Author's Note: In 1963, Gregory Peck starred in an enjoyable movie called, "Captain Newman M.D.", based on an equally enjoyable book by Leo Rosten. Angie Dickinson played his love interest, Francine; Tony Curtis was his orderly, Laibowitz, and Bobby Darin, Robert Duvall and Eddie Albert played his most memorable patients. I always thought Newman would have made a great U.N.C.L.E. psychiatrist, and I'm pleased to be able to finally write the character into a story. You don't need to see the movie to understand this story, but if you did see it, FYI.
Casualties of War
Somewhere in the Hudson River Valley. September, 1966.
U.N.C.L.E. agents who had served previously in the United States' armed forces all recognized the words, "Section Eight", as shorthand for a discharge due to mental instability. In U.N.C.L.E. itself, however, the term had a much more benign meaning. Section Eight was the organizational designation for Research and Development or, as it was more commonly called, "The Lab."
No, when agents shook their heads and muttered darkly about their less fortunate comrades, they didn't say anything about "Section Eight." They used a different expression:
What happened to Charlie?
Didn't you know? He's gone up the hill.
Gone up the hill. They were words that were never said lightly or loudly — simple words that would mean nothing to a civilian, but would burn, like acid, through the gut of any field agent who heard them. There was good reason. For as far back as anyone could remember, agents who'd "gone up the hill" never came back.
The hill in question was Silver Hill, one of those aristocratic estates that perched along the bluffs overlooking the east bank of the Hudson River. The sprawling mansion had been built by an obscure industrialist who married into a minor branch of the Livingstones sometime around the turn of the century. After the stock market crash in '29, the estate was sold and turned into a boys' preparatory academy and then, some years later, into a sanatorium for tubercular patients. U.N.C.L.E. had bought it in the late 1950's, after which it became known as the Copley Clinic for Recovery and Rehabilitation, at least to the outside world. Of course, none of the letterheads ever explained recovery from "what" and rehabilitation of "whom," but since the clientele was exclusively U.N.C.L.E. personnel, no one ever bothered to ask.
In the spring, Louis Doyle of Section Two had gone "up the hill" after being used as a guinea pig by THRUSH to test an early formulation of the notorious Plus-X drug. And now it was two seasons later, and Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were traveling a straight line upstate from the city to visit Louis and report on his condition.
"I can see why Mr. Roosevelt and all those American robber barons built their homes around here," Kuryakin observed casually, as he surveyed the passing scenery. "It really is quite beautiful."
He was behind the wheel of a brand new Lincoln Continental, the most luxurious vehicle in the carpool, Waverly's compensation for what would undoubtedly be a deeply depressing assignment. At the moment, however, the day was pleasant with the sun bronzing the autumnal leaves of gently rolling forests, and traffic was light. Kuryakin didn't even mind that this was supposed to be his day off. It seemed like a good way to get away from the office without having to be shot at, and not so incidentally, Napoleon had looked like he needed the company.
From the passenger seat alongside, Solo merely grunted in response. They'd been driving over two hours, taking the highway north through Yonkers and Tarrytown, past West Point and Poughkeepsie, almost all the way to Rhinebeck, and in all that time, Napoleon hadn't uttered one complete sentence. Mostly, he'd just stared out the window, seeing nothing, and chain-smoked. As Solo lit his fifth cigarette, Kuryakin discreetly hit the switch to roll down the power windows.
"I hear it's a really excellent facility," the Russian agent said, after a moment. "One of the best of its kind in the country. They tell me it doesn't even look like a hospital."
"It's a nuthouse," Solo responded irritably, as if that said it all.
"Mmmm," Napoleon said, reluctantly conceding the point.
The clinic also handled catastrophic physical injuries. Agents who'd been burned or blinded, had their limbs amputated or their spines severed, were sent first to the best specialized medical centers available for treatment, and then transferred later for rehabilitation. Nevertheless, when the body was so brutalized as to merit a stay at Silver Hill, the mind suffered as well. For that reason, the clinic was primarily a psychiatric hospital. Even its director had long experience in the mental health field.
