ShadowsPRIVATE

(Through the Dressing Room)

by

Pat Foley

Chapter One

"Where do you come from?" said the Red Queen. "And where are you going? Look up, speak nicely, and don't twiddle your fingers all the time."

Through the Looking Glass

The Aeroflot plane's engines roared in their final descent into LaGuardia; the clouds began to break up and thin, and Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin leaned forward to peer through the cabin window for his first glimpse of the streets of America. He had a mild intellectual curiosity to see which would prove to hold more truth, the propaganda he had been fed over the years, or the hushed and secret rumors of golden-paved paradise. The reality, he suspected, like all realities, lay somewhere in the middle.

As far as paradise went, he knew only babushka's and gray-bearded priests believed in heaven. Like any good Soviet, he had been taught the folly of expecting a paradise after death. And every good Communist was expected to sacrifice toward the heaven the Party was trying to create on earth.

But as for paradises on earth, on first glance, America didn't appear to be much of a contender even for the rumors. As the plane lowered its landing year and dipped below the clouds, he could see the flotsam and jetsam of scrubby fields and squat service buildings that formed the natural perimeter of every airport in his acquaintance. Nothing unusual there, except for perhaps a bit more color. Moscow tended toward rarely relieved gray monotones, even in summer.

Beyond the airport he could see a concrete jungle that gave him a moment's pause -- not in Moscow or Paris or London had he seen such a conglomeration of tall buildings and multi-laned roads. The haze, grit and congestion didn't look magical to him, it looked uncomfortable. This city held none of Moscow's ancient history, none of Paris' beauty, none of London's majesty. On the other hand, as the potential home of a spy, the congestion and confusion certainly offered interesting and useful possibilities. He approved.

As the plane taxied to a stop, he pulled his duffle from beneath his seat and stood up. Around him, his fellow passengers, all KGB, GRU officers or support personnel were also gathering their things and began filing past him, ignoring him as if he didn't exist. Nor did he, for them. As a GRU officer, he should have been part of the GRU residentura. He would have had a cover identify, and a cover occupation -- as an attaché to some diplomat, a translator or an office worker. The embassy and its diplomats existed as a front for the covert operations that were its personnel's real mission. He would have started as a Borzoi: an officer who covered the tracks, served as a decoy or otherwise provided backup to the senior agents, the Vikings. But in time he had hoped to make Viking, to recruit his own foreign contacts. For everyone else in the GRU residentura, even the Navigator, who commanded the station, as well as his First Deputy, the officer workers and cipher clerks, they all existed to support the recruiters, upon whose shoulders the information-gathering success of the station depended.

On the other side of the residency, the KGB had a similar system. Moscow kept the two sides in constant competition, not only with each other, but with other residenturas. The only thing that mattered to Moscow -- or the Navigator of this station -- was the current state of information passing. Which station recruited the most agents? Which brought in the most critical information? The most complete information?

Kuryakin already knew, from his tenure in Paris and Cambridge, that the true competition was never the foreign government against which one was spying -- it was one's own rival offices in London, in Berlin, in Cairo. He himself knew how quickly the exhilaration of knowing one had brought in a critical piece of information could be dashed by being informed that an agent in Stockholm or Palmero had brought it in sooner, or in a more complete form. Of course, Moscow still credited the secondary find -- for confirmation purposes if nothing else. One had to bring in some first class finds to stay in the field, and the competition to do so was fierce.

But that had been his past. The game he had studied and trained for had vanished through some international sleight-of-hand that had left him out of the fold, out in the cold. His old pack no longer recognized him; his new pack he had yet to meet. But he was a fast learner. One had to be when the alternative was disgrace and death.

No wonder his travel companions ignored him as if he did not exist. To his current colleagues, he was not competition, not a player, nor even a supporting party of the players, nor even accorded the dubious merit of being a target. He was now less than nothing to any of them. He wasn't surprised they looked through him as though he scarcely occupied space. To them, he didn't, and to their way of thinking, even acknowledging his existence, or allowing him his acknowledgement of theirs, was a danger.

He let the last of his colleagues pass before joining the end of the line that entered the terminal.

Only days ago, he'd been plucked out of the graduating ranks at the Military-Diplomatic Academy, the training ground for GRU. Before he'd even finished his Moscow field work, he'd been taken to an interview with several very high-ranking generals and a foreigner known as Alexander Waverly. He'd then had the interview with the great Kir, who approved all GRU candidates for foreign assignments. Subsequently, he'd been put on detached service to an organization known as the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.

From that point on he'd noticed the change in attitudes around him. Some information and areas he'd previously had access to had become blocked. Others opened up for him -- maps of the area he would be posted to, histories and so forth. But there had been another result to his posting, one he hadn't expected. The comrades he'd studied and worked with for several years hurried past him in the corridors without meeting his eyes. No one talked about new posts, of course. Still, as other students were tapped for assignments, there were general congratulations and a few quiet parties as they prepared and left.

He'd never been the social type. It was doubtful his colleagues would give a party for him in any case. But he didn't need the lack of one to let him know that his assignment was different. Somehow, this assignment shut doors for him, shunted him toward an isolated exit existing exclusively for him, while everyone else had doors opening onto the larger world of Soviet intelligence.

Still, he could understand some of his superiors' reasoning. When he'd been recruited into the GRU, the first directive he'd been given was to cut all ties with his past. The GRU was more secret than the GehBehs, the KGB, and they took pains to stay that way. Now that he'd finally been assigned, he expected to break ties with his former classmates. But there was an obvious difference, in the minds of his superiors, between comrades assigned to foreign GRU posts, and those assigned to a non-Soviet intelligence agency. He wasn't completely sanguine about the turn of events. No one had told him how long his assignment with this U.N.C.L.E. would last, and when he would return. Or if he would ever return. But he put that disturbing thought from his mind. It wasn't as if he'd had any choice in the posting. Good or bad, he had his assignment. He served the Soviet Union. Whatever that service entailed.

Now, as he climbed down the metal ladder from the plane and walked across the tarmac to the terminal, he wondered what he would find. He'd had no further contacts from his former superiors since he had been given his orders and departure instructions. Nor had he had any contact with U.N.C.L.E. since his first interview with Alexander Waverly. Since U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters was hidden, and since only a fool would put a secret location in some easily intercepted message, he had expected someone to meet him and take him to his new assignment.

He looked up, eyes scanning the people clustered at the arrival gate, but no one stepped forward with a message for him, no person came forward to display skeleton globe symbol he'd come to identify with his new service and whisper new orders. No one had come to meet him.

Frowning slightly, he supposed that it was possible that this Mr. Alexander Waverly would be notified by the G.R.U. rezident when he arrived in the city. So, after submitting to the most perfunctory check of his diplomatic credentials by a customs official, he followed the line of his compatriots into the bus that was waiting to take them to the Soviet Embassy. Now that he could see an U.N.C.L.E. representative was not there to meet him, he was actually eager to stop at the GRU residentura for a bit, get his bearings. In an unfamiliar country, he could at least start with a familiar action.

But as he showed his documents to the low-level KGB guard at the entrance to the bus, the man thrust out an arm, barring his way, and, taking the documents, called his superior.

Kuryakin looked at the hard faces staring at him from behind the windows of the bus and felt the first beginnings of a chill.

The Friend of the People had been in a particularly vicious mood. All the KGB are humorously referred to as the 'Friends of the People', but the KGB navigator is considered the principal Friend by their neighbors in the GRU.

With their navigator in a terrible humor, all the Chekists in their lair were unhappy. They hoped whatever disagreeable task that needed to be accomplished was gotten on with, so that they could go back to the normally pleasant life of gathering information from one of the most open and tolerant societies in the world. They all knew places where it was torture to be assigned as an intelligence agent: China for one. One had to really sweat blood to get any information there. But in New York, one could pick up enough information for a report by merely frequenting the eateries around the United Nations, or, if you were really lazy, just by reading the New York Times.

But now something bad was happening, and the Chekists were sweating as if this were China, sweating as they hadn't since they reached the United States' friendly shores. Although they were not sure why their chief was so displeased, they were hoping to placate him under a flood of information.

Finally the First Friend called two of their number into the special interview room, where especially secret assignments were given. Everyone else sighed and looked forward to better times. They held a certain sympathy for the two called in, but not much. The pair was young, not long in their posts, and it was clear to the more senior agents what was going to happen.

Even the First Friend didn't like to sacrifice two of his agents, but when he did, he chose the two easiest to spare.

Inside the briefing room, all was white paint and transparent furniture, so that nothing could be easily concealed. Only the most delicate assignments were discussed here. The KGB navigator sat behind one of the transparent chairs, behind the transparent desk, and hit the button that caused the walls and ceiling to vibrate with the work of thousands of tiny signal jammers. Only then did he gesture for his agents to take the two transparent chairs opposite him. They did so, warily, and stared at the photograph dropped on the table before them.

A Soviet officer, blond hair, blue eyes, passive Slavic face, clad in the cap and uniform of a Naval captain. They looked down at the photograph, then back up at their senior officer.

"This man is arriving at La Guardia within the hour," the KGB Resident looked down at the photograph, and then away, as if not wanting to look too closely at the face of trouble. "Kill him."

The two agents glanced up from the photograph to their superior in surprise.

"Shoot him. Publicly. Make sure there are lots of witnesses to his death. Escape yourselves, of course. But make sure he's dead and make sure that it is public. Is that clear?"

They could hardly do anything else but reply affirmatively.

When they had left, the Friend of the People smashed his fist down hard on the face in the photograph. Yes, the GRU officer in the photograph wasn't long for this world. But there was a good chance that he himself would be crushed between the will of his own superiors and between that of the Administrative department of the Central Committee of the Party, which supervised the KGB and GRU. But he only suspected the future problems he might have with Colonel General Kir Gavrilovich Lemzenko in Moscow. For the present, he had to obey his orders.

Damn his rotten luck.

The guard stepped outside the elaborate wrought-iron gates of New York City's Soviet Mission, glanced briefly inside the black-tinted windows of the limousine, which slid open enough for him to peer inside, then moved to struggle open the unwieldy gates.

The chauffeur behind the wheel hadn't spoken a word. His demeanor appeared to be the perfect model of a deferential lackey. But once the car had moved beyond the gates and a concealing brick wall, a hardness moved across his face, the muscles stiffening with the weight of past decisions and anticipated future problems. He exited the car himself, but a guard hastened to open the door to the building for him, while another man ran down to open the car door for the Soviet Consul.

The Consul didn't seem surprised that his chauffeur had left him behind, but handed over his briefcase to the second man, who happened to be the First Deputy to the Navigator for the GRU, the head of the military intelligence force that occupied the other half of the embassy. The Consul made his own way into the building, opening the doors himself. The First Deputy carried the briefcase into the Navigator's Office, catching the chauffeur's coat as it was tossed aside.

"Is everything well?" grunted the Navigator, shrugging into his own coat and running a hand through hair disordered by the chauffeur's cap.

"Well enough with our own operations. But Viktor Antoniovich has a priority message waiting for you." He set the briefcase down. "It is a shame you have to run such errands yourself."

"With the state our governments are in, I would not trust that braying donkey of a Consul even to you, old friend." The Navigator's gun-barrel gray eyes glinted darkly.

"Surely he knows his place. And his purpose."

"Within these walls, he knows it. But outside, his 'colleagues' try to flatter him into thinking he is more than just a mannequin whose every word and move has been written and choreographed down to the timing of the pauses between his sentences. I don't trust his vanity, whatever his politics."

"Perhaps he should be evacuated and replaced."

"No. It upsets the Americans and the British too much when such turnovers occur, and it isn't worth rousing undue suspicions. The man is trustworthy enough when he knows he is being watched."

"Very well. Shall I send in the First Cipher Clerk now?"

"Yes," Aivasovsky shook the tension from his shoulders, and smiled infinitesimally at his friend. "Then bring me some tea and we'll go over the roster for tonight's operations."

"Of course." The First Deputy spoke briefly to a man waiting outside the door, then stepped past him, taking the chauffeur's jacket and cap with him.

The First Cipher Clerk paused in the doorway for the briefest second, his nose twitching and his pale skin flushing at the sight of the coat, as if he could smell freedom, like garlic, on its lapels. The Navigator swallowed his smile at the man's hungry look.

Cipher clerks lived more constrained lives than most Western prisoners. In New York City they were confined to just a few rooms in the Mission. The man would not breathe the fresh outside air until the few lungfuls he would catch on his way to the airport and home to the Soviet Union after his two years of duty. Then he would be sent to some isolated outpost where he could breathe fresh air, but probably not see much besides polar bears and penguins, until he earned two more years of duty in a foreign port. Soviets guarded their clerks as well as their codes. After one had defected to Canada with all his codes and secrets, creating untold havoc in intelligence operations all over the world, no foreign-based cipher clerk would ever breathe the free air of a western state again. A cipher clerk in a battle unit had worse privations. No Soviet soldier was supposed to surrender to opposing forces, but a cipher clerk could never be captured. If an enemy was closing in, the commander's first duty was to kill the cipher clerk and destroy his cipher machine, even if that delayed his own retreat so that the commander himself was captured. For the offense of being captured himself might be forgiven, but the capture of a cipher clerk was punishable by death. Constrained as diplomatic service might be, few cipher clerks would complain about a cushy post in a consulate.

