THE "A IS FOR AGNES" AFFAIR

 

Act I

"How nice to be wanted…"

 

Napoleon Solo walked into the Mask Club on the ground floor of a non-descript building a number of doors down from Del Floria's Tailor Shop.  It was a low-key establishment where men and women could unwind over a glass of ale and listen to an in-house band play on the small stage.

            Since only members were permitted inside, the club catered to a less rowdy clientele then you'd find in an average pub---though there would always be a few drinkers who didn't know when to say when and had to be ushered outside for some fresh air or a cab ride home.

It was Napoleon's great misfortune to encounter such a man.

            The guy looked around forty with drab brown hair, dull brown eyes, a bulbous nose, and an overgrown mustache; his wrinkled clothes too tight for his portly frame.

            "Hey, Pal, how ya doin'?" he asked in a bland voice, placing a hand on Napoleon's shoulder, more to keep from falling than anything else.

            "I'm fine, 'Pal'," Solo gave his shoulder a subtle shrug to dislodge him.  "But I'd say you're about three sheets to the wind."

            "Me?  Nah!  I can drink any man here under the table!" he plopped down hard on the bar stool nearest to Solo except he overshot and would have landed on his backside if Napoleon hadn't steadied him.

            "Are you all right there?  Would you like me to call you a cab?"

            "Me?  Nah!  I can drink any man here under the table!"

            Napoleon rolled his eyes.  'Why me?' he asked the gods above.  'All I wanted was a nice quiet drink...'

            "Hey," the man put his hand on Napoleon's shoulder a second time.  "Could you tell me where I might find some...entertainment, if ya know what I mean," he wiggled his brows lasciviously.

            "I'm afraid I don't," Solo rose to his feet, brushing off the imposing hand.

            "Hmm...That’s not what I heard," the guy scratched behind his ear.  "I heard you were a hep cat who knew the best places to troll for chicks."

            "Who told you that?"

            "Some blond Rushkie.  I stopped him on the street and he pointed me in here.  Said to look you up.  Said you were a skuzz who would sleep with any skirt."

            "A blond Rushkie, eh?" Napoleon fumed.  "…Illya..."

            "Yes, Napoleon?"

            Solo whirled around and faced the man who spoke with a sudden Russian accent.

            "Illya!?" he gasped.  "What the--?"

            "It is my newest disguise," Illya Kuryakin said aridly.  "I needed to test its effectiveness.  If you could not recognize me then it is unlikely THRUSH Agents would."

            "My God, you really had me going there!" Napoleon touched his friend's globular nose.             "Thank you," Illya said, hopping down from the bar stool.  "If you will excuse me, I want to log the results of my experiment---and change.  I will see you in the morning."

            "Wait," Napoleon stopped him.  "I mean, since you're here, would you like to join me for a drink?"

            Before Illya could reply, a redhead in a painted-on dress came up behind Napoleon and covered his eyes.  "Guess who?" she giggled.

            "Uh...Sophia?"

            "Right on the first try!" she squealed, lowering her hands.  To Solo's amazement, Illya was no longer standing in front of him.  Nor was he anywhere else in the dimly lit bar...

 

<><><><><> 

 

The next morning, Chief Enforcement Agent Napoleon Solo arrived at his office on the third floor of the multi-national peacekeeping agency he worked for, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.

            Whistling a Beach Boys tune he'd heard on the radio, he took off his custom-made jacket and hung it up in his closet.  Crossing over to his work desk, he scarcely sat down when his telephone rang.  Reaching for the handset, he pressed the flashing button on his console.  

            "Yes, Mitzi?" he said to his Secretary.

            "Good morning, Napoleon.  Mr. Waverly is requesting the pleasure of your company."

            "Then I better not keep him waiting," he said, laying the handset on its cradle.  Slipping his jacket back on, he exited his office and strolled down indistinguishable corridors, feeling---as always---like a rat in a maze as he traveled down one path and turned up another.  Eventually he came to what looked to be a dead end, yet upon his approach electronic sensors picked up a signal emanating from his security badge and a panel slid aside, welcoming him into the nerve center of the U.N.C.L.E.

            Already in the expansive room was his boss, Alexander Waverly, the Number One in Section One of the New York branch office.  More precisely, he was the Chief of Operations, overseeing four other Chiefs who were located in Caracas, Nairobi, New Delhi, and Berlin.

            Born in Weedon, England, Mr. Waverly was in his early seventies with greying hair, the warm features of a cuddly grandfather, and the mind of a sharp tack.  Never one to tolerate fools, he had neither the time nor the patience to mollycoddle his underlings.  Nonetheless, he was a fair man with an even temper who was well liked and respected by everyone who met him.

            Also in the room was Illya Kuryakin, an Agent in Section Two, otherwise known as Operations and Enforcement.  Born in the Soviet Union, Illya was in his mid-twenties and had been Napoleon's partner for nearly six months.  He had corn-silk blond hair, guarded blue eyes, and a sumptuous mouth ideal for kissing.

            Napoleon, the Number One Agent in Section Two, was all-American with well-groomed black hair, hazel-brown bedroom eyes, and a devastating smile.

            As Mr. Waverly spoke into his handheld communications microphone, Napoleon took a seat at the oversized conference table which dominated the room.

            "Why'd you disappear last night?" he asked, leaning into Illya's personal space.  "I was hoping you'd stay and have a drink with me."

            "I did not want to be a crowd," Illya said, not bothering to look up from the magazine he was reading.

            "A crowd...?"

            "‘Two is company’," he said in explanation.  "You had Sophia to keep you...amused."

            "And amusing she was, but you didn't have to leave.  Come to think of it, how did you vanish so quickly?  One second you were there and then you were gone."

            "Magic," Illya said furtively with an impish grin.