"Is it really that bad?" Kuryakin asked quietly. He'd never visited Silver Hill before.
His partner sighed. "Like being a tourist in hell."
"You might have given the assignment to someone else, you know. You didn't have to do this, yourself."
Illya was right, obviously. Filing routine status reports was not the usual work of a Section II chief. But Louis had been more than a subordinate, more than one of the best damn field agents in New York. He'd been a good friend.
"Yes. I did," Solo said simply. The last time they'd both seen Doyle, he was a sweating, raving lunatic, screaming at the top of his lungs. It had taken two burly Section VI men to subdue him and two more to get him strapped into the straitjacket.
"Well, the director knows we're coming," Kuryakin offered, trying to be conciliatory. He was groping, unaccustomed to seeing Napoleon this way. In their partnership, nursing black moods was Illya's prerogative. "We shouldn't have to stay long."
"If only the same could be said for poor Louis."
"But then again, who knows? Perhaps his condition has improved. Perhaps —"
Kuryakin caught himself. Solo was staring at him as if he'd gone mad, himself. The Russian shrugged helplessly, then shut his mouth and directed his attention back to the road. Solo stubbed out his cigarette in the overflowing ashtray, turned back to the open window and lit another.
Kuryakin's information, gleaned from the office grapevine, turned out to be accurate. Silver Hill didn't look anything like a traditional hospital. It wasn't only the electrified fences, the heavily armed guards stationed at the huge iron gates, and the occasional watchdog patrolling nearby. These were security measures well beyond those of the usual psychiatric facility, even for the asylums that often served as thinly disguised detention centers in Kuryakin's own homeland. Here, of course, the measures were less to keep the patients in then to keep danger out. An U.N.C.L.E. field agent in so vulnerable a condition was a tempting target for Thrush, among others.
But once the Lincoln eased past the gatehouse and began to follow the rising access road, the landscape on either side opened up to reveal lush, well-manicured lawns and cobblestone paths that wound through well-tended gardens.
If this is hell, the Russian agent thought, it's certainly a long way from the one envisioned by Dante.
Solo glanced sideways at his partner, saw the expression on Kuryakin's face, and read his mind. Silver Hill looked nice, pretty even. Comfortable. Peaceful. Serene.
But all the goddamn rose bushes in the world couldn't cover up the stink of failure that permeated every inch of the place like poison gas. This is where you ended up when Lady Luck not only deserted you, but also flipped you the finger before she slammed the door.
Solo tried not to notice, but he couldn't help but see them as the car neared the mansion: first it was the nurses. Then, the nurses with the men in bathrobes. And finally, the nurses pushing the men in bathrobes who now sat in wheelchairs.
There by the grace of God go I...
But that wasn't the worst of it. As Kuryakin eased the Lincoln slowly past the driveway into the small rear parking lot, Solo's eyes drifted along the building's facade, picking out the windows of the east wing. Most of them were small and shuttered, empty of life, and all of them were heavily barred. The worst, Solo knew, lay behind those bars.
That's where Louis is, he told himself.
Kuryakin found a space marked for visitors and pulled into it.
"Well," he said, exhaling a deep breath as he cut the engine. He looked to his partner, but Solo was already climbing out the open passenger door. They left the car and crossed the small lot without exchanging another word.
Up close, Silver Hill was an eclectic affair, a stately three-story mansion with several newer wings attached. Painted ivory, the walls took on the color of buttermilk in the glow of the early afternoon sun. The architecture of the main house was Georgian revival, with a long columned porch and a balustrade beyond it framing a spectacular view. One could imagine lazy weekends spent here, watching the boats on the river. There were no boats at the moment but the few residents being wheeled along the balustrade didn't seem to care.
A blonde middle-aged woman dressed in a crisp white uniform met them at the front entrance. "Nice to see you again, Mr. Solo," she greeted them warmly.