General Dmitry Grigorevich Aivasovsky folded his long, lanky frame behind his desk and accepted the message, nodding the man's dismissal. Some Navigators were friendly with their First Cipher Clerk. It was true that the trio of Navigator, First Deputy and First Cipher Clerk were alone in their knowledge of many of the important secrets of the station. But for that reason alone Dmitry Grigorevich held himself apart from them, suspicious of the weapon inadvertently formed from any alliance. His friendship with Colonel Erik Karlovich Gerasimov, the First Deputy, was dangerous enough, though formed through long years of field work. They had been footsore and downtrodden Borzois together, and then triumphant Vikings, steeped in Soviet laurels, at that time as much competitors as compatriots. But when he'd been sentenced to an indeterminate stay in hedonist New York and given the unprecedented choice of a First Deputy, there had been no man he'd preferred at his back more. Though he doubted whether he had done the man any favors, considering that they often felt more footsore and downtrodden than in the worst of Borzoi days, and had a crushing weight of responsibility to go along with their duties.

Then he saw whom the message was from, and opened the paper with tense fingers. A message from Kir meant either great laurels, great tragedy, or the prospect of either.

He read through the message twice, and then swore softly, and hit the signal button. There wasn't much time.

"What about tonight?" Napoleon Solo, Chief Enforcement Agent for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement smiled into the eyes of a dazzled female. "As a communications technician, I think you have a certain responsibility to improve --"

"Napoleon!" Heather McNabb stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, her arms folded in mild exasperation, "Shouldn't you be leaving for the airport to pick up that new agent?"

"Uhmnn," Solo lazily disengaged his arm from around his companion. "That wasn't today, was it?"

"You know it was," Heather shook her head. "Mr. Waverly won't be pleased if you're not there when the plane lands. Senior agent, you know, you're supposed to put on a good show."

"Roll out the red carpet?" Solo chuckled at McNabb's grimace. "Never fear, Heather. One thing you can be certain of with that airline is that its flights are always," Solo kissed the comm tech's hand as he relinquished it, "delayed." He straightened up as the tech hastily disengaged herself under McNabb's impatient glare and left through the automatic steel doors. "Jealous, Heather?

"Be serious, Napoleon," Heather said without heat. "If I were the jealous type, I wouldn't be fool enough to be jealous of you. What I don't want to deal with is Mr. Waverly's displeasure if you keep his new agent waiting."

"And here I was, available tonight, and looking for some company. You wouldn't happen to be free --"

"Napoleon!"

"Relax," All business now, Solo examined his watch and then straightened his tie. "I received a message from LaGuardia's Aeroflot desk, Heather. The plane has been delayed an hour. I have plenty of time."

Heather frowned, and checked her own clipboard. "But I just checked with airport information, and was told it was going to be a few minutes early. That's why I came to look for you."

Solo raised his eyebrows, fingers pausing on the silk. "That's strange. Maybe they got it backwards. Aeroflot ought to know their own flight schedules."

"I suppose so," Heather frowned, then shrugged, "Still, you ought to get going, just in case. Mr. Kuryakin will expect someone to be waiting for him at the arrival gate. After all Mr. Waverly has done to get the Soviet Union to be a full partner in the Network, you don't want to insult them when they finally send a representative agent to the main headquarters."

"Very well, for you I'll leave immediately," Solo's eyes danced. "But since you chased away one potential date, Heather, you really have an obligation -- "

"We can talk about it when you get back. With Mr. Kuryakin. What's the matter, Napoleon, afraid you might lose some of your harem with a little competition?" Heather teased.

"Who's number one in the office pool?" Solo asked with complete seriousness.

"Ah, that's a 'girls only' pool, Napoleon. Confidential. But interest is running high since Mr. Kuryakin's credentials arrived -- with his photograph."

"Pictures can be misleading," Solo dismissed with a smile. "What about personality? Charm. Wit. The ability to show a lady a delightful evening? And all available tonight, just for you, Heather. How can you possibly turn me down?" He spread his arms wide for emphasis.

"How can you think of dates when you have an assignment to complete?"

"It's a well defined art. And one I excel at, you have to admit."

"The dates or the assignments?"

"The dates aren't the assignments?" Solo asked and then laughed at her expression. "Both, of course. By the way, I did notify Mr. Waverly of Aeroflot's change in schedule. His meeting with the agent will have to be delayed."

"Yes, I notified him. But we'll talk about the date when you get back, Napoleon."

"I think you're too anxious to meet this agent, my dear. Got a bet on for yourself? Don't tell me you lovely ladies don't have your own intelligence network. You couldn't possibly," he took the clipboard from her and held her hand, gazing down into her eyes, "prefer a photo over me?"

"Napoleon, you are incorrigible," she dropped his hand. "We won't know, will we, until you get him here?" Heather took back the clipboard and gave him a little push toward the door. "Come on."

"All right, all right." Solo let himself be shoved in the general direction of the door. "But you owe me, darling. And I know just how to collect."

"How do you know I didn't win the office pool to be the first to welcome our new agent?" Heather teased lightly.

Solo gave Waverly's auburn-haired assistant a double-take as he walked down the hall to his office. "Well, Illya Kuryakin will be welcomed by the female population of U.N.C.L.E., at least."

"Were you running reconnaissance?" Heather asked, amused, then sobered when Solo didn't answer. "Are you serious?"

"Were you?" Solo countered. "You seem rather concerned about this pickup. You've also been around Headquarters more than I have recently, considering my mission schedule. You tell me."

They walked in silence for a moment, Heather pondering, while Solo watched her carefully. "I can't say I've heard anything from the field agents, Napoleon. You're all a closed-mouth lot outside your own ranks."

"Within, sometimes, too," Solo commented.

"Mmn," Heather agreed. "I'll agree the atmosphere has been a little grimmer since the appointment was made public."

"Grim enough to check my mood?" Solo asked curiously.

"You're Number One, you tell me," Heather countered.

"My mood's fine."

"Good. And Section Two is a good bunch. They'll come around once he's in the field and proves himself."

"If Section Three doesn't get to him first," Solo suggested, throwing up a balloon just to see the reaction.

"I haven't heard that," Heather replied.

"Would you tell me if you had?" The Chief Enforcement Agent queried, almost academically. He knew Heather and Pete Knabb, the head of Section Three were occasionally friendly.

"Don't ask." Heather spun around to face Solo, putting a finger on his silk tie to stop him. "Look at it this way, Napoleon. There's one group at HQ that isn't backing any Section against the other, or any particular agent, for that matter. Because we're backing Mr. Waverly. And if he says Kuryakin gives Section Three a miss, then we figure there's a good reason for it. And you can tell all of Section Two that we girls think so."

"Solidarity, huh?" Solo grinned at the prospect.

"Absolutely. You either roll out the red carpet, or you'll find yourself standing on ours, answering for it. And we cut our own weight in HQ, don't forget it. You'll think standing on Mr. Waverly's will be a picnic, after that."

"I never doubted it for a moment, Heather," Napoleon said, sincerely.

"Good. Now, you'd better run along to the airport."

"Lugging that carpet all the way," Solo agreed.

Solo walked down the hall to his office, pleased, at least, with the attitude of U.N.C.L.E.'s female population. They might just be backing their chief, but it was a support he had mistakenly overlooked. Good of Heather to remind him of it, though he didn't doubt she'd been running a little reconnaissance on him as well. He didn't need to be reminded to stay in Mr. Waverly's court, but he hadn't considered who else was in it. It looked like the field agents were about to get a reminder.

For every field agent depended on the support staff, though they didn't always appreciate it as they should. The staff was supposed to be firmly in their corner. He knew better than to think any staff person would let a mission roll over. But they could certainly let the field agents sweat over more donkey work than usual if they decided to be recalcitrant, and it wouldn't take the field agents long to realize that. He had to give Alexander Waverly points: with that group in reserve, even Section Two would come in line quickly, should they choose to make mischief. He was glad he had the girls on his team. He have to remember to keep devising ways to them there, if he wanted to stay a viable enforcement chief.

But while one group at U.N.C.L.E. might be eagerly awaiting to welcome the Soviet agent's arrival, Heather's ambiguous answers made him certain of his suspicions that the feeling wasn't necessarily unanimous. Only recently returned from a field assignment himself, he had been unaware of prevailing mood at Headquarters, and had heard the mutterings and comments in the hallways and locker rooms regarding the arrival of the Soviet agent with a touch of surprise and concern. With an unexpected hour free to pursue them, his distraction at the sight of an attractive new communications technician had been predictable but not entirely unproductive, if he had gotten Heather on his side. At least he could be sure that Illya Kuryakin would at least find a few friendly faces at Headquarters, even if most of them were predominantly female.

On the other hand, his fellow agents didn't gain their positions by being a trusting lot, as Alexander Waverly, and even Heather, knew well. Most new agents built their initial liaisons within their class ranks at U.N.C.L.E.'s Survival School. Those who transferred from other intelligence services usually did so as a result of lengthy cooperative missions, where the prospective agent and U.N.C.L.E. had opportunities to vet each other out. So those agents came in with some liaisons already formed. Few came to U.N.C.L.E. as Illya Kuryakin had. But Solo supposed that Alexander Waverly, Number One of Section One, had his reasons for arranging the unusual terms of his acquisition.

U.N.C.L.E. was a truly international organization, which meant just like Illya Kuryakin, a goodly portion of agents had their initial experience within their own country's intelligence services, or at least worked closely with them as liaisons. The Soviet intelligence services had never been a frequent or willing part of the general give and take in the intelligence community. On an individual basis, Soviet spies were a guarded lot -- both reserved in manner and outwardly spied upon by their own intelligence services, though Soviets didn't have any lock on that. But few agents in North American Headquarters had any close experiences with working with Soviet agents, and those that did had not found the experience enamoring.

So the talk in the corridors and commissary was troubling to Solo. He hadn't been acting head of Section Two for long enough to feel completely comfortable in the role. While he enjoyed some of the perks of the position, leading a group of enforcement agents, a group never known for their tractability, was rather like trying to drive a herd of pigs. Or more apropos, leading a charge of boars, all with long tusks and a delight in trampling the leader --when they couldn't gore him for fun. Getting the upper hand of Section Two was exercising all his manipulative skills to their utmost. Having Heather on his side was a plus, though.

Still, he expected that adding a Soviet agent to the mix would only increase his headaches. Field agents in U.N.C.L.E. were required to have a certain internationalist bent, as well as a lack of any strong leaning toward extreme political stands which could get in the way of performance. When this Kuryakin arrived, if he was an unyielding product of his system, he was going to be a definite oddity, a minority of one. Solo couldn't understand why Waverly wouldn't have wanted to start the agent out in Germany or some other place where the mixture of East and West would have made the Russian less conspicuous. Waverly always had his reasons, though, and Solo supposed he would, as always, find them out. In Waverly's own good time.

Until then, he'd have to play the situation by ear. Hopefully, Kuryakin would have an open mind about working in the West, and his fellow agents would survive their own personal representative of the cold war with good humor and tolerance.

In the short run, everyone would have some adjustments to make, and he, as acting CEA, would probably have the most to make.

Except, perhaps, for Kuryakin.

Back at his desk, he double-checked the message left for him from Aeroflot, then, frowning, called La Guardia tower for confirmation of it. What he heard made him swear softly under his breath, an appropriate Russian epithet, and then call down to the motor pool for an U.N.C.L.E. cab, pronto. Solo squeezed himself into the cab and leaned back against the seat, sweating a little in the stifling New York City heat. But he was thinking that it was going to be a long, cold war.

Chapter Two

Alice attended to all these directions, and explained, as well as she could, that she had lost her way.

"I don't know what you mean by your way," said the Queen: "all the ways about here belong to me--but why did you come out here at all?"

Through the Looking Glass

The KGB officer looked at the green passport with its gold stamp and gave Kuryakin a hard stare. "What kind of trick is this? I have no authorization for you."

Kuryakin stepped forward as the officer then pocketed his Soviet passport and papers. He halted abruptly as the first guard made a telling move to his holster. Unarmed and now without documents, facing the hostile representatives of a rival service, he went for his best conciliatory manner. "Comrade Colonel, there must be some mistake. I arrived on the same plane as these other comrades," he gestured carefully to the stony faces in the bus windows. "You have my documents. Obviously--"

"No doubt they are forgeries. Consider yourself fortunate we do not have you arrested for impersonating a Soviet national."

"But I arrived--"

"Does anyone vouch for this man?" the Colonel called into the bus.

Kuryakin watched as even the G.R.U. officers turned away in bored disinterest. "Comrade Colonel," he ventured to one that he knew vaguely from seeing at the Aquarium.

The Colonel spoke lazily to the KGB officer, "He was on the plane, but I have no authority for him. He is not one of my men. I know nothing about him."

"Very well. You are not on the list for the residentura. No one vouches for you. I have no authority to take stray passengers. Step away from the vehicle."

Kuryakin opened his mouth, but found himself facing the barrel of a very efficient Luger. His eyes rose to the cold stare of the guard holding it.

"Step away from the bus, you stupid fool," the colonel gave him a rough shove and he stumbled backwards, his fall half-cushioned by the duffle hung over his shoulder. Before him the bus doors closed and the vehicle drove away.

He rose, staring after it as it disappeared. Not a head turned around among any of it passengers. The bus kicked up a swirl of dirty trash in the streets in its wake, then even that settled down.

He was alone. In an airport of thousands, and a city of millions. But still alone in every important aspect.

Kuryakin turned to pick up his duffle and stood uncertainly. He had no money, no papers, no idea of where he was supposed to go. He had one name, Alexander Waverly, and one organization, U.N.C.L.E., both of them highly classified and secret. He certainly could not stand on a street corner and ask passersby for the location of U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters.

So, what to do?

Kuryakin turned back to the airport terminal, to consider his options.

