A little jaunt
Kuryakin punched the button for the lift with a bit more force than necessary, and then frowned and shook himself out of his mood. April always put him off a bit, in that she reminded him so much of Napoleon, minus a good bit of the finesse. And right now seeing old field colleagues rather galled him. He preferred to stay away from the Section Two operatives. Being in their midst brought back memories he couldn't afford to entertain. But at least where he was going, it would be all Security.
"Good morning, sir," Contre said, as Kuryakin came through the elevator. "I was just coming down to report in to you."
Kuryakin shrugged. "Well, you can report now. Are they done?"
"They should finish up today. You can do the final walk through whenever you're ready."
Kuryakin checked his watch and nodded. "I've got time before my next appointment. Check the limo arrangements downstairs while I go ahead and do this."
"Yes, sir," Contre disappeared, leaving Kuryakin alone with the last few technicians who were finishing up Solo's new suite. He nodded to them and reviewed it with the critical eye he knew Solo would bring to it. When his partner finally got around to making the trip upstairs to see it.
Solo had been reluctant to give up the notion of living uptown, even after the disastrous fire-bombing of his old penthouse. Kuryakin understood better than anyone how his old partner needed the symbolic escape of being away from Headquarters. The separation from work. The freedom. But as his security chief, Kuryakin hadn't been able to sanction the risk and he and Napoleon had clashed over the issue.
When U.N.C.L.E. had acquired the buildings directly behind HQ, making the U.N.C.L.E. property a quad, Kuryakin had foreseen the opportunity to create a true penthouse-type suite. He had the architects draw up a plan built around a courtyard, with open air terraces, space and light. While still a security risk, the danger was less than an uptown apartment. And right on top of U.N.C.L.E. HQ as it was, and as close to the UN as they were, the security was rife enough to justify the risk. The airspace was UN protected, with U.N.C.L.E. force to back it up. Because U.N.C.L.E.'s chopper pad and communication satellites were atop one of the buildings, there were rifle teams on the roofs at all times anyway.
So Kuryakin had worked with the U.N.C.L.E. architects to draw up preliminary plans that appealed to both his security instincts and yet still gave the occupants a semblance of freedom. After a day spent in U.N.C.L.E.'s windowless warren, that was a necessity. With a few adjustments, Solo approved them. Since they used in-house contractors, the construction took a few months. Now it was finished.
Kuryakin walked through the spacious rooms, liking what he saw. He found it a little rich for his blood, but as Solo so uncharitably pointed out, he'd find anything but a hovel so. But he thought it would fit Solo's taste. He walked to the sliding glass doors. They were heavy, bullet proof glass, as all the windows were. Nevertheless, they moved smoothly in their track. He walked out on the terrace, checked out the comfortable seating that had been placed there. The view was charming, you could see the UN building and the East River, only slightly obstructed by the bulky dishes in U.N.C.L.E.'s rooftop satellite garden. One of the dishes rotated on its track, repointing to a new satellite. Kuryakin squinted at it; it was focused on the bird that relayed information from the Far East. Napoleon must be getting the Section One report from Hong Kong now.
The breeze blew across the rooftop, ruffling his hair. He breathed in. The air was surprisingly clean up here, so far above the car exhaust, and even the street noises sounded miles away. There were even a few birds, of the non-Thrush variety, of course. Napoleon would like this place. Kuryakin could see him romancing a woman here, looking out across the night time city lights, settling down on the lounge chairs. Napoleon could relax here in the evening and get out of the confines of HQ. He knew his old partner hungered for that.
He went back in and pulled the screen door forward and then the steel security grill that was stronger than the bulletproof glass. The grill could be fired through, of course, but there was already security set up to protect U.N.C.L.E.'s communication satellites, which made for an effective outer ring. That security he'd beefed up and added more guards, infrared and heat sensors, motion detectors and other technical wonders that should sound an alarm long before anyone would get close enough to fire through the door. He checked his watch and sighed. Contre ought to be done, and it was time for his next duty.