"I wish I could say the same," Solo sighed, shaking her extended
hand. "But every time we meet, it's business, and not pleasant business at that." He motioned in the Russian agent's direction. "This is my partner, Illya Kuryakin."
"Hello," the woman said, redirecting her handshake. "I'm Francine Newman, Director of Nursing. Please, call me Francie."
"Very pleased to meet you," Kuryakin said, returning it. He meant it, too. The woman before him belied all the clichés about chief nurses in psychiatric hospitals. Her hands were surprisingly strong and firm, but she had an incredibly wide, gentle smile and a voice as soothing as a warm bath. She was the wife of the director, Dr. Josiah J. Newman, and rumor had it — a rumor, apparently, started by Dr. Newman himself — that he'd proposed to her during the war because she was so beautiful, she could coax terrified, hallucinating soldiers out from under their beds in the psychiatric ward.
As she escorted the agents into the building and down a main corridor, past more security guards and more nurses accompanying more patients, she said, "Dr. Newman told me to apologize for not being able to give you the traditional V.I.P. welcome. At the moment, he's in the middle of one of our daily crises."
"How is your husband?" Solo asked.
Francie Newman shrugged good-naturedly and smiled. "What can I say? Joe will always be Joe."
Kuryakin wasn't quite sure what that meant until they neared what looked like a rabbit warren of administrative offices and heard a deep baritone voice booming in the distance.
"What the hell do you mean four days?!!"
They turned a corner and breezed through a secretary's anteroom
before entering the director's office. The secretary rolled her eyes and sighed at Mrs. Newman as the group passed by.
"Well, that's just plain unacceptable," Dr. Newman growled through gritted teeth into the phone. He was holding the receiver so tight, he looked like he wanted to use it to throttle whomever was on the other end of the line.
"Joe?" Francine said.
In his middle fifties, Newman looked like a patriarch in every sense of the word — the fierceness of an old-time prophet curiously balanced with the father you wished you had. He was a handsome man, tall and square-jawed and solid as granite, with fierce black eyebrows and a shock of silver that ran through his full head of jet-black hair like an unexpected bolt of lightning. He was known to be a gifted researcher as well. During World War II, he'd done groundbreaking work with combat flyers at a time when Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome was still casually called "combat fatigue."
Despite the bluster, Kuryakin liked him immediately. Not quite the personality one would expect in a psychiatrist, yet the man radiated decency.
"I understand," Newman was saying, "uh-huh... yes ... hmm-mmm. Yes, I understand it's a matter of security... No, we can't be too careful... certainly... Yes, I told you, I do understand ... Okay. Right, got it. But, look — now I have a question for you: What do you expect my patients to use to wipe their backsides for the next couple of days — maple leaves?!"
And with that he slammed the phone.
"Can you believe it?" Newman grumbled, addressing himself to the agents who'd been waiting patiently on the other side of the gigantic desk. The desk itself was a study in organized chaos. "Someone sabotaged our shipment of toilet paper. A janitor found a pipe bomb stuffed in one of the cardboard cylinders this morning and now some moron from God knows where —."
"Probably Section V," Solo offered helpfully.
" — whatever — is telling me that they have to inspect every damn roll in the entire shipment. And it's a three month supply!"
The agents exchanged knowing glances. The situation was serious but also absurdly comic at the same time: just another typical day at the office. "Working for U.N.C.L.E. can be a unique experience sometimes," Solo sympathized. "I'll bet you never saw anything like this in the Air Force."
"The Army Air Corps," Newman corrected, "and don't be so sure." The doctor had a way of leaning forward, jutting out his jaw and cocking his head so that the black eyes peering out from under those formidable eyebrows seemed to bore right into you. He did this now. "You never met Jackson Laibowitz."
"Who?" Solo asked, genuinely at a loss.
"An orderly I had assigned to me during the war. A real con man and a maniac, almost as neurotic as the patients —"
"Oh, Joe," Francine admonished him softly, but she couldn't help smiling.