At the Soviet Consulate, the GRU's First Deputy read through the message once, then again, before turning to his Navigator. "What of it? Surely he is U.N.C.L.E.'s responsibility now? Because we give them an agent, are we responsible for wiping his nose every time it runs?"

"I have no wish to," General Dmitry Grigorevich Aivasovsky rose stiffly, the fading light glinting off of the silver threading through his dark blond hair. His long, almost English-like face, a useful face since it saved him from being instantly identified with his Slavic roots, was set in a dark grimace. "I have enough of my own people to care for, and had been given neither authority nor responsibility for this one."

"So, let him be U.N.C.L.E.'s then!" Colonel Erik Karlovich Gerasimov expounded. "Whatever he was, he is ours no longer. That was made clear in the first transmittal you received concerning him. He is to be let alone, as if he did not exist."

"And reversed in this second transmittal. Our neighbors," Dmitry Grigorevich jerked his head toward the wing the KGB inhabited, "seek to discredit our agent, this operation, and our leadership in Moscow."

"But that is clear treason," Erik Karlovich muttered.

"Not if we do not stop them and uncover the plot. Otherwise Kuryakin is killed by an assassin's bullet even before his arrival at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. Do you think they will claim responsibility? U.N.C.L.E. has as many enemies as a summer dog has fleas. Everyone expects a few to be scratched out."

"Perhaps we should do nothing then. It may be all right, whatever we do."

"Oh, many are going to die from this," Dmitry Grigorevich pulled his duty roster before him. "Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin by his assassin, and us, if we do not prevent it. And the poor fools on the other side, whether they succeed or fail. But they have their orders, regardless, and must carry them out."

"I cannot believe, Mitya, that you could be --"

"Do you see who has signed this order? Kir! The great Kir Gavrilovich, of the Central Committee, who oversees all foreign intelligence! Somehow he has taken an interest -- whether in this operation or Kuryakin, I cannot tell. But this is sure, if Kuryakin does not report to U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters, I will be reporting to Kir!"

The first thing Solo checked at the airport was the "Arrivals" board. He stared at the display that indicated the flight he was scheduled to meet had arrived a few minutes ahead of time. The original time. The tower had been right and the message he'd received of a delay had been deliberately erroneous. Even as he cursed himself for being a terrible, trusting fool, even as he castigated himself for being so distracted by possible problems at Headquarters that he let himself fall prey to a plot from outside HQ, his thoughts were skittering over an icy 'Why'. And the icier 'Who'.

Solo dashed to the gate where the Aeroflot passengers had disembarked, but the lounge was empty, except for an airport employee sweeping up cigarette butts. Solo turned with a sinking feeling, knowing he'd been set up, then resolutely turned toward the source of his information.

"Excuse me," Solo thrust his head among several passengers standing before the Soviet Aeroflot counter. "I need to know --"

"Get back in line!" the burly clerk snapped.

"You don't understand," the CEA offered the woman his most charming smile, "I just need some information -- "

"In line," the woman snapped, not at all dazzled by the patented Solo grin.

"This isn't working out well," Solo said, finding himself sandwiched between several Soviets of the bulky persuasion. An aged crone proved she wasn't immune to the Solo charm, giving him a toothless version of her own smile.

"Not well at all," Solo muttered, and checked his watch again.

Chapter Three

"Curtsey while you're thinking what to say. It saves time."

Red Queen

Through the Looking Glass

Kuryakin stood in an unobtrusive spot in LaGuardia terminal, looking around him, feeling as a wolf must feel surrounded by dogs. For although all were fellow canines, once the pack smelled the imposter wolf, they'd tear him to pieces. In the same vein, all these Westerners ran to and fro, consumed in their own business. But if they knew what he was, a Soviet spy in their midst, who could tell how they would react?

He settled himself, frowning. He had, after all, been in the West before. Cambridge and Paris had taught him much. But one part of his mind told him that there was a difference. The English and the French were Europeans. The West of Western Europe was not the rabidly anti-communist, anti-Soviet West of America. From what he had read, unlike the Soviet Union, where private citizens could not own firearms, or England, where guns were rare, all Americans carried guns to protect them against the country's terrible criminals. The only thing these American vigilantes hated worse than gangsters were Communists, whom they cheerfully shot on sight. He had read the article some months ago in Izvestia, long before he knew he'd be in this situation. The article could very well be true; the story was a report of a couple who had emigrated to Chicago and then had been forced to return to the Soviet Union because they could not acclimate to their new life. Their account of the coldness of their new neighbors and the crime on American streets had sounded perfectly plausible to him. And Izvestia was more reliable than Pravda. Not every story in the papers was pure propaganda.

Above his head, a loudspeaker squawked to life, blaring an announcement. The cacophony of English smote against his ears in an unmusical jangle. Bad enough to have been abandoned, with no funds and not even an idea of where to go. Even worse was that this had happened to him in America, where the language itself seemed harsh and unfriendly, and the country was undoubtedly so.

Well, though lost and at loose ends, he wasn't totally without resources. Perhaps this was a test of GRU abilities, to strand him like this. His mind, always active, and trained for years to analyze every situation, clicked into an automatic assessment of his situation.

Certainly, he couldn't afford not to report to U.N.C.L.E. He could be court-martialed for refusing to obey an order, or shot for desertion, if he ever got back to the Soviet Union. No, he had been ordered by his superiors to report, and report he must. That was clear. It wasn't as if he had any other options -- he had no beliefs at all that it would be possible for him to simply disappear, nor did he want to. Even if it were his only option, he would never have chosen the United States as an Elba. France, perhaps, or even, in a pinch, England, but never the States. He didn't need to read Izvestia's articles, his own intelligence service had taught him that this country had thousands of missiles pointed at his, ready for the mass genocide of Russians. What would one Russian more or less be to them? Why not play a game with a GRU agent, insult his service and his country?

Or, it could also be that the GRU had never been sincere in turning over an agent to U.N.C.L.E. -- that they had promised the agent, and delivered him, but never intended him to actually arrive at that agency. In that regard, he might be a pawn by his own service, as he half-suspected, in which case his own country might be moving now against him.

It could be the GRU was sincere in his assignment to UNCLE, but that the KGB simply chose to thwart those plans. He would consider that the most likely of all, and his service might expect him to get himself out of his own difficulties. But then, where was UNCLE? Had the KGB moved against them on their own turf? Or did they expect him to solve this puzzle and find them on his own? What a strange way to operate.

Unlikely as his thoughts seemed, yet so was his situation. Until he had more facts, he needed to be on his guard, to camouflage his own weakness. Fortunately, he had inadvertently come prepared for camouflage, at least. His clothes were neither new nor old, and so standard that they inspired no notice. Nor was his luggage anything to remark upon. He did wish, as usual in these circumstances, that he had thought to bring a cap to hide his bright hair, but the color, fortunately, wasn't too unusual in this country, though probably more dyed, at least among the woman, than natural. He thought that for an enemy spy at least his appearance would raise no alarms. That meant he could explore his options without openly advertising his background and condition. But what, exactly, were his options?

First, he had to report to U.N.C.L.E.

Second, if he could not physically report, he had to at least get a message sent.

Third, if he couldn't get even a message sent, then he had to contact his own service.

Fourth, if he didn't manage any of the above, then he had better consider running fast and far, though it was a moot point that anyone could really run from his country's intelligence services. Sooner or later, one was captured and brought to justice. Fetched up on the conveyer to the furnace, feet first, screaming all the way in.

He didn't like the feeling that he had. The eyes in the back of his head were screaming alarms, though it was probably just nervousness.

Still, he really had better find U.N.C.L.E. and fast. He moved on.

Damage control was often not pretty in the GRU, but it tended to be simple and direct. When a GRU officer became a liability, after his capture and confession he was evacuated, usually straight onto the conveyer to the furnace. The incinerator at the Aquarium, the main GRU headquarters, not only served to burn confidential papers, but as a crematorium for deceased officers, and a unique method of execution for agents-cum-traitor.

Any agents the traitor had associated with, if unimplicated by his confessions, were reassigned. Foreign contacts who became problems were trickier; they might be eliminated; they might be quickly whisked away to new identities and locations, with a lifetime's worth of money to keep them silent, and a knowledge of what would happen if they weren't. When the problem was not a colleague or a foreigner, but from their hostile, competitive neighbors in the KGB, the directness usually took the form of a bullet.

"Is the car ready?" Aivasovsky asked, checking his weapon, and slipping an extra clip in his pocket.

"Yes," Erik Karlovich nodded. "Waiting at the entrance. Perhaps you should not risk this yourself, Mitya. I would be happy to--"

"We cannot risk you, Erik. Your public position is too high to hazard association with such dirty work. And this is something I prefer not to trust to anyone else." Aivasovsky looked over at his First Deputy's turn-out. "Very nice. I have never seen such tailoring, even on our Consul. With that suit, and your papers, you'll be sure to frighten off any officious American who might try to interfere. Stay in the background and try to remain inconspicuous, though. Browse in those little airport shops. I don't wish to call in our Vice Consul unless some fool police officer tries to take me into custody, or asks too many questions. Then we'll need your fine title, papers and good suit to warn them back."

"Of course, Comrade General." Not unintentionally, the First Deputy's public rank was above his Navigator's, just as his rank in the GRU was below it. Everything was reversed on the other side of the green baize covered door that concealed the GRU. The true reality lay behind the doors, the public life an inverted transposition, designed to conceal the truth.

"Yes, let us go. I do not think Illya Nickovetch is dead already. I just spoke with Alexander Waverly of the United Network Command, and they are still looking for him. Too bad they couldn't be more expeditious in meeting the plane."

"No doubt that was also deliberately arranged."

"No doubt. But we cannot help the past. We can only help to influence the future." He went swiftly through the door the First Deputy held open for him, his off-the-rack black jacket concealing the only custom-made item he worse, one he regularly practiced with in the basement target range. The Navigator rarely personally involved himself in an elimination, but there were always exceptions. Flexibility was a requirement of every GRU officer.

The two KGB agents studied the blond head. "That's him."

"Yes."

"I don't suppose there is any doubt."

"None," the second replied. He looked at his companion, who made no move toward his weapon. In these sorts of assignments, two were always given the same mission, not just to better the odds, but as insurance against each other. Neither could fail to perform the mission, with a witness along to guarantee it. And conversely, each could implicate the other.

But the first agent kept his hand stubbornly from his weapon. "The assignment was specifically for a public place. This area is too isolated. There are not enough people here."

"That is true," the second said, relieved. "So we follow, for a while?"

"We follow." The KGB agent pushed away from the wall and went after his prey.

Solo ducked into a corner and pulled out his cigarette case/transceiver. His suspicions were screaming, his instincts all cried betrayal, but he forced himself to an outward calm. Soviets were masters of one-upmanship, it might just be a nasty joke on U.N.C.L.E. In that case, Waverly might have his hide and U.N.C.L.E. might look a little foolish, but no real harm done. The Soviet agent might have gone on to his embassy. Or he might still be waiting in the airport, somewhere, and his embassy might have contacted U.N.C.L.E. for instructions. Surely, in a matter of minutes, Waverly's acquisition would be located. Anything else, of course, signaled disaster.

Waverly, however, quickly disabused him of any lesser fate. "What do you mean, you can't find the agent? You did meet the plane as instructed?"

"Not exactly, sir," Solo replied. "I'd actually received a message that it had been delayed, but in reality, it was early. You see, there were these tail winds --"

"Tail winds? Tail winds?" the U.N.C.L.E. chief sounded both distracted and irritated. "Oh, never mind. Just find him, Mr. Solo. There hasn't been any word from the embassy, so Mr. Kuryakin must still be at the airport."

"Perhaps you could check with the embassy, sir," Solo asked, surveying the crowds that ebbed and flowed beyond his cigarette case. Finding one Russian in the middle of LaGuardia's human traffic was daunting even for a super spy.

Waverly paused a moment, and Solo looked down at his silent communicator, almost seeing his superior's expression as he took in the implications of the situation. Solo knew he had Waverly's full attention, though that, in itself, would cost him later. "Very well. Fine thing if you can't locate one of our own people."

Waverly cut the connection and Solo waited, considering his options. Where could the Russian be, if he wasn't at the gate and he hadn't gone on to the Soviet Consulate? He wouldn't find U.N.C.L.E. listed in the phone book. The Information Desk?

Waverly came back on the line. "No luck, Mr. Solo. The Consulate reports that they have no information on his whereabouts after he left the plane."

"Ah. Do you happen to have any suggestions, sir, as to where he might have gone?"

"No. I fail to understand why you didn't make the pick-up as scheduled, Mr. Solo. You should check your information sources more carefully in future."

Solo grimaced down at the communicator in his hands. "Yes, sir."

"Finding Mr. Kuryakin is your problem. And you had better do it quickly. I spoke with General Dmitry Grigorevich Aivasovsky at the Soviet Consul -- you might say he is the unofficial representative of Mr. Kuryakin's former organization here in New York City -- but that is confidential, of course."

"Of course," Solo answered as he studied the crowd. "What information did General Aivasovsky have?"

"None, Mr. Solo, none. And that is of concern, since information is his business. He seemed somewhat -- distracted."

"I can sympathize, sir."

"Never mind that," Waverly said abruptly. "Something may be afoot concerning Mr. Kuryakin. His government is not completely sanguine about a Soviet presence in U.N.C.L.E. It may be that there are forces intent on preventing it, before the start. So you had better foil them, as soon as possible. Find Mr. Kuryakin, and bring him back here, immediately. I've a meeting to attend at the United Nations, so you'll have to do it on your own -- I'll be unavailable for several hours. I'm rescheduling our meeting for 4:00. Have him here by then. That's all."