            "‘Magic’ my posterior," Solo shoved him.

            "Is there a problem, Gentlemen?" Mr. Waverly asked as he closed the communication link.

            "No, Sir," Solo said with a disarming smile.  "What did you want to see us about?"

            The older man spun the circular table around until both Agents found a folder in front of them which they readily opened.  Uppermost was a photograph of a matronly woman with frizzy black hair streaked white at the temples.  If not for the 'Coke bottle' glasses she wore, she would be a dead ringer for the Bride of Frankenstein's mother.

            "Why it's our old friend, Dr. Agnes Dabree," Napoleon said glibly.  "Last seen taking a swan dive down an open elevator shaft."

            "Never to be heard from again," Illya chimed in.

            "Until now," Waverly said.  "Somehow Dr. Dabree survived the fall and took the tape recordings she made of my brainwashing session to THRUSH Central.  Alas, my answers to her questions were bogus and therefore of no use to THRUSH.  Worse, we were able to capture several of their Agents when they acted on the misinformation and fell into our traps."

            "I bet she was a big hit with THRUSH's Supreme Council," Napoleon laughed pitilessly.  "They aren't very sympathetic when it comes to failure."

            "Quite so, Mr. Solo," Waverly said.  "Section IV has learned Dr. Dabree was set to be neutralized when she managed to get away."

            "She is like a cat with nine lives," Illya remarked, closing his file.  "Did you want us to find her, Sir?"

            "No, no.  I have Agents looking for her.  I merely wanted you to be aware she is alive, dangerous, and she's sworn to seek vengeance on you, Mr. Solo, if it's the last thing she does."

            "How nice to be wanted..." Napoleon straightened his necktie.

 

<><><><><>

 

"You are not going out tonight?" Illya said, the question sounding suspiciously like a directive.

            Napoleon glanced over his shoulder at the younger Agent trailing after him.

            "As a matter of fact," he said, "I have a table reserved for two at Delmonico's."

            "You should lie down until we arrest Dr. Dabree."

            Solo smiled at his Russian friend's propensity for mangling American slang.

            "If you're suggesting I should 'lie low', forget it.  Napoleon Solo does not 'hide'."

            "You do not have to 'hide'.  Just...do not go out."

            "I fail to see the difference.  Either way, I'm not changing my plans because Frankenstein's mother-in-law has a vendetta against me."

            "Then at least let me take some men and station ourselves in and around Delmonico's."

"Definitely not!" Napoleon said, entering his office.  "While I appreciate the sentiment it isn't necessary.  Waverly has Agents out looking for Dabree, and Delmonico's is a popular restaurant.  I'll be perfectly safe there."

"Napoleon---"

"Illya, stop worrying over me like a mother hen!"

            Illya exhaled loudly.  "All right.  If you need me, I have some projects in the Lab I've been neglecting."

            "Not so fast, 'Pal'," Solo said, dropping onto his chair.  "What did you mean by that crack, calling me a 'skuzz who would sleep with any skirt'...!?"

 

<><><><><> 

 

Throughout his short lifespan, Napoleon had dealt with countless enemies.  He had fought in the Korean War, and as a member of the U.N.C.L.E. he took on various factions bent on taking over the world, one diminutive country at a time.  One such faction was called THRUSH.  (Pundits within U.N.C.L.E. claimed the word was an acronym for the 'Technical Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity'.)

            In his battles with THRUSH, Solo had been shot, beaten, and whipped.  Still, nothing he underwent compared to the inhumane torture of having to pay attention to his date's endless prattle about her labors to find a decent hair stylist.  Lo, it took all of his finely honed skills to feign interest as she relayed the horror of her latest pedicure.

            'Shoot me now, Dabree,' he thought to himself sardonically, taking a sip of his wine.

            Casually scanning the eatery, looking for an avenue of escape, Napoleon saw a familiar face at the bar.  It was the portly drunk from the Mask Club.  Obviously, despite his orders to the contrary, Illya had donned his disguise and was keeping a protective eye on him.

            Seeing she had lost her audience, the Prattler placed her hand on Solo's arm.

            "Is something wrong, Napoleon?" she asked sweetly.

            "I'm sorry, my dear.  I've spotted an old friend.  Would you mind terribly if I talked to him for a few moments?"

            "Well," she pouted prettily, "as long as it's a 'him'..."

            "I won't be long," he kissed her hand in forgiveness.

            He was halfway to the bar when the portly gentleman got up and threw his arms around a comely woman.  He then led her to a booth where they held hands under the glow of romantic candle-light, the man gesturing to a passing Waiter.

            Laughing over his mistake, Napoleon turned on his heels and started for his table when he noticed his date was slumped over in a drunken heap.

            'Good Lord,' he resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands.  This was the most horrible date he had been on in years! 

            Taking his seat, he tried to rouse her with temperate pats to her cheek.

            "Tonya.  It's time to wake up, dear.  Tonya?"

            She didn't move.  She didn't make a sound.

            "Tonya...?" he sat her back in her chair, dismayed by the boneless loll of her head on her neck.  "Ton---" he began when he caught sight of a crumpled sheet of paper in her left hand.  With growing trepidation, he took the paper and smoothed it out.  Scribbled in block letters, the note read:

 

HOW EASY IT WOULD BE TO KILL YOU, MR. SOLO,

BUT FIRST I WANT YOU TO SUFFER.

 

Napoleon gently stroked Tonya's hair.  He didn't have to check for a pulse.  He knew she was already dead.

 

 

<><><><><> 

 


Act II

"‘He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day’."

 

Napoleon sat at his desk, his forehead resting on his folded arms as his office door swept open.  In spite of the wee hour, he didn't have to look up to know it was his partner, Illya, standing before him.

            "I should have listened to you..." Solo said, humbled.