"— but endlessly resourceful and nervy as all get-out." Newman's face broke into a grin that matched his wife's. "He would've fit right in with you fellows in Enforcement." With a tip of his chin, Solo acknowledged the compliment and then took the opportunity to introduce Illya to the doctor. Afterward, Newman gestured for everyone to take a seat, then dropped into his own with a sigh. "So what can we do for you?"
"They've come about Louis Doyle," Francine reminded him, prompting Newman to dig into a tall pile of folders. As he did, he shook his head, his face growing dark. "Oh yes, of course. Nasty — nasty business." It took a moment to excavate the appropriate file. He tossed it to Solo, who scanned it while he listened.
"Monstrous, what they did to that boy," Newman went on. "To experiment on a human being like that. More than irresponsible. Unconscionable. Like something the Nazis would do."
His eyes still on the file page, Solo shrugged. "Well, the two groups do subscribe to a similar philosophy — hooray for us and to hell with everybody else."
"What did they do to Louis, exactly?" Kuryakin asked. "The Thrush infiltrators who were injected with Plus X suffered no ill effects. Even the security guards who ingested Minus X recovered completely."
Newman rubbed his cheek. "How much do you know about how the brain operates?"
"I never studied neuroscience," Kuryakin replied with a shrug, "but I understand the various structures and their functions."
Newman found a crumpled but blank sheet of paper in one of the nearby piles, grabbed a pen from his pocket and sketched a kidney shaped outline. Solo glanced up from his reading to watch. Kuryakin leaned slightly forward with interest.
"Okay," explained the doctor, "so this is a human brain. Here's the frontal lobe. Here's the parietal in back of it. Right about here is where the sensory cortex is located, where the brain receives impulses from the sensory receptors and sorts them out. Back here, in the temporal lobe, is hearing and memory and a bit behind it, in the occipital lobe, is the visual center. You wound a man here, shear off a piece the occipital, and he'll go blind.
"Despite the fact that they seem to be located in different places, vision, sound and touch are linked. They complement one another, support one another. Obviously, the neurons are linked as well.
"Your Madame Frankenstein theorized that stimulating this neural network to enhance the processing would also increase intelligence."
"She told us that heightening the senses would improve the faculties of the mentally retarded," Solo said.
"Oh yeah?" Newman laughed sourly. "Well, she had it backwards. If a developmentally disabled person had taken the original Plus X, it would've killed him." He tipped his head in Kuryakin's direction. "I'm guessing you've a taste for the technical. True?"
The Russian agent suppressed a smile and nodded.
"So tell me: what happens when you hook a pair of inferior speakers to your hi-fi and then turn the volume all the way up to the maximum."
"You overload the system and blow out the speakers."
"Exactly. Well, that's sort of what happened to your colleague, Louis. He was receiving more input than the rest of his brain could handle. But Stemmler was smart enough to learn from her mistake. The improved Plus X artificially stimulated the entire cerebral cortex so that the thinking part of the brain could process the deluge of sensory input properly. Of course, the boost was only temporary. That's why the effects didn't last long."
"And why the Thrush commando team was on such a tight schedule," Solo added. "But I don't understand why Louis didn't recover too."
"Because remember: the original Plus X was limited to the sensory network and meant to alter it permanently. As far as we can judge, that's exactly what it did."
"You mean Louis' senses are still at the heightened level?"
Newman nodded. "Your colleague isn't clinically insane — but he is so hypersensitive, that the smallest stimulation is excruciating — agonizing to the point of madness. For Mr. Doyle, the drop of a pin sounds like a car crash. Knock over a tray of dishes, and it's like a sonic boom. Now think about that for a moment and extrapolate it to the other senses."
Solo whistled softly through his teeth and Kuryakin asked, "What can you possibly do to treat him? Medicate him into insensibility?"
"Well, yes, but I prefer not to," Newman said, rising from his chair. "We try to keep him comfortable instead. C'mon, I'll show you."
They followed the doctor back through the anteroom past the secretary and down the main hall with Francine Newman bringing up the rear. As they walked, Solo asked, "Can't you give Louis Minus X as an antidote?"
