as he could, silently cursing in German how long he had taken to dispose of the three goons he found in the alleyway behind the sweetshop. They looked ordinary enough—as if criminals could be readily identified at first glance, but no one was ever quite the innocent these days—however, he had to contend with the possibility that they were local scouts hired last minute to identify and prevent anyone from interfering with the KGB's mission tonight.
Thankfully his neighboring seat partners were too engrossed in the first movement of Mozart's symphony 40 in G minor to notice Kuryakin taking his place. James Dalton didn't so much as turn his head towards the latecomer as he hissed, "You're bloody late," as a snappy welcome.
"I'd almost forgotten how much I missed your company." For a moment the Russian thought he saw the slightest quirk of the lips from the other man and a brief nod acknowledging the contact protocol. Strange that MI-6 should alert UNCLE about a Soviet defection and acquiesce to a joint agency pullout, but the defector was turning himself into British custody and let slip that he had intelligence about Thrush he was willing to sell to UNCLE. Operating on a strictly need to know basis, the British had released few details, but a contact of Kuryakin's from the Cambridge days confidentially revealed that the defector was carrying on him documents related to the recent spate of politically incendiary assassinations.
Of course he had to be the one to oversee this messy business, the Russian agent thought with a fatalistic unease that he quickly quelled. Solo was still in medical after their last mission, leaving Kuryakin free to be assigned to this affair; all of the other section two agents were otherwise occupied. Due to the confidential nature of the assignment, the dossier contained little identifying personal information, referring to the defector merely as agent 272. Kuryakin rationalized n this profession, names tended to conceal more than reveal. There had only been a blurry photo of the back of his head; Kuryakin was told that his British contact would be able to recognize 272.
Dalton passed his opera glasses to the Russian, pulling the latter out of his reverie. "Our man's in the box at orchestra level directly across from us, in between the KGB minders." Kuryakin could make out a dark-haired man in military uniform but little else in the darkness.
Kuryakin scanned over the audience, no one amiss, before panning over the orchestra. His gaze lingered upon the blonde cellist, who bore a striking resemblance to Aunt Kara. Kuryakin had seriously considered taking up the cello after hearing her play Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme," but he found the instrument too unwieldy for his then miniscule hands and short legs. Others had a different path in store for him, not one that had left Kuryakin with much of a desire now to wonder what might have been. He didn't need to be taught that speculation was unproductive.
"Lovely girl with the cello," Dalton remarked, following the Russian's line of sight. Kuryakin handed the opera glasses back to the British agent, who took one last appreciative look. "The general will leave at intermission. We better go."
Kuryakin and Dalton noiselessly slipped down the staircase. The ushers were clustered around the orchestra-level doors in the lobby, whispering to themselves to pass the time. One of them spotted the two spies leaving together and smirked as Kuryakin, gentleman as he once was, held the door open for the other man. Spotting the usher out of the corner of his eye, Dalton winced and was thankful that there were no women around to question his reputation.
The two took a convoluted walk around the neighborhood, chattering idly in German about classical theater to bore whoever might have been tailing them. The glistening gray pavement was still slick from old rain, causing the ground to radiate with the glow from the streetlights. The British agent let them in through the delivery entrance of the sweetshop, where they climbed up the spiral staircase to the top office to check the room for any unwelcome surprises. Dalton drew a sigh of relief when he found none while Kuryakin drew his UNCLE special and ammunition out of a specially locked desk drawer.
"I suppose you'll want the soft-nosed," said Dalton, reaching for the corresponding box of bullets and trying to infuse the gesture with a confidence he couldn't quite muster.
Ignoring the remark, Kuryakin took the other box and a bullet for inspection before loading his rifle. "No, the steel-tipped—KGB snipers usually wear body armor."
Dalton needed a few more years before even thinking about 00 training, Kuryakin thought as he rechecked the Special's magazine. Still, Dalton had potential—inexperience wasn't inability, after all.
The British agent brought over a wooden chair by the window. Kuryakin drew back the curtain, judging the distance from the opera to the shop. The defector would need at least twelve seconds to cross.
The agents' eyes met in mutual comprehension. "Plenty of time for a sniper to make strawberry jam out of him," Dalton muttered. He checked his watch. "He should be out in two minutes."