            The only sound coming from the Russian Agent was the sofa settling under his weight.

            "I was so certain no one would dare oppose the 'Great Napoleon Solo', I thumbed my nose at Fate and now Tonya is dead."

            Illya crossed his ankles and laced his fingers over his trim waistline.

            "How did she die...?" Solo asked.

            "Instantaneously."

            "How...did...she die...?" Napoleon bit out each word.

            Illya took a deep breath.  "A lethal injection of narcotics was administered into her jugular vein.  Witnesses said they saw an older woman stop at your table and hand Miss Outlook a message.  The women exchanged pleasantries and then the older woman left.  Soon afterwards, Miss Outlook grew tired and laid her head down.  They positively identified the woman at your table as Dr. Dabree."

As Illya's voice died away, the office became deafeningly silent.  Illya wished fervently that there was something he could say to alleviate his friend's heavy heart.  Napoleon wished fervently that he could strangle the despicable Scientist who had used her intelligence to evil gain since before he was in diapers.

            The door opened and this time Napoleon did look up, surprise registering on his face as Alexander Waverly stood in the doorway.  As if on cue, Solo and Kuryakin came to their feet.

            "Everything has been ironed out with the local police department," Waverly announced, his eyes on his second-in-command.  "They're turning the murder investigation over to us."

            "Sir, I think the best course of action would be for me to draw Dabree into a trap," Solo said decisively.

            From the corner of his eye, the Chief of Operations took note of the way the blond Agent stiffened in the background.

            "Out of the question," Waverly said curtly.  "After all, we've invested a lot of time and money on you, Mr. Solo!"

            "But, Sir---"

            "A driver will take you to a Safe House," Waverly cut him off.  "And I am making the apprehension of Dr. Dabree U.N.C.L.E.'s top priority.  Mr. Kuryakin, I want you to accompany Mr. Solo.  Do try to keep him out of mischief, will you?"

            "Yes, Sir," Illya said complaisantly, the tension leaving his body.

            "Very good.  I'll be in contact with you..."

           

<><><><><> 

 

On his way to the bank of elevators, Alexander was both pleased and troubled by his decision to shelve Napoleon until the current crisis was resolved.  The U.N.C.L.E. aggressively recruited the top men and women in law enforcement and the armed services to help in the campaign against oppressive blocs.  Of those, Solo was one of the best.  To be without him, even for a brief period, would be a hardship.

            And yet there was no denying Waverly felt paternal towards Napoleon and wanted him out of harm's way.  Alex had watched the lad from afar as he excelled in college and distinguished himself in the Korean War.  After his honorable discharge, a word in the right ear prompted Solo to enroll in the U.N.C.L.E.'s exclusive training facility, the ominously monikered 'Survival School'.  Following his graduation, he swiftly advanced in the enforcement ranks until he became, at age twenty-five, the youngest Chief Enforcement Agent in the organization's history.

            While he attained this level on his abilities and determination alone, it was no secret Waverly was guiding Napoleon's career from behind the scenes, grooming him to become his successor once he retired.  And he was not going to let some deranged THRUSH fanatic expunge all their hard work!

            Depressing the elevator call button, Alex spared a thought for Agent Kuryakin.  He was another whom Alex had taken a special interest in.  At the ripe old age of twenty-six, Illya had served in the Russian Navy, did postgraduate work at the Sorbonne, received a PhD in Quantum Mechanics at Cambridge, and studied Gymnastics at the University of Georgia in the Ukraine.  He was fluent in over eight languages, he had a black belt in Karate, he was an accomplished scuba diver and mountain climber, and he dabbled in chemistry, disguises, gadgetries, and weaponries.  A demolitions expert, he was asked to stay an extra month at the end of his Survival School stint to teach a class on explosives.

            Understandably, the Soviet Union wasn't thrilled to let such a wunderkind flee their grasp when Illya volunteered to represent his country in the U.N.C.L.E.  Understandably, Alex was anxious to obtain him.  In the end, it cost him a good many professional favors---and a few personal ones---to clear the way for Illya to come to America.

            At first, Alex wasn't sure the Russian was worth the hassle.  Although he was reputed to be 5'8" tall and weighed 145 pounds, Illya was a good inch shorter and about twenty pounds lighter in real life.  He was also impossibly boyish looking and introverted to the point of being inhibited.  Hardly the persona of an Enforcement Agent.

            Not ready to 'let the pup loose on the battlefield', Alex assigned the Junior Agent to work part-time in U.N.C.L.E.'s Research and Development section (an environment in which he was comfortable), and, when he wasn't backing a Senior Agent, he functioned as Waverly's assistant.

            Gradually, it dawned on Waverly that whenever he was matched with Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin seemed to be most at ease and would let his carefully crafted shield down.  Alex even caught the pup smiling once at some awful Solo pun.

            The more they were together, the more confident Illya became---and the less brash Napoleon became.  Consequently, Alex arranged for the two Agents to always team up.  When it was proven they worked together in the field as well as they got along, a solid partnership was born.

            Alex amended his earlier assessment.  To be without both men would be a hardship.  Except if Waverly knew Napoleon---and he did---he knew he'd be out trying to find Dr. Dabree on his own, sans backup.

            'Best to have the pup underfoot,' Waverly mused as he stepped into the elevator.  'It will take Solo's mind off Dabree.  As much as one can...'

           

<><><><><> 

 

Once the door had sealed behind Mr. Waverly, Napoleon turned to his partner.

            "A 'Safe House'," he grumbled.  "A 'Cower-Like-a-Frightened-Child House' is more like it."

            "You are looking at it wrong, my friend," Illya smiled.  "‘He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.’"

            "You shouldn't have to baby-sit me, though."

            "‘Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge’."