Newman shook his head. "Impossible. Two problems: first, the original Plus X had no Minus counterpart because it was intended to be permanent. Second, as a hedge against her employers, Stemmler kept incomplete notes. Key parts of the formula are missing."
The agents nodded. They'd heard that, too.
"Brain chemistry is a very tricky thing. I have seven labs around the world right now trying to synthesize a useable dose of either Plus or Minus X. No one has come close."
"Perhaps when Professor Stemmler died," Kuryakin remarked, "her formula died with her."
"Let's hope not," the doctor replied gloomily, "if only for Mr. Doyle's sake."
They'd arrived at a small room filled with banks of black and white closed-circuit monitors. Two nurses and a technician bustled about, keeping an eye on the dozen or so screens, watching the patients, occasionally conferring with one another and taking notes. The activities of the patients themselves varied. Here, a wide-awake man lay, still and unmoving, in his bed. There, another did nothing but move, tracing a nervous path across the foot of his bed, back and forth, back and forth, like a guard at Buckingham Palace.
"Ah — which one is Louis?" Solo asked, searching the monitors for a familiar face. Newman pointed to the lower corner of the console, near his right elbow.
Solo arched an eyebrow, confused. He looked at Kuryakin who seemed similarly at a loss. Unlike the other screens, which presented scenes that were normally lit, this one was black. Indeed, it appeared to be turned off.
But then, suddenly, Solo noted a shadowy line of movement. Narrowing his eyes, he drew closer to the screen with Kuryakin beside him. It took a moment for his sight to adjust to the barely discernible silhouette of a naked man lounging in a chair shaped like a big, overstuffed bag.
"He can't tolerate the feel of cloth on his skin," Newman explained, answering the question on Solo's face. "We've tried everything, even expensive silk. It's not only the texture, but the weight of the fabric. So now we just adjust the temperature in his room."
"Why doesn't he have a bed?"
"Can't tolerate that either. He's so acutely aware of the gravity of his own body, that lying on a mattress feels like reclining on a cement floor. They use those bags in other hospitals for patients with severe muscular atrophy, so I brought one in for Mr. Doyle. He found it acceptable, though it hasn't solved the problem of sleep. We're thinking of buying him a water mattress."
"Do you always keep it so dim?" Solo asked. He could barely make out the contours of Louis' body. Apparently, the only source of light in the room was a tiny nightlight the size of a Christmas tree bulb.
"Five watts seems to be the limit. Anything more and to Mr. Doyle, it feels as hot and bright as a sunlamp."
"He's reading," Kuryakin observed, his matter-of-fact tone betraying incredulity. Solo squinted and realized that his partner was right.
"Amazing, isn't it?" Newman said. "He can see in what we would consider darkness. His eyesight is more acute than a cat's, but it's not adjustable. What a pity, eh? To be able to see so well that it hurts?"
"You mentioned a problem with sleeping," Kuryakin said. "Have you tried a sensory deprivation tank?"
"Oh, certainly. That's how Mr. Doyle gets his peace and quiet. Of
course, we can't leave him floating in there permanently. No human being can live completely without any sensory input whatsoever. That would, indeed, drive him mad."
"It's as if his entire body is one exposed raw nerve," Solo murmured to no one in particular. Although the clinical details turned his stomach, the image of Louis had an eerie if perverse fascination and he found that he couldn't turn away. How many times had he chided himself on a mission for failing to see or hear or sense a threat before it was too late? What would it be like to work in the field with superhuman faculties? Louis should be invincible. Instead, he was helpless. What could have been a gift, was a curse. What irony, and what a colossal waste.
"I would assume that since his taste is probably also acute, you've had to limit his diet," Kuryakin was saying.
"We do serve him bland foods, yes," Mrs. Newman agreed. "I'm afraid any intense sensual feeling the rest of us know as pleasure, has become far too dangerous for Mr. Doyle."