Solo looked down at the transceiver at the familiar sound of the connection being closed. "Yes, sir," he pocketed the case and looked out at the crowded terminal, teeming with passengers, "you just forgot to tell me how to do that. As usual." Grimacing, he set off through the mob.

Chapter Four

"It's time for you to answer now," the Queen said looking at her watch: "open your mouth a little wider when you speak, and always say 'your Majesty--"

Red Queen

Through the Looking Glass

Kuryakin made his way back to the baggage and transportation part of the terminal, and watched for a while, observing how the populace moved, careful to keep himself hidden in crowds and not attract undue attention. There didn't seem to be any set way to leave the airport, and every mode of transportation seemed to be available. The trick was how to make use of it -- always supposing, of course, that he knew which direction to go. He knew enough, though, that he had to get into Manhattan, that island that the bourgeoisie settlers had stolen from the native comrades years before. He had brushed up on his American history before he had come.

U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters was located in Manhattan. So was the Soviet Embassy. So was the United Nations. Either location held more promise than being stranded at the airport. At the Soviet Embassy, he could try to arrange an appointment with the GRU resident, the Navigator. Even if the KGB were engaged in games at his expense, the Navigator could put it right. Of course, he had no passport to gain him entrance to the Embassy. And no hold to get him through to actually speak with the Navigator. The position was secret, after all -- only known to other GRUs. He knew the man's name and face, but if they did not know him, his chances of explaining his situation was close to nil. Still, he would deal with that after he got to Manhattan. And to get to Manhattan, he had to get around a large river. Unless he wanted to swim, never a favorite occupation of his, he needed transportation.

Hundreds of taxicabs seemed to swarm around the terminals, the same as in London and Paris, but unlike Moscow, they seemed to be engaged by a single party, even at times by only a single person. That made it unlikely he could cram himself in with two parties, pretending to be part of one or the other as needed as he had often done before. He was seduced by the large buses, some of them baring the legend "MANHATTAN" above their broad windows, but he quickly discerned that each citizen had to pass through a turnstile and pay a fee to enter the bus proper. He had some hope that he might be able squeeze through the back doors of the vehicle, but he decided not to risk such an obviously illegal act so soon.

He found of more interest the buses that bore the legends of what looked like hotels. It seemed some of them collected no fees; presumably they were a service for the patrons of those establishments. He, of course, could be no patron, but then after one arrived at the hotel, it could be easy to get momentarily free. A mention of some lost article left on the bus, an urgent need to visit a restroom. A long-lost friend one spotted who needed to be greeted. Yes, he was confident he could escape. But which bus led to Manhattan? He knew none of these hotels.

So that was his next task. Secure the name of a Manhattan hotel, one large enough to sponsor its own autobus service. Enter the bus, journey to Manhattan and then find his embassy.

Kuryakin made his way back into the terminal, past the baggage handlers, to where the signs directed him to information on ground transportation. There he studied the signs, always amazed at the proliferation of them in Western societies. One thing Westerners always noted upon arrival in Moscow was the lack of them. No billboards, no advertisements, and very few informational signs -- it was always assumed that what one didn't know, one wasn't supposed to know. A good practice, Kuryakin though, though it did make espionage work harder for his counterparts -- still it made his own job easier in the West, so he would not complain.

His eyes were seduced by the car rental kiosks, and he studied them hungrily, though, of course, he could never take advantage of them. The idea was tempting, though it seemed incredible that someone like him could land in America, and with mere money procure himself a vehicle and drive off into the American sunset, without an internal passport, a travel permit and without having to clear even one checkpoint. Westerners seemed to have no restraints at all on their society. Coming from a society with innumerable restraints, the concept was like the smell of warm bread to a starving man. But he did have constraints. He might be in free society, but he had not been born a free man, and he would never really be one.

Burned into his existence, into the existence of every Soviet citizen, was the reality of the borders, watchtowers, and sentries that ringed his homeland. Many countries had fences that protected their boundaries, but the construction of those fences told much to an agent.

The fences surrounding free countries had the razor wire at the top flared so that the greater difficulty was in entering, rather than leaving, the country. The fences surrounding the Soviet Union, even the very watchtowers, were designed to make it difficult for the populace to leave. One only had to look at whom the fences were designed to keep out, or in, to know where the freedom lay. And that every Soviet citizen was, in effect, a prisoner to his government.

One did not need courses in political science, or exposure to the world community, to understand the nature of freedom. One only required an understanding of the nature of fence construction.

In the center of the transportation area was a large sign, with only one word. Information. Kuryakin smiled at the naiveté of that word, and the society that would build such booths and kiosks, and staff them, with the sole purpose of disseminating information. It was a novel idea, at least to his mindset.

Out of curiosity and novelty and a certain acceptance of risk, he approached the kiosk. Behind the counter was a very pretty girl. He studied her speculatively, wondering which intelligence service she might be from. In his country, she would be with the KGB, but here in America, there were many different intelligence and military services, and he didn't understand all the interactions. He doubted anyone in his country did. Meanwhile, the girl smiled at him with a warmth that raised all his suspicions regarding entrapment.

"How can I help you, sir?"

He blinked. The title, instead of the ubiquitous comrade used everywhere in the Soviet Union, hit him like a dash of cold water. For all his previous experience in western societies, for all his hasty study of the United States, he had essentially been dealing with the backlash of the GRU/KGB intelligence wars between each other, and was still thinking with his Soviet mindset. But the KGB were gone. He had, essentially an American problem now; he had to find the means to navigate, without money or credentials, in an American society, and he had to shift his methods accordingly.

He smiled his best smile at the clerk. The muscles felt stiff, a little rusty from lack of recent use, but he managed it, a smile being not too different from his well-practiced snarl. He must have carried it off credibly; the effect on the girl was immediate; her smile grew even wider, and she leaned across the counter, offering a nice display of cleavage. He would have looked, but he didn't want to be distracted from his problem.

"I need some information regarding directions and transport."

"Where do you need to go?"

Kuryakin thought. He still believed that the embassy was his best choice, since he didn't know where UNCLE was, but he didn't want to reveal himself to the extent of blatantly advertising himself as Soviet, since it might affect her willingness to help him. He had another close choice for which she would be more favorably disposed.

"The United Nations?"

"Yes, sir." She pulled something out from under the counter, and Kuryakin stepped back quickly, his eyes fixed on where her hands were under the counter, but instead she laid a pad of paper down.

He realized with a tiny touch of shock, that it was a pad of maps.

"The easiest way to get there is to take this bus." She wrote a number across the top of the map. "You take it into Manhattan. Tell the driver you want the UN; he'll be used to tourists, and will probably announce it anyway, but this way you'll be sure. If you get confused, look for the flags around the UN Plaza. The bus terminal is --"

"Uh, yes." Kuryakin interrupted her. "I know."

"Then you're all set." She tore the map she had written on from the pad, and handed it to him. "Enjoy your stay in the city."

Kuryakin took the map carefully in his fingers, staring at the legends, the lines she had drawn describing his route. He started to say something, but realized she had already turned to another patron.

He closed his mouth and took a step away from the booth, glancing from side to side while blocking any casual view of the populace of his map. He had studied a document similar to what he held in his hands, back in Moscow. To be allowed to see that map, he had to show just cause and offer not only his identification, but sign several documents. The map itself had been labeled Top Secret.

Most maps in his country were guarded like secret documents, not just foreign maps, but even maps of the Soviet Union. And for good reason, since it was one more rein in controlling the movement of the population. No person was allowed to move his residence unless he had both a job and an apartment in the new city, plus verifications from various party offices that he was allowed to leave his present city and welcome to relocate to the new one. That was necessary, of course, since otherwise, given the choice, few would stay for long in the barren remote cities of the north. Even temporary travel was restricted. No citizen was allowed to travel in the Soviet Union without showing his internal passport. Travel was expensive, and difficult to arrange. And there were no maps. Transportation was largely public, and map-reading itself was an activity taught only in higher levels of military intelligence. He had never in his life been handed a map to keep. Even in London, in Paris, where subway maps were freely posted, they did not squander information and paper in this way. He shook his head a little to clear it, and decided to take advantage of the situation.

"Excuse me," he caught the attention of the girl again."

"Yes?"

"I wonder if you might tell me the name of a hotel, a good hotel, in the area near the United Nations.

"Well,"

"Preferably," Kuryakin specified, "one with an autobus."

"An autobus?" the girl looked at him curiously.

He caught his impatience and turned it into an ingratiating smile. "Yes. I have seen the hotels, with the small buses -- "

"Oh, yes. Of course. Well, I don't have that specific information here, but I do have a list of hotels and I can scan it and probably tell at a glance which are near the UN and has that service. Just a moment."

The two shadows stood on the gallery above and looked down at the transportation area. They could see, beyond the escalators and before the wide rows of double doors that led out to the taxicabs and autobuses, the bright blond head of their target, bent close to another blond head.

"This is public," the second agent said insistently to the first.

The more senior agent said nothing for a moment, then noted. "He is too close to the girl. We can't risk implicating a civilian."

"I am not willing to risk not completing this assignment. Do you want to wait until he walks out the door? Would that be more public for you? Perhaps you want to explain why we failed?"

The first shrugged, as if shaking off an annoying insect, before slipping his right hand inside his suit coat.

"Go and get in position," he said.

Kuryakin waited, watching carefully, while she put her hands under the counter again and rummaged through some items. Had he given away too much? Was she notifying some superior with a secret button? His internal alarms were clanging again, his hands clenched and unclenched nervously as she brought out just another folder of papers. He glanced away from her then, scanning the terminal. Then he saw it, the shadow just out of the corner of his eye on a gallery above, indistinct figures slipping back to merge into the shade surrounding then, but one tiny silhouette had been clear to Kuryakin, had been burned onto his brain by his training until it had become as instinctual a warning as the silhouette of a hawk high up in the sky can startle a day old chick: the tiny form of a gun in an outstretched hand.

"Here we are --" she started to say, before being interrupted by the whine of a bullet whizzing past them. Kuryakin dove across the counter, ducking instinctively behind it, knocking the girl down next to him, as much for his safety as her own, knowing the Gehbeh's hatred for involving foreign civilians. Another shot whizzed past him from the opposite direction, splitting the wood of the counter. He rolled again, knocking into a nearby newsstand. Papers from a dozen cities and countries cascaded onto him and he scrambled underneath their concealing cover. Around him people were screaming and rushing away, and the gunmen grew bolder as bystanders cleared the area. Several shots splattered the area around him, and he kicked at the newsstand's supports, bringing the entire structure down in a flurry of fluttering magazines and sliding newsprint. The tin roof collapsed as well, and he burrowed under it, and peered over the edge, just as he heard police whistles screaming. The shadows on the gallery above had fled, pursued as well, and searching for cover. But if he knew his neighbors, their assignment would only end with his death, or their own, if they failed to accomplish it.

Chapter Five

The Red Queen shook her head. "You may call it 'nonsense' if you like," she said, "but I've head nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!"

Through the Looking Glass

Screams halted Solo's progress around the terminal, screams and the sound of gunshots muffled by silencers. He followed the sound and the flow of gray airport security uniforms and blue-clad police officers, hoping this was some other problem, a robbery, even a hijacking, but not his Soviet agent. He rounded the corner, and groaned slightly. There, being pulled to his feet by two of New York City's finest, among the ruin of a newsstand, was the man Alexander Waverly had told him to meet, being taken into police custody. Satisfied that Kuryakin wouldn't be going anywhere for the moment, he turned in the direction of the shots, drawing his gun. But the shadows faded into the distance. Solo hesitated a moment, then thought better of it, reholstered his gun and jogged over to the knot of people.

"And he was asking me about buses," the girl was babbling as Solo drew near enough to hear. "And I gave him a map, and then, blewie! All these guns started firing!"

"No papers, no weapons," the officer frisking Kuryakin commented to the two others holding him. "Who travels without identification? Look, Mister --"

"Stand back, sir," one of the officers holding Kuryakin commented to the approaching Solo.

"Perhaps I can be of help," Solo offered, reaching into his suit coat pocket to pull out his U.N.C.L.E. card. "I'm with the --"

Kuryakin took a step back, his eyes fixed on the telltale bulge of the suit coat made by the U.N.C.L.E. agent's weapon. He swore in Russian, and twisted out of the officers' grip, pulled a police revolver from the nearest holster. The officers pulled back in midreach as Kuryakin cocked the gun. Then the Soviet agent retreated as well, backing up before ducking behind the remains of the booth and taking off.

"Damn," Solo said, and took off after him and found himself slung against the wall by one of the officers as the others went after Kuryakin.

"Who're you helping, buddy, us or him?"

"Look, I'm an U.N.C.L.E. agent," Solo snapped, and shoved his card he still had in his hand under the officer's nose. "It's imperative that I apprehend that man -- without harming him. He has information I need," Solo hastily improvised.

"Feds," the cop groused, and handed the card back. "All right, let's go."

They caught up to the other two officers at the edge of a baggage area.

"Officer? Officer, no!" Solo ran up to the two blue uniformed men, hurriedly holstering his gun and flipping open his wallet. "I'm with the U.N.C.L.E. and I can assure you he's not your man."

"I don't care who you're with. He's got my gun, and that makes him mine."

"Well, normally, I'd agree with you. But this, time, I think you'd be better off going after who was shooting at him. Those shots were fired from the gallery, wasn't that why you were down here."