            "You're in a quotable mood this evening!" Solo laughed.  "Or should I say 'tonight'," he read the time on his wristwatch, astonished it was past midnight.

            Napoleon frowned.  He knew why he was at U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters---he was too shaken by the death of Tonya Outlook to go home and sleep.  Yet there was no reason why his partner should be there...

            "What are you doing here this late, anyway?" Napoleon asked him.

            "I thought I would hang around in case you needed me..."

            Solo looked at the Russian---really looked at him.  Illya would not be the first Junior Agent who tried to suck up to him, using him as a stepping stone to further his own career.  However, Illya's face was guileless.  If he had a hidden agenda, Napoleon couldn't see it in his eyes.

            If anything, he saw genuine concern in their blue-blue depths.

            "Thank you," Solo said at length.  "I'm glad you're here."

            "As a very wise old man once said, 'Someone has to keep you out of mischief'," Illya teased with a crooked smile on his lips.

            "Oh, I can tell you're going to be a scream to live with," Solo came around his desk.  "C'mon, Chuckles.  Let's go find our driver."

           

<><><><><> 

 

Taking the stealth route to the U.N.C.L.E. Parking Garage, the two Enforcement Agents were met by a black car with tinted windows.  As they got into the backseat, the Agent riding 'shotgun' handed Napoleon an envelope with the keys to the Safe House and cash for emergencies.

            On the off chance the garage was under surveillance by Dr. Dabree or her henchmen, an identical black car drove out of the garage and traveled East.  Ten minutes later, another decoy headed North.  Solo and Kuryakin were in the third car, bearing South, and a fourth car turned West.  For the next hour, each car would be driving in diverse patterns and directions in an effort to throw off any tails.

 

<><><><><> 

 

"Very clever, Mr. Solo," Dr. Agnes Dabree said approvingly from the van she was sitting in across the street from the garage.  "But not clever enough!"

            "He's in car Number Three, Doctor," confirmed the man beside her who used a thermograph to record the amount of heat coming off the occupants in each car.  Car three was the only one with passengers.

            "Splendid.  Notify the Tracking Station.  And tell them if they lose the car, I will be exceedingly put out!"

 

 

<><><><><> 

 


Act III

"More grounds for you to despise Dr. Dabree."

 

Sunlight filtered through the curtained windows and for a minute Napoleon forgot where he was; the room he was in looked nothing like his streamlined bedroom.  It was rustic and the furniture had a 'woodsy' feel to it...

            'Ah...' he said, wiping the sleep from his eyes.  'I'm at the U.N.C.L.E. Safe House.'

            It was 2:00 in the morning when their driver and escort had delivered Napoleon and Illya to the secure location.  A peek at the bedside clock told Napoleon it was presently noon---regardless of the breakfast-like smell of bacon and eggs wafting in from the kitchen.

            Flinging back his covers, he wrapped himself in the clean robe that was hanging in the closet and went to the bathroom to relieve his bladder.  With a yawn and a stretch, he washed his hands then made his way into the dining area to see the table was set for two.

            "Good morning...or afternoon, depending on your point of view," Illya handed him a plate with two eggs, two sausage links, and buttered toast.

            "Good morning to you," Solo closed his eyes and took a favorable whiff of the food.

            "Coffee is ready, or there is milk and orange juice in the refrigerator," Illya said, shutting off the stove after serving himself.

            "Think I'll start with milk," Solo poured himself a tall glass.  "How about you?"

            "Yes, please."

            A sprinkle of pepper here and a dash of salt there, and the Enforcement Agents were digging into their first meal in over fifteen hours.  Putting aside darker conversation, they chatted about recent news items such as the proposed Moon landing, the Beatles 'invasion', and the comical fashion trends adapted by the newfangled 'hippy movement'.

            "That, Illya, was delicious!" Napoleon said, pushing his empty plate away.  "Thank you!"

            "You are welcome," Illya gathered the dishes when Solo's communicator warbled from the living room where his jacket was slung over a chair.

            Pulling a sleek silver pen from the breast pocket, Napoleon removed the nib, spun it around, and nudged it back into the chamber.  From the clip end, he extended a thin receiving antennae.  With his compact communicator assembled, he spoke into the nib's transmitter.

            "Solo, here."

            "Mr. Solo," Alexander Waverly's gravelly voice responded.  "Section III reports you reached your destination without incident."

            "Yes, Sir, although the twists and turns it took to get here were a bit nausea inducing."

            "More grounds for you to despise Dr. Dabree," Alex deadpanned.

            "Speaking of the Devil, have there been any sightings of her?"

            "Not yet, but I have every available Agent hunting for her.  The good news is we are not the only ones looking for her.  THRUSH Agents are also on her trail."

            "Scary to be on the same side, isn't it!  Is there anything Illya and I can do to help on this end?"

            "I don't believe there is.  Just remind Mr. Kuryakin he's to keep you from going after Dr. Dabree on your own."

            "Mr. Kuryakin is nodding in the affirmative, Sir.  Solo, out."

            Illya's mouth curved in a wry smile.  "How did you get to be CEA without me there to hold your hand?"

            Solo took a calming breath...then threw a sofa-pillow at the troublesome pest.

 

<><><><><> 

 

"Communist."

            Illya scowled at the man who uttered the abhorrent word.

            "Don't look at me!  That word is worth 15 points!" Napoleon said, tidying the Scrabble tiles he'd placed on the game board.

            Illya made a disgruntled snort reminiscent of Alexander Waverly.  Before long, a Machiavellian grin brightened his face as he added his tiles to the board.

            "Philanderer," he said smugly.  "17 points."

            "So that’s how you want to play, eh?" Napoleon said with mock ire, mulling over his rack of letters, striving to one-up his friend.  He beamed as he hit upon a fitting word.