All pleasure? Solo wanted to ask, but didn't. "I'd like to see him, talk to him, if that's possible," the agent said, looking to Francine. "We were close friends." He dropped his eyes and corrected himself, "We are close friends."
The woman nodded in wordless sympathy. "Francie," Newman said, "why don't you inquire if Mr. Doyle is up to receiving visitors today?" When she left the room he added, "If she can't convince him to see you, nobody can."
They waited patiently for Mrs. Newman to arrive at Louis' room. When she did, the light on the screen brightened slightly, apparently raised by a dimmer switch. Louis reached for a pair of sunglasses and slipped them on. Francine's image appeared in the television frame, the whiteness of her uniform emerging from the contrasty shadows like a ghost.
"Mr. Doyle?" Her normal speaking voice had a breathy quality to it and now, as she addressed Louis, it was little more than a whisper. Solo reached down to the knob on the console and turned up the volume.
Even set to maximum, however, Francine's soft, comforting words were barely audible and the agents had to strain to hear.
"Mr. Doyle, [something] ... visitors."
Louis looked up from his reading. "Oh?" He seemed surprised.
"Yes. [Something, something]... here to see you."
"Your friend, Napoleon. And his partner, Illya. If you [something, something, something]..."
But the patient wasn't listening. He swiveled, and looking up in the direction of the camera, he murmured: "Napoleon?"
For a few seconds, Louis was frozen and staring, as if he could gaze right through the lens to the other side. Even with the dark sunglasses in place, one could see the expressions that crossed his stricken face: Confusion transmuting into comprehension. Then into denial. Into distress. Into sorrow. And finally, into shame.
Solo took a step backwards without realizing he'd done so. Suddenly, he felt more than embarrassed. He felt utterly appalled — with himself, with the situation — like a voyeur caught in the act. The pain of the moment was so sharp, so visceral, it squeezed a groan out of him from somewhere deep inside his chest. The agent closed his eyes and turned away, wanting to look here, there, anywhere but at that image on the screen.
"Would you like to see him?" Francine coaxed, back in room.
"No..." Louis murmured.
"[Something] concerned about you —
" — and would like to see you very much."
" ... No ..."
"To see how you're doing, how you're getting along."
"... no, no, no, no..." Louis voice cracked like a piece of fragile glass, collapsing into a long, low moan. "... nnnnnnnnnnooooo ..."
Oh God, Solo thought. Forget it. Please: let's just forget it and leave him alone.
When he opened his eyes again, the figure on the monitor had turned away completely, with his back the only part of his body that was clearly visible. Francine drew close but made no attempt to touch, as the patient beside her seemed to slowly shrivel, withdraw, contract, implode — ending up curled into a fetal ball.
"It's okay if you don't want to, you don't have to, it's okay, nobody will force you," she crooned, but Louis' hands were plastered over his ears and his anguished sobbing drowned out her consoling whispers. The sound grew and filled the monitoring room, until Kuryakin had the presence of mind to reach past his partner and twist the volume control knob all the way to off.
"I'm sorry," Dr. Newman said. "He hasn't had any visitors since he arrived. I thought it might do his morale some good if we gave it a try."
Solo dismissed the apology with a shake of his head and a wave of his hand. To Illya, who was standing nearby, for a fleeting instant it looked as if his partner was going to be horribly sick.
"S'right," Solo said quickly, and swallowed hard. He blinked twice, and then his eyes were clear again, the color was back in his cheeks, the professional mask was once more securely in place. Shaken himself, Kuryakin ran a nervous hand through his hair and was vastly relieved when Newman led them from the room.
Out in the corridor, where it seemed easier to breathe, the doctor apologized again. "I'm afraid you've come all the way up here for nothing."
"Not at all," Kuryakin said, doing his best to avoid exchanging glances with his partner.
"Despite what you just witnessed, Mr. Doyle is making the best of a bad situation," Newman said. He turned to Solo. "I'll have my secretary prepare you a written report to take back to Alexander. Should take a half hour or so." The doctor forced a smile. "In the meantime, why not grