The Pick Your Pocket Affair
Disclaimer: As I'm donating my stenographic skills in transcribing this affair's report, Mr. Waverly assures me that UNCLE's attorney's will represent me in any legal action.
Author's notes: For the Muncle Down the Chimney Affair 4. This is for dinahmt who wanted a story with water, confession & rubber—marvelous prompts indeed! Takes place in 1965, and assumes that all the canon episodes have magically already occurred ;) Please heed the rating and warning—they are sincerely meant. Geography, science, history, and people have been altered to suit the author's whimsy. "For, however realistic the background, the novelist's only native country is Cloud-Cuckoo land, where they do but jest, poison in jest: no offense in the world."—D.L. Sayers (1893—1957)
This is the black sea-brute bulling through wave-wrack... * William Stanley Merwin (b. 1927)
When you come to a fork in the road... Take it. * Yogi Berra (b. 1925)
Port of Istanbul, Turkey—Yesterday
The slap of angry waves against the hull of the Geroi Stalingrada accompanied his staggering journey down to one of the water taxis that plied their trade even in the midst of a storm. December on the Black Sea was insanity, but all was insanity. He, Dr. Anatoliy Sergeyevich Panin, was clearly insane, depraved and not fit to be seen. Not that he looked at himself much these days; the mirror had become an enemy of sorts, showing the decline and fall of a once rather brilliant scientist.
"Change the world," he muttered, buttoning up his raincoat to the chin in a futile attempt to keep the wet from his clothing. He patted his pockets, as if to check that they were still there.
"You'll do great things, Tolya," he mocked himself, and faltered in his steps as a wave of dizziness overcame him. Not much longer now. He had to tell someone, someone who could stop it. Drawing on school ties so old as to be marginal at best, he had a referral from an old school friend. He hoped that this Eski would be able to help him. Never such a good Communist, he had always been more busy with his science. But, there was so little time and such a great burden to be lifted. He staggered off the boat toward the lights in a probably futile attempt to find a taxi on such a night.
An hour later, hopelessly lost and soaked through to the skin, he found an open tavern. Shivering constantly, he carefully approached a waiter. Careful to stay a good distance from the man, he tried a few languages, finally make a halting request to use the phone in school boy French that was understood.
He rang the number written on a scrap of paper that he produced from an inner pocket, hoping against hope that the man had not moved in the intervening years and was home. The phone rang as he coughed, passed his arm over his clammy forehead and leaned up against the wall of the small office he had been shown to—so little time to save the world.
The trench coat is the only thing that has kept its head above water. * Jack Lipman, (d. 1995)
I want you to put more life into your dying. * Samuel Goldwyn (1882—1974)
The wind was merciless as it howled around the ruins of the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin stood in the lee of the largest wall, but this made little difference. The smell of the sea, wet stone, and the inexorable sense of history blew around and past them as they huddled together.
"10.30," remarked Napoleon turning round after consulting his wristwatch via the flame of his cigarette lighter. He leaned in close to Illya's ear, "I don't think he's coming."
"He'll be here," Illya insisted, shivering despite the long black raincoat he was wearing that matched Napoleon's. They'd obtained the coats earlier that day in a futile attempt to stay dry. A bit clichd for them, but Force 8 gales were not to be ignored.
"He was due at 9.00," Napoleon replied, shaking his head. "Something must have happened to your contact."
Illya scowled, but nodded in agreement, "He said it was a matter of grave importance and that UNCLE would want to know about it. He was always prompt—this is not like him."
"It's always a matter of 'grave' importance," Napoleon's remarked as he shivered in the wind. Illya had stated that they were meeting an old contact that he had made prior to joining UNCLE, but had offered no more details.
Illya turned abruptly and took a step away from the wall, his hand smoothly pulling his UNCLE Special out from his coat. Scanning the area, he motioned for Napoleon to go to the left as he would circle around the wall.
Napoleon, Special in hand, melted into the darkness next to the adjoining section of wall and paused to listen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Illya going round the edge of the wall they had just been standing next to. He waited for a few seconds, then moved toward the stone path, scanning and listening.
Illya edged around the corner of the wall, and when he found it clear, moved quickly forward. A few paces and he came upon a body laying on the plinth next to the wall. He quickly felt for a pulse; it was weak and thready, the man out cold. Moving forward, he quickly panned the corridor between the stone walls, but could see no one.
The two agents met up at the opening of the walls, and Napoleon shook his head and said, "Nothing out there. I went down to the gate, no sign of anyone."
"I've found someone," Illya gestured with his head and the agents made their way back to where the unknown man lay slumped on the ground.
Napoleon kept watch while Illya turned the man over. He was stirring, so the Russian eased his up with his back to the wall.
"Are you all right?" Illya asked, putting one hand up to steady the man as he started to list to the left.
The man startled babbling, and Napoleon saw him push back against Illya, shaking his head. The wind caught away a lot of his words, but he thought he heard the man speaking Russian from the one or two words he did hear. Illya held the man's shoulders and spoke to him urgently. The man pushed Illya away again and pushed up against the wall and stood, swaying, crying out harshly. Illya tried again to approach him, but the man pushed him down violently, and then began running down the stone path, toward the water.
Illya was up instantly and followed, Napoleon giving chase. They both came round the bend in the path that ended in an overlook to the sea. They could see the man by the dim light of a street lamp at the far end of the overlook. He had climbed on top of the wall, his expression fearful yet resolute. He said nothing further, just pulled off his raincoat and threw it down toward them, then jumped over the wall.
The agents ran to the wall, but there was nothing to be done. The man's body was crumpled on jagged boulders, the spray from the waves of the Black Sea dancing up and dousing the corpse.
Illya turned to Napoleon and said urgently, "We have to get that body out of here and back to a lab to be examined."
As Napoleon got out his communicator, Illya added, "Have them observe Level IV precautions, Napoleon."
Napoleon's eyebrow's raised as he put together his pen communicator, "For us, too?"
"Yes," Illya replied grimly. After Napoleon made his request to a rather startled UNCLE Istanbul radio operator, he said, "And you'd best stay away from me, I've had more contact with him."
Napoleon shook his head, "Not on you life, partner mine. Whither thou goest, and that includes Level IV quarantine."
"Don't be ridiculous, Napoleon," Illya pushed his wet hair back from his face exasperatedly. "You had almost no contact with him. If you stay clear of me, you'll probably be released soon." The implied "And you won't get contaminated by me" was as clearly spoken as if added with words.
"No," Napoleon said shortly, his stare implacable. He took his partner by the arm and steered him to a bench the was near the wall and sat the two down. "Now, while we wait for the home team, we're going to have a nice chat about what our dead friend said to you before he decided to go for a swim in the Black Sea in December."
Illya looked at Napoleon. The wind was still howling, the rain pouring down ceaselessly. With the dead body, the whole scene could have been drawn out of an Edgar Allen Poe tale.
Napoleon made an impatient gesture. "No one's going to hear us in all this," he looked around and added, "and we'll notice if anyone else comes near. Now spill."
"He was not making much sense," Illya didn't bother to argue any more. He knew when Napoleon took a stand, it was rock solid. He also liked knowing that Napoleon wouldn't leave him—no matter what.
"Nothing much has made sense since dawn this morning in Paris, your contact's mysterious urgent message, two planes and a train, lost luggage, and now Istanbul, in the dark and the rain," Napoleon steadily gazed at his partner, then shook his head. "You don't normally beat around the bush, Illya. What gives?"
"What he said was somewhat disturbing," the younger agent said slowly, choosing his words carefully. "He kept saying that 'They were going to kill the world'."
"Kill the world? How?"
Illya looked at Napoleon steadily and replied, "With talcum powder."
"Talcum powder," Napoleon's face betrayed not a whit of amusement, but his voice was dry. "Now that's one I haven't heard before."
"And, we've heard quite a few," acknowledged Illya. "I asked him several times, but that's all he would say, over and over, that 'They' were going to destroy the world with talcum powder."
"Why'd he push you away?" Napoleon asked.
"Right at the end, he said he was contaminated," Illya replied. "He didn't explain anything further, just said not to touch him, and he pushed me down," Illya glowered toward his partner, but wisely, Napoleon refrained from commenting. "He looked very ill, and he was somewhat delirious, I believe."
"And we both saw the result of his bolt for freedom," Napoleon noted. "You know what has me worried the most?"
"The fact that he felt he needed to kill himself immediately rather than ask for help?" Illya countered.
"Exactly," Napoleon agreed grimly. He got up and picked up the coat the man had been wearing, walked back to the bench and sat down. They sat silently looking at it in the angry weather, waiting for UNCLE Istanbul to arrive.
In the tale, in the telling, we are all one blood. Take the tale in your teeth, then, and bite till the blood runs, hoping it's not poison.... * Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929)
...what a mess, I confess, that's not all. * Danke Schoen by Bert Kaempfert, lyrics by Kurt Schwaback & Milt Gabler
Sitting in the cramped isolation room, hastily set up by the local office, the two agents shivered in their damp clothing. They shared the small space with the now recovered body of the man who had jumped.
The local agent in charge, Battal Samim, had sent a crew of 3 agents oddly dressed in rubber raincoats and gloves. Their transport had been an old delivery van. The lack of appropriate equipment had both agents on edge, but Illya was fuming.
"This is a meat locker," Illya snarled, as he considered inefficiency and lack of preparation one of the highest of sins. Despite the cooling function being turned off, the room was decidedly chilly.
"At least our friend here will stay fresh," Napoleon was having trouble controlling his shivering. Something must have shown in his voice, because Illya stopped his pacing in the 2 square meters of free floor space to come over to where he was perched on a wooden box.
The two had doffed their soaked raincoats, but their clothing was wet through to the skin. Illya faired better due to his heavy roll neck jumper and thick woolen trousers. Napoleon's stylish suit had seen better days and was far too thin to be of much use while wet.
"You need to start wearing clothing appropriate to the setting," Illya lectured his partner, but his concerned eyes betrayed him. "You're going to get pneumonia if you stay in that suit in this room much longer."
"You'll get no arguments from me, my friend," Napoleon huddled in closer to his partner as Illya started rubbing his shoulders and back, trying to generate some friction. "But, our wardrobe choices are somewhat limited," he indicated a pile of burlap sacks in the corner of the room that appeared to have held onions in the recent past.
"And certainly not up to your exacting standards," Illya noted archly.
"I should say not; I wear potato sacks or nothing at all," Napoleon's rejoinder was marred by the chattering of his teeth.
The opening of the door precluded any response from Illya and the partners looked up to see an agent they'd not met before. He was dressed in a surgical gown and mask, and was holding a rack of test tubes.
"Good evening, gentlemen. I am Dr. Batur," he announced, walking over to the small shelf and placing the rack of test tubes on it. He produced several syringes and added, "I will need samples of blood from you both, as well as the deceased."
"That's fine," Napoleon said, moving to take of his suit coat. His coordination was so bad that Illya had to assist him. "Anything to get this show on the road."
"What's going on?" Illya asked sharply, pushing up his sleeve to bare his arm for the sample.
"We are endeavoring to determine that now, Agent Kuryakin," Dr. Batur replied as he swabbed Napoleon's arm with alcohol.
"Has Mr. Waverly been informed?" Napoleon winced slightly at the stick of the needle.
"I leave that in Mr. Samim's capable hands," the doctor finished with Napoleon and motioned for Illya to step forward.
"Capable hands. We are supposed to be in Level IV quarantine, and we are in a meat locker. Your agents picked us up wearing rubber raincoats, " Illya ground out as he experienced his own dislike of needles during the drawing of his sample.
"We are all not so fortunate to have the resources of UNCLE New York," Dr. Batur replied with asperity. He shrugged, "We do the best with what we have. As long as the men stayed away from you, the coats will function well enough. The body removal was supervised by myself, and no contamination occurred, I can assure you." He moved over to the body and proceeded to take a blood sample.
"Could you at least provide us with some dry clothes? Can't you see he's suffering from exposure?" Illya gestured toward his partner, ignoring his own shivering.
"I'm all right for now, just get those tests completed so we know what we're up against," Napoleon's practiced smile could fool many, but made not the least impression on his partner. He grimaced as he pulled his clammy suit coat back on.
"Yes, yes," Dr. Batur's hands moved steadily, packing the test tubes in their rack and he moved over to the door and rapped on it. It opened quickly and he went out, stopping to call over his shoulder before the door slammed,"I'll have Uygur get you some dry things right away."
Napoleon turned to Illya, "Uygur's on the job."
"I'm relieved already," the curl of the Russian's mouth didn't require a micrometer to be measured.
Fortunately, Uygur came through with dry, if not exactly stylish, clothing for the two agents. Additionally, several wool blankets had been included in the stack pushed through the door by the silent but efficient man.
The two started to strip immediately, long ago having lost their shyness around one another. Illya rapidly dressed in what appeared to be traditional Turkish clothing. Turning to his partner, he saw that Napoleon's progress has not been as fast.
"My fingers don't appear to be following orders very well," Napoleon observed wryly, as he fumbled about his sleeve, trying to remove his other cuff link.
"Why should they be any different than the rest of you," Illya rejoined as the pushed the other's hand away and deftly undid the cuff link, then dropped to his knees and undid the laces of his partner's shoes.