            "Hermit.  11 points."

            "Sleaze.  15 points."

            "Repressed.  12 points."

            "Queer.  14 points."

            "What?"

            "I had a 'Q'.  It was the only word I had enough letters for."

            "Oh," Napoleon said, returning to the game with an imperceptible shake of his head.

            The two friends challenged each other to come up with a higher scoring word or, failing that, something shrewd and obscure.  They would have continued far into the night if Illya's stomach hadn't proclaimed it was time to eat dinner. 

            On this occasion Napoleon did the honors, whipping up hamburgers and French fries which they downed with sodas.  It wasn't the healthiest repast for Agents who needed to keep in 'combat shape', but it was a nice break from the norm.

            With the pans and dishes washed, dried, and put away, they brought a coffee set into the living room and, with a cup in hand, they sat on the sofa in front of a lit fireplace.

            "That's what upset me the most," Solo was saying, staring into the reddish-yellow flames.  "I was so...bored with Tonya, all I wanted her to do was shut up!  She was happy, sharing her day with me and I never listened to a word.  Now she's dead because of me..."

            Napoleon turned away, unable to go on.

            Not knowing what to say to lessen his friend's despair, Illya leaned over and gave Solo's hand an empathetic squeeze.

            Suddenly there came two muted 'pops' from the main entrance and the front door fell off its hinges, hitting the carpet with a mighty 'whump'.  Straightaway a smoking canister was lobbed at the stunned Agents.

            Napoleon sprang for his nearby Walther P38.  He would have been able to fire off a couple of rounds if the gas hadn't gotten into his lungs...and the smoke hadn't blinded him...and the room hadn't started to spin...

 

<><><><><> 

 

"Mr. Solo.  Mr. Solo?"

Napoleon strove to open his heavy eyelids.  His limbs felt weighed down and his head throbbed with the makings of a major hangover.

            "Mr. Solo?"

            Napoleon woke and looked around him.  He was propped up with his back against the sofa, a fellow Agent holding an oxygen mask to his mouth and nose.

            "Illya!" he exclaimed, snatching the mask out of the way with a cough.  "Is he---?"

            "They took him," a gruff voice said and Solo found himself looking into a pair of weary blue-grey eyes.

            "Took him?" Solo repeated, searching Alexander Waverly's face for answers.  "Why would---?"  He abandoned that line of inquiry and asked instead for a rundown of events.

            "Apparently Dr. Dabree and her band of mercenaries first wiped out the Section III Agents occupying the cottage at the back of this property.  Their alarm was tripped, alerting Headquarters.  Regrettably, by the time we arrived you were unconscious and Mr. Kuryakin was missing."

            "The Section III Agents...?" Solo asked expectantly.

            "They're fine.  Knocked out with the same gas you were exposed to."

            Coming to his feet, Solo shook off the remaining effects of the sleep vapor.  Scooping up his handgun and his shoulder holster, he stood before the Operations Chief.

            "I have to find Illya, Sir," he said in a tone which brooked no argument.  He was through playing 'Hide and Seek' with the depraved female Scientist.  From now on, the name of the game was 'Seek and Destroy'.

            Waverly heaved an audible sigh.

            "I don't suppose I can talk you out of this…?" he said.  "I don't know why the mad-woman took Mr. Kuryakin; nevertheless you are still her intended target…"

            Napoleon drew himself to his full height. 

            "Very well," Waverly said with a dismissive wave of his hand.  "Just be sure to check in regularly so we can coordinate the search."

            'And so I will know you're all right…' Alex watched as Napoleon sped into the night.

 

 

<><><><><> 

 


Act IV

"You are probably wondering why you are alive."

 

Having already seen the film, Alexander Waverly thought about walking out during its subsequent showing.  Although the production values were those of an amateur home movie, and the outlandish dialog was a throwback to kitschy spy shows from the 30's, the actors were riveting and it was for this reason alone he stayed.

            The female lead was a frumpy woman in her 60's who had been marginally attractive in her youth before time and tide had taken their toll on her.  The only thing exceptional about her now was her brilliant mind, clouded as it was with hatred and megalomania.

            By contrast, the male lead was a strikingly beautiful man in his 20's who also happened to be gifted with a brilliant mind---his being as pure and unblemished as his heart and soul.

            As the scene commenced, the boy---for Waverly had difficulty seeing the man as anything else---was strapped to a hospital gurney.  On his cranium was a metal bowl-shaped object with electrodes attached to his forehead.  The boy was awake, taking in his situation with complete indifference.

            "My!" the woman, clad in a white smock, said as she looked down at her patient.  "You are awfully pretty!"

            "Thank you," the boy said, apathetic.

            "I understand you are a genius of sorts."

            "Of sorts," he allowed.

            "I, myself, have an IQ of 173," she crowed proudly.

            "Congratulations.  That is…remarkable."

            There was a hint of condescension in the boy's voice the Doctor did not like.

            "What was your score?" she demanded.

            "Does it matter?"

            "Not really.  Once I am through with you you will be lucky to score above 50!" she cackled gleefully, adjusting her 'Coke bottle' glasses.

            "Oh dear!" she turned and addressed a motion picture camera.  "I'm ignoring our viewers.  Good morning, Mr. Solo.  I trust you slept well?  You are probably wondering why you are alive.  An excellent question, since you were, indeed, a hairsbreadth away from taking a bullet between your eyes!  First I want you to pay for what you did to Dr. Elmont and poor David!" she said, squinting in anger.  Then, with a bat of her eyes, the anger dissipated and she was again smiling cheerfully.