Sitting down, Kuryakin checked the sniper scope while Dalton slipped on his night vision goggles, peering across the street at the opera house.
"He expressly asked for you to protect him."
If Solo had been there, he would have noticed how Kuryakin paused almost imperceptibly in re-examining his weapon. "Why me?"
"He had the impression that you're the best."
So, the KGB still kept tabs on his marksmanship, and probably much more. Not that Kuryakin had an inflated opinion of his abilities, but what else was new? Trust those who wouldn't be sorry to see him dead to save their hides when the death warrant was stamped upon them.
"Our man's squeezing out of the bathroom window, ground floor left." A dark human-shaped blob suddenly stuck out from that opening and struggled to land itself on the pavement.
Kuryakin continually scanned the opera's façade before he spotted something moving ever so slightly. "Sniper, two floors up, center window."
Dalton shouted, "Fire! Fire!" as if the building was ablaze beneath their feet, but Kuryakin was another world away. Everything narrowed to the girl caught in the crosshairs—the girl with the cello.
"Shoot her! What are you waiting for?"
Kuryakin adjusted his aim and fired. The woman screamed, clutching her right arm as she fell out of sight. She never saw where the shot came from.
Dalton, staring at the Russian, took off the night vision goggles. "You deliberately missed." The accusation lay in the words, not his voice.
"That girl didn't know one end of a rifle from the other." But Kuryakin spoke to an empty room as Dalton dashed down the stairs to answer the frantic knocking at the door. Kuryakin stuffed the remaining bullets into his overcoat pockets and slipped his Special into its holster.
By the time the Russian had visually confirmed that his target was down Dalton was pushing new papers into the hands of 272. The British agent turned to the staircase before a bullet in his torso stopped him in his tracks. Dalton stumbled into a glass display case that shattered everywhere, but the thousands of bloody shards crashing onto the floor like crimson-smeared ice weren't enough of a distraction. The defector spun around to find out whose footfalls suddenly creaked on the stair.
Kuryakin froze as General Georgi Ivanovich Koskov stood twelve feet away, aiming a pistol at him. The general was as legendary for recruiting the most brilliant into Thrush as Solo was in UNCLE for roping in innocents. Koskov was many things, but alive wasn't supposed to be one of them.
"So we meet again, tovarisch." The chilling mockery of that sibilant baritone made Kuryakin's skin crawl.
Kuryakin did not respond. Silence was his most valuable weapon now; trust a madman to talk away all his plans.
"Wondering why I'm here, aren't you? You must thank that doddering uncle Alex of yours. He's been dying to know about our latest program, the resurrection of the SS. No, not that one. You're a student of history, Illya, despite your degrees. Surely you remember that old KGB operation smiert spionam*? With my editorial oversight, Thrush has been using Russian intelligence to eliminate our targets in the name of the patriotic Motherland.
My Soviet comrades, alas, have been growing suspicious of how all my critics become permanently silenced, but Thrush has been more than accommodating in finding me a country in the West that would welcome a defector who knows which of their citizens are marked for assassination and retaliate against or neutralize against soon-to-be deployed assassins. Thanks to me, Thrush can finally play off the Cold War powers to do our dirty work."
Kuryakin crouched by the spiral rail of the staircase, preparing to leap over the railing and tackle his rambling target from above. Koskov kept talking, his gun trained on the other agent the entire time.
"Your uncle Alex would kill to know who's on that list, so much that he was willing to sacrifice his prized protégé to secure me into your custody. I'll let you know of another individual who has been singled out for free."
Koskov fired a shot wide into the ceiling before toppling to the ground, a triangular pattern of blossoming crimson splotches staining his back. A faint plume of gun smoke rose from a modified Walther P-38 was silhouetted in the doorway.
Kuryakin didn't even have to look up from the body on the ground to know that his partner was there. He could only guess how Solo arrived in the nick of time. He later found out that Solo had employed a more generous portion of his usual charm on the nurses to discharge him early and on Wanda to disclose Kuryakin's location.
Solo walked over to join his partner. "Who was that?"
"Did you know him?"
Koskov was a man who had willingly stripped himself of his humanity for the sake of power. "He who lives more lives than one more deaths than one must die," Kuryakin quoted softly. "I did once."