Illya Kuryakin hated Solo's offsite meetings. He remembered all too clearly what had happened after Solo's first budgetary meeting with their UN overseers. While he'd recovered fully from that injury, just the prospect of Solo visiting the UN made all his old scars ache, his heart race, and a light sweat break out on his skin. But adrenalin was a good watchdog, so he'd heard. And it was all part of the job.
Still he particularly disliked them when Solo's destination was the UN. UN people were too complacent with their vaulted image of peace, overly lulled by distance from their own countries' internal conflicts, too secure in the knowledge of their diplomatic immunity here, too careless of their own security. Kuryakin didn't care where it concerned them, but he hated having them make Solo an easy target. Every time Napoleon got his name on someone's appointment calendar for a meeting at the UN, Kuryakin could feel his blood pressure rise. Sooner or later he'd have to do what Waverly had done, and insist these meetings were held in HQ. But while that was possible for some meetings, where U.N.C.L.E. was being solicited, for these Solo was the supplicant.
He finished checking out the limo and the exit arrangements, and went up to escort Napoleon to the car, absently fingering the extra clips in his pocket as if they were good luck talismans.
Napoleon nodded a greeting to him, finished checking the folders in his briefcase, locked it and handed it to his new bodyman, a young agent named McFee, who sole duty was to hold doors, take Solo's coat, handle his briefcase, and any other personal business, while the security team kept their hands free to shoot or if necessary, and to cover Solo bodily if there was trouble.
They didn't talk as they walked to the limo. Solo had the abstracted look that told Kuryakin he was thinking more of his future moves than his present. Kuryakin was in the fight or flight mode that always short-circuited his tongue. The limo left the U.N.C.L.E. garage and soared majestically down the street to the UN Plaza. The snap of the many flags against their riggings always set Kuryakin's teeth on edge, reminding him unpleasantly of gunshots, or whips cracking. He slid his fingers under his jacket to the solid security of his automatic.
The UN representative with whom Solo was meeting was from one of U.N.C.L.E.'s thorns, a South American country that, while a UN member, had never signed the U.N.C.L.E. pact. This made the country a haven for Nazis and criminals as well as Thrush agents and satrapies, and severely restricted U.N.C.L.E. operations, as well as denying U.N.C.L.E. operatives diplomatic immunity. One of Solo's goals was to sign up all these rouge countries, consolidating the U.N.C.L.E. network, and he'd been meeting with their representatives, using a combination of carrot and stick to convince them.
Solo's hands were tied as to official carrots, of course, because U.N.C.L.E.'s charter specifically indicated the benefits and requirements of membership. But Solo had always been a creative negotiator, seldom restricting himself to cut and dried restrictions even when Waverly was alive. He'd so far charmed three countries into the U.N.C.L.E. network, and Thrush was feeling the pressure as U.N.C.L.E. agents chased the satrapies out of the newly conquered territory.
They had made it through the UN gallery. At a gesture from Kuryakin, Solo's security escorts stationed themselves around the exits to the building and staked out the corridor and the delegate's office. The secretary outside looked rather askance at the phalanx of men who entered her office, men who clearly had the air of action rather than diplomatic flourishes. But she settled as they did, one by a window, two by the door and McFee in the middle. Kuryakin took the briefcase from him and prepared to follow Solo into the inner office as they were announced.
"I had the understanding this was a private meeting," Delegate Del Guardia said, frowning slightly as Kuryakin followed closely on Solo's heels.
"It is," Solo said easily. "Mr. Kuryakin was my partner, and now serves as my security chief. In delicate situations such as these, where private conversations need to be held, he also doubles as a bodyman, much like the president's Secret Service agents. He is completely trustworthy and discreet."
"So I have heard," Del Guardia said, measuring Kuryakin with a glance and not missing the bulge under his jacket where his automatic was stashed.
Kuryakin returned the nod and faded into a corner while Solo was offered and accepted a seat. He did not sit. He frowned as Solo was offered and accepted a drink, but at least breathed a sigh of relief when their host poured the drinks from the same bottle, and Solo further cemented the chances of survival by distracting his host and switching the glasses before they drank. Solo only tasted his drink and soon warmed to his campaign.
"My country believes in self-determination, Mr. Solo. We have thrown off foreign investors and influences in our industry. We were neutral during the war. We have no need of outside police forces interfering in the justice of our country."
