The Nile Affair
Illya sped through the brown landscape on the BMW motorcycle hed picked up two countries ago. Mr. Waverly hadnt had a new assignment for him at the end of his last mission, so Illya had had him approve several days off. New York might well offer him many jazz clubs, libraries and museums, but he missed wide spaces. They hadnt been wide enough against the Germans, and now the Ukraine was lost to him for pleasure. Egypt was all he was able to see, and it was world enough at 73 kph. He pushed himself as he pushed the machine, reveling in speed for its own sake, handling for its own sake. He might never know freedom, but liberty was sweet.
He sped over dirt roads, the Nile and its fertile fields out of sight and mind. The wind cooled him through his dungarees and matching open jacket, the dust stopped by his goggles. A leather helmet took the brunt of the sun overhead. Illya stopped only when he needed to drink water, which was his main baggage.
Napoleon was in Beirut, posing as a dissipated scion in the nightlife of that cosmopolitan city. His hyper-American persona would serve him well there for all his French put Illya on edge, full of Arcadian corruptions of sound and vocabulary.
Napoleon missed nothing said in the language. Hubris made for loose lips in front of people thought incapable of understanding. Napoleon lured people to their doom with his worldly ignorance. No wonder he did so well with women; he understood their tactics.
Illya wasnt Napoleon. He frequently passed himself off as itinerant labor, busted men with no thoughts beyond their appetites. The recovery was as simple as a good wash, plenty of food, some time in the lab and a thick book. Napoleons facile manner followed him like the mariners albatross.
Only Mr. Waverly would have teamed them together. On paper they shouldnt, couldnt work as a team, yet there were no old spies save successful ones. Yoking the first Soviet agent to his heir apparent was just another bold stroke in a history of them. Napoleon and Illyas brittle early days had been tempered into the unlikely partnership that had pulled them through so much since. Their pairing made them more effective than they were on their own.
Most of the time.
Napoleons mission was fishing, and that was a solitary pursuit. Similarly, there were occasions charm was unnecessary. Still, Illya felt better being nearby. Transatlantic flight was time consuming, the very commodity often in short supply when cover went wrong. He couldnt stay too close, so he kept moving, traveling between cities. Maintaining contact with HQ, who were in contact with Napoleon, was important to Illya. In between he rode.
The ruts took him by surprise. He saw them and tried to brake, but it was too late and he hit them. Catching a stray rock, the bike wiped out and he skidded along the road. He caught his breath once he stopped bouncing along the sun-baked dirt, heaved the motorcycle off himself and checked himself over. It was really only his pride that was hurt, though the bruises and cuts hed gained were their own distraction. He looked at the bike.
The front wheel had popped spokes and no longer described a Euclidian plane. He wouldnt be riding until the wheel was fixed and he didnt have a sledge with him. Illya looked down at the ruts and righted the bike, pushing it back alongside the tracks.
He heard the dig before he saw the tents, the canvas flapping in the wind. He looked at the roped-off grids and the Western men who were walking around with notebooks and clipboards while locals shoveled and sifted. Illya kicked the bikes stand down when he reached the Motor Pool and stalked into the camp.
Illya was expressing his opinion about the condition of the road and the driving that caused its sad state when an old man wearing a fedora approached. Doctor Jackson, return to your plot. Illya turned, and the two men stared at each other.
Long way from Cambridge. They chuckled at the absurdity of saying the same thing. The old man continued. Where else would I be? This will all be a lake in a blink of an eye. Mind you, if your government werent footing the bill, mine would have.
Illya had found the Americans directness refreshing in Cambridge. He now understood the weary experience it bespoke.
You should have considered how many trucks are here in the valley before riding that fast.
And you need to be more careful about leaving such ruts, Professor Jones.
The old man gestured to a tent and then walked towards it. Builds character. Ill lend you a hammer once night falls. Its a race against time, Doctor Kuryakin. Good thing you didnt end up at Dr. Ballards site. He smiled at the physicists nonplussed expression. He hates Russians only a bit less than Germans. And favors young men least of all.
The inside of the tent was cool, shade making all the difference in the desert. Professor Jones poured him a mug from the pitcher on the table. I sympathize about the latter. Young Claire is pretty and twice as smart. Professor Jones poured his own mint tea. Takes after her mother obviously.
A whirl of fabric swept in and then out, causing the professor to go to the tent flap and stare out, words not quite leaving his mouth. Eventually he turned back to his guest. I really do sympathize. About your bike too. The wheel the only casualty? You should head over to the dispensary, get the road out of those scratches.
Illya understood the brush-off for what it was and headed to the tent he was directed to. He was surprised to see the girl that had dashed into Professor Jones tent. Her scarf was over her hair but not in the careful way of observant women. Who are you?
Daphne Jones. Will you be able to fix it? She started undoing the buttons of his jackets cuffs.
I just need to beat it flat. He glared at her interference with his clothes.
Suit yourself. You wont be able to reach the scrape on your right shoulder. She started out of the tent.
Does your father know youre here?
I took out my first bullet years ago. Do you insist on being a bad patient, or can I get you cleaned up?
Illya conceded as gracefully as he could, wincing as she applied iodine to the more awkward scratches. Enjoying yourself. He couldnt be bothered to pretend it was a question.
Immensely. She handed him the bottle and a fresh rag. Dont take too long, Ive got maths to work on.
Illya watched her leave then undid his pants. The durable twill had taken the worst but the road had gotten through in places. He cleaned his wounds and buttoned back up. He stepped outside, taking in the activity all around him.
He wasnt surprised when Professor Jones put him to work. He was however surprised when instead of a shovel he was handed a roll of brushes and dental picks.
We both collect information. Dont move anything He stopped mid-sentence to wave over his protégé. Melbourne, extra set of hands for you. He broke off when the young archaeologist took charge of their guest.
Illya looked up, only finally noticing that dusk had fallen.
Not too far from physics?
Illya wondered how much Professor Jones had shared with this man. Doctor Jackson?
Mel. He grinned. Doctor Jones has Ahmed heading towards your bike with a hammer. Mel loped after the running blond.
Thank you. Illya looked over the wheel. It looked... Good.
Ahmed is the son of the dig restorer.
You knew hed fix it.
He shrugged and smiled. You make your own fun on a dig.
Illya of course had to stay for the night. When someone slipped from the camp he followed. It turned out to be only the age old rendezvous between Mel and Claire. What Illya saw as he returned to camp was more interesting. THRUSH was doing something that involved unloading a lot of material. They really shouldnt logo paint their truck doors. He spent the rest of the night snooping, returning to camp just before dawn. He supposed it was fortunate hed hit the rut. Hed have to radio for reinforcements, the new communicator prototype that didnt need a wall outlet was still in R&D.
He slipped back into the camp quietly and headed for the tent with the radio. He tried several times to raise the local office.
Tubes are burnt out.
Illya turned, wondering how hed not noticed Professor Jones.
Jones regarded the younger man. I lost an eye, Im not blind. I know that expression. I can send a truck to the city...
Illya thought about it. Would take too long. Two days was very possibly plenty of time for THRUSH to achieve whatever they had planned. He thought they were too far away to compromise the dam, but THRUSH had resources and cunning scientists. Hed have to work with the resources he had. Just what is Miss Ballards specialty?