Solo put a reassuring hand on Kuryakin's shoulder. From their partnership, Solo had learned that sometimes silence was the best response.
Kuryakin suddenly spoke so quietly that Solo had to lean with his hear almost to the Russian's mouth.
"He was one of the Soviet intelligence officers who sponsored my study at Cambridge. After I had completed my degree, he took me out to dinner. There, in a convincingly intoxicated euphoria, he confessed to me that he was a double agent. He proceeded to extol the endless opportunities with the new international organization he worked for that he swore would change the world through technology. He was looking for the best and the brightest to design this new world order that would bring progress to all and not just Russia. Only later did I recognize the rhetoric about being the architect of other men's fates."
Kuryakin took a deep breath, as if he hadn't inhaled the whole night.
"Afterwards he handed me a contract, and in the drunkenness from the champagne and my idealism we set up a meeting for the next day for 'the next stage.' Back in my room, I scanned through the fine print to realize that Thrush wanted me to work in weapons development." Kuryakin cut off his words awkwardly. "And the rest—well, you know how that clich about history goes. At least I thought that chapter was closed after someone supposedly placed a bomb in his car several months ago."
Solo never told his partner about searching afterwards through File 40 to find out the defector's name, just to lay Kuryakin's ghost to rest. Strangely enough after this research, Solo had difficulty remembering the name or even the face. The madmen they encountered regenerated in seemingly endless incarnations, but at the core they were indistinguishable.
A cold gush of wind blew in through the open doorway, jolting the pair back into the present. Solo whipped out his communicator to call in an UNCLE medical team and clean-up crew as Kuryakin bandaged some clean towels around the unconscious Dalton's gaping wound. Satisfied that Dalton would probably pull through, Kuryakin peered through the curtains of the front shop window at the opera house.
"I wonder what happened to the girl?" Solo looked at him pointedly for a moment. Kuryakin blinked, not realizing he had spoken aloud.
"Are you thinking of a willowy blonde with a cello?" The Russian nodded; trust his partner to notice such details even in a life-and-death situation. "I ran into her outside the opera house. She was screaming that some lunatic hated her performance so much that he shot her in the arm. I shoved her into the first taxi I could find and told the driver to take her to the nearest hospital."
They probably managed to extract the steel-tipped bullet, Kuryakin thought, but the bones in her right arm, the one she used to hold her bow, were probably fragmented beyond recovery, if not obliterated. Her probable anxiety about earning a living was unnecessary; Thrush must have heard of her failure to protect their top-ranked recruiter by now. He knew it was too late to send an UNCLE security detail to the girl. If their Vienna satrap hadn't already dispatched someone to administer a hypodermic containing their latest experimental strain of death, they would by the end of the hour that was fast approaching. Her tearful relatives and fellow musicians would be told she had passed away from "complications from surgery" in the morning.
Kuryakin's mind strayed to Aunt Kara; her death was a much simpler affair as there hadn't been many mourners still around to even realize what had happened. The firing squad that had sentenced her for playing dangerously decadent bourgeois music had riddled her with enough bullet holes that accuracy was of no relevant concern. Starvation had nearly done the job to the extent that her arm was the same thickness as her bow, but the soldiers needed some more target practice before they were sent off to the front.
The Russian was brought back to the present by the rustle of the foil wrapper Solo was peeling off of a dark chocolate truffle that he wordlessly handed to Kuryakin. With the bittersweet cocoa coating his mouth, Kuryakin scanned over the dead bodies from his past he'd soon bury, the rusty splotches congealing over glass and pine flooring, fallen guns among the sugary pastels and jewel tones of a child's paradise. He and Solo gave each other that look, a mutual, primitive anguish crumbling before an absurd exhilaration of triumph, before they broke down completely. "How are we going to explain the damage to the storekeeper, let alone on our expense reports?" Kuryakin gasped out before laughter stole his words again.
Solo shook his head, waiting for speech to seep back into his lightheaded brain. "Yours alone, tovarisch—I'm not officially assigned to this affair. Whoever that shopkeeper's insurance agent is, we'll be scaring the living daylights out of him."
*Smiert spionam: Death to spies.
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