            "As for you, Mr. Waverly," she said in her sugary rasp, "I have a bone to pick with you, too!  It was because of your trickery I was ousted from THRUSH.  But don't worry.  I have no intention to harm you.  I have something better in mind.  You know this young man lying here, don't you?  Why, of course you do, after all the palms you greased to bring him to America.  You even had him live with you until he got settled.  One would think you had a soft spot for him," she tenderly brushed the boy's hair out of his eyes.  "Let's find out, shall we?"

            Spinning round, Dr. Agnes Dabree flipped levers and turned knobs with the air of a grandmother fussing in her kitchen.

            "Now, Mr. Kuryakin.  If you notice, you are wearing a reconstructed Brain Killer helmet.  I'm afraid I haven't had the opportunity to test it on anyone which means you will be my guinea pig!  It could scramble your brain, leaving you with the mind of a child.  Or it could fry your brain and turn you into a lifeless vegetable.  Or it could kill you with one jolt!  Are you ready to find out?"

            "I was born ready," Illya Kuryakin said prosaically.

            "Brave to the end.  I can see why Alex prized you.  Open up, Dear, or you'll gnash your teeth," she said, forcing a plastic mouth guard between his lips.

            With a diabolical gleam in her eyes, Dr. Dabree pulled a switch and Illya went rigid as electrical volts coursed through him.

            The movie screen went blank…

 

<><><><><> 

 

"She's right, you know," Alexander shut off the movie projector and flicked on the lights in his office.

            "Right about what, Sir?" Solo prodded from where he sat glumly at the conference table.

            "I do have a soft spot for Mr. Kuryakin," Alex walked over to gaze out his bulletproof window at the people scurrying off to work and to the supermarket.  Each one oblivious to the fact there were men---and women---plotting to rule their world, their life.  It was Alexander's thankless job to stop these evildoers by routinely sending his Agents 'thru the valley of the shadow of death'. 

"I had been following Mr. Kuryakin's achievements for some time," Waverly confided.  "Yours, too.  I saw great potential in you, and I was delighted when you enrolled in our Survival School.  Delighted and thankful I didn't have to coerce you into joining U.N.C.L.E.  In Mr. Kuryakin's case, I had to coerce his superiors to acquire him.

            "I called in favors, I compromised where I could, and yes, I greased a few palms."  Alex started to laugh.  "I can remember when I first laid eyes on him, up close.  He didn't look a day over sixteen; he was so skinny his clothes hung on him.  I was half-convinced I'd been hoodwinked and the Soviet's had sent me the runt of the pack!"

            Napoleon smiled.  He had similar qualms about the ungainly Russian.

            "There was a room opening up in your apartment building," Alex went on, "except it needed a fresh coat of paint and new carpeting.  I could have let the boy---Mr. Kuryakin---stay in the U.N.C.L.E.-owned brownstone next door in the interim.  Howbeit, by day's end I'd decided to take him home with me."

            He laughed again.  "Mrs. Waverly shrieked at how pale and thin he was and immediately set about fattening him up.  To this day, he still sends her flowers…"

            "We'll find him, Sir," Napoleon promised.  "Section IV has the FBI, the CIA, and the police on board, and Section V is monitoring telephone lines and radio signals for missives between Dabree and her men.  Which leaves the gutter rats," he said, dragging himself to his feet.  "I think it's time I crawled into the sewers and see what they can tell me."

            "Someone else can do that, Mr. Solo.  You've been up the entire night---"

            "With your permission, Sir, I can't sleep until I find Illya.  However long it takes."  He smiled poignantly.  "I have a soft spot for the 'boy', too!"

            Watching Napoleon leave, Alex came to a decision.

            "Yes.  You're absolutely right, Mr. Solo," he said out loud to his plants and the black leather furniture.  "I think it is time to see what the gutter rats know," he picked up his microphone and contacted Section V, Communications…

 

 

<><><><><> 

 


Act V

"Nice night for a ride..."

 

Napoleon was beat.  Apart from the times when he was a captive of the enemy and tormented with sleep deprivation, he could not recall being this naturally tired.

            It was 8:00 at night, which meant he had been chasing after Illya Kuryakin for thirty-odd hours straight without success. 

            He wasn't kidding when he said he was going to seek out the gutter rats.  He tracked down every snitch, stoolie, mole, informant, squealer and gossip, hoping one of them had seen or heard something, anything that would lead him to his partner.

            Taking a cab back to U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters to regroup and grab a bite to eat in the Commissary, Solo tried to think of where else to look.  Was there a clue he was overlooking?  There was nothing extraordinary about the room Illya was in.  The walls were made of cement; the same cement one would find in any basement from New York to Seattle.

            Rubbing his brow, he called to mind one of his earlier missions with Illya as his official partner.  They were investigating Field Marshall Zorgon Gurnius who, like so many other men with delusions of grandeur, wanted to take over the world---and would have succeeded had it not been for U.N.C.L.E.'s timely intervention.

            Napoleon had been taken prisoner and was hooked up to wires feeding out a steady current of electricity.  The voltage was too low to cause any real injuries, yet the pain searing throughout his body was unbearable.  He'd pleaded shamelessly with his captors that he couldn't take much more.  If Illya hadn't been there to save him...

            Napoleon closed his eyes in anguish.  He couldn't begin to imagine the agony his friend was being subjected to…

            "Here we are," the cab driver broke into his thoughts as he pulled the yellow taxi up to the curb outside of Del Floria's Tailor Shop.

            "Thank you," Napoleon said, paying the fare from the sidewalk.  As the cab drove off, a tall man with reddish-blond hair came out of the shadows, gun in hand.

            "Good evening, Mr. Solo," he said with an unhurried drawl.  "Nice night for a ride, don't you think?"

            Like clockwork, a car drew up alongside them.

            "Why yes," Napoleon said conversationally, lifting his hands in a show of surrender.  "You must have read my mind..."