"Without an U.N.C.L.E. presence, your country is becoming a haven for outside criminals and their organization: Thrush, which will do even more harm than outside imperialism."
"Then we will deal with them in our own way."
"With U.N.C.L.E. you will have an ally against them, ready to aid you in that struggle to keep your country yours."
Kuryakin shifted unobtrusively while the argument went back and forth. They'd known Del Guardia would be a hard sell going in, that it would take more than one visit to convince him, if he folded at all. But prior successes had fueled Solo. He had an advantage in that Waverly had never been able to shake off the aura of entitlement and imperialism that had shaped U.N.C.L.E.'s birth. In the beginning, U.N.C.L.E. had been an organization formed largely according to the need of the richer nations. They had the luxury or worrying about international criminals, whereas poorer nations had more internal concerns. The rich countries had their own espionage training grounds where representative agents could be trained. They had the cash to pay the member fees. They were interested in the combined intelligence reports U.N.C.L.E. could offer. Little of this had any straightforward benefit to third world or smaller countries. The fact was that Thrush often poured cash generously into these countries, something U.N.C.L.E. couldn't match. Like the Nazi war criminals with which Del Guardia's country also was peppered, Thrush paid handsomely for their admittance ticket. Solo often had a hard time convincing countries how, soon after paying that price, Thrush then did their best to take over the show. The secrecy issues surrounding a lot of past missions made that even more of a problem.
Having run out of obvious carrots, Solo was trying various sticks, "You don't want the honor of your country sullied by letting it become known that it has become a haven for foreign criminals."
"The press of my country would never report such an untruth, Senior Solo. Nor believe the propaganda written in foreign presses."
Kuryakin tightened his mouth the amusement of saying what they all knew to be the truth, that the state controlled presses in Del Guardia's country would never report anything unless they were directed to, and the truth of it hardly mattered.
As if subconsciously sensing that thought, Solo spared him one quick glance, and Kuryakin immediately lost the faint expression. Turning as quickly back to his quarry, Solo continued, "Perhaps, but your neighborliness to these criminals will become known to others, who will look unfavorably upon your administration for allowing such deviants to flourish. You should remind your president of that, and that his country could be ringed by those that support the U.N.C.L.E.. Normal neighborly relations could be adversely affected, the free passage of goods and such through both ordinary and diplomatic channels. There are many ways a country can lose its autonomy, some less obvious than others." Solo made this claim as boldly as if it weren't thin, since U.N.C.L.E. could hardly enforce it. But Solo knew from intelligence reports that a rich trade in smuggling, run by the political elite, ran through Del Guardia's country, trafficking in everything from ancient artifacts to weapons to drugs. Kuryakin saw that Solo had made a hit as Del Guardia shifted, stung at the reminder. Solo could set U.N.C.L.E. agents ringing his nation and while U.N.C.L.E. didn't officially concern itself with mundane issues like illegal trade, their presence could severely inconvenience it.
"I will give your recommendations all due consideration, Senior Solo."
"I'm sure your government would find it a rewarding relationship," Solo said, rising at this cue, and offering his hand as well a final carrot for the road. "Being part of the coalition of organizations who are fighting against world criminalism is an association that brings many advantages. Allies always bring uncounted value with their relationship."
"You make it sound very attractive." Del Guardia said, sounding sullen, rather than charmed. "But of course I must discuss this with my presidente."
"I'll be in touch, then, after you've had time for these discussions," Solo said, and then let Kuryakin usher him out.
In the outer office, things were more tense. Contre was there, and he sidled up to Kuryakin and Solo and said, "There's been an altercation. The point guard at the back entrance by the limo has been fired upon. He's not hurt, but we have to consider the limo isn't a safe exit."
"Is the corridor secure?" Kuryakin murmured.
"Then let's have this discussion there," Solo said, hearing the gist. They moved into the corridor where two of the guards secured each end, freeing the others to talk.
"Think they're trying to herd us out a particular way?" Solo asked. "We were set up in force on the back entrance. They've probably got all of them manned, hoping for a lucky shot."