The officer frowned. "My partner's investigating the gallery. I came down to check out victims."

"Well, this man you had in custody was a potential victim. There were no shots fired from the location of the Information Center, right? He was unarmed. That's why he stole your weapon. But he wasn't the instigator, I can assure you."

"What is he to you, buddy, your brother?"

Solo smiled. "Just a colleague. I'll go after him and return your weapon." He held up a hand. "Scout's honor."

The officer glared in disgust at Solo and his still outstretched identification. "You international spy types. All you do is cause trouble."

"Let him go, Charlie," the other officer commented. What's it to us, as long as you get your gun back? We've got nothing to do with Feds; it's better we let them handle it. "He went in there, buddy," he added. "It's a regular rabbit warren -- carts of luggage, conveyor belts snaking around from floor to ceiling. All the workers cleared out -- at least he hasn't taken hostages. They ran when he dashed in there, and he let them go. But he'll be hard to get out with all that cover to hide in. Who the hell are you?" he added to Solo.

"U.N.C.L.E. agent," Solo's companion replied.

"Yes," Solo confirmed, "and this guy can be a very dangerous character. Better let me handle him."

"The bastard has got my gun."

"I'll get it back for you," Solo promised. "Give me fifteen minutes."

The officers looked around at each other.

"Look, he didn't fire the initial shots," Solo coaxed.

"Yeah, Solo, and you've got to be crazy, firing into a crowd like that."

"I've already said, I wasn't the gallery shooter."

"Who was it, then?"

"I'm not at liberty to say at this time," Solo commented.

The cops looked at each other.

"I don't know," Solo amended. "But my boss will be happy to discuss it with the Police Commissioner, once we get more information. I'm sure we can get this all cleared up, if you'll just let me go after him."

The officers looked at each other. "You know it's best for us uniforms to stay out of Commission business," the second commented.

"All, right," the first one said. "Five minutes. And not a second more."

Solo jogged after the Soviet agent, wishing Waverly had arranged some sort of signal ahead of time to identify himself as friendly. In spite of what he had told the police officer, gaining the trust of an armed and dangerous GRU agent, who didn't know him, and had already been shot at and pursued, was going to take more than five minutes. But he'd learned in this business that you took what you could get. Then you took what you needed and renegotiated the difference later.

He ran into the baggage area and took cover behind a massive stone pillar, scanning the area. It would be hard to track a man in here. Carts piled high with luggage filled the area, conveyor belts groaned under hundreds of bags, tall pillars rose in regular columns in the cavernously huge warehouse. A man could hide in a million places among all the flotsam and jetsam of a busy international airport baggage center. And have a million more as cover from which to shoot. But his quarry wouldn't be shooting indiscriminately. Illya Kuryakin only had a police revolver. No extra ammunition. He wouldn't waste shots unnecessarily.

On the other hand, Solo had been forwarded the new Section Two agent's dossier, and seen the marksmanship scores recorded by the GRU. In good cover like this, Illya Kuryakin wouldn't need more than a one or two clear shots to take out a target. Even if that target were U.N.C.L.E.'s chief enforcement agent. As proud as he was of the appointment, he hadn't let it turn his head enough to think it granted any special immunity toward bullets. He knew that he had become even more of a target to Thrush with that appointment. It had made him more cautious, more careful than ever. A caution that had already served him well.

This Soviet agent had already been shot at, was on the run, defensive. He wouldn't be asking too many questions of anyone in pursuit. He'd shoot first, ask the questions later. Or would he?

Solo flitted to another pillar, mindful of staying out of the clear, his gun raised, scanning the area. At the back of his head hammered the conviction that this was the wrong way to approach Kuryakin. The man was running, yes, but he was also, according to his dossier, intelligent. Solo doubted that he'd be shooting at anything that moved. Or rather, he would only be shooting at his pursuers. Alone in a foreign country, under pursuit by the police, U.N.C.L.E. and god knew whom else, the man didn't have a lot of options. That had to be preying on his mind. He could run, but not forever. And where was he running to, that was the question? Given a choice, he run to U.N.C.L.E., presumably, since that was his assignment. And Solo was U.N.C.L.E. -- he just had to convince his new agent of that fact. He had to let Kuryakin know he wasn't one of those pursuers.

He strained his ears, but couldn't hear any sounds or movement. After a moment, he decided to gamble. Time to take a chance, with the Russian agent, and whomever was after him. Some risks were foolhardy, but few gains could be made without some risk.

"Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin!"

The rafters echoed his voice, but nothing else stirred. He scanned a quadrant of the area with practiced eyes, and turned to the next.

"My name is Napoleon Solo. I've been sent by your uncle, Alexander Waverly, to take you to him." Solo turned, craning his neck to search for flickers of movement in the shadows of another quadrant.

"I've got identification," Solo offered, when nothing was forthcoming. "I'm going to take it out, slowly, and hold it up."

He waved the card before the silent room. "Kuryakin! I can take you where you need to go. But you have to trust me." He turned again at the stirring of a pebble or some other small object dislodged in the corner of the room. As his eyes went toward it, a dark shadow leapt from the ceiling and fell on him, knocking him into a corner. Then the Soviet agent rose, his back to the wall, where he could scan Solo and the surrounding warehouse. Solo reached for his dropped identification but stopped, finding himself nose to nose with the police revolver. He could smell the oil and power odor of a well kept gun. Solo pulled his punch just in time, rejecting out-of-hand the notion of another battle. Bright blue eyes appeared out of the gloomy dark figure, eyes that held his as the Soviet agent's other hand took the gun from Solo's holster and stuffed it into his own belt.

"Don't move." The voice was a bare purr, cultured, with the Russian lilt considerably masked by British cadences. But the menace in the purr overlaid everything else.

Solo paused, considering the situation. He rather doubted Kuryakin would shoot him, since he was the Soviet's best hope at the moment. On the other hand, though not a .44 magnum, he still found a .38 was a respectable caliber to be forced to chew on, teeth to bullet as it were. He appreciated the threat of eternity suggested by staring down the dark hole of a gun barrel. That presence of mind had saved him and his missions when less controlled agents had gone for the bluff that wasn't, to a death that was real.

Jarring as it was to have his primary weapon gone, he'd ride with the situation for a bit. This wasn't a time for heroic animosity. It was a time for introductions. Time to defuse the situation, not escalate it.

"It will be hard to get to U.N.C.L.E. if we don't move," he said reasonably. "You're Illya Kuryakin, I presume. Nice to meet you. Sorry I was a bit late."

The Soviet agent didn't deny or confirm the identify. "What sort of name is Napoleon Solo?" he demanded. "Some sort of code?"

"No, it's real enough," Solo grinned in what he hoped was a friendly fashion. "No worse than yours, I think."

Kuryakin did not smile back. "Give me your other weapon."

"What other weapon?" Solo stalled.

The mouth twisted. "No U.N.C.L.E. agent would have just one weapon. You must have another. Produce it."

"Wait a minute. I'm one of the good guys, remember?"

"When people are shooting at me, I am no kind of good guy, and I have a gun leveled at your head," Kuryakin said ominously. "Give me your weapon, now!" He cocked his gun and Solo bent, revealing a smaller gun strapped to his calf.

"All, right, Mr. Kuryakin. I'll lend you the weapon, for the moment, with the understanding I don't expect you to shoot me with it. Further, I give you due notice that I am your future boss. And if you shoot his senior agent, Waverly will not be pleased." Solo handed it over, and watched at Kuryakin stuffed it in his waistband.

"I will keep that in mind," Kuryakin said, then tensed at a hail from behind them.

Solo turned and rose in one motion, ignoring the gun the Soviet had trained on him. "Listen, I promised the nice officer back there that I'd get his weapon returned to him. He's going to be a little disappointed if you don't comply."

Kuryakin stared hard at Solo. "I don't comply."

"My job of getting you to headquarters will be considerably more difficult with an antagonistic police escort," Solo commented.

Kuryakin didn't reply, scanning his surroundings.

Solo tried again. "Look, you can't just come to the United States and disarm everyone -- it isn't good for Soviet/U.S. relations. And since you have a veritable arsenal from me anyway --"

"What kind of a fool do you take me for, Solo," Kuryakin retorted. "I've checked this gun," his fingers tightened on the police revolver. "I know it's loaded with live ammunition. Turn it over? And then discover you've handed me guns loaded with blanks or not loaded at all? Next you'll suggest I take my eyes off of you to check out your weapons. No, thank you. The one I have will do quite nicely." Kuryakin moved back a pace. "Now, move, slowly."

"Where to?" Solo challenged, then answered for him. "You don't know where to go, do you? I'm the only one who can tell you. And I'll take you there, gladly, if you'll do that one favor for me." An insistent hail came from the direction of the police.

"Tell the officers to stay back," Kuryakin ordered, moving close in again and pointing the gun at Solo's forehead. "Tell them all is well."

"Nothing is going to be well if I don't get that officer's weapon returned to him," Solo said, losing patience. "As tolerant as I'm being, our local law enforcement takes a dim view of being relieved of their weapons, not to mention gun battles in the airport. I am an agent for the U.N.C.L.E. You are Illya Kuryakin, or you certainly look like the man, and that means you are an U.N.C.L.E. agent. We are on the same side --"

"The people trying their best to shoot me are even more my comrades," Kuryakin interrupted. "Alliances seem to mean little under the present circumstances. I am trusting no-one except Alexander Waverly. Tell the officers to retreat or I will kill you."

"This day just couldn't get any better," Solo muttered. "Officers. I have things well in hand here," he called. "If you'll just give us a few more moments." He turned back to Kuryakin. "If you kill me, you'll be worse off," he cautioned as Kuryakin raised his weapon on the U.N.C.L.E. agent. "Still pursued and with no options. And U.N.C.L.E. won't be pleased if you shoot its representative sent to escort you to Headquarters."

Kuryakin lowered the weapon, his brow furrowed in frustration as he considered that, and Solo's stubborn refusal. "What proof do you have that you are with this U.N.C.L.E.?"

"I have identification -- unfortunately, it dropped when you did. It's over there," Solo pointed.

"Pick up the identification -- slowly! -- and show it to me," Kuryakin ordered, not taking his eye off the agent.

Solo picked up the card, resisting the temptation to attempt to disarm Kuryakin. The agent's gaze seemed to be everywhere, darting from Solo to scan the baggage area, back to Solo again before the U.N.C.L.E. agent could make a move. The triple threat of assailant, police pursuit and Solo was taxing him, but so far he was handling it well enough that the CEA decided not to try and disarm him. And something told him that he'd better not disarm him. Something told Solo that whoever was pursuing Illya Kuryakin, it wasn't Thrush or any of their usual assailants. It had a distinctly Soviet feel. The feel of an unfinished feud that could only be stopped when the participants had settled it themselves. He wasn't going to let Illya Kuryakin get picked off, but he wasn't going to disarm the best person to understand the situation.

There were times when he hated the perspicacity that had made him CEA. It was so much easier to pick up a gun and shoot your enemies, rather than tap dancing around the issues.

Solo displayed the ID. Kuryakin spared it a briefest astonished glance.

"That is all that you have? A slip of yellow paper?" Kuryakin scrutinized the card with one dismayed eye, the other fixed on Solo, the gun still pointed at his head. "You expect me to believe this? A paper card? Not even a photograph? This is worthless!"

"Sorry. We're on the economy plan at far as I.D. cards at U.N.C.L.E. But I assure you that it, and I, am genuine." He put the card away under the Soviet's watchful gaze. "Now," he added, "let's give the nice officers behind us their weapon back, so they'll let us out of here."

Kuryakin said nothing.

Another hail came from behind them.

"If we don't do something about them," Solo added, "we won't get to U.N.C.L.E. on time for your meeting with Waverly." He saw the flicker of recognition in the face at the name. Like a fish nibbling at a line. "I wish I could let you speak to him now, normally I could reach him by communicator. But he's unavailable at the moment. Worse luck." The eyes narrowed in skepticism again, and Solo cursed himself for the lack of that all-important hook. His next words came out testier in his own disappointment. "In the meantime, New York's finest aren't going to wait much longer. You'll still have my two guns, one for each hand. I assume you're ambidextrous with a gun, as any good agent is. And you can't seriously believe my guns aren't loaded. So let's leave the officer his weapon and get out of here. All right?"

Kuryakin's face was absolutely blank. Solo waited, knowing he was at least considering it. "Do you always talk this much?" the Russian asked.

Solo smiled, recognizing the question for what it was, a stall for time. Rather clumsy, but Kuryakin was under a bit of pressure. "Usually only to women."

Kuryakin's face twisted. "I have heard of your type of Western agent."

Another stall. "Save the compliments." Solo replied. "Come on, what do you say?" He bit his tongue over further inducements, threats, or promises of Waverly. He was pretty sure that a second stall meant Kuryakin would come around.

Kuryakin hesitated, his face pained instead of blankly immobile.

Solo waited, giving him time to think. Noose to hang himself, as Waverly would say. Only this wasn't an adversary. What would be the right analogy. Letting Kuryakin take the hook? He only wanted to band him and throw him into the Section Two pool, not fillet him for dinner.

"I am keeping the other two guns," Kuryakin warned, finally.

"Whatever," Solo said, taking the lead and spinning into action. "Right now we need to shed these guys. Leave the police revolver. I'll tell the officers it's here, and we'll go."

Kuryakin took one of Solo's guns from his belt with his other hand, and gestured toward the Chief Enforcement Agent with it, as he laid the other one down. "I can shoot with either hand."

"Ambidextrous." Solo said as he ducked and wove through the carts, conveyors and passageways, making sure to choose good cover, with Kuryakin close at his heels.