 

<><><><><> 

 

Sitting in the back of a sedan sandwiched between two burly men, Napoleon stared out the window at the passing landscape with the carefree attitude of a tourist on holiday.

            "Thanks for the moonlight excursion," he said, "but could one of you gents tell me where we're going...?"

            Half-turned in the front passenger seat, the man who introduced himself as Oregano said, "Relax, Mr. Solo.  We're taking you to see your friend."

            Napoleon's eyes narrowed.

            "Are you with Dabree...?"

            "Same corporation, different branch.  We've been sent by THRUSH Central to...deal with the Doctor."

            "And my partner...?"

            "We have strict instructions to hand Mr. Kuryakin safely into your care."

            Napoleon looked dubious.

            "I don't mean to look a gift horse in the mouth, but why would you want to help the opposition...?"

            "Ours is not to question why, Mr. Solo, though I can tell you the edict to rescue your friend came from a Council member in the highest standing---I hope you are properly impressed."

            "Oh, I am, I am.  May I ask the benefactor's name?  I'd love to send him---or her---a 'Thank You' card..."

            "All will be revealed in good time.  Meanwhile, consider yourself among friends."

            Napoleon looked from the large, stone-faced man on his left to the large, stone-faced man on his right.

            "Thank you.  I feel right at home..." he said with a smile which didn't reach his eyes.

 

<><><><><> 

 

Illya sat on a cold tiled floor, praying for his stomach to stop churning.  He had been retching almost continuously since he was tossed into the windowless room.

            Being electrocuted by slow degrees did not suit him, he determined woefully.

            He'd already had four sessions with intermittent breaks to use the toilet and lie down.  He'd been offered food except the mere suggestion made him turn green.

            Illya's heart gave a lurch as he heard footsteps.  They would be coming for him again, but even if the men with Dabree weren't armed, he was too weak in his present state to fight off a housefly.  Undeterred, he looked around his bleak surroundings for the hundredth time for something he could use as a weapon.

            Unfortunately, when they had transported him to this place they had stripped him of every gadget he had secreted on him, from his explosive shirt buttons, to the lock pick in his lapel, to the laces on his shoes which doubled as a garrote.  Whether by accident or design, the only thing they left him with was his U.N.C.L.E.-issued cyanide pill.

            As the sound of the footsteps grew near, Illya took the tablet out of concealment and rolled it around in the palm of his hand.  With one swallow all the hurt would go away...

            He hated giving up, yet how could Napoleon and the others find him when he himself had no idea where he was?  He only knew he couldn't bear any more sessions with the Brain Killer machine...

            A deadbolt snapped to and Dr. Agnes Dabree traipsed into the makeshift cell, smiling down at the debilitated Agent.

            "Hello, Mr. Kuryakin.  I have good news!"

            "...you are leaving...?"

            "Funny boy.  No, I have changed the calibrations on my machine, enabling more juice to flow through the coils.  This means this go-round could very well be your last!"

            "...it figures...i was just starting to enjoy myself..."

            "I was, too.  Nevertheless, I really must return my attention to Mr. Solo.  Hence, the sooner I dispose of you, the sooner I can concentrate on making his life a living hell."  To the men on either side of her, Dabree said, "Please bring Mr. Kuryakin to the lab."

            Moving forward, they yanked the blond to his feet.  As they half-dragged him down the hall, Illya let the cyanide pill slip through his fingers.  He had to stick it out.  He had to keep Dabree from going after Napoleon for as long as possible.  Nothing else mattered...

 

 

<><><><><> 

 


Act VI

"Good-night!"

 

            "He's ready, Doctor," the men informed Agnes Dabree as they finished binding Illya's wrists and ankles to the gurney.

            "Thank you, Gentlemen.  I won't be needing you again until morning."

            "Yes, Ma'am," they said in unison upon leaving.

            "Well then, Mr. Kuryakin," she clapped her hands together.  "Any final words for posterity...?"

            "Hmm...What would be appropriate for a man with an IQ well over 173...?"

            "Oh!!  You spiteful little man!!"

            Twirling like a dervish, Dr. Dabree seized the Brain Killer helmet and slapped it onto the blond's head, fastening it with a band under his chin.  She had just begun to untangle the electric cables when the door to the lab opened.

            "I said I wouldn't be needing you," she barked over her shoulder.

            "I'm sorry, I didn't get the memo," a man said into her ear as the nozzle of a Walther P38 rested against the back of her head.

            "Solo!!" she snarled, her voice dripping with venom.

            "You say that like we weren't friends.  Now back away from him..." Napoleon said with a meaningful jab of his gun.

            Furious beyond words, the Doctor huffed and sputtered with each backward step.

            Using his sense of touch to unhook the straps on Illya's wrists, Napoleon's eyes---and his gun---never wavered from Dabree.

"Are you all right?" he asked his listless partner.

            "...i hurt in places i never knew i could hurt..." the Russian groaned, too faint to offer much assistance.  "...but i will live..."

            "Good to hear!"

            "...how did you find me...?"

            "I didn't.  I'm here at the whim of THRUSH," Napoleon edged his way to Illya's feet and wrestled with the remaining ties.  "You seem to have friends in low places.  Can you sit up?"

            "...yes..." Illya struggled to a sitting position, his legs dangling uselessly over the gurney.  "...'standing' is another question..."

            "Everything is secure, Mr. Solo," Oregano said, meeting up with him in the lab.  "Dabree's men are tied up in a back room; you may do with them what you will.  Here are the keys to the car."

            "Gee, I didn't get you anything," Solo took them with a smidgen of unease. 

            "Not to worry.  The car was stolen," the THRUSH Agent explained with an infectious grin.  "We have a van waiting to take us back to our headquarters."

            "What about Dabree?"

            "You needn't be concerned about her...ever again," Oregano trained his gun on the seething woman.