"I follow all the important orders," Napoleon protested, resting his hands on Illya's shoulders as his shoes were tugged off.
Illya's snort of disbelief was audible as he pushed Napoleon back down onto the crate after having loosened his belt and pulled off his trousers.
"Hey, watch it!" Napoleon protested as he rocked back, grabbing onto Illya's shoulders to keep from losing his balance. "You know," his words were muffled by Illya dragging his t-shirt over his head, "you need to work on your valeting technique, partner mine." His smile belied the chastising tone of his words.
"As I only do it for you, my friend, I'm not worried," the Russian's eyes held just a hint of a twinkle that offset the archness of his tone.
"Better not be doing it for someone else," Napoleon's voice was even, but his expression was serious.
Illya paused in the act of handing over the other set of clothes and looked into Napoleon's eyes. "I'm not much in the position of valeting anyone, Napoleon, as you well know," he finally replied quietly.
Napoleon put on the loose shirt and trousers, trying to figure out what to say to that. He drew a breath as Illya turned round and presented him with the plimsolls provided with the rest of the clothing. He caught his friend's shoulder as he tried to turn away, "I know, Illya," he murmured. "I'm just selfish to want you all to myself."
"But, you don't really want me," Illya challenged. "So, why should it matter?"
Napoleon felt the usual disorientation that occurred when he tried to think of why he didn't want Illya with anyone else. He always lost all his usual glibness when trying to articulate his true emotions. It was a rare thing that Illya would state aloud his feelings, and he needed to get this right. He was brutally honest with himself for the most part, but this had always been a blind spot. He knew it would change things, and his usual shallow disregard for any deeper feelings would be out of place and insulting to Illya and to himself.
Bracing his left hand on Illya's shoulder, he slipped on the plimsolls, then placed his right hand on the other shoulder, gripping tightly, and looking directly into his partner's eyes. "I'm not...I don't know how to say it," Napoleon's tone was almost angry, but his eyes were vulnerable. "To make it mean something, not just pretty words," he trailed off, pulling his hands away, turning to toward the wall.
Illya disliked more than anything the loss of Napoleon's gloss and surety—his armor against the world, much as his dourness and cynicism protected him. He knew there was more beyond the shiny exterior and elegant clothes.
"You can just say it, you know," Illya said heatedly. "I'm not going anywhere."
"You just might," Napoleon shot back over his shoulder.
"Nothing you can say can make me not want to be your partner, Napoleon," Illya insisted. He took a step forward and tugged Napoleon around to face him, "And, unless you think I'm some naïve boychik, nothing you say will shock me, either."
"It shocks me," Napoleon said, unable to look away from Illya's steady gaze.
"Tell me," Illya insisted again, then placed one hand on Napoleon's shoulder, sliding it to the side of his neck, and the mood abruptly changed.
"It's just...you...," Napoleon voice trailed off. "You are who I want," he finished quietly.
"What does that mean to you, Napoleon?" Illya asked, surprised at this admission. His hand still remained touching his partner, grounding himself.
"Not knowing what to say, what to do," Napoleon replied slowly. "I'm not used to that."
"And it scares you," Illya observed.
Napoleon gathered his courage and replied, "To death, Illya."
"Are you afraid of me?"
"Afraid you'll leave if you find out."
"Yes," Napoleon stared straight at Illya.
"Still waiting for the fallout."
"And if there isn't any?"
"There's always some fallout," Napoleon's voice was certain, as if expecting the sky to fall, and on him.
"Perhaps getting what you want is what scares you even more?" Illya hazarded.
Napoleon barked a short laugh, "You know me through and through."
"That's not a bad thing, Napoleon," Illya said softly. The hand stroking his neck drifted up and traced the line of his jaw.
"Just as easy as that," Napoleon replied shaking his head. "Somehow, I don't think so."
"It can be," Illya said simply.
"Now, who thinks who is a naïve boychik," Napoleon shot back.
"We both know the where's and how's," Illya agreed.
"It's the who's that are problematic," Napoleon said wryly.
"Only if we make it so, my friend," his partner replied.
Napoleon stared at his partner. "It's ill-advised at best, dangerous at worst."
"And yet," Illya's mouth quirked into a half-smile that made his eyes crinkle a little, a gesture that never failed to catch Napoleon's breath.
"And yet," Napoleon looked into Illya's eyes, and gradually, their forehead's moved to gently touch. Feelings spilled over to fill places that had been empty so long they had lost sensation.
"It will be all right, Napoleon," Illya assured his partner and himself as they made their way over to the floor where they'd spread one of the blankets. "Sleep. We need it. We can talk later," the Russian said as they wrapped the remaining blankets around themselves.
"Later," Napoleon agreed, and they leaned up against the wall, exhaustion pulling them into sleep.
He's the only man I ever knew who had rubber pockets.... * Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)
This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it. * Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
Dr. Batur opened the door the next morning and walked in, sans mask and gown.
"Good news, gentlemen," he announced toward the two agents propped up against each other. The woolen blankets were tugged up to the Napoleon's chin, Illya's head was completely under them. "Neither of you is infected."
"Any word from Mr. Waverly," inquired Napoleon, his eyes still shut.
"Not that I know of. Mr. Samim is awaiting your report," Batur said.
Napoleon stretched his neck and groaned. "Hey, sleepyhead," Napoleon elbowed his partner. "We're back on."
The mumbled reply might have included something besides "coffee", but the good doctor couldn't understand the blond agent's speech.
"We'll be out in a minute," assured Napoleon.
"I'll meet you upstairs," said Dr. Batur.
The two agents got up and stretched briefly, and dropping the blankets on the crate, they left their chilly accommodations. Making their way up the staircase, they came into the hallway they had so briefly passed through on their way downstairs the night before.
Dr. Batur directed them into a large salon and when they were seated, picked up the telephone and dialed a house extension. "They're ready, sir. Yes. Yes, I will." He looked at the New York agents, "Mr. Samim is briefing some agents on another matter. He will see you in a little while. I'll just go see to some coffee, and a bit of breakfast, yes?" The agents nodded and sat back on the comfortable lounge.
"Excellent coffee," Napoleon remarked later as they were finishing their morning meal.
"Indeed," replied Illya rolling his eyes.
"This is our, what, third cup?" Napoleon's studied cheerfulness grated.
Illya's response lacked articulation, but accurately represented his feelings on the subject.
"Dr. Batur, could you give Mr. Samim a call and let him know we are still waiting for an update on this affair," Napoleon's request held steel not far underneath its politeness.
"That won't be necessary, gentlemen," announced Mr. Samim as he stood in the open double doors of the salon. "Please forgive me, we have had much activity this past two days, and my attentions have been occupied with other matters."
Napoleon was well aware of the dig that Samim was making at the two agents, who had not reported in prior to attempting to meet with their contact as per standard procedure.
"We were in the neighborhood," Napoleon smiled graciously. "We were going to stop by, but we got sidetracked by the man in the raincoat."
"Understandable," Samim regally nodded his head, not to be outdone. "Very disturbing behavior."
"Do we have a report on the man and what caused the disturbing behavior?" Illya cut in, already tired of the war of graciousness.
"No identification papers, no remarkable scars, marks or tattoos," Samim listed. "From the dental work, Russian or Eastern Block. No Soviet nationals have gone missing, or ones that they are willing to report, that is," he added.
"And the infection the doctor was talking about?" Napoleon queried.
"I have run every test for infectious diseases that I know of. Neither of you are carrying any," Dr. Batur stated unequivocally. "The deceased has no active infection, but showed every indication of having been infected with a very virulent strain of smallpox with some key differences."
"Shouldn't there be active strains of the disease, even on a dead body?" Illya stated.
"Normally, yes," Dr. Batur shook his head. "This is not normal. In fact, even as I was testing the dead man's blood, the virus was self-destructing. By the time I had finished the series of tests, there was nothing left of it."
"So, the body appears ravaged by disease, but you can't trace what it is?" Napoleon observed.
"What about the outward signs of smallpox," inquired Illya. "There weren't any on the body."
"That's what had me puzzled greatly," Dr. Batur said. "I had taken samples to be forwarded to UNCLE's labs in Geneva, but with the deterioration, it would be useless now. I have not done any direct research on smallpox, but every doctor in the world knows what it looks like under a microscope. This strain was recognizable as smallpox, but significantly different. You described him as having normal smallpox symptoms, with the exception of the skill eruptions—very unusual."
"So, someone has manufactured it?" Napoleon asked.
"I don't know," Dr. Batur said, distressed. "It may have occurred in nature, but somehow it was transferred to this man. His entire internal organ system had hemorrhaged. If he had not jumped, he would have been dead within hours, perhaps minutes."
"He stated that 'They' were going to kill the world," Napoleon was thoughtful. "Smallpox would be the way to do it. Thank you, doctor."
Illya, who had been silently contemplating his coffee cup suddenly said, "What about the mac?"
"The mac?" Samim was puzzled.
"The raincoat," Napoleon clarified.
"Oh, yes. What about it?"
"What has the examination of it found," Illya's patience was wearing thin. "It held significance to the dead man. He took it off just before he jumped, and threw it toward us."
Samim looked at Dr. Batur, who said, "I believe it's still in the storage room."
"Have Uygur fetch the coat," Samim looked at the two New York agents as the doctor left the room. "You'll be wanting to report to Mr. Waverly."
"Yes," Napoleon replied and got out his communicator, walking over to the corner to contact New York.
Uygur appeared with the Mac and handed it to his boss. Illya walked over to take the coat and began examining it. "I'd also like to check on the status of the contact we were to meet last night," he said, running his hands along the seams of the back and side of the coat.
"Who were you meeting?" asked Samim.
"His name is Eski Kostadinov. He's an attach with the Agricultural Ministry," Illya added.
Samim got a strange look on his face, "That's one of the other things I was taking care of earlier. The body of your contact was found in the parking lot near the ruins of the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus."
Illya's face gave nothing away and he offered no explanations to Samim beyond thanking him for the information. Samim moved over to the telephone again, making further inquiries.
Napoleon crossed back to his partner and said, "Mr. Waverly sends his regards, Illya, and requests we endeavor to clear this case up quickly as he has much for us to do back in New York."
"Are you sure he didn't remark on the budget?" Illya jibed as he spread the raincoat on the floor and was smoothing his hands down the panels.
"There may have been some mention of such a thing," Napoleon knelt down next to his partner. "Anything interesting?" he murmured to his partner.
"It appears to be a very good raincoat," Illya replied, pushing his hands into one of the large front pockets. "Hello, what's this?" He turned the pocket partially inside out. It wasn't tartan like the lining of the coat, but dark. He rubbed the material, then held it up to his nose and sniffed, "It's rubber."
Napoleon's eyebrows raised. There may have been some sort of smart comeback to that, but he didn't have one. He repeated back, "Rubber? You mean like for tires?"
"Yes," Illya confirmed, getting up from the floor and folding the raincoat over one arm.
"Okay, I'll bite. What for?"
"Obviously, to carry something, as both front pockets of this coat have been altered to be lined with a heavy coating of rubber," Illya stated as the two moved to the window that overlooked the courtyard. "Now," his voice lower, "what else had Uncle Alex to say?"
"We're to keep on the trail of this, top priority. There's been a rumor floating around that our feathered friends are dabbling in something new in biological warfare research, and this is the first concrete proof that's turned up," Napoleon spoke in a low voice. "It's on a need to know basis only. Apparently, there's a bit of a leak somewhere in the pipeline between New York and and here," he added sourly.
Illya digested this information for a moment, then said, "Eski is dead."
"I'm sorry, Illya," Napoleon said, reaching for his friend's shoulder and gripping it. "I know you considered him a friend."
"From long ago, but still a friend," Illya acknowledged.
"It's possible these two incidents may be related," Napoleon offered.
"All we've really got to go on is this coat," Illya said holding it up.
"Has it got a label?" Napoleon asked.
"Yes, a MacIntosh label and below it one from a 'Burlington Arcade'," replied Illya. "I'll have to run a trace on the arcade..."
"Never mind," Napoleon interrupted him. "It's off Bond Street, London." He grinned at his partner who shook his head and rolled his eyes.
"Finally, your instinct for shopping pays off," Illya deadpanned.
Napoleon just grinned, then looked down ruefully at their loose cotton clothing. "Maybe we can pick something up to wear when we get there. At least until our luggage catches up with us," he mentioned hopefully as they walked over to make their farewells to Agent Samim.
While on the shop and street I gazed My body of a sudden blazed... * William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
We look like a road company of the Last Supper. * Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
"I really believed that the stewardess wasn't going to let us on the plane," Napoleon insisted as they walked toward the Burlington Arcade after getting out of a black London cab.
"Yes, Napoleon," Illya replied. "So you've repeated, in some form or another, since we left Munich."
Napoleon stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and turned to Illya, oblivious to the passing crowds, "I meant what I said before. When I commit, it's for real."
Illya looked at his partner, attired in his still slightly damp black raincoat over the flowing white shirt and trousers, holding a last gift from Uygur—a gaudy floral plastic carry bag that contained his soaking wet suit and shoes. His hair had been allowed to dry without styling, and it curled up, giving him an overall boyish look years younger that his usual suave persona.