"What?"

"The word is ambidextrous. I approve, but that's hardly the point, now. What is, is that we get out of here. If your friends, whomever they are were watching us leave the gun, they might get ideas. Who was shooting at you?"

The Soviet agent's glance darted around briefly and then moved back to Solo. "I ask the questions."

The Chief Enforcement Agent grimaced in frustration, "Look, Kuryakin--" he stopped as the Soviet agent paused.

"What is it?"

"Something is wrong."

Solo scanned their surroundings. "Do you -- ? I don't see anything." Then he froze. "Yes, I do."

Kuryakin dropped and rolled. Solo ducked himself as a bullet whined over his shoulder. Kuryakin rose to a crouch, brushing Solo roughly aside as the assailant fired again, then the Russian agent leaned over the CEA and returned the fire in one fluid motion, pinpointing the location and acting before the gunman could shift position.

Solo reached instinctively for his own weapon, blinking when he encountered the empty holster. His eyes flicked to the second gun tucked in the Soviet agent's belt, but he paused, not wanting to shatter Kuryakin's concentration, or create a scuffle where the unknown gunman could pick them both off while they were occupied with each other. He had one other option, and his hand hovered over his left sleeve. Kuryakin had rolled into new cover, forgetting Solo, his eyes fixed on one of the conveyers above, his gun following the scuffling sounds over their heads. A box, stained with blood, fell and broke open upon impact as another shot was fired wildly from above, missing both agents. Kuryakin aimed at a flicker of movement just ahead of where the box had fallen from and fired a second time.

Solo heard a sharp cry, a soft Russian curse, scrambling frantic sounds, and then silence. He started to rise, and then stopped at a sharp tug on his sleeve. He stayed crouched, watching as Kuryakin tilted his head, visibly straining to hear. Then Solo heard it too, the steady patter of retreating footsteps.

Kuryakin nodded curtly, and let Solo's sleeve go. "I think it is safe now."

"I thought you killed him," Solo commented with some relief, thinking of the paperwork involved if an U.N.C.L.E. agent killed a Soviet national in the United States.

"I shot the first one," Kuryakin gave him a look. "The second one fled."

"Two of them? You know these men?"

"Not them. Not their names. But I know how these things work. Who sent them. I think. If I am correct, there should have been two."

"Who sent them, then? And how do you know there aren't more?" Solo asked, looking up at the ceiling.

"Would not more be superfluous? They made their statement. I made my statement."

Above them came the soft smack of a silenced gun, a strangled cry to the left of where the Kuryakin had shot the first agent. Solo and Kuryakin both looked up with alarm.

"It looks like someone else is making a statement too," Solo commented, sotto voice. He looked over at the Russian's grey-blue eyes, wide with worry as the agent strained to hear. "Do you know who would be shooting at the people who are shooting at you?"

"I am not completely sure who might be shooting at me," Kuryakin answered, then seemed to collect himself, and shrugged. "I think we need to investigate."

Solo looked around. "I'm not sure that's wise for you at this point. I'm supposed to take you to Mr. Waverly. He didn't specify dead or alive, but I'm sure he'd much rather have you alive." He smiled grimly as the Soviet agent drew back, a little startled. "Joke, Mr. Kuryakin."

"I don't see the humor in this situation." Kuryakin rose stiffly, all injured dignity, and motioned Solo up with the gun.

"Targets usually don't," Solo confirmed. "And right now, you're a target. I'd rather get you to Headquarters, and bring in another team to investigate."

"A man doesn't live long, who doesn't verify his enemies. I will know the identify of the assailant I shot, at least. And I have the gun, Mr. Solo."

Solo shrugged. "It would take too long to get another team in here anyway. Well, it's your neck, Mr. Kuryakin. I would prefer more information for our report. Mr. Waverly can be a stickler for these details."

"Our report?" Kuryakin questioned, raising his brows. "Our report?"

"We're colleagues, Mr. Kuryakin."

"So you say," countered the Soviet agent.

"I'll overlook your bad manners, considering the circumstances --"

"My bad--?" Kuryakin almost sputtered in outrage.

"Just be careful," Solo suggested. "You may be holding the gun, Mr. Kuryakin, but remember, you're the target. Much as I might prefer escaping that particular honor for a change, I am responsible for you."

"I don't even know who you are. Don't think I trust you."

"I wouldn't hear of it. Where to?"

Kuryakin frowned at him, then shrugged, dismissing the conflict for the moment. "We need to go up one level," The Soviet agent looked around, frowning at all the signs in English. "This is your country and your airport. I assume you know the way."

"I usually let my conscience be my guide," Solo commented, then shrugged at Kuryakin's blank look and slipped past the Russian, taking the lead again. "Follow me. Let's try to find out who your assailant was. And avoid getting you killed in the process, although that seems less likely, with our little guardian angel up there on your side."

Kuryakin spared him a glance. "Keep your bourgeois religious notions to yourself. I need to know 'what' the gunman was. 'Who' matters little to me."

"Well, my friend," Solo replied, "When you've worked for Mr. Waverly as long as I have, you understand that he's always interested in the 'who', as well as proof of the 'what'. He's also going to want to know your our friend was, so think on that a bit," Solo glanced around and gestured, to the Russian, ignoring the gun he still held. "Up here."

Rounding the final corner, they came across the body, shot several times, once through the head.

Solo crouched anyway, and futilely felt for a pulse, but shook his head and looked up to where the Russian was standing guard, scanning their surroundings and covering the U.N.C.L.E. agent. "Definitely dead. Mr. Waverly isn't going to be happy about being handed an international incident by his new agent before he even signs the first paycheck. Not to mention a conversation with the police commissioner. He prefers to get a little work out of us before we cause him trouble. I'd better call for a body detail." He took a few coins out of his pants pocket, selected one, peeled a film off either side with a fingernail, and tucked the coin into the vest pocket of the dead man.

"What is that?" Kuryakin said, interested in spite of himself.

"A special homer. The crew on call has been notified; he'll be picked up and taken to Headquarters."

"You have a camera?"

"A camera?" Solo squinted up at Kuryakin, rummaged in his pocket, took out a palm sized notebook and handed it to Kuryakin. "Flip the cover back, take the pencil out of the spiral binding, align the center of the binding with your subject and tap the pencil on the top line. That takes a picture.

Kuryakin followed the instructions, his eyebrows raising at the slight click. "Interesting. This is an American invention?"

"Made in Japan," Solo smiled, but the smile didn't reach his eyes as he watched the Soviet agent take several photos.

"Have you something for fingerprints?"

"That's not necessary. The cleanup team will be here shortly to handle all that." Solo glanced at his watch. "We'll get one of New York's finest to watch over the body till they get here."

"I do not know the cleanup team, or New York's finest, as you call them. If you say this is important, I will get my own proof, thank you, to take to Alexander Waverly. We don't frequently eliminate a GehBeh, or they us, but when it happens, the circumstances are generally such that no comment is made. The body is enough. But if that is not the case here, then I will take evidence. These are my countrymen. I know what is necessary for proof."

"We've got the body," Solo commented.

"You and I are not taking the body with us, and I am not dealing with my countrymen. Bodies disappear. They can be switched, one for another. The only proof is here, now. Have you something?"

"All right," Solo slipped a slender case out of his breast pocket.

Kuryakin quickly took fingerprints, then slid the dead man's papers from his suit coat.

"Be careful with those," Solo warned. "Let me see them." He took them from a reluctant Kuryakin. "Hmmm. KGB. I'm not sure that it wouldn't be better to leave them with the body."

"I will give them to Alexander Waverly. Is saying in my country. The more paper, the cleaner one's --"

"Uhm, we have that saying too," Solo interrupted. "All right, keep them. It might not be very politic, but none of this is. Mr. Waverly isn't going to be pleased, but I don't think anything but a death, either theirs or yours, would have stopped them. They seemed to mean business," he fingered the bullet tear in his own suit.

Kuryakin extracted the weapon from the dead agent and tucked it into his belt. Then he motioned Solo to get on again with the U.N.C.L.E. agent's gun.

"Ah, since we've shared being a target, so to speak, I don't suppose you care to give me a gun back?"

"I don't think so. You were in a hurry, no?"

"I think we should find the second body," Solo countered. "It's just a little ahead."

For a second, Kuryakin hesitated. Solo half-turned in that direction, paused and swung back. "Problem?" he inquired.

"I did not kill that one."

"Nobody said you did," Solo said, surprised. "But for our report--"

"Someone did," Kuryakin countered. "And even for intelligence agents, is best sometimes not to know too much."

"Maybe where you come from, but that's not Mr. Waverly's opinion," Solo said definitively. "Come on, it won't take a minute."

Kuryakin's shoulders dropped. "Very well. Yes, it was ahead, and to the left.

"I knew it would be the left," Solo said.

The Russian agent took a moment to get the double meaning, then he gave Solo a murderous look."

"Hit a nerve?" Solo queried.

They came upon the body.

"Through the head," Solo commented. "Very neat. Whomever took this one out is a better shot than you."

"No," Kuryakin breathed.

"Vain, aren't you," Solo grunted, struggling to get the man's papers out of his breast pocket, removing the KGB agent's gun at the same time.

"Aivasovsky."

"What?" The senior agent squinted up at the Russian, who was staring across the warehouse. He tucked the gun in his own holster, a gesture that the Russian agent missed, so fixed was his gaze at the two men standing in the shadows. One of them had nodded distantly at Kuryakin, but they both melted away as Solo's stood.

"Who were they?" Solo questioned, looking over at his companion. "Did you know them?"

"Did I know them?" Kuryakin echoed. "I?" He turned to Solo, and his face smoothed out. "No," he said, definitively. "I never met them." He turned back to Solo and waved the gun in a hand not completely steady. "Let us go. Surely you have all the information you need for Mr. Waverly."

"Yes, I suppose I do," Solo said. "An UNCLE cab is waiting to take us to HQ. I think it's more than time we were in it."

"Was that wise, Mitya?" The First Deputy asked, coming out of the shadows.

"I wanted to see his eyes. I wanted him to see my face."

"But if he recognized you?"

Aivasovsky laughed softly, a hollow sound. "Of course, he recognized me. I intended him to do so. I do not promise to protect his neck against any but the Chekists, but he should not forget we have our eye on him. I do not think Illya Nickovetch is likely to forget. Certainly not after this lesson." The Navigator looked across at his companion. "Come, Karl, let us see what debts are paid and what prices will be exacted for this day's work."

Chapter Six

At the next peg the Queen turned again, and this time she said "Speak in French when you can't think of the English for a thing -- turn out your toes as you walk--and remember who you are!"

The drive from LaGuardia to Manhattan offered little to see beyond slums and cemeteries, a gray and appalling prelude to one of the most delightful cities . Because of that, Solo always found the task of escorting dignitaries from the airport to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters embarrassing, though neither U.N.C.L.E. nor himself was responsible for the depressing views. Once in Manhattan, pointing out the nicer landmarks gave him an excuse for alleviating some of the previous negative impressions, scanning their surroundings, as well as providing topics for light conversation that also served to take his guests minds off the often horrendous traffic snarls. He reverted to the pattering small talk with his Soviet companion, purely to lighten his own mood. He felt sure only a bulldozer could knock the deepening scowl off the Russian's face. "And there's the United Nation's building," Solo drawled as best he could with his arm twisted behind his back and a gun in his side. "Symbol of the cooperation of our two countries."

"You can skip the sightseeing tour," Kuryakin said curtly. Far from relaxing, the Soviet agent had become more tense the closer they came to their destination. "I am only interested in one location."

"Then this is the last stop on the tour. We're here."

Kuryakin studied the shabby sign. "Del Floria's Tailor Shop?" He fixed Solo with a dark look and snuggled the gun tighter into his back. "Why should I believe that this is the location? Give me some proof."

"Believe me, with the real possibility of you dislocating my shoulder, I'm not interested in any delay."

"That is hardly proof. You have no provable identification, and now you bring me to this? I need to see Alexander Waverly."

"Look, Illya -- can I call you Illya?" Solo didn't wait for an answer, "if you're so convinced about the security, then why should we let you even near Waverly with a gun. You're not exactly living proof of Les amite des nationes."

"Waverly recruited me. I'll report only to him. As for the gun, if you are his representative, neither he nor you have anything to fear from it. But I doubt he would expect me to surrender a weapon to a stranger who could very well be a member of hostile forces."

"Me, hostile!" Solo started to turn then yelped as his arm was ruthlessly twisted. "All right! I am beginning to lose my patience, my friend, but in the interests of completing this mission and getting you into headquarters, I'll play along. Before you rip my shoulder out of my socket -- which action, by the way, Waverly would not approve if it kept his chief agent out of the field -- I'll call him. He should be back from his meeting now. After all, you're his recruit, as you pointed out. He can decide what to do with you."

"How are you going to call him?" Kuryakin said suspiciously.

"I have a device, a transceiver, that's like a small radio. I can report in and you can talk to him too, and hear every word he says to both of us. But you have to let go of my arm."

"You had better be telling the truth, Mr. Solo. I have very little patience with lies. Also very good skill with a gun, particularly at such short range."

"The sooner you let go, the sooner you'll hear Waverly's voice. I assume you'd recognize it."

"If it is Waverly's voice," Kuryakin released his captive's arm abruptly, and pointed his gun at Solo's nose. "Make your report. But bring the device out slowly. I have a nervous trigger finger. And I warn you, I must see this Waverly before I will give up the gun. Voices can be faked, and I am not the gullible sort."

"I hadn't noticed," Solo muttered. He pulled out the tiny cigarette case and flipped it open before the Russian's visibly fascinated eyes. "Open Channel D."

"What is that?" Kuryakin asked suspiciously. "Some sort of code? No code phrases, or your head will leave your shoulders quite precipitously."

"Mr. Solo? Is that you?" Waverly's voice issued from the transceiver.

"Ah, no, Mr. Waverly. That was my companion. Your new agent."

"Ah, you've recovered him then. Splendid, splendid. Well, what was the delay? Luggage gone awry?"

Solo glanced down at his communicator, wondering if Alexander Waverly could actually be joking. His boss did have a quirky sense of humor, on the rare instances when it was revealed. He glanced over at his Soviet companion, but the blond Russian simply stared back at him expressionlessly, though of course the raised gun added a fairly hostile touch. He wondered if Illya Kuryakin's arm was aching as badly as his own ego did from playing the straight man in this strategic farce between agencies. Still, he could play the game as well as anyone, and his tone when he answered Alexander Waverly was smooth as glass.

"No, sir. We're actually outside of Headquarters, as I'm sure Security could report. But Mr. Kuryakin has rather a suspicious nature, sir. He happens to be armed, and he doesn't intend to turn over his weapon to anyone but you sir. Since the Security in the agent's entrance wouldn't normally allow that, I decided to clear the situation ahead with you."

"Quite right. Quite, right, Mr. Solo. Well, I'd rather expected our first Soviet acquisition to have some adjustment issues, though not to the extent you seem to be experiencing.

"What I'm experiencing, sir, is the barrel of a gun pointed at my nose," Solo said calmly.

"I see. Well, I appreciate your discretion, Mr. Solo. Perhaps I had better meet you and Mr. Kuryakin at the agent's entrance."

"Thank you, sir. I know I'd appreciate that."

Chapter Seven

Alice looked round her in great surprise. "Why, I do believe we've been under this tree the whole time! Everything's just as it was!"

"Of course it is," said the Queen. "What would you have it?"

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else -- if you ran very fast for a long time as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."

Through the Looking Glass

Kuryakin kept the weapon tight between Solo's shoulder blades, his finger on the trigger, the safety off. His gaze darted from object to object as they made their careful way in, glancing off the sign hanging over the door, to the old man behind the steam press to the suspicious cubicle Solo entered.

"Nyet. No. I don't like this," Kuryakin muttered as Del pulled the curtain behind them, Solo being otherwise occupied.

"Easy, easy," Solo cautioned. "Don't fly off the handle now. Do you think entering a secret organization should be simple?" The door swung open, and Kuryakin swore in Russian at the sight of the waiting guns trained on him.

"Hold your fire!" Solo snapped to the two agents standing at ready behind the receptionist. He snatched the weapon from the Soviet agent and tossed it into a safe corner. Kuryakin kicked the U.N.C.L.E. agent's feet out from under him and pulled him down, using his body as a shield, reaching for the weapon in his belt as Solo grappled to stop him.

"No, No, hold your fire!" Solo snapped to them both.

"Drop your weapon!" The guard ordered, his arms outstretched on the weapon he held, trying to get a clear shot at the Soviet agent.

"Waverly," Kuryakin hissed to Solo as they wrestled. "You said Waverly would be --"

"And here I am, Mr. Kuryakin." The older man stepped into the room, preceded by the swish of the pneumatic doors.

"Sir!" The guard sputtered, his glance going to the U.N.C.L.E. chief, and then snapping back to the man holding Solo hostage. "Sir, it's not safe --"

"Quite safe, Mr. Leslie. You're dismissed."

"Sir!"

"Dismissed. You make take your associate with you. That will be all." Waverly waited and then said. "Well, Mr. Kuryakin. I am delighted that you have arrived here at North American Headquarters safe and sound. And Mr. Solo as well," he added dryly.

Solo got his feet underneath him removed the other weapons from an unresisting Kuryakin. "He wasn't all that easy to get here, sir. 'How to drive a pig', no insult intended," Solo added to the Soviet agent. "Don't bother thanking me for the loan," he added, examining his gun and tucking it away.

Kuryakin looked at him askance and rose to his own feet, seeming a little stunned to have made it to his destination alive. Then he shrugged infinitesimally and addressed Waverly.

"I am Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin, reporting --"

"Yes, quite, Mr. Kuryakin. I am interested in your report, and in yours, Mr. Solo," the old man added, "but I don't propose to take it here. I suggest we adjoin to my office. Mr. Solo, perhaps you could first acquaint Mr. Kuryakin with the usual check-in procedures." He nodded to the receptionist.

"Good morning, doll-face," Solo said, leaning suggestively toward the receptionist as she tucked the badge into the CEA's suit pocket. He felt more like himself with his usual weapons all in place. "Did I mention you're looking radiant today?"

"Yesterday, Napoleon. Today you told me I was the girl of your dreams."

"You are, Wanda. And I haven't gotten bored with them yet. What about you?"

"I'll let you know. How about introducing your interesting friend?"

"Illya meet Wanda, one of our security specialists. Hardly a dragon at the door, but she serves the same function. She studies the monitors," Solo pointed to the closed-circuit television showing Del Floria busily pressing away. "She is armed and very dangerous. Aren't you darling? And, if you're good," Solo smiled, "and you pass muster, she'll give you this badge. All internal doors are badge and body-heat activated as part of the security system," Solo added. "She has to touch the badge with her own fingertips to activate it," he added, since Illya was regarding Wanda with some suspicion.

"Then there can be no reason why I cannot handle the badge, afterwards," Kuryakin frowned as he gingerly took the yellow triangle from the girl's hands, studied it carefully, then affixed it to his turtleneck sweater himself.

"Where's the fun in that?" Solo muttered.

"I agree," the receptionist replied, slightly miffed, watching as Kuryakin approached the inner door, his brow clearing as it swished open in response to the badge.

Solo looked at her and shrugged. "Be careful, Wanda. If you enjoy your job too much, Mr. Waverly might cut some of the perks."

"Same for you, Napoleon."

"Ah, but I think I'm doing my penance right now. Wish me luck." He followed the Soviet agent, leaving the thoughtful receptionist behind with no distractions but the closed circuit monitor to Del Floria's entrance.

If Kuryakin was impressed with U.N.C.L.E. headquarters or Waverly's office, it was hard to tell. The Soviet agent had followed the Chief Enforcement Agent with any thoughts he had firmly masked behind a expressionless front. He was no more friendly to Heather, who was guarding Waverly's door, than he had been with Wanda. Solo thought the new agent was going to be a disappointment to at least some of Headquarters.

"And you don't think the attack was from our usual adversaries?" Waverly questioned.

"No. This didn't have the fingerprint of Thrush on it. Mr. Kuryakin," Solo glanced at the Soviet agent, "seems to think the assailants might have been related to his organization. With this evidence, I'd say that's conclusive," Solo passed the papers of the two dead Soviet agents, the photographs, and a Luger not unlike the one still tucked in Illya Kuryakin's belt, that he had taken from the second dead agent.

Kuryakin stared at it, then turned to Solo. "How did you --"

"When you were staring at that pair across the way," Solo commented. "You also missed this," he tugged a jacket cuff back to reveal a tiny gun strapped in the sleeve. But, after all, it is your first day on the job."

"Then all the while, you --" Kuryakin seemed stunned.

"Holding a gun on me gave you something to do," Solo replied.

The Soviet agent turned crimson. Solo smiled at the agent, then shrugged as Kuryakin turned away, his icy rejection in cool contrast to the heated color that slowly faded from his pale features. He hadn't meant the smile as a taunt, but if the Russian preferred to take offense at every friendly overture, it was nothing to him.

"To get back to business, gentlemen," Waverly chastised.

"Yes, sir, sorry." Solo focused his attention on his superior. Kuryakin's brows raised at the title, then his face returned to its former expressionlessness.

"Papers can be forged," Waverly commented, poking at the pile. "Impressive as this evidence is, it would not be unlike Thrush to manufacture such an attempt an assassination to foment discord between U.N.C.L.E. members. I should hate to go back to Mr. Kuryakin's superiors without a certainty."

"Mr. Kuryakin seemed to feel the M.O. was recognizably Soviet."

"Emmo? Who is he?" Kuryakin twisted in his chair to frown at the senior agent.

"Modus Operandi," Waverly clarified.

"Ah, yes. I understand some Latin. They were not GRU but KGB."

Waverly finished going through the little pile of photos and documents. "Well, I tend to agree with both you gentlemen," Waverly laid down his pipe. It seems likely that your assailants were KGB agents, on a mission to discredit the Soviet presence, or more precisely, the GRU presence in U.N.C.L.E. North America. You needn't feel responsible, Mr. Kuryakin -- you are not the first to suffer the consequences of political divisiveness within U.N.C.L.E. affiliated nations."

The doors to Waverly's office opened on an attractive blond woman.

"Ah, yes. Mr. Kuryakin, I want you to meet Miss Drosten." The Soviet agent bowed stiffly in response to her reserved smile.

"Carla," Napoleon smiled, more charmingly.

"Napoleon."

"Miss Drosten is a member of our Personnel Department, Mr. Kuryakin. She will escort you to Section VI, our Security and Personnel Division, where you need to fill out some unavoidable paperwork, and she'll issue you some necessary documents. I think, given the events of the day and the lateness of the afternoon, we'll dispense with the full orientation and tour until tomorrow. Mr. Solo will be along presently to escort you back to this office."

"Yes, sir," Kuryakin sketched a brief nod to Waverly, including Solo in with the barest glance, and then followed the girl.

"The question is, how do we deal with the Soviet's antagonism," said Solo, as the doors closed behind the Russian. "Mr. Kuryakin won't be much use to us as an agent if the KGB are continually trying to pick him off."

"I don't know why not," Waverly demurred. "Surely, agents need to be prepared for attack at all times -- from Thrush, if nothing else. I hope this doesn't mean you're getting slack, Mr. Solo." He began slowly filling his pipe.

"Never, sir," Solo said. "But Mr. Kuryakin is a singular target, against all of the KGB presence in this country."

"Ah, but is it all? I will attempt to solve that particular problem from my end. The documentation you retrieved will be particularly useful in discussing this incident with Mr. Kuryakin's compatriots and I shall ask you both to submit a detailed report. Check out the sender of that message from the Aeroflot desk as well, Mr. Solo.

"I'm already working on that, sir."

"I hope to have this conflict cleared up in a few days, But in the interim, Mr. Solo, I wish you to keep a particular eye on our Soviet acquisition."

"You expected this, didn't you?" Solo asked suddenly.

"Not expected, Mr. Solo," Waverly reproved. "Perhaps suspected, would be a better word. Soviet responses are not always cordial, but they can often be predicted."

"And that's why you had him report to Headquarters here, rather than Eastern Europe, where he could slip in an out of the Soviet Bloc."

"He'd only end up quickly assassinated there. Here, at least, not every organ of the police is under the command of hostile forces. I suspect that Mr. Kuryakin might be of some use in that theater of operations in the future. But first, we need to give our Soviet friends time to root out their own internal opposition to representation in U.N.C.L.E."

Solo nodded thoughtfully and crossed to the coffee service, pouring himself a cup while Waverly studied him.

"You could have sent him to Survival Island," Solo commented, sipping. "He'd be safe there, five hundred miles off the shipping lanes."

"Insult our Soviet members by implying their agent immediately requires training? You would not have me take such a boorish move. Mr. Kuryakin will report there, eventually, though to the Soviets it will be recorded as an extended assignment undercover. First, however, U.N.C.L.E. requires him to serve as a more public presence."

"A target. To flush out the opposition."

"Perhaps it is a bit risky for Mr. Kuryakin, but I am confident that U.N.C.L.E.'s resources will come up to snuff during this period. And he is not without resources himself, as you discovered."

Solo grimaced. "You believe I should have figured all this out beforehand," he challenged, meeting the old man's eyes.

"In time, Mr. Solo. In time. I trusted you enough to retrieve Mr. Kuryakin. And you did not quite get him killed." At Solo's flush, he relented. "I don't expect our Soviet friends will take long to get their house in order, but in the interim, you should not expect the pressure to relent. Doing so might be dangerous for both you and Mr. Kuryakin."

"I understand, sir."

"I've arranged for him to reside in an apartment in your building, temporarily at least. The security systems have already been installed and Section V reports it secure. In light of today's activities, I'll have them review the security again before you take Mr. Kuryakin to it. You might find the furnishings a little sparse, but I imagine that to Mr. Kuryakin they'll be more than satisfactory. Review the security arrangements with him thoroughly. And set up a communications link in case he notices anything suspicious. Escort him in to Headquarters yourself tomorrow."

Solo nodded, listening with half an ear to these domestic arrangements. "The first assassination attempt was eliminated, and half of that by the GRU itself. Do you really think the KGB will mount another? Isn't that risky, considering their own Central Committee approved an U.N.C.L.E. liaison?"

"Of course. But the level of risk depends where in the Soviet hierarchy the conspiracy against a Soviet presence in U.N.C.L.E. stems from," Waverly replied. "Given the nature of power in the Soviet Union, that may be extremely difficult even for the Soviets to determine."

Solo raised his head at that. "Sir, how long is temporarily?"

"Never mind, Mr. Solo. Never mind."

"There's one furnishing Mr. Kuryakin might find lacking, sir. He hasn't been issued firearms, yet. Do you want me to go over that part of his orientation before tomorrow?"

Waverly looked irritated. "Surely U.N.C.L.E. security can keep him safe for one night. He should be no different than any other individual needing our protection. I don't care to have another session with the police over the actions of an undocumented Soviet national. Tomorrow is soon enough to issue Mr. Kuryakin weapons."

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, there is one more thing," Waverly said, as the Chief Enforcement Agent rose. "I just received on my desk a rather hefty bill for the expenses incurred in replacing a what appears to be an airport newsstand and its contents. Can you explain this?"

"That's legitimate, sir. Mr. Kuryakin dove into the newsstand when under pursuit by the KGB assassins."

"But was it destroyed, Mr. Solo? With all its contents? This invoice is really quite extraordinary."

"Well, he did kick the newsstands supports out, sir, and all the items collapsed onto the floor. Several rounds of ammunition were fired at the site, so there must have been damage from bullet holes. And then the police came and scrambled over the items to put Mr. Kuryakin in custody. The incident created quite a mess and the newspapers probably were unsalvageable. Many of the papers were foreign and probably expensive. And the roof was aluminum."

"They might as well have been made of gold," Waverly grumbled. "I have heard of safety in a free press, but this comes at an expense even I find almost too high to pay. Your first affair with Mr. Kuryakin was altogether too expensive, Mr. Solo. I was forced to spend a half an hour on the phone with the police commissioner and now I have this exorbitant bill to pay. I hope this is not going to set a precedent. You will simply have to learn to economize in your actions. U.N.C.L.E. doesn't have the budget of the CIA or even the Soviet GRU. I trust you will try to remember that?"

"Yes, sir."

"And remind Mr. Kuryakin, while you're about it. Dismissed."

Colonel Erik Karlovich Gerasimov, the First Deputy of the GRU in New York City's Soviet Consulate entered the Navigator's office without being summoned.

"Mitya, I have good news."

"Good news I can take. Have a drink, my friend. We have survived another day." Aivasovsky poured himself a shot of vodka and gestured his friend to a chair. "Who has not? Besides the two neighbors in question?"

"The Chekists are unhappy in their lair."

"No doubt. They are only happy when we lose."

"This is serious, Mitya. There is a rumor among the dip-couriers."

"There are always rumors among the dip-couriers," Aivasovsky said heavily. "They wouldn't know a truth if Kosygin himself flew over to shout it in their ears."

"The cipher clerks on the other side have had nothing transmitted for hours. One transmission for the Friends' First Cipher Clerk, and then nothing since he went into the office of their Navigator. A plane is coming in from Moscow. It looks like the KGB navigator is about to be evacuated."

Aivasovsky finished his drink and it was some moments before he responded. "Do you expect me to rejoice, Erik? If U.N.C.L.E. had made their deal with the KGB and not with us, it would have been me."

"Kir will be pleased with our work."

The GRU rezident shrugged. "If he is, he has not informed me."

"I don't understand you, my friend. You are gloomier at this success than I have seen you in failure, Mitya."

"Not at all. We have succeeded, and the Chekists have failed. So we, and Illya Nickovetch, live another day.

"Then you should be happier," the other grumbled. "You are spoiling my good mood."

"I would be happier if our leaders would make up their minds. Our neighbor next door merely followed orders, as well, but that won't save him. Once they have a man, it is easy to make him guilty of something. None of us lead blameless lives." He raised his drink. "They have us all -- all except perhaps Illya Nickovetch. He has a toehold out from their grasp. Let us drink to him and his freedom -- so long as it lasts."

"I will drink to good moods. They are more tangible. If more transitory."

"Very well, Erik. We'll drink to both."

Epilogue

How it happened, Alice never knew, but exactly as she came to the last peg, she the Red Queen was gone. Whether she vanished into the air, or whether she ran quickly into the wood ("and she can run very fast!", thought Alice), there was no way of guessing, but she was gone, and Alice began to remember that she was a Pawn, and that it would soon be time for her to move.

The row of brownstones looked shabbier in the fading light of evening, but the nearby UN building gleamed with the reflected sunset. Scraps of newsprint chased their way across the street in the fitful wind as Solo paused at Del Floria's to pick up some dry cleaning.

Kuryakin walked out past the wrought iron railings and breathed the scents of the city -- auto exhaust with faint hints of the nearby river. The intoxicating aroma from hot dog and pretzel vendors tickled a distant, ill-remembered hunger. His eyes felt gritty from weariness; it seemed a long time since he had stepped onto the Aeroflot plane that had brought him to U.N.C.L.E. The strap of the duffle bag he had brought from the Soviet Union dug into a shoulder aching from the day's activities. He missed one weight though. Napoleon Solo hadn't given him a weapon to replace any of those he'd handed over, saying he'd be issued U.N.C.L.E. approved weapons tomorrow, along with the regulations for their use. He rubbed his shoulder absently, wondering when, where or if he'd finally be able to lay his head and his duffle down and sleep.

Pulling up in front of the storefront was an U.N.C.L.E. guard with a handsome car, a convertible with a red interior, a beautiful machine, and as enchanting as a fairy coach. He blinked at it, thinking he had been too long used to a life where a transportation was battered buses, vans and jeeps. With the occasional Zil limousine for generals. He found it impossible not to stare at this wonder, so he turned his back on it, put a disgruntled look on his face, so that no one should think him coveting the trappings of the decadent West, and studied the tailor shop and the man exiting it with affected disinterest.

Napoleon Solo nodded to the guard who dropped off his car and joined Kuryakin on the sidewalk, several items of dry cleaning strung over his arm. The senior agent noticed the sideways glance from the Russian at the suit and gleaming white shirt encased in the plastic bag.

"Where else can you find a dry cleaner who sews on missing buttons -- especially the type that explode or turn into lanyards as needed?" Solo carefully laid the items in the back seat of the car.

Kuryakin watched, noting anew the U.N.C.L.E. agent's careful tailoring. Even in the dusk the fading light glanced off Solo's gleaming shoes, polished to a high shine, and the gold of watch, ring and cuff links. Somehow the man had gone through the events of the day without catching a speck of dust on his clothes, or marring their freshly pressed look. Kuryakin felt very conscious of his own non-descript dark pants and black turtleneck, travel-worn and combat stained. In the course of his own day he'd gotten a three-cornered tear in the knee of his pants, his knuckles were bruised, and, though he had cleaned up in the restroom as best he could, this capitalist still made him feel as if he had dirt under his fingernails. He regarded the man sullenly. U.N.C.L.E. must pay well, to allow such tailoring, but if that was the uniform, he didn't like it. How could he show his allegiance to his country's ideals, if he had to dress like a bourgeoisie capitalist? Or associate with those who did?

He looked away, annoyed at the thought. And annoyed with Napoleon Solo, especially the man's smile. The U.N.C.L.E. agent seemed to smile constantly, at least by his own dour standards. Not only did he smile, but he seemed to direct many obscure comments along with the smiles. The jokes, like the smiles, were undoubtedly made at his companion's expense. Judging by the searching looks Solo directed at his own face, the man expected him to share in the laughs. However, he was not one of those downtrodden exploited workers expected to grin when the capitalist bosses laughed at their subordinates. He'd read Dickens and Upton Sinclair in his English classes in the Soviet Union. He knew all about what lay behind those smiles. He was still Soviet, though, and not a part of these capitalistic games. He remained dour and turned away. Then, in the distance, something caught his attention.

Down the block of dusty brownstones came a woman with a baby carriage. The women was neither beautiful nor unattractive, the carriage neither new nor old, yet something in the very ordinariness of the tableau riveted his attention. He stood in the center of the sidewalk, not hearing Solo's curious questioning voice. When the women passed him, he found a small piece of paper had been thrust into his hands. He stared at the crumpled paper, and started to unfold it.

"No!" Solo knocked it from his hand, as a couple of U.N.C.L.E. agents came bursting from Del Floria's entrance. The paper was borne away by the agents and Solo. Kuryakin followed slowly, knowing, without having seen it, what it said. When he re-entered the tailor shop, Del Floria pointed to the back. On the other side of the coat hook, he was wordlessly directed by an agent down an elevator and into a another room -- with extra steel reinforcements, and a submersive tank for detonating packages.

He might have protested against all this pointing, against the seeming assumption that he had difficulty with English, but he decided the situation might have future use. Certainly it was useful for him to pretend a less than competence in the language -- he disliked speaking unnecessarily at the best of times.

Solo and some others were gathered around a handling box that had remote controls for unfolding the message. Kuryakin took note of the security with interest, but the precautions had been unnecessary. The note was just paper and ink. But the letters were Cyrillic. After a moment, Solo withdrew the paper from the protective glove box, glanced at it, then delivered it to its intended recipient.

Kuryakin held it loosely in his hands. The contents confirmed what he had been suspecting all along.

Very Good, Illya Nickovetch. Checkmate. You have won the first game. But the match is hardly over.

You have inconvenienced us a little with your assassination of our comrade. But we shall inconvenience you a lot. Your usefulness to UNCLE will be limited with so many wolves dogging at your heels.

Look for us again; we will be waiting around each corner for you. And when you don't see us, look for our shadows.

We will always be here.

Kuryakin looked up as a door swished to admit the U.N.C.L.E. chief, and he handed the note over.

Back in Alexander Waverly's office, Illya Kuryakin let his glance slide toward where the western sun was slanting through the slitted windows. He wasn't really tired. Not exactly. He had plenty of strength in reserve. Yet Moscow time was still six hours behind Eastern Standard, and the day seemed to have gone on interminably long, certainly longer than the 1441 minutes that it was entitled to. He would be glad for a respite. Or for some action, to chase the cobwebs away. But in the interim, he was back in his chair at the round conference table where they had repaired to yet again. Once more, they were all talking. He hadn't heard as much chatter since the Sundays he had spent in ranks, listening to military Zampolits lecture about how the Western world groaned under the yoke of capitalism. But the political officers had been wrong, it wasn't capitalism these people groaned under, but the weight of their own words, spoken unceasingly. On the other hand, the Zampolits had been right about one thing -- perhaps speech shouldn't be free. Otherwise, these magpies might be more circumspect.

He found himself wishing for the Soviet way, when he was called into a bare room, given a barer order. And sent away to achieve it.

Then he turned the thought away irritatedly. He was too young to be so set in ways. Survival implied adaptability.

Alexander Waverly held the note in his hand, studying it, then sighed a little, and put the note in his vest pocket and took out his polished briar pipe. Kuryakin eyed Waverly's prize with a certain unfriendly look. His eyes felt gritty enough from their previous meeting, without that smoke-belcher being fired up again. He was surprised the man used tobacco. His superiors never use tobacco and he had been forbidden to since he had been recruited into the GRU. But then, U.N.C.L.E. was not a military organization. He wondered whose rules he would be expected to follow, the GRU or U.N.C.L.E. Both, he expected, with a sour thought. He wondered what he would do if and when they came into conflict. Shoot himself, no doubt, and spare someone else the trouble of the execution.

"Did you contact the GRU rezident?" Solo was asking.

"Not with any immediate success, Mr. Solo. Unfortunately, there seems to be a conflict at the Soviet embassy, and I have not heard back from any Soviet representative. I have notified both the local consulate and sent a communiqué to Moscow that we have received their agent. But Moscow has been silent too. It appears, Mr. Kuryakin, we may continue have trouble with some of your countrymen."

Since no comment seemed to be called for, Kuryakin didn't reply.

The Chief Enforcement Agent glanced at the blank-faced Soviet agent, then looked back at his superior.

"Purely temporarily, of course," said Waverly. "In the interim, you would be wise to stay close to Mr. Solo, and until you are settled into the city and this issue has died down, you should take your cues from him. Needless to say, you should be extremely careful."

Again there was a pause, while both men waited expectantly. Not wanting to disappoint them, Kuryakin hazarded a "Yes, sir." Odd as the bourgeois title felt on his lips, it seemed everyone used it in addressing the old man. Kuryakin noticed Waverly merely raised and lowered his bushy brows at the sparse response, but the other man, Solo, snorted softly.

"It will be my pleasure, sir," The CEA added dryly. "Mr. Kuryakin has already proven himself a stimulating companion." He glanced over at the Soviet agent, as if searching for a response to that, but Kuryakin didn't see any need to change his poker face.

"I'm glad of that, gentlemen. Because it seems someone other than myself has designs on his future."

Solo leaned toward the Russian, and said sotto-voice, "And now that you've joined U.N.C.L.E., you'll discover only our chief is allowed that liberty."

"Quite, Mr. Solo," Waverly didn't seem adverse to the statement or its implications.

Kuryakin said nothing. He moved a little away from the warm voice so close to his ear. After a moment, he felt Solo withdraw. He didn't think the chill air that replaced him was solely due to the ambient temperature in the room.

Then they were out on the street again, he and Solo. Not far away, the United Nations tower rose like the spire of a cathedral, symbol of a new world myth that seemed just as impossible in its goals of peace and brotherhood as the ancient religions were. But far below where diplomats held meetings like priests celebrating mass, around this modern citadel of peace as around the old cathedrals, crowded the dusty streets. His wars were fought in these trenches, where he and his fellow spies, like rats, scurried and hid, practicing an equally ancient trade. Here, as in Moscow, the spires belonged to the diplomats and the generals. But the streets were still his.

The rats were the same, in either country.

The spies could not be so dissimilar, either.

No, it was not so very different, this America.

He could do this.

It could almost feel like home.

"I declare it's marked out just like a large chess-board!" Alice said at last. "There ought to be some men moving about somewhere -- and so there are!" she added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. "It's a great huge game of chess that's being played -- all over the world -- if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might join -- though of course I should like to be a Queen, best."

Through the Looking Glass

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