            "...i hate to complain..." Illya clutched his stomach, "...but can we go now...?"

            "Gripe, gripe, gripe," Napoleon clucked as he put his arm around Illya’s waist, gingerly helping the frail blond to his feet.  Instantly, Illya's knees buckled; if Napoleon hadn't been holding him, he would have crashed to the floor.

            It was the opening Agnes was counting on.  Distracted by the U.N.C.L.E. Agents, Oregano didn't see the Doctor take out a snub-nosed revolver from the pocket of her smock until it was too late.  After shooting him square in the chest, Agnes turned her gun on Solo.

            Napoleon's face bore a kaleidoscope of emotions:  Shock, Annoyance he had let his guard down, and Fear---for his own mortality, as well as Illya's.

            "My, how the tables doth turn," Agnes said, her brown eyes shining with a murderous glint.  "You should have killed me when you had the chance, Mr. Solo."

            "My mistake," he said agreeably, dropping his gun and coming to a stand, his hands raised.  "I keep forgetting you aren't a lady."

            Her face pinched.

            "I'm going to take pleasure in watching you die," she said, taking careful aim, her finger curling around the trigger.  "Say 'good-night', Mr. Solo..."

            The sound of the gun discharging made Napoleon blink.  Rather, it was the sound of a gun discharging as Illya pooled all his strength and fired off one round using Solo's gun.  The bullet struck Dabree midpoint between her eyes as she keeled over, dead.

            Napoleon cocked his head to a side.  "Good-night!"

 

<><><><><> 

 

            "That was a close one, Alexander," the Frenchman on the speaker phone said.  "If we had gotten to Dabree any later, it would have been more charitable to put your little friend to sleep.  Incidentally, how is Mr. Kuryakin?"

            "Resting," Alexander Waverly said from U.N.C.L.E's center of operations.  "The Doctors say there won't be any lingering damage."

            "That's wonderful news," Victor Marton, the leader of THRUSH Headquarters in France, said with a smile in his cultured voice.

            "And what of your man?  The one Dr. Dabree shot?"

            "Oregano will be up and about in no time.  Well, it was nice talking to you, Alex.  Tell Mr. Kuryakin I wish him a speedy recovery."

            "I will.  And thank you, Victor.  I'm in your debt."

            Closing off the intercontinental channel, Alex rubbed his eyes.  It was, perhaps, unethical to call on an adversary for help except desperate times called for desperate measures.  He needed someone with clout within THRUSH who could issue an order to find Dr. Dabree posthaste---and it had to be someone he could trust to ensure Illya's safe return.  Suave, sophisticated, and with his grandiose sense of fair play, Victor Marton fit the bill to a 'T'.

 

<><><><><> 

 

            Illya thrashed around in bed, moaning and whimpering piteously in the throes of a nightmare when a light clicked on over the bed adjacent to his and Napoleon rushed to his aide.

            "Hey, you okay?" he asked, his eyes glued shut from slumber.

            Waking with a start, Illya was aghast at the disheveled sight of his friend.  Napoleon's hair, never out of place (with the exception of his unruly forelock), was mussed.  There was two days' worth of stubble on his face, and there were dark, puffy rings under his eyes.

            "Napoleon!" Illya croaked.  "What happened to you!?"

            "What?" Solo pried open one eye and lifted a confused eyebrow at the blond.

            "You have been wounded, da?"

            "Illya, I'm fine," Solo unglued his second eye.  "You're the one admitted to Medical for observation.  I'm just here to keep you company."

            "But…you look worn and haggard..."

            "I'd like to see what you look like after spending over thirty hours trying to find a Kuryakin-in-a-haystack," he bristled---then he made a scornful face.  "Heck, knowing you you'd still look good.  How do you feel?"

            "Like I was run over by a steamroller---over hot tar."

            "That good, huh?" Solo laughed.  "Do you want me to have the Nurse give you something for the pain?"

            "Niet!  I have had my fill of Doctors and Nurses for one day!"

"I can't blame you there!"

            Tugging absently on his hospital gown, Illya said, "Thank you, Napoleon, however you do not have to stay the night.  I will be fine..."

            "Huh-uh.  We're partners, remember?  'Wither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge'."

            Illya's answering smile was blinding in its intensity. 

            "By the way," Solo clasped his hand over Illya's.  "I never got to thank you for putting Dr. Dabree out of her misery and saving my life in the process."

            "I ask again, 'How did you get to be CEA without me'?" Illya derided him affably. 

            "Comedian!" Napoleon glared pretend daggers at the irreverent Russian.  "If it's all the same to you, I think we could both use some more sleep.  Do you need anything before I turn out the light?"

            "It is enough that I know you are with me..."

 

<><><><><> 

 

            The day came to an end as Alexander Waverly opened the door to Illya's room in the Medical Section located on the Sub-Level of U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters.  Before he journeyed home, he wanted to see for himself that the boy was in satisfactory condition.

            As he crept nearer, Alex gritted his teeth, seeing the angry red chafing on the Russian's face where the Brain Killer electrodes were taped to his otherwise flawless skin.  Even so, he couldn't help chuckling at the Enforcement Agent.  Although Illya had put some weight on over the past six months, he still looked like a scrawny runt.  Almost against his will, Alex ruffled Illya's golden locks.

            "Good-night, my boy," he whispered.

            He then turned to the 'patient' asleep in the adjoining bed.  When his CEA had said he was going to 'grab a bed here for the night', Alex presumed Napoleon would make use of the sleeping cubicles on the Second Level, three floors up.

            Inching closer, he smiled down on his "too handsome for his own good" heir-apparent.  Surreptitiously, Alex tucked the blankets up around Napoleon's shoulders.

            Now the Chief of Operations was ready to go home...

 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> 

 

 

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