Illya recalled the conversation in the deserted airport waiting room, a quiet declaration that was all the more intense for its stilted but genuine delivery. "I know, Napoleon. It is most assuredly mutual." The pair walked on for a bit. "No one can beguile the ladies quite like you. And, we did get rather good service," he added, a grin turning his face from serious to charming in an instant. Napoleon's returning sunny smile was a reward in itself. He gestured to the shop they were heading for down the Arcade. "Now, let's see a man about a raincoat."
Napoleon hated being out of sorts, and this attire was guaranteed to make him feel completely off balance; witness that very public emotional scene with Illya. He needed to get his mind back on the job, and keep the personal stuff for later. But, Illya's smile was well worth it, even standing in the streets of London in such ridiculous clothes.
They approached the dark wood exterior of the shop that looked like it could have been there for over 100 years. Drawing himself up, Napoleon opened the door of the shop and gestured Illya through.
"May I help you gentleman?" the clerk was dubious.
"Certainly," Napoleon was relentlessly cheerful, willfully ignoring their rather bizarre appearance. "We're looking for information about this coat," he gestured to the Mac that Illya had pulled out of his matching floral carry bag.
The clerk took the coat gingerly, then proceeded to examine it thoroughly. He handed it back to Illya with a sniff. "It used to be a Duncan," he spoke as he walked over to a counter near the back of the shop. "But, it's been altered. Someone put those pockets in and ruined the line completely," he gestured to the open page of a catalog showing a well-tailored man modeling a similar coat, but without the large pockets inset in the front.
"Was that done here?" Illya asked.
"Certainly not," the clerk replied with heat. "We are a retail shop. We have a tailor on call for alterations, but we would never make a change like this." The clerk paused for a moment, then added, "Just why do you want to know anyway?"
"My name is Napoleon Solo, and this is my partner, Illya Kuryakin. We're with UNCLE, and we're investigating a matter involving this coat," Napoleon replied, producing his credentials at the clerk's rather incredulous expression.
"Oh," the clerk said, looking non-plussed for a moment. "You know, there's something about that label. Let me look at it again." Illya handed him the coat. The clerk examined the label, then took the coat with him and put it on the counter. He bent down behind the counter and produced a ledger, which he consulted for a moment, then tapped it, and looked up that the agents. "It's part of a large special order, which is odd, because I'm involved in all the special orders, and I've never seen it before.
"Are you sure?" Illya said.
"Certainly I am," the clerk replied with dignity. "I have worked for this establishment for 14 years come last October, and I know all the large orders that come through here. We add a small mark to the labels of large orders to help with inventory."
"What my partner is trying to say, uh, what's your name, anyway," Napoleon smiled at the clerk.
"Edward V. Hastings," the clerk replied.
"Well, Mr. Hastings," Napoleon continued. "We need to know who placed that order. It could be very important. People's lives could depend upon it."
"An order of coats is important?" Hastings shook his head. "Being well-dressed should be of great concern to every gentleman, of course..."
"Of course," Napoleon agreed smoothly, ignoring Illya's pained expression.
"But how can an order of raincoats matter that much?" Hastings continued.
"Well, Edward," Napoleon motioned him closer. "I can call you Edward, right? I think I can confide in you."
"Certainly," Edward's eyes, a rather washed out blue, got a little wider.
"We're working on a case that involves smuggling of counterfeit clothing," Napoleon improvised quickly.
"Tawdry imitations from the Far East, I'm sure," Edward sniffed.
"You know your clothing industry, Edward," Napoleon clapped him on the shoulder, and Edward beamed back at him. "Anyway, we're on the trail of some particularly vicious raincoat counterfeiters. We think they made the order with your company to keep the manufacturers off their trail."
"They're using our raincoats as their patterns," Edward exclaimed horrified. He stood up straight, "How can I help?"
"We need the name and address of who ordered this lot of coats, and we need to know if they order any more," Napoleon got out his notebook and wrote something on a sheet and tore it out of the notebook. "This is the number for UNCLE London. You can reach us here or leave us a message, twenty-four hours a day," he handed the slip of paper to the bemused clerk.
"I'll get that information for you," Edward finally moved after Napoleon broke his gaze. Illya appeared to be amused and exasperated at the same time.
Edward showed Napoleon the place in the ledger with the information, and while he copied it, the clerk came over to Illya and asked, "Are these people really that dangerous?"
"The most diabolical clothing counterfeiters we've ever come across," Illya assured him solemnly.
"You don't think they'll come here?" the clerk sounded worried.
"No," Illya hastened to assure him, looking desperately over at Napoleon who was silently laughing at him. "They're more likely to go after the wholesalers, warehouse types."
"Well, that's a relief, I can tell you," Edward assured the agents.
"Thanks for your help, Edward," Napoleon called as he picked up the raincoat off the counter and handed it to Illya to return to his carry bag.
"I'm honored to do it," Edward straightened his already straight spine. "In fact, I consider it my duty as a responsible clothier to assist in the apprehension of such criminals." He gazed adoringly as Napoleon gave him a light-hearted salute as the partners said goodbye and left the shop.
"Shall we check out the address or go to headquarters first?" asked Illya as they headed out of the Mac shop and attempted to find a taxi in what had turned into pouring rain.
Napoleon looked up at the leaden sky and shook his head; the rain had dogged them all the way from Turkey and appeared to be in no mind to let up. "HQ," he said firmly. He held up the paper with the address, "We have to research this anyway. It's only a post box in Surrey."
No taxi appeared for several minutes, and the two men shivered in the cold. "Let's just take the tube," Illya gestured to the Underground access stairway that could be seen a couple of blocks away. Napoleon agreed and they trudged down the sidewalk against the wind.
As they were stepping off the curb of a narrow side street, a black London cab pulled up in front of them, the passenger door opening. A tall thin man dressed in a long dark raincoat and galoshes got out, fussed with a rolled up umbrella. Then, he turned rapidly and thrust the tip in their faces. The two agents didn't have time to react as a gas was sprayed in their faces. They lost consciousness immediately, and the driver, dressed like the first one's twin, got out and helped lift the UNCLE agents into the cab. The whole operation took less than a minute, and the cab was driven out into Bond Street's heavy traffic.
The taxi turned down a side street and made it's way several long blocks later to the mews entrance of a three story brick building, turning into the receiving area. One of the men ran to close the doors and put a bar into place while the other parked next to a loading dock. The two hauled the UNCLE agents up a set of stairs into a bare room with a couple of high, narrow windows the only source of light.
They stripped them of their raincoats and Specials, searched them for any hidden weapons, and both pen communicators. Leaving them slumped on the floor, they closed the door, locking it. Then, the two men took off their own coats and tried to warm up next to the small electric fire in the office they had been working out of.
"What do I do with these," the Goon #1 asked, holding up the floral carry bags he'd brought in from the taxi.
Goon #2 looked into one of the bags and shrugged, "It's just wet clothing—put it over there," as he gestured to the far corner of the room. "Those two won't need it anymore."
"What time is the operative from Thrush Central getting here?" Goon #1 asked as he poked around their small supply of food, looking for a snack.
"He's due in at 6.00," Goon #2 smiled in a nasty way. "Haven't seen a really good interrogation in a long time."
"Should be very educational," Goon #1 agreed with a laugh and handed his companion a Jaffa cake.
Napoleon groaned quietly as he came to. Thrush knock-out gas always gave him a headache and other symptoms worthy of a three day bender. Rubbing his eyes, he looked for Illya, and found him laying next to him on his side, looking very uncomfortable. He reached over and rolled his partner onto his back, and gently rearranged his arms and legs. He always woke up first when exposed to this type of gas, but Illya usually had no side effects beyond a mild headache.
Sitting up with his back against a wall, he contemplated his surroundings. Noting that the room was bare, with not even a light fixture, was not encouraging. He sat back to wait for Illya to wake up. He needed time to regain his equilibrium, and he also needed Illya's brain to help them get out of this. Presently, a low groan similar to Napoleon's emanated from the blond agent.
"Thrush needs to make some refinements to their knock-out gas," Illya remarked testily as he sat up, rubbing his head. "The current formula is unacceptable in its side effects."
"I'm sure Thrush Central will take any advice for improvements under careful consideration," Napoleon pushed away from the wall and knelt next to his partner. "Are you all right?"
Illya took his hand away from where he was rubbing his forehead and looked at Napoleon with concern, "I'm fine. What about you?"
"A little green," came the rueful reply.
"Then sit back and rest," chided Illya, gently guiding him to rest up against the wall he'd recently departed from. "I'll take a look and see about a way out of here." Gratefully, Napoleon relaxed as much as he could and watched his partner carefully go through the room.
Illya noted that the light was fading fast, and that the high angle of the windows meant that their prison would likely be dark in a short time. He estimated that they'd been unconscious for about three hours. His growling stomach reminded him that they'd not eaten since the dismal food on the plane many hours ago, and circumstances being what they were, it was not likely that their captors would be offering them afternoon tea.
There was only one door to the room; it was of heavy metal with equally heavy hinges. There were discolored marks on the bare tile floor, which could have been from shelving or storage cabinets. The walls were a dingy white, with cracks in the plaster. In the center of the ceiling, a bare wire hung down, all that was left of the center fixture. The room itself smelled musty from disuse and was totally empty, dank, cold and unwelcoming. In short, it was a perfect prison. He returned to Napoleon, who was shivering in the cold, a light layer of sweat cooling in the chill of the unheated room.
"No joy in Mudville?" Napoleon looked up as Illya sat down next to him and leaned up against the wall.
"Not even a cobweb," Illya replied, his mouth turning down. He noticed Napoleon shivering a little and leaned up against him, offering his warmth.
The two closed their eyes—rest was a weapon. They dozed, and eventually, Illya fell asleep, his head tipping over to rest on Napoleon's shoulder. His partner's ability to sleep anywhere amazed him as always. The feeling of him pressed into the hollow of his shoulder made Napoleon's throat tight. He slid his arm around Illya and gently nudged him closer, pressing the side of his partner's face into his neck so he could feel the warm puffs of air from his breath. Illya stirred a little, and Napoleon froze, not wanting to wake him. His partner shifted and rubbed his face against Napoleon's neck and shoulder like a tired child, then subsided.
The dark had totally overtaken their prison. Napoleon closed his eyes and concentrated on the senses he could use. They'd been on the go for several days, and despite the amount of water they'd been subjected to, they'd not had a change to actually bathe. His partner's scent was unique, bringing comfort; it spoke of caring, safety, and home. He could hear steady breathing and felt the trust that allowed Illya to sleep with him to watch over them.
Time passed, and Napoleon supposed he ought to be calculating how much, but it really didn't matter. They would be held here until Thrush decided differently. With all their weapons confiscated and no tools to be had from the room, they had to observe and wait for their chance. He wanted to enjoy being close with Illya for a long as he could, but it wasn't nearly long enough before he felt a stirring against his shoulder.
"They still haven't come round the turn down the bed, I see," Illya spoke against Napoleon's neck.
"Frightfully bad service," Napoleon agreed. "I vote we avoid this establishment in the future."
Illya rubbed his face against Napoleon's neck slowly, breathing in his partner's scent, unknowingly duplicating Napoleon's actions of before. Napoleon's hand slid up to the back of his partner's neck and he threaded his fingers through the blond hair. The two were silent. In the dark they were free to turn into each other and embrace silently, shuddering with reaction.
Napoleon stroked Illya's left cheek, sliding his fingers down to trace a mouth that could pout so beautifully, but was so very strong. His thumb rubbed the lower lip, seeing in his mind his partner's eyes, maybe glaring, maybe full of emotion, or the odd combination of both that the elusive Russian seemed to specialize in.
Napoleon drew a deep breath and jumped into the unexplored, pulling that mouth to his. The end was lurking again, and he was not going to do without this any more. From Illya's enthusiastic response, he deduced his partner agreed. Low moans carried over the air, along with the brush of fingers on skin. It was like discovering kissing again, with the added attraction of "knowing" his partner.
Gradually, the pair shortened the lengths of their kisses. The final kiss was just a touching of lips, but they kept their mouths together, resting against one another, knowing it had to, but resisting the end. With a low murmur, Illya pulled back slightly and put both hand up to cradle Napoleon's face. He kissed both cheeks and his forehead, then gently rested their foreheads together; talking was superfluous.
They existed there together for an endless moment, then the scrape of the door being unlocked and opened pulled them apart and up from their place against the wall, blinking at the sudden influx of light from the hallway outside the door to their prison. The goons came in, #1 holding a substantial semi-automatic in one hand, making sure he was at the correct angle that #2 was not between him and the prisoners.
"Solo," barked Goon #1, motioning at the senior agent. Napoleon complied slowly, and his hands were bound behind him with handcuffs. Illya was poised by the wall, ready to spring, but the Thrush called out to him, "You try anything Kuryakin, and Solo gets it right here." A matching weapon appeared in his hand, pointed at Napoleon's head. Napoleon shook his head at Illya—they were still on wait and watch mode. Illya saw the door close, his last view of Napoleon was seeing Goon #2 shove him in the middle of his back causing him to stumble. His anger was only visible by the clenching of his fists, unseen as the darkness once more enveloped him.