"The UN guards are out by the back now," Contre replied. "Plus New York's finest, none too pleased at being called out."
Kuryakin shrugged. "It's not as if we called them." Since most of the UN presence had diplomatic immunity, there was often little the police could do even when they caught a perpetrator with clear evidence of a crime. It made them surly to deal with. Most U.N.C.L.E. agents, Illya included, had been roughed up by the occasional police officer mistaking an agent's enforcement of justice as the actions of a common criminal. Since everyone was carrying guns and identification came later, the police, to their credit, often couldn't tell. But while agents weren't supposed to carry a grudge, that didn't mean they welcomed police involvement with open arms. For Kuryakin, who had to deal with them constantly in his security efforts, the truce between his department and the New York Metropolitan Police was an uneasy one.
"So what do we do, boys?" Solo asked, perfunctorily, his eyes roving the corridor and the posted guards. "The longer we sit here, the more vulnerable we are."
"I think we should go out by the main entrance," Contre said.
Kuryakin frowned, "Give in to being herded? And those galleries are just too tempting for a shooter."
"We've got a force combing them now. I'll vouch for them being clean," Contre said. "I know you don't care for that exit strategy --"
Kuryakin made a face. He'd taken a few rounds for Solo there before and it had taken him a month to get back on the active list.
"And I agree it's likely that we're being herded. But I expect that they'll cover the back and the street exit on the south side," he sketched it with his fingers briefly in the air, "since they know we've used it before. They won't expect us to go out through the front, since we always avoid it."
"Let's take them by surprise and go for three," Solo said. "Send the two guards out the back, and have the limo pick them up. You and McFee go out the side."
"What about you?" Contre asked.
"I'll go out the front," Solo said.
"Not alone," Kuryakin said darkly. "I'm going with you."
"We'll do a little soft shoe number," Solo said.
"Run back to HQ?" Kuryakin asked disbelievingly. "No."
"We'll run somewhere else. Then have a taxi pick us up. It'll be fun. Give us a chance to stretch our legs."
"Right," Kuryakin said dourly.
"Time's a-wasting," Solo said. Let's do it. Let's make for the original plan, then break up just before the Great Hall." They collected their force, Kuryakin handed over Solo's briefcase to McFee as usual, and after a murmured conference, they headed out.
Kuryakin felt the gooseflesh creep up his spine as they separated. He heard the echoes of noise from the Great Hall, a Babel of sound. He and Solo didn't rush, they sauntered, outwardly casual, but with all due speed, toward the double doors. It wasn't till they heard a soft thwap which took out an Oriental jardinière near them that they high-tailed it, their exit punctuated by the screams of hysterical tourists. There was a billowing sound like a great flapping of wings and they realized that someone had cut the supports for the huge banner like flags hanging around the Hall. They were plummeting down like wounded birds as if they were giant nets trying to capture their prey. Kuryakin snatched up one banner pole and used it to swipe away two more flagpoles from braining them as they rushed away. Behind them they heard rushing feet, two pitter-patters, two assassins. Solo pulled a weapon Kuryakin didn't know he had and shot one point blank, the assassin's brains spilling backwards onto one of the UN banners, as Kuryakin shot the second. He aimed carefully, and managed to hit him in the shoulder, near his heart but not a fatal blow. The shock of the heavy caliber bullet brought the assassin down. Kuryakin spared a second to throw an U.N.C.L.E. pick up tracer on him, hoping they could retrieve him for capture and interrogation.
As if impatient with these niceties, Solo gestured to him and they pounded to the doorway. There they paused. The whole of the UN Plaza stretched out before them, an uncomfortable distance to traverse with no cover.
"Have I told you how much I hate your UN visits?" Kuryakin asked, rapidly scanning escape routes. "How about that way?"
"I like that way," Solo sketched a more direct route.
"Neither are you, usually. Why change now?"
"All right, but I'm covering you, Napoleon, not the other way around. Do try to remember."
"Always. Let's go."
They ran. It was pure pandemonium, the scree of police whistles, the screams of tourists, the thwap of automatic weapons dimly heard in the distance. Then, before they'd gone half a dozen yards, the howl of police sirens, and the louder percussive noise of helicopters. Kuryakin spared a glance, his special ready, to see they were both U.N.C.L.E. choppers, the skeletal globe emblazoned on the side. Everyone was running every which way on the plaza. They joined the mob, but headed for the street. A cab broke away from a line of them waiting to pick up UN tourists, and the rest of the cabbies signaled with their horns their disgust at this breach of propriety and a couple of cabbies opened their doors in confrontation. Kuryakin shot a couple of rounds in the air to dissuade them, and them brandished his weapon at the cab driver, just in case. But it was an U.N.C.L.E. agent and instead he shoved Solo forward, into it. "Go, go," he urged, meaning to go back and get the still living assassin, but Solo said, "not on your life," and pulled him in as well. The cab executed a neat U turn and took off for the U.N.C.L.E. garage. Kuryakin urged Solo down, in spite of noticing that this was one of the special cabs, with the bulletproof glass. He fumbled with his communicator.
"I want that assassin, the one by the Great Hall entrance. No, I shot him to maim!" Kuryakin snapped. "He's still there unless Thrush has retrieved him. I want him. Make sure you pick him up."
"We've got men on the way there, we thought it could be Solo, down," Contre said, his voice muffed as if he were speaking from cover, the sound of gunfire punctuating his words in the background. "He'll be back at HQ in fifteen."
"You better have a doctor standing by," Kuryakin said. "Remember, I want him alive," he warned. The cab drove through the security screen into the protected U.N.C.L.E. garage and Solo moved back up on the seat.
"Casualties?" Solo asked tersely as he settled.
Kuryakin relayed the request.
"Lassiter got his gun shot out of his hand, but it's just a flesh wound," Contre replied. "The rest was just noise and PR troubles. The UN guard is making noises about the tourist scares in the Great Hall and the ruined flags," Contre said.
"I guess you'll have to start holding these meetings at HQ," Kuryakin finished up.
"That's exactly what Thrush wants. Make me afraid to come out, or make it impossible for me to meet with the delegates. They're feeling the pressure," Solo said stubbornly. "Hoping this will make me stop."
Kuryakin sighed. "I'll speak with the director of UN Security again. Perhaps this will finally convince them to tighten up their security. The third time could see some tourist shot." He ignored Solo's dark scowl at that suggestion. "You can see why Waverly generally made everyone come here."
"And when I have Waverly's pull," Solo snapped, stalking to his office, "I might be able to do that. But not, now. Not with this effort. These aren't U.N.C.L.E. signatories. They aren't going to come to me. I have to go to them."
Kuryakin sighed, watching Solo stomp away. He knew Solo was right -- even a few casualties at home were worth bringing another country into the U.N.C.L.E. charter. It meant driving Thrush out of one more hideout, meant opening the war on yet another front. But it was hard to justify when you still had the sound of bullets ringing in your ears. And one innocent being butchered would bring even Napoleon to a quick stop. He went down to hail an U.N.C.L.E. cab of his own and catch up with the mop up forces.
Solo paced his office disgustedly. He'd just ushered out the last of three delegations -- one from the UN, one from the CIA, and the last from the local police force, all politely suggesting he consider the consequences of his UN visits. When he'd pointed out that he'd been the injured -- or at least targeted -- party and they should better consider paying a visit to the criminals involved or at least put them in jail, he was told Thrush was his business. In short, U.N.C.L.E. might have won another potential signatory, but it had lost the PR war on this front.
It was frustrating and annoying, but he had to admit they were right. If even one innocent was injured the three delegations he'd just received would have gone from suggestive to emphatic. He would have to stop bearding the lions in their den, and either lure them to his, or catch them elsewhere unexpectedly -- at a party, or have his intelligence forces tail them long enough to stake out their usual haunts and meet them there.
So be it. What he had to do he would do, to get every UN member on the U.N.C.L.E. charter, and even some of those who weren't UN members. That might have been beyond Waverly's dream, but he was three up on his mentor's old record. Three up and more to go.
Perhaps it was time to start bearding the real lions in their dens and not their UN representatives. He reached for the phone, something he held more than a gun now. And with his calendar before him, he started making calls.