The enemy nearly slew ye, My darling dear, you look so queer... * Anonymous [Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye]
I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it. * Groucho Marx (1890—1977)
Napoleon was ushered down the hallway into a room that bore a design that, sadly, he was well acquainted with. Manacles hung from chains that were suspended over a wooden platform. A table stood close by, well equipped with the usual accoutrement of torture. Powerful lamps strung from the ceiling formed pools of harsh light, causing the rest of the room to be bathed in darkness. The goons removed his handcuffs, stripped him of his clothing, hung him by the manacles, and wordlessly stepped back and out of the room. Movement from a darkened corner caught Napoleon's eyes, and he waited for the show to begin.
A tall, thin man in a dark suit walked quietly forward, "Good evening, Mr. Solo."
"Good evening," Napoleon replied in his best company voice.
"I am Delbert Marrows," continued the Thrush agent cordially.
"Of Thrush Central, if I'm not mistaken," Napoleon could have been conversing over a martini at the bar of the Ritz.
"Indeed. You are well informed. It is a formality, I know, but I must ask—what do you know of our current operation?" Marrows tilted his head in inquiry.
"You will understand that I can't answer that, Mr. Marrows," Napoleon's smile could have frozen mercury.
"It is much as I expected," Marrows said regretfully. "This will take some time," he spoke toward the corner from which he had moved. "You wish to wait?"
"Certainly," came a sultry feminine voice. "I look forward to seeing your work."
"As you wish, my dear," Marrows gestured, walking over to the table which was behind Napoleon's field of vision. When he next appeared, he had removed his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves and was holding an long thin object in his hand.
"Many people today do not take the proper amount of time to prepare a prisoner for interrogation," Marrows lectured. "They go straight for the heavy punishment, or even to drugs. This is incorrect; it muddles the results. You must start gradually," he marked his words with the presentation of the object in his hand, a thin bamboo rod. "You begin the low levels and work your way up, until, the prisoner can simply not bear the thought of one more moment of pain. Then, you begin your questions," he finished with satisfaction.
Napoleon felt the crawl of real fear up his spine. This was not some foolish Thrush mid-level stooge; this was someone who knew how to torture and liked it—a lot.
"Any further comments, Mr. Solo?" Marrows walked up to Napoleon and spoke in low voice next to one ear. Napoleon just looked at him in askance. "I didn't think so," he added simply.
Marrows strolled around Napoleon and stopped directly behind him about a pace back and examined the agent's back. It was lean with defined but not bulky muscles. A goodly canvas to work from. He waited for several silent minutes, not moving, ensuring that Solo would not know when the first blow would be struck. Presently judging the time to be right, he drew back his arm and flicked the bamboo rod with ease born of much practice, and it kissed the pale skin of Solo's back causing a thin red stripe to appear.
Napoleon didn't make a sound, but he flinched. This did not bother him; it was almost impossible not to react in surprise. What bothered him was that, eventually, he would make noise, tremendous amounts if he read his sadistic Thrush torture-monger right, and that would make Marrows very happy. He closed his eyes and began to prepare himself mentally for a long session. This was going to hurt.
Stroke after stroke, Marrows applied the rod in a criss-cross pattern methodically down Napoleon's back, then both sides of each leg, then both arms and his chest. He paused to delicately wipe the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief he produced from his trouser pocket. He then applied himself to repeating the procedure in the same unhurried manner. The second pass held more force than the first, but did not draw blood. Notably absent from attention from the bamboo rod were his genitals. Napoleon didn't think that would last much longer.
Marrows stopped after finishing his second pass and stood in front of Napoleon, only breathing slightly hard. He looked into the UNCLE agent's eyes, and from the moue of distaste he exhibited, it appeared he was not happy with the results. He lifted the rod again and began applying it with more force, varying the pattern by starting with his chest, then the blows kept going down lower.
Marrows was looking at Napoleon after every blow, varying the interval between so he could not anticipate the fall of the rod. He knew where this was going, but it didn't make it any easier when the first blow hit his cock. Two more followed as Marrows continued to strike down his body rapidly now, hitting his lower legs. Napoleon was moaning helplessly now; he hadn't noticed when he had begun, just the continuous pain as the Thrush agent struck him over and over again.
The strength of the blows did not increase again, but Marrows concentrated his efforts on his chest, buttocks and groin. The obvious sexual overtones weren't difficult for Napoleon to miss. Even in great pain, he couldn't miss the erection his captor had developed. Drawing from deep within himself and his training, he focused his mind on survival. There would be no more questions to worry about right now. Marrows approached his torture in stages, and now was to be endurance.
The stinging blows ceased, and Napoleon panted heavily. His arms burned from where they'd had to take his full weight because his legs had involuntarily given out and he'd fallen from his arched stance on his toes that the manacles had pulled him to. Sweat stung his eyes, and his body felt on fire.
Marrows appeared again in his field of vision, and Napoleon blinked at the suddenness. "You feel the sting of the rod, Mr. Solo. I imagine you think this is true pain. It is not," the Thrush agent shook his head. "This is but the beginning of a journey. A mere taste of where I will take you." Marrows slid one hand down Napoleon's chest, stroking a nipple, gliding down his stomach, to rest on his cock. Napoleon could not hold back his shudder as his torturer grasped him in his hand. "You did not enjoy yourself," he squeezed the limp organ once.
Napoleon made an involuntary pained sound. "But you did, you sick fuck," his voice held contempt.
"Language, Mr. Solo," chided Marrows. "I will leave you to contemplate the next stage." He turned away from where Napoleon could see him and called out to his companion, "Cocktail, darling?"
"Oh, yes. I've worked up quite a thirst. I can't imagine how you feel," replied the feminine voice.
"Utterly parched," bemoaned Marrows as the door to the torture room closed.
Napoleon's breathing gradually slowed and the sweat dried from his body. He went from being too hot to chilled in a short time as there was no heat in the room. He tried to shift his body to see if he could work on the cuffs of the manacles, but his beating had reduced his muscles to quivering masses of flesh. His whole body ached, even his jaws which hadn't been struck, but had clenched so tightly during the last of the blows.
After a few minutes, he pushed off his toes and was able to grab the chains of the manacles and lift himself up a little. Examination of the cuffs proved fruitless as they were solidly soldered and held closed by actual locks, not just hasps. He let himself back down again, resting as much as he could. He wanted to think about Illya, but he knew better. He had to concentrate his mental strength on outwitting Marrows, for his wits were the only weapon available to him right now.
Withdrawn deep within himself to cope with the strain on his body and the intense pain, Napoleon didn't notice the door being opened immediately. He did however, smell the waft of Chanel No. 5 that moved toward him. He opened his eyes to a blonde femme fatale dressed, inevitably, by the maker of her perfume in black evening gown, her hair up swept in a complicated confection that made her seem several inches taller than her spiked slippers made her.
The blonde sidled up to him and smiled as she took in his frame. She reached out a hand and stroked his shoulder, then drew it down to his chest resting her palm in the center.
"You poor thing," she cooed, gazing back hungrily at his lower body as she placed her wrap on the table and walked over to him. "Delbert was so cruel to you," she murmured consolingly. "You really ought to tell him what he wants to know. Then, we can have such fun."
"I'm afraid I can't do that," Napoleon kept his voice pleasant, although the lust in the blonde's eyes made his skin crawl. It wasn't for him; it was for his injuries.
"Such a silly UNCLE agent," she warbled on, both hands now stroking his flanks, then pushing on dark spots where the bruising had started to show.
Napoleon sucked back a cry as she hit a particularly sensitive spot. "That tickles you know," he got out in a ghost of his usual chat up the ladies voice. This produced only a giggle and the woman pushed closer to him.
"Uh, where's Delbert now?" Napoleon was getting alarmed.
"On the phone to Central," the blonde licked his neck and nuzzled him. "Besides, he's not interested in me," she rolled her eyes. "I just had to come in and see you while he was busy. He won't let me have any fun with you until he's done," she pouted.
"Well, that's terrible," Napoleon commiserated archly.
"Isn't it," the blonde cocked her head up mischievously. "That's why I had to sneak away while he was answering to the big boys at Central."
"Something important must be going down," Napoleon probed, his voice encouraging, but his face looked pained as she started to chew on his neck.
"Oh, darling, you know I can't tell you anything," she nudged him with her nose, then went up on tiptoe to put her arms around his neck. "I've heard a lot about you, Napoleon Solo. They say that your kiss is simply divine. I'm going to find out for myself."
Napoleon opened his mouth to try to forestall her, but she pounced and mashed their lips together, moaning. Feeling his gorge rise, Napoleon concentrated on the structure of her hairdo, noticing the large number of blond bobby pins holding it together. A moment later, he began participating in the kiss, making encouraging noises as he moved his head to the right. She followed as if tethered and the tower of her hair brushed over his manacled right hand. His fingers fumbled, then plucked a pin out. He hoped it wasn't the lynch pin of the edifice. A few minutes later, she pulled away, lips swollen, a dazed look on her face.
"Oooo, they were right," she stumbled back a bit, grinning like an idiot. It was then the Napoleon could see the pupils of her eyes, which were very constricted . She giggled again, and he hoped whatever she was on wasn't going to wear off soon; it would make for one less enemy to worry about. She yawned suddenly, "Oh, sleepy now." She teetered on her spiked heels as she stroked his chest one more time. "Good night, Napoleon. Do be a good boy and don't let Delbert hurt you too much." She retrieve her wrap from the table and it trailed on the floor behind her as she sashayed out of the room.
As soon as the door closed, Napoleon swung his hand over to his mouth and place the pin between his teeth. He pushed off the balls of his feet and grabbed the chains of his manacles. Groaning, he worked the chains closer together, eventually able to grab the taught chain above his left hand. He did the same with his left hand and "walked" up the chains until he had a little slack.
Sweat poured down off of him, and his muscles were screaming, but he was thinking of nothing but escape. He knew that Marrows would be back after his phone call for part two of his production. And, when he was done with him, he would most assuredly start in on Illya, which was entirely unacceptable.
Holding his weight with his left hand, Napoleon retrieved the pin from his teeth with his right hand. He adjusted it as best he could with one hand and his teeth, and began working on the lock. Minutes passed as he struggled to make the lock obey his will. Finally, the sweet sound of a click and the pressure removed from his left wrist signaled success. He retook the pick with his teeth and switched it to his left hand. Now that he had the knack of it, the other manacle yielded quickly, and he was able to drop free to the floor. Instantly, he was bunched up, groaning from cramping muscles, his left hand unable to drop the lock pick.
Knowing that Marrows could even now be returning to his cell gave Napoleon the strength to stretch out the muscles in his arms and legs and stumble to his feet. Shivering with reaction as much as cold, he force his body to dress in the loose cotton trousers and tunic. He slid his feet back into the plimsolls, his heels pushing down their backs as he couldn't bend over to pull them up. Stopping only to pick up the bobby pin turned lock pick from the table where he'd carefully placed it prior to getting dressed, he stumbled to the door.
Rejoicing that the blonde had been too stoned to remember to lock the door, Napoleon listened carefully for noises in the hall prior to turning the knob and easing outside. The hall was deserted as he made his way as quickly as he could toward where Illya was being held. He listened at the door and could hear nothing. He looked down and saw the key in the lock and sighed. He opened the door anyway, but he could see by the light spilling in from the hallway that his former cell was empty. They had moved Illya somewhere else.
Back in the hallway, Napoleon went to the next door and listened again. He quickly backed away and pulled back into a dark ell as Marrows opened the door and called out, "Carruthers!"
The second door down from where Marrows was standing opened and Goon #1 popped his head out, "Yes, sir?"
"I need you to drive me to Bond Street. The timetable has been moved up to next week. We've got follow up on the last order today so it can go through channels. We're leaving immediately," he ordered, disappearing into the room momentarily, reappearing with his overcoat.
Carruthers called back over his shoulder, informing his companion where he was going and instructing him to "keep on" with whatever he was doing, shut the door, then followed Marrows down the hallway out the door to the loading dock area.
Sincerely hoping that Edward wouldn't faint when Marrows showed up at the shop door, Napoleon abandoned the ell and made his way to the door where Carruthers had come out of. One down, one large Thrushie to go, and him armed only with a bent bobby pin. He waited until he was sure that Marrows and Carruthers were gone, then decided on a course of action. An oldie but a goodie—diversion.
He leaned over near the keyhole and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Oh, my God! I can't believe it, it's the Beatles!"
Goon #2 popped out of the door right on schedule looking for who was making the disturbance. Napoleon hit him in the neck as hard as he could, and he toppled like a tree. Napoleon dragged the dead weight back into the room and looked up to discover where Illya had been taken.
Evidently, the Thrush goons didn't subscribe to the slow, but steady torture plan their boss did. Illya was tied to a chair and it looked like they'd been in the middle of working him over pretty well. His mouth was swollen and bleeding from one side, a bruise was forming on one cheek, and the way he slumped in his bond, his head lolled to one side, made Napoleon think that they'd been battering away at his mid-section for a while.
"Illya," he called, tugging off his partner's bonds. "Time to get up and get moving, moi droog. I don't know how long we'll be alone here," he gently patted the non-bruised side of the Russian's face.
"This isn't the place for that, Napoleon," Illya groaned softly as his partner helped him up, stifling his own exclamation of pain.
"Next you'll be saying you have a headache," Napoleon groused in mock irritation.
"Now that you mention it," Illya replied in a tired but cheeky voice.
Napoleon noticing their carry bags in the corner and their Specials, communicators and wallets on a table. Their raincoats, though, were nowhere to be found. He grabbed up the bags and swept the wallets into one, and handed Illya his Special as they hurried out and down the hallway to the door that led to the loading dock as fast as their aching bodies could move.
"Hold up," Napoleon motioned Illya to wait against the wall next to the door and checked the loading dock area. The taxi was gone, the dock deserted. "Looks clear. Let's go."
"A sound plan," Illya concurred. "Any idea where?" he yelled over the sound of a Thrush alarm klaxon that suddenly blared to life.
"There," pointed Napoleon to a door that had an faded exit sign over it. They pushed the door open and found themselves at the side of a large stone building. It was daylight, but with a dim, washed out sort of light, peering through the grey drizzle that still fell.
The ran down the alley and out onto the sidewalks of a busy street, running as fast as they could.
Angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dyn. * Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society. * Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Moving down the crowded street, Illya looked back to check to see if they were being followed. His attention diverted, he failed to see a dark-haired girl wearing a see-through acrylic rain cape over a minidress in a bright geometric pattern with matching hat and handbag right ahead of him. He crashed full into her, causing her to drop the bag.
"Excuse me, miss," Illya apologized and winced as he bent over to help her gather her things that had scattered over the walk.
"Here," said Napoleon, sweeping up a tube of lipstick, a packet of hairpins, and a silver compact, placing them in the open handbag.
"Oh, thank you," the girl cried gratefully. "I've been standing here forever, and no one will stop and help me."
"Uh, help you with what?" Napoleon was more preoccupied with scanning the street for any signs of Thrush agents following them.
"My motor," the girl reached out with a clear booted foot and kicked the tire of a bright red Mini parked next to the curb. "It won't start. I'm late, and Mary's going to kill me if I don't get to the shop soon. I promised her I'd have these designs for her first thing this morning," she bemoaned.
Illya appeared at a loss, the girl's big eyes beseeching the two of them for assistance. It was on the tip of Napoleon's tongue to say they'd call her a mechanic and be on their way, when out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of two goons that had to be Thrush making their way down the crowded sidewalk toward them. He caught Illya's arm and pulled him over to the open bonnet of the Mini.
"What seems to be the trouble?" he queried companionably, bending over low and tugging Illya down with him. The both winced as their abused bodies protested.
The girl moved over, blocking the view of them from the sidewalk, "It won't start. It just makes a bloody great whirring noise, then a click, then nothing." Hidden by the girl and the passing crowds, the Thrush agents passed them by.
"Could be the starter," murmured Napoleon, actually looking now at the inner workings of the Mini. "Are they gone?"
"They've moved on down the walk and gone round the next corner," Illya replied, edging around the girl's bright form to take a look. "Could be the battery cable."
"Good idea," Napoleon concurred, tracing down where the battery cable attached and finding it loose, corroded white powder clinging to the contact on the cable. He ripped the bottom edge off his tunic and pulled the cable off, then wiped it down as best he could.
"Have you any tools?" asked Illya.
"There's some in the boot," the girl replied. "I'm not sure what kind. My brother Alistair keeps some in there. Says it saves time when he has to come after me when when I've broke down somewhere," she finished sheepishly. "I'm Deidre by the way."
"I'm Napoleon, and he's Illya," Napoleon gestured to where Illya was rooting around in the boot. The Russian appeared round the front of the car triumphant with a screwdriver and adjustable end spanner. He got to work while Napoleon kept watch for the return of the goons.
"Try it now," Illya called to Deidre, coming out from under the bonnet.
Deidre slid into the driver's seat and started the car with a roar. "Oh, you two are simply smashing," she got out and hugged Napoleon. "Thanks!"
"You're welcome," Illya replied pointedly, closing the hood of the car and tossing the tools back into the boot.
Deidre laughed, crossed over to Illya, and kissed him soundly. "My hero," she added, twirling around, her rain cape lifting up and flinging drops out in a circle—hitting both Illya and Napoleon in the face. "Oh, sorry," she laughed at the matching sour expressions on the partner's faces. "But, you two couldn't get much wetter. Why are you out without raincoats?"
"The airline lost our luggage," Napoleon replied dryly.
"Well, those are marvelous clothes," she remarked gazing at their now soaking cotton garments. "So unusual. Where'd you get them?"
"At a spa in Turkey," Illya earnestly informed her. "We've been on a retreat. It was very enlightening," he finished, the twinkle in his eye only visible to his partner who grinned back.
"Groovy," Deidre nodded in serious understanding. She then got into the Mini and pulled the seat forward and gestured for the partners to join her. "Well, come on, then," she called out gaily.
"Uh, I don't think..." Napoleon began.
"We'd be delighted," Illya pushed Napoleon into the back seat and joined him, looking over his shoulder at the suddenly reappearing Thrush agents down the block.
"Smashing," Deidre caroled as she pulled out from the curb with a screech of tires, ignoring the honking of horns and the door Illya barely got closed.
"Too many avians around here," mentioned Illya and Napoleon sighed in resignation as the partners tried to find room in the rear of the Mini for two grown men with carry bags, while Deidre seemed bent on overcoming friction as she went round corners.
She sped down Bruton Street onto Piccadilly, roared through Belgravia like Stirling Moss, and expertly weaved her way through the side streets of Knightsbridge until she pulled up to a smart looking shop with a colorful display in its wide window. The space at the curb wasn't large enough for a gnat, but somehow Deidre got the Mini wedged in.
She sprang out of her door, took an over-sized manila folder off the front seat and leaned in, "You two going to sit there all day?"
The partners suppressed groans at moving after the battering their injuries had taken in their impromptu tour of London's fashion district.
"Can you get out?" Napoleon looked his partner over.
"I think so," Illya pushed himself out of the seat and got out. Napoleon followed, handing the ubiquitous carry bags out first.
"At least we know we weren't followed," Napoleon said with asperity as he gestured for Illya to proceed him through the door of the shop.
Illya gave a half-smile as he opened the shop door, "And we should be able to use the telephone here."
Racks of clothing greeted them in the crowded shop. Brightly patterned mini-skirts and dresses adorned mannequins, and stacks of tights in a rainbow of colors spilled over on shelves. Everywhere, smartly dressed girls were holding up creations, popping in and out of try-on booths, and exclaiming about the merchandise. Over it all, the sounds of The Who's My Generation blared from an unseen gramophone.
The partners were standing just inside the entrance, taking it all in, when Deidre appeared in the doorway at the back of the shop and called over the din, "Napoleon! Illya!" The two made their way through the crowded shop, fielding curious glances from the patrons with their usual insouciance.
"Come on, you two. You must be freezing in those wet things," Deidre fussed, taking them over to some chairs that were arranged next to an electric fire. The noise of the shop faded as she shut the door. She plugged the kettle in and piled some shortbread on a small plate from an open packet.
Deidre offered Napoleon the plate, and he gratefully took a couple of the biscuits. "We need to make a telephone call," he spoke round a mouthful of shortbread.
"The phone's on the desk," Deidre motioned with one hand to a nearby desk that was overflowing with piles of fabric, large pattern books, and a scattering of papers with drawings of new designs. She held out the plate to give Illya his chance at the biscuits; she laughed at his hungry look and left him with the lot. She went over to where the kettle was steaming away and proceeded to make tea in an enormous brown Betty pot and poured a cup for each agent. Then, folder in hand, she went to the back of the crowded room, knocked on a door to a small office, and went in.
Napoleon found the phone under a bolt of navy blue knit and a pair of bright green tights, which he gingerly piled onto the contents of the other side of the desk. He sat on the corner he'd cleared and dialed UNCLE London. While he waited for the call to connect, he noticed that Illya's mouth had started bleeding again. He reached down and gently wiped at the corner of it with his thumb. Illya watch him quietly, but when Napoleon was finished, handed him a biscuit. Napoleon smiled in return as Illya continued to make silent inroads on the remaining pile of shortbread.
While Napoleon talked with the London office in low tones, Illya pulled the Mac out of his carry bag and began examining it again. Putting the last biscuit between his teeth, he held the coat up with both hands. It felt rather heavy with the added pocket linings. Slipping it on, he reached his hands into the pockets and tried to get a feel for the added feature of the coat. Nibbling down the last bit of biscuit, he pulled his hands in and out of the pockets. They were canted at an angle natural for his hands to reach in, but the heavy flaps, coated on the underside with rubber were cumbersome and looked rather odd pushed up when he put his hands in the pockets.
Napoleon frowned as he hung up the phone. He stood up next to Illya as the office door opened and a dark-haired woman in a black and white color-block mod dress with black tights walked out. Several pencils were behind one ear, her attention immersed in the drawings she was carrying.
She crossed over to the overflowing desk and lowered the drawings long enough to peruse the stacked contents. "There they are," she murmured, plucking the lime green tights from the top of the pile. "Been looking for these for ages. Where were they?" she queried Napoleon.
"Under the navy blue knit," Napoleon gestured after a moment of being non-plussed.
"Ah, yes," the woman nodded, tugging down a pair of black-framed glasses from her dark hair onto the bridge of her nose. "What do you think? For spring?" she laid the tights on the bolt of cloth and added a drawing of a navy mini-dress. A green stylized daisy the exact color of the tights adorned the open neckline of the dress.
"Fetching," agreed Napoleon smiling.
Illya came over and tilted his head as he looked at the drawing then the fabric. "You might want to remove the sleeves and open the armholes a bit. You could pair it with a green blouse," he suggested. "That way, the frock can be used in summer, too."
"Not a half bad idea," the woman agreed as she poured herself a cup of tea. "But, the blouse should be white, with sleeves like this," she grabbed a pencil and rapidly sketched in a new view of the dress next to the old one. She handed the drawing to Illya and picked up her tea.
"Yes, that's better," Illya agreed, pouring himself a second cup and sipping it as the two examined the drawing making comments to one another. Napoleon looked on in bemusement.
Deidre appeared again, holding various bolts of fabric, and Napoleon went over to her, taking the stack, "Let me help you with that. Where do you want them?"
"Over there," she replied, blowing her bangs out of her eyes, and gesturing to yet another table piled high with material. Napoleon gingerly added the new bolts to the stack.
"I've brought the new samples out, Mary," Deidre walked over to where the woman conferring with Illya. "You've met my knights in shining armor, I see. This is Illya," she gestured to the blond, "and this is Napoleon."
Napoleon added ruefully, "More like knights in wet cotton, I'm afraid. Nice to meet you."
"Likewise," Mary said as she looked over their damp ensembles that were getting rather grubby and frayed. "It's not a good look for you, darling," she added with a wry smile. "And that coat couldn't be more wrong for you, but I think you know that," she turned to Illya, who grimaced good-naturedly.
"We appreciate the chance to dry off," Illya said taking off the Mac. "We been a bit on the run lately," he added with his usual understatement.
"May I see that coat?" Mary asked and Illya handed it to her. "Those pockets, all wrong of course, but an interesting use of rubber."
"Do you know any reason, fashion or otherwise, why someone would put extra rubber inside only the pockets of a coat?" Illya asked.
Mary shook her head, "Seems daft to me." She looked up at the partners, "I've seen this bonding technique before though, I think."
"Do you remember where?" Napoleon came over, his look intense. "It's very important," he added. At her curious look, he produced his UNCLE credentials, thankfully waterproofed, and Illya added his. "We've been investigating the origins of this coat for the past few days."
"It's almost identical to the seams on the macs we had made for last spring's line," Mary put her hand on her chin and thought for a moment. "Deidre, do we still have that sample in storage?"
"I think so," the girl replied. "I'll go take a look." She went into the back of the room through the door she had come through with the bolts of fabric minutes before. She returned in a couple of minutes bearing a bright yellow raincoat and handed it to Mary.
"See, here," Mary directed the UNCLE agents to an inner seam of the coat. "The crimping pattern where they do up the hem and the edges of the seam—it's the same as your Mac's pockets, just not as heavy a coating."
Illya held up the Mac. "May I?" he gestured to her glasses, and she wordlessly handed them over. After a thorough perusal of both garments, he concluded, "They appear to be identical patterns and techniques." He took off the glasses and handed them back to Mary with his thanks.
"Where did you have this coat made up?" Napoleon asked Mary.
"A small factory on the island of Mindanao, The Philipines," she replied. "I have the address in my files." In her office, she went to a filing cabinet and looked for a few minutes. Pulling out a file folder, she walked over to the two agents, "Here is it—it's a town called Ipil in the Zamboanga del Sur province."
"Any particular reason why you sent all the way to The Philipines to have your raincoats manufactured?" Napoleon was curious. "That's a long way for a slicker."
"A friend of mine from school is from Davao," she replied smiling. "Lilibeth works in the trenches for Givenchy, but she's planning to open her own shop one day. When I mentioned that I was going to make a line of rubber raincoats for last year's spring line, she suggested the factory because they'd do a short run for me. It belongs to some friends," she consulted the file. "The Dalisay family. They have an interest in the local rubber plantation. A sort of from the fields to the factory thing, you know. Top quality and a reasonable wholesale price."
Writing down the pertinent information, she handed the paper to the grateful agents. Looking at the pair over with a critical eye, she said to Deidre, "Illya's just about Ian's size, don't you think?"
"And Alistair's could do for Napoleon," agreed the girl smiling broadly. She crossed over to the coat rack and began pulling on her rain cape. "Well, come on, you two!" she gestured toward the door, putting on her hat. "We'll get you some dry clothes before you tear off on your mysterious mission."
Napoleon handed his partner his carry bag and they headed out to the main part of the shop after thanking Mary for her help.
"Come again," Mary said as they were leaving. "I've got some fabulous ideas for boots I'd like your opinion on," she called to Illya as she waved the partners out the door of the shop, the sounds of The Beatles' Day Tripper following them out into the street.
We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire... Give us the tools and we will finish the job. * Sir Winston Churchill (1874—1965)
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. * Yogi Berra (b. 1925)
Before they left, Deidre had taken them on another odyssey in her Mini, this time to Chelsea. She sped them to a third story flat on Tite Street that she shared with her brother and his friend, Ian, who were students at the Art college. She'd assured them that they wouldn't mind providing the UNCLE agents with clothing and the knapsacks they used for holidaying.
Alastair and Ian's things had fit well enough, and Deidre had assured them the styles were what all the switched-on blokes were wearing. Illya received a black and white striped long-sleeved jersey and black narrow-legged corduroy trousers. Napoleon sported a heavy rollneck Aran sweater and black stovepipe trousers. Both wore Chelsea boots and khaki green parkas that Deidre had produced for protection against the inclement weather. The partners had eyed each in amusement at their attire, but had thanked their benefactor sincerely—dry clothes were dry clothes.
They called to the airlines to book seats on the next flight that could connect to The Philipines. They took time for a short stop at Marks and Sparks for a change of socks and underwear and to the local Boots for toothbrushes, razors, and the like on the way to Heathrow.
Deidre's Grand Prix-style driving had ensured they'd made it with plenty of time to the airport to catch their flight. She'd waved them off with a goodbye kiss on the cheek for each and a promise to present a claim to UNCLE for reimbursement for the clothing. They'd given her the public address for UNCLE New York and requested that she address her request to Mr. Waverly himself.
A short time later, still sore from their injuries, but freshly washed and shaved by a stop at the airport's facilities, they'd boarded their flight. Napoleon and Illya were on a plane again, but there were some key differences from the last time. This trip they were completely dry, had carry on luggage, and a scotch or vodka in their respective hands as they waited for beverage service to finish so they could discuss the progress of their current affair and their action plan for when they reached their destination.
In their seats at the rear of the plane, Illya asked quietly, "Now, tell me why we've bypassed UNCLE procedure by not informing the London and New York offices where we're going, or even to the armory to replenish our weapons and equipment."
"Remember that leak Mr. Waverly mentioned to me earlier?" Napoleon took a sip of his scotch, looking carefully at the nearest passengers in their row, two seats forward. They did not appear to be at all interested in the agents.
"That must have been how they found out we were going to the Mac shop," Illya observed. "It was very quick. We only mentioned it to the head of the Istanbul office and the on-duty officer at the London office."
"Yes," his partner agreed. "But, you know that the structure of UNCLE are means that that information could have been seen or heard by literally dozens of people during that time span. At least one of those people is very high up in the UNCLE food chain."
"Also, that this operation is enormous," Illya noted. "They would not risk burning a mole network so high and securely placed if they did not think it would pay off with great dividends."
"It could also explain why our communications to the London office went awry when we asked to have that warehouse checked out," Napoleon offered dourly.
"Giving our feathered friends plenty of time to clear out, leaving us with nothing but the raincoat to go on—again," Illya added, equally dour.
The agents grew quiet, each occupied with the ramifications of what they were involved in. Illya's face sported his almost-scowl look, which meant to Napoleon that he was thinking hard about something, something that just eluded his understanding.
"What's bothering you?" he finally asked.
"The coats," Illya mimed putting his hands in pockets. "What do you keep in rubber pockets?"
"Uh, things you want to keep dry?" Napoleon hazarded.
"Exactly," Illya replied. "But, it's a raincoat, so the pockets should already be dry."
"Well, speaking from recent experience," came the dry rejoinder. "I can say that, eventually, even the best raincoats can get wet if you stay out in the rain long enough."
Illya gave a half-smile at this, "Again, my point—what do you keep inside rubber pockets of a waterproof coat?
Napoleon slowly replied, "Something that you really want to keep dry...."
"Like talcum powder," his partner finished.
"All right. Why talcum powder," Napoleon thought out loud. "What makes it so potentially dangerous, apart from the smell and the stuff goes everywhere if it's spilt. It sticks to you like glue if you get it on your clothing," he trailed off, realizing he was referencing experiences with his various ladies. "Perhaps that is precisely why it is being used," Illya mused, but his hand moved over to where his partner's lay on his lap, interlaced their fingers and gently squeezed, letting him know that the past was past. Their hands stayed connected for a short time, then slid away from each other slowly, well-aware that they could not do this in public, no matter how innocent an act holding hands was.
Napoleon shook his head, "You'll have to give me a road map here, partner. I'm totally lost."
"A delivery system," Illya sipped his vodka, then held up the glass. "This glass is a means of containing the liquid of the vodka for movement from its original receptacle, the bottle, to its intended target—my mouth," he finished by knocking back the remained of his drink.
"And, what are you delivering with powder?" Napoleon thought out loud. "Something small, light, and needs to stay dry."
"And deadly," Illya added. "It must be a weapon."
"I remember something from American history," Napoleon said. "A dirty trick played on an Indian tribe. They gave them blankets that had been infected with disease."
"Infected with Smallpox," Illya looked at his partner, comprehension dawning. "Our mystery man in the Mac died of a variation of Smallpox."
"If I recall correctly, Smallpox is one of the most virulent and contagious diseases on the planet," Napoleon said grimly. "But, I've been vaccinated against it since I was a kid. Most people are already protected from it."
"Yes," Illya agreed. "An aggressive vaccination program spear-headed by the Soviet Union and the World Health Organization is making great inroads in eradicating it. It's mostly undeveloped countries that it still persists in." "Then, what's the point...unless...Dr. Batur's unknown disease," Napoleon remarked suddenly.
"Much like Smallpox, but different enough that our mystery man contracted it," Illya observed.
"He knew he had it."
"And about the delivery system."
"He was trying to warn us, but he died before he could say much of anything."
"Powder can be inhaled. If the initial delivery of it does not get ingested, the powder would stick to the intended victim's clothing, ensuring multiple chances for infection," Illya informed his partner.
"I don't know much about the disease, but Smallpox's progression is quick, right?"
"Very quick, and with a high mortality rate, up to 35%. And, if this is an engineered version of the disease, the rate could be much higher," Illya observed grimly.
"They're really going after it this time," Napoleon said quietly, but he was exasperated, angry and fearful at the same time. "What the hell is Thrush thinking? The ramifications are incredible."
"They're trying to kill the world," Illya quoted their mystery man, his own emotions very intense.
They sat quietly then, lost in their thoughts as they waited for their flight to finish. They had to change planes twice to get to Mindanao, then obtain ground transport when they got there.
Hours later they stepped off their last plane at Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao. With only their knapsacks and their UNCLE i\ID's, they passed through Immigration quickly. They approached the bus terminals carefully, knowing that an official could have tipped Thrush that they were in the country, also knowing that if they move quickly enough, they could get lost in the myriad of buses that served the island.
A few minutes later, they were on a bus to Zamboanga City, figuring they could hire a Jeepney for local transport when they got closer to the village.
"No birds appear to be interested in our travel plans," Napoleon observed the passengers of the crowded bus.
"It is still best to get off the known transportation routes as soon as possible," Illya advised. "I don't like the fact that they could find us so quickly in London."
"Me, either," Napoleon replied grimly. He looked out the window. It was raining, naturally.
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea In a beautiful pea-green boat... * Edward Lear (1812-1888)
I was under the assumption that it would be conducted as a normal investigation, not as some kind of a second-story job. * John Ehrlichman (1925-1999)
They arrived in the small town of Ipil just before dusk. The transport office at the bus terminal was closing, but they managed to hire a Jeepney for transport. They bypassed the Sibugay Grand Plaza Hotel as too obvious and checked in at the smaller Mandarin Hotel as Misters D. Martin and J. Lewis, on vacation in beautiful Zamboanga Province.
Illya had raised an eyebrow at the names, but Napoleon had just grinned and mentioned that you had to take your humor where you could find it. Illya asked to be notified when he had found it.
"Come along, Mr. Lewis ," Napoleon's mouth quirked at the impish look his partner wore. "We've a factory to explore."
"Certainly, Mr. Martin," Illya pushed him out the door. "After you." The partners brangled good naturedly at each other as they descended in the ancient elevator.
Their demeanor changed to completely serious as the doors opened on the lobby. Both checked for out of place individuals, and they made their way across the lobby and out into the street where they'd parked the Jeepney with no obvious bad guys making an appearance.
"Head west, then take the second right, which should be Abanga Road," Illya referenced a small map by a small flashlight, where he'd obtained either was a mystery to Napoleon. His partner always seemed to be able to "requisition" items whenever needed where ever they went.
"Pretty quiet out here," Napoleon observed that outside of the town, the road was dark with heavy vegetation growing high.
"The clerk said the factory was next to the rubber plantation, at the end of the road," Illya informed his partner. "His brother-in-law works at the factory," he added.
"So, I take it we're interested in a tour," Napoleon slowed to make it through a series of deep potholes filled with water.
"Very," Illya replied archly. "Tomorrow at 9.00, I believe."
After a long slow drive necessitated by the darkness, pouring rain, and sorry conditions of the roads, they arrived to what had to be the factory. It was a long, metal clad building with a smaller wooden structure next to it. Several lorries and smaller transport vehicles were neatly parked in the lot next to the factory. It was completely dark, and the Jeepney's lights lit only a small area. Pulling up, Napoleon parked and they got out, tugging up the hoods on their parka's against the driving rain, carrying their knapsacks.
Illya leveled his flashlight at a white sign with black lettering that read "Philipine Rubber Project Zamboanga Plantation 2 km". A dirt road even narrower and in poorer condition that the one they'd arrived on disappeared, curving into a forest of methodically spaced rubber trees.
"Let's try there," Napoleon gestured to the wooden structure. "Looks like that could be the office."
The partners went round the back of the building, where a set of low stairs led to a door. Easing up to the door, Napoleon tried opening it, and to his surprise, it was not locked. "Trusting souls," he remarked as they entered.
Illya illuminated the small room, which seemed to be a sort of back porch with free standing cupboards, pegs for hanging clothing, and racks of tools not immediately familiar to the agents. The door to the inner part of the building was at the far end. Illya opened the door, also not locked, and they proceeded into what was an office. Several desks were grouped in the center, and filing cabinets were along one wall, while charts and graphs adorned the other long wall. They closed the blinds and risked turning on the lights on the desks.
"Anything?" Napoleon asked Illya as they both scanned files pulled from the drawers.
"Nothing but orders for boots," Illya said.
"These are for tarps," Napoleon held up his stack.
They kept digging, and when the finished their own cabinets, they shared the searching of the third.
"Here is it," Illya held up a sheaf of papers. "An initial order for modification of 5 "Duncan" model raincoats. Then, an order dated a week ago for 125 additional units for the MacIntosh shop at the Burlington Arcade."
"The rush order Marrows was talking about before he left," Napoleon read the paper. "Edward's name isn't on this. The person who made this order is a Clarence Driscoll."
"He's made all the orders," Illya read each paper. "But there's no address listed for him, just the post office box in Surrey that we already have."
Just then the sound of a trucks changing gears sounded from the road. The partners doused the lights immediately, and went to the front windows. A mid-sized panel delivery truck was approaching the factory, moving slowly due to the road conditions. It pulled up to the large factory door. It was too dark to see much, but the headlight illuminated a figure that got out and pushed the sliding door open, got back into the truck and drove it into the factory.
The partners moved out of the office through the back door and approached the factory very carefully. The were no windows at eye level, so for them to see what was going on, they were going to have to carefully enter the factory though the access door.
The door opened next to the large sliding entrance, and the agents move rapidly behind some stacked pallets as they heard voices coming from further into the factory.
Carefully looking around the corner of the pallets that hid them, the partners took in a rather odd scene. Racks of raincoats were being wheeled up to the deliver truck and loaded into it by two men dressed in Thrush jumpsuits. A third, dressed like a central European workman, smoked a cigarette and watched the loading.
Illya gestured toward the truck as the Thrush goons finished pushing the last rack into the truck. Another man had appeared. Dressed in a suit, he had the air of the one in charge. He motioned to the goons, who shut the rear doors and disappeared out of sight toward the large factory door, sliding it open. The driver dropped his cigarette and ground it out with his foot, then got into the cab of the truck. The suited man got in the passengers side and the truck started up. It stopped and the goons closed the sliding door, stopped by the cab of the truck, possibly for instructions, then got into another truck, which pulled out in front of the first.
Illya picked up his knapsack and shrugged into it, Napoleon followed suit, and as the truck rolled down the driveway, they came out of the door and ran quickly to catch up with it. Jumping up onto the step bumper, the agents clung to the sides of the truck. Illya was able to get one door open, and he pulled himself inside the back of the truck. The door opened out toward Napoleon, so he had to grab onto the edge of the door and swing himself around. He almost lost his handhold as the truck hit a particularly deep pothole, but strong hands caught him as he slid down the door and manhandled him into the truck, somehow getting the door closed. Both agents were shivering with reaction and pain as they lay on the floor of the truck, their recent injuries aggravated.
Waiting a few minutes to recover a little, they explored the back of the truck as best they could in the dark, not wanting to risk the flashlight. Toward the front next to the cab, they found a solid wall with no window, so Illya turned on the flashlight and they looked over the cargo more carefully. The racks were secured with ropes strung through eye-bolts welded at intervals around the box of the truck.
"MacIntosh brand raincoats," Illya read several labels to confirm that the rest of the coats were the same.
"Of the "Duncan" model, if I'm not mistaken," Napoleon observed airily. "With extra rubber option," he added.
"You know your raincoats," Illya said in a dead on impression of Edward the clerk. He pulled two raincoats of the rack and placed them on the floor of the truck. The agents sat down on them with their backs to the cab, shoulders together, awaiting their destination.
After a couple of hours, the truck slowed, went over a very large bump in the road that jarred them, moved for a short time more, came to a stop and stayed that way. The partners crouched in the back of the truck, waiting for the back to be opened, and their possible discovery. Thirty minutes later, the doors still remained closed, and they were just about the risk opening them when the heard the unmistakable sound of a ship's whistle. A short time later, they felt the roll that only comes when you are on a vessel on the water.
"Freighter?" Napoleon hazarded.
"Possibly. The port of Davao has mid-sized ocean shipping capabilities," Illya replied, pulling the information from his encyclopaedic memory.
"Let's explore," his partner suggested. "See what we've gotten ourselves into this time."
The two opened the door to the truck slowly, and looked out into what appeared to be a cargo area. It was fairly dark where the truck was parked, next to large pallets of freight and one or two other vehicles. A little light spilled from the bulbs mounted on the bulkheads. The agents exited the truck, bringing their knapsacks, after re-hanging the coats they had borrowed.
They opened a bulkhead door into a narrow companionway. They went up several accommodation ladders, and found themselves in a larger companionway, with brighter lighting. Randomly choosing to go the right, they eventually found themselves on the deck of a mid-sized ship. It was headed out to sea, the lights of the port of Davao just visible in the rainy gloom. Going back inside, a burst of noise drew their attention, and the pair carefully made their way down the companionway to a set of double doors. The doors had windows of frosted glass, and they could see shapes behind the doors, but no details. Just then, one of the door opened and a man dressed in a steward's uniform came out, bearing and tray with empty whiskey bottles and a harried look on his face.
At the non-plussed look on the UNCLE agent's faces, the steward spoke to them in obvious inquiry. Illya answered him in a language that sound a lot like Russian to Napoleon, but he couldn't understand all the words. The steward nodded and gestured to the room, shaking his head and going off about his duties.
"What'd he say after he asked us if he needed help?" Napoleon moved over close to Illya to speak into his ear.
"I said we were trying to find out companions, and he said they were in the saloon, drinking, a lot," Illya explained.
"What language was he speaking. I mean, it sounded like Russian, but it was different in places," Napoleon asked as they moved down the companionway and went down an accommodation ladder to the next deck.
"It sounded like a Romanian accent to me," Illya said as they found themselves down a corridor lined with narrow doors. "I think we've found the staterooms."
"Let's see if we can find one not occupied," Napoleon started trying doors. All were locked. At the end of a corridor, he rapped on the door to see if anybody was home. Getting no response, he gestured to Illya, who produced a small piece of metal he'd found on the floor of the truck. Wanting something to do during their journey by truck, he'd bent it into a lockpick shape. The picked worked, and they were soon inside the stateroom.
It appeared to be unoccupied, the bunk was made up, but not disturbed. There was no luggage in the tiny closet, no accessories on the shelves on the small bureau. The agents sat on the bunk after stowing their knapsacks.
Illya reached over and pulled a brochure out of a holder on the tiny desk next to the bunk. "We are passengers on the Anton Codreanu," he read. "Which normally sails the Black Sea—it's home port is Constanta, Romania," he added looking at Napoleon.
"Well, it's a little far from home. Somehow, I get the feeling that this ship ought to be flying a flag with bird on it," Napoleon said, and his partner nodded his agreement.
"I'll take the first watch," Illya offered, gesturing to the bunk.
"Thanks," Napoleon replied, and doffed his boots and parka, but remained fully clothed as he lay down. Illya pulled out a battered copy of Kerouac's On the Road that he'd found in the side pocket of his knapsack and settled down to read.
Whom unmerciful disaster Followed fast and followed faster. * Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Killers, huh? I'd trade the pair of you for a good Camp Fire Girl. * Daniel Taradash (b. 1913)
Three days of dodging stewards, passengers, and crew later, Napoleon and Illya were ready for their "cruise" to be over. They'd spent the days quietly in their appropriated stateroom, going out only to use the shared washroom down the hall and for Illya to explore the galley in a borrowed steward's uniform late at night for food.
They'd managed to avoid meeting any persons through sheer luck and the abundance of nooks and ells in the ship's companionways to hide in. They'd subsisted on canned and dry foods with a little fruit and a few bottles of water. The second day, Illya had produced a pack of battered cards that he'd found on one of his forays for supplies, and the partners played gin rummy for ridiculous stakes. While Illya slept, Napoleon re-read Kerouac and enjoyed it even more than the first time.
The evening of the third day, they heard considerable traffic outside their stateroom door, then quiet. Dousing the lights, they peered out through the curtains of the porthole and saw that they had made port.
The partners quickly grabbed their knapsacks and loaded in the few items they had out, donned their parkas and exited their stateroom. Figuring that they would just have to brazen out debarking from the ship with the rest of the group, they fell into the back of the line of men at the gangplank. Official signs informed them that they had landed at the Port of Constanta, Romania.
No one paid any attention to them as they headed down the gangplank onto the pier. Keeping an even pace, they went toward some stacked cargo and disappeared behind it. Concealed, they observed the dock area. The men who had debarked were getting into buses waiting on the pier.
"Looks like Thrush has recruited a small army," observed Napoleon.
"To go with the raincoats," Illya added.
Further down, a gangplank for off-loading cargo was being put into place. Their old friend, the panel delivery truck was driven out after some cargo was removed. The driver parked the truck and got out to confer with another man. In the noise and the confusion, the agents slipped back into the truck and sat back down in the same place they'd vacated three days before. It was still raining
A short time later, the truck started up, stopping only momentarily at the security gate. Illya listened at the vent in the wall of the truck. Sitting back down, he said, "Whatever is going on, some part of the government of Romania is in on it. We just were passed through customs without a search by the Securitate."
Another journey of hours in the back of the truck. They'd packed a little food and some water from the ship, but the time dragged. They'd had time to recover from their injuries, and too much time to think about what was happening. They ached now from inaction.
When the truck finally stopped, they listened carefully, but there seemed to be no one around. They knew every minute the stayed in the truck, they risked discovery. This was balanced by the need to find out its destination.
Opening the back, they slipped out and scanned their surroundings. They were in the car park of what appeared to be a castle. The stone edifice, complete with turrets rose up on a steep hillside, misty clouds caught between the towers. Stiff from their journey, the agents walked over to a kiosk that had a display, ostensibly about the castle. There were a couple of tour buses at one end of the car park, and a few scooters in a rack near the kiosk.
The partners started up the path to investigate their surroundings. At the noise of approaching people, Napoleon and Illya ran back to the scooters and began fiddling with them, as if getting ready to leave.
A group of tourists led by a grim faced woman dressed in Soviet chic carrying a clipboard appeared. Napoleon ducked down behind his scooter, and Illya occupied himself by strapping his knapsack down. The tour group passed by, their leader lecturing about the decadence of the Romanian nobility. When they had passed, the partners saw that a couple a men in suits had appeared down the path in the wake of the tourists, along with the driver of the truck.
Illya listened carefully as he adjusted the straps on the scooter and then said quietly to Napoleon, "They're getting ready to move the truck again. They are heading to some village called Istria."
"How are you at hot-wiring a scooter?" ask Napoleon as he reached down to do just that. Illya's scornful look and the low roar of the scooter starting up seconds later was his answer.
One Thrush in a suit walked back up the path and disappeared around the corner; the other got back into the cab of the truck and it pulled out again. The truck soon outpaced them as the two agents followed on the scooters, resigned to get drenched in the drizzling rain.
The trip to the village of Istria took several hours by scooter When they were low on gas, they liberated some from cars parked on the side streets of the town of Bobadag as they passed through. The further east they went, the smaller the villages became, until they finally turned on the main road onto a secondary road with a sign with a lone name on it—Istria 9km.
The terrain was low, coastal plain with marsh grass and shrubbery growing densely. They approached the village late in the afternoon, pushing the scooters behind some shrubs by the side of the road and walking into the village, their knapsacks on their backs as if on a walking tour of rural Romania.
The delivery truck was nowhere to be found in the small village. They walked around for a while more, then Illya stopped off at the local general store, while Napoleon waited outside. Illya requested a map of the area, and the proprietor offered a small folded map that he assured the agent in Romanian accented Russian would show him all the bird watching sites in the area. Paying the man in Rubles, he thanked him.
Exiting the store, Illya gestured for Napoleon to follow him. They headed down a trail that according to the map, led to the shores of Lake Sinoe and the ruins of Histria Fortress. "Knowing Thrush's predilection for co-opting historical sites for their own ends, I figured that might be the place they were heading to," Illya explained.
"Just once, why couldn't base their diabolical schemes some place like Monte Carlo," groused Napoleon, facing yet another hike. Illya just grinned.
Winter meant an early sunset, and the cloud cover made it even earlier, and it was dusk as they came to where the trail intersected a path that went round the lake. They saw movement in a open meadow as they came around a corner of the path, then saw the tents. A group of youth in khaki uniforms with red neckerchiefs were encamped by the shore.
"Okay, I know they're not the Boy Scouts," Napoleon drawled.
"They probably are UTC, the Romanian Communist Party's youth organization," Illya replied.
"Like the Komsomol?" ask his partner.
"Yes," Illya looked around for the group's leader. "We need to be very careful. There's always a Securitate officer assigned during these large group outings."
"That would be the same secret police that's probably in cahoots with Thrush, wouldn't it?" Napoleon observed.
"Indeed," Illy replied grimly. "It is entirely possible that this entire activity is a cover for what the Securitate and Thrush are doing here."
"These kids can't be more than eleven or twelve years old," Napoleon protested.
"There is no age limit when in service to the State," Illya told him, his features blank.
The appearance finally was noticed by the group, and a couple of boys bounded up to them, excitedly welcoming. As the youth crowded around them, Napoleon looked helplessly at Illya, who shrugged and motioned for his partner to play along as the latest additions to the camp out.
The group brought them to the campfire at the center of their encampment, where stools and blankets had been placed. They were given cups of tea and what were apparently the left overs from their dinner and other children milled around.
As they were dining, Napoleon murmured to Illya, "Did you notice that there were no adults around? The oldest here can't be more than fourteen."
A young tow-headed girl of about eight, her hair in braids, came up to Illya and solemnly asked, "Will we see the geese tomorrow?"
"You didn't go out today to watch them?" Illya asked her, motioning for her to sit beside him.
"No," she shook her head. "Comrade Yadrov and Comrade Dobre left early this morning for more supplies, and they haven't returned yet."
The child, named Sorina, chatted with Illya for a while, her face very serious as she told the agent all about the Red-Breasted Arctic geese who returned every winter to the lake and this field trip that the Youth had been planning for months.
An older girl appeared, calling for Sorina to come help. She said, "I've got to go now, comrade. Will I see you in the morning?" At Illya's affirmative response, she gave him a glorious smile and kissed him on the cheek before she loped off toward the tents.
Napoleon joined up with Illya at the fire as the boys who had been talking with him also went to take care of their evening chores. "Not that I'm complaining, because I'd be pretending to be mute otherwise, but why aren't they speaking in Romanian?" he asked.
"There's an enclave of ethnic Russians in this part of the country," Illya explained. Looking around to make sure all the youth were occupied, he added, "Thrush isn't here, but I don't like leaving these children all to themselves."
"Neither do I," Napoleon poured some more tea into his cup and offered it to Illya.
Taking a drink, he handed the cup back to his partner, "We must find out where they are based."
"I suppose we could ask if the kids saw anything," Napoleon observed. "Those boys told me they've been wandering all around this area all day."
Illya nodded and called over an older boy, asking him if they knew of any factories or buildings in the area.
"No, comrade," the boy named Costin replied. "The only thing we saw was a lot of people at the Histria Fortress museum. It's kind of odd; we were supposed to go there while on this outing, but they told us it's closed for renovations."
"Maybe it's workers doing the renovations," suggested Illya, but in the back of his mind he knew that this was the place. He thanked the boy and sent him on his way.
"So, you're probably right about them co-opting the historical site," Napoleon said. "We need to go check it out."
"As soon as they are in bed," Illya agreed.
Half an hour later, the camp was quiet. Conferring with the two oldest of the youth, they stated that they were going to go find out what had happened to their leaders, and stressed the need to keep the children in the camp.
The weather had finally cleared, and it was getting very cold. The agents went back to the lake path and headed toward the ruins. When they were almost to the ruins, they left the path and walked carefully up a brush covered knoll that over looked the site.
By the light of a very bright moon, they saw a low wooden structure next to a car park, where sat the delivery truck. On the other side of the graveled car park, which housed several buses last seen at the port of Constanta, there was another campsite, but it didn't belong to any youth group. They could make out and least four armed guards standing at various points around the campsite.
Pulling back, Napoleon said, "We've got to see what's in that building. Can you see any guards around it?"
Illya shook his head, "We'll have to get closer."
Moving as quickly as they dared, the partners approached the building silently. The windows were dark, but they couldn't determine if no one was inside or if they were just well-covered. The back door was unguarded at the moment, though, and they carefully opened it after picking the lock. Inside, it was a dark room, with another door leading to the rest of the structure. Going through the second door, Illya risked a quick look with his flashlight. The room, whatever it had been before, was now a very well equipped lab.
Napoleon very quickly decided to leave Illya to examine the lab while he followed up on the group of thugs camped next door. He went back outside and carefully crept down the slight hill, until has was hidden behind some shrubs, the closest he could get to one pair of the guards. They were apparently anti-social, or just had nothing to say, because they spoke not a word for ten minutes.
Just as Napoleon was about to give up and move to a different area, there was a changing of the guard. The new pair were as gregarious as the last were silent. They chatted on and on about worthless minutiae, but his ears perked up as they started to talk about why they were here.
"It's too damn cold out here," grumbled the first guard, rubbing his arms. "Why did we pull late guard duty?"
"Because, comrade, we are not part of the inner circle, the fortunate few," nodded the second guard knowledgeably.
"A good communist knows that all people are equal," the first guard lectured.
"Yes," agreed the second guard. "But, a smarter communist knows how not to mention that fact," he finished, laughing. He then produced a small flask, took a pull and handed it to his fellow guard.
The first guard shook his head at his companion, but took a healthy pull on the flask anyway. "I hope this operation is ready to go tomorrow," he took another drink and handed back the flask. "I don't like the idea of staying out here another night."
The second guard shrugged, "Tomorrow, the next day, it doesn't matter. It will be a carnage." He took a very long swig out of the flask and gave it to his partner.
"And, then we will be part of the inner circle," the first guard said solidly. He shook the flask, "It's almost gone."
"Vodka is the enemy, you should finish it off," the second guard said with mock solemnity.
"To the end of the old world, and the beginning of the new, comrade," the first guard tipped the last of the vodka into his mouth.
Napoleon carefully retreated from his listening post and returned to the museum turned lab. Regaining entry, he went over to where Illya was examining the contents of a folder by the light of several lamps he had switched on.
"What have you got?" Napoleon inquired.
"A lot of trouble," Illya replied grimly. "These records show that Ceausescu authorized a bio-weapons facility deep in the mountains to the north. At that facility, a scientist, Dr. Anatoliy Panin, developed a mutated strain of smallpox as a bio-weapon."
Napoleon looked at Illya with alarm, "Dr. Batur was right. What are they planning to do with it?"
"These papers contain the instructions for culturing the disease," he gestured. "Over in that corner is the closed environment room they can grow it in. Using a special process developed by the good doctor, they mix the disease with the powder that renders it inert, until you add water to it."
"At which point, it starts growing, infecting the person," Napoleon reasoned.
"Exactly. They're planning to deploy it using the talcum powder and the raincoats with the rubber pockets to make sure it stays dry," Illya replied. He gestured to a large stack of pasteboard boxes, "There several cases of talcum powder there, probably already infected. And we know the raincoats in the delivery truck."
"They're going to put the infected powder in the pockets of the coats, and use their army of men in macs to deploy the powder," Napoleon mused. "Does it say where they are going to go?"
"There's an extensive plan outlined here. The operatives are assigned in groups to regions of the world. The plan is to deploy them all at once to infiltrate and infect the centers of government and the military," his partner told him. "The first group is scheduled to depart for North and South America tomorrow morning."
"They won't be able to get close enough to infect those country's leaders," Napoleon objected.
"They don't need to," Illya explained with a sigh. "All it will take is to get one or two high ranking people infected, and the disease will vector out from there."
"It's that highly contagious?"
"It appears to be even more so than the original Smallpox."
"Dear God, Illya," Napoleon exclaimed. "They're totally insane. There's no telling how far it will spread, how many will die."
"I believe that is the point," Illya sounded tired.
"The guards I was listening to, they mentioned a new world," Napoleon said grimly. "I think I'd like to introduce them to the next instead. Is there nothing that can neutralize it, no vaccine?"
"There had been a vaccine developed," Illya looked over the papers again. "But, they've administered all the doses to their operatives and destroyed the vaccine stock. As Dr. Batur discovered, it has a limited life in it's original form. Once it's been activated by water, any type of water, it has the ability to infect people anywhere from two to eight hours, then it becomes inert. Once it infects a body, it runs a course of three to four days, then breaks down." He put down the papers on the table. "The mortality rate is 85%," he finished dully.
"We have to destroy this stock of infected power," Napoleon moved over the to innocuous looking boxes of death.
"Yes, but we have to be careful," Illya cautioned. "It cannot get wet, or we risk activating the disease."
"How do we get rid of it, Illya?" Napoleon ground out.
"We'll need to burn it," he said. "It will have to be a fire of great heat, and the powder will need to be consumed very quickly. I don't know that the moisture in the air from the sea won't activate it."
"We need incendiary devices," Napoleon asserted. "Phosphorus grenades, something..." "There's enough raw materials here to construct something like that," Illya stated thoughtfully. "It will take some time though."
"The sooner you get started," Napoleon said as he went around the lab, making sure that all the windows were covered, then turned on the over head lights. "How can I help?"
Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come. * Carl Sandburg (1878—1967)
Joshua fit de battle ob Jerico, Jerico, Jerico, Joshua fit de battle ob Jerico, An' de walls come tumblin' down. * Author Unknown
Napoleon was reduced to being a fetch and carry boy, but he approached his work with the grim determination it deserved. Eventually, Illya had enough materials to do his work, and he was unemployed. He prowled around the lab for a while, giving the stack of talcum powder boxes a wide berth, then went into the other room where he hit pay dirt. A cache of weapons in a cupboard, along with ammunition. He checked the Thompson carefully, and loaded each clip with care. Putting it over a shoulder by its attached sling, he swept up the extra clips and tucked them in the large front pockets of his parka.
It was almost light by the time Illya was putting the finishing touches on his incendiaries. Packing the mixture carefully in the jars he'd selected, he topped them with the lids he'd fitted with fuses and igniting material. The heat of the initial explosions would burn hot enough to ignite the device that would burn at the necessary high temperature to totally destroy the deadly virus before it could be activated.
Napoleon returned from prowling the perimeter of the building, "It's nearly dawn. You ready?"
"Yes," Illya replied, stacking the jars carefully around the boxes of talcum powder. "You'll need to be at least 500 feet away from the building when it ignites, or you run the risk of being caught in the heat blast."
"Don't you mean 'we', partner?" Napoleon ask suspiciously.
"I need to be inside to light fuses," Illya explained to the floor, then looked up at his partner.
With an inarticulate sound, Napoleon pulled Illya to him by his shoulders, "You are not sacrificing yourself. Find another way."
"I'm not interested in martyrdom, Napoleon," Illya exclaimed exasperated. "The devices require a triggering explosion to reach the necessary ignition temperature. The only fusing I could find will have to be lit by someone. You can be certain after I do that, I will be exiting the building very quickly."
Staring into his partner's eyes, Napoleon finally nodded. "Be sure that you do that, moi droog. I cannot do this without you," he finished quietly, his chin falling to his chest.
Illya's arms encircled his waist and pulled him into a hard embrace, "Neither can I." With a last look at each other, they separated to do their respective parts of the operation. Napoleon went back outside to keep an eye out for the Thrush operatives sure to come running when the explosions started. He'd make his stand by the low section of stone wall of the ruins. From there, he could cover Illya's exit from the building and the obvious path from the Thrush encampment. He watched the sun come up as he waited to Illya to light the fuses.
Inside the building, Illya took out the Ronson that Napoleon had given him. For luck, he'd said and grinned as he tossed it to him before exiting the building. Illya sincerely hoped some of the famed Solo luck would rub off on him. He'd neglected to mention to Napoleon that he'd run short on fusing material, and that the initial fuse that connected all the fuses to the individual devices was a little shorter than he estimated he needed to make it far enough away from the building to survive.
Having no wristwatches, they'd agreed to count off the necessary minutes to allow Napoleon to get into position. His count approached its end, and he opened the lighter and flicked on the flame. Moving back through the inner door, he bent down and lit the initial fuse at the count of 300. Clicking shut the lighter, he threw it into the pocket of his parka and ran like the hounds of hell were after him.
Twenty-seven seconds later, the building blew sky high in a series of multiple explosions occurring so rapidly together, it was impossible to differentiate between them. Clouds of dark smoke filled the air, and debris rained down on where Napoleon lay in wait.
The Thrush operatives appeared right on schedule, and he opened up on them, spraying bullets down the path. They regrouped and returned fire, but their handguns were no match for his machine gun. He changed clips again and continued to fire into the bushes where the Thrush had taken shelter. He looked back at the smoking ruin of the building, but there was no sign of his partner. Changing clips one more time, he prepared to leave his shelter, as he knew that the Thrush operatives would be sending someone back for one of their rifles, and that he would be a sitting duck where he was.
Using the cover of the smoke hanging in the area, he fired a last burst, than ran toward the destroyed building to the secondary cover site, a tall stone pillar he'd picked out earlier. He wanted to yell out for Illya, but he knew better. Reaching the pillar, he dropped to the ground, panting a little. At the sound of rustling grass he rolled and brought his gun up to bear, but dropped his hand from the trigger. There, in the marsh grass, was his partner, with dirt smudged on his face. He was the most beautiful thing Napoleon had ever seen.
At the ping of gunfire passing near them, he called out, "Heads up, the Thrushies have regrouped."
Illya pulled out his Special from his coat pocket and returned fire from behind another pillar. "How much ammunition do you have?"
"One more clip, then my Special," Napoleon called over.
"After that runs out, just what were you planning for us to do?" Illya asked firing at a persistent Thrush who came over the hill at a fast clip, thinking to overrun them.
"We are between the Devil and the deep blue sea," admitted Napoleon.
Illya eyed the Black Sea that was on their left and the Thrush agent who were on their right, and the swamps that was to the front and back of them. "Well, I guess we just go for a swim, then. I'm out," he announced, putting his Special away.
"That's it for the Tommy gun," Napoleon tossed it down and pulled out his own Special. He was preparing the cover their retreat to the water, when over the far hill the entire group of UTC youth came running, then stopped, yelling at the top of their lungs, waving their arms.
Then, from the north, a contingent of villagers came, bearing weapons that ranged from garden tools to pieces of firewood. They bore down on the disoriented Thrush operatives, with all the outrage of parents frightened for the safety of their children. The surprise was complete, and the Thrush couldn't fire without hitting their own, so they were reduced to hand to hand combat. Napoleon and Illya waded into the donnybrook with relish.
Finally, the fighting died away, such was the fury of the villagers and the UNCLE agents, that very few of the Thrush escaped their wrath by running away. Napoleon and Illya found themselves near the edge of the water, in a hollow behind a wall of the ruin. They leaned up against the wall, catching their breath.
Napoleon looked at Illya; the smoke from the explosion had cleared and the sun shone down brightly. His blond hair was lit up, his eyes very blue, and the smudge of dirt of his cheek just emphasized his physical beauty. The ache within him called out for action, and before he could stop to analyze it, he pulled his partner close and said clearly, "I love you."
A startled Illya had no chance to respond before Napoleon kissed him hard, moving his mouth over his partner's, willing a response. When Illya did respond, the kiss gentled and continued for a long time. When they parted, they touched their foreheads together and just breathed together.
After a while, they heard a noise, and turned their heads, still touching, toward it. It was Sorina, walking carefully down the grassy hollow, carry two red neckerchiefs. When she reached them, she held them out. " You need to put these on," she said sweetly. "The Securitate are just over the hill." The agents mutely took the neckerchiefs and put them on.
Taking them by their hands and walking between them, she escorted them up the hill. "You will have to walk to Istria with us, but you should be able to escape when we get there," she assured them.
The agents stopped and Illya looked at Sorina, whose youthful features hid the knowledge of the way of her world. "Thank you," he finally said, gathering the child up.
She returned the embrace, and looked at them solemnly, "You need to be very careful where you kiss; there are informers in the village."
"We will," Napoleon gently stroked her hair and smiled at her. They joined hands again and walked over the hill.
Two well-assorted travellers use The highway, Eros and the muse. From the twins is nothing hidden, To the pair is naught forbidden; Hand in hand the comrades go Every nook of nature through: Each for the other they were born, Each can other best adorn. * Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
End note: This is the first UNCLE fic I have ever written. I have enjoyed it very much. It grew to such a great length, though, that I had to end this installment before I finished off the loose ends. A sequel looms in my future, as soon as time allows it. Thank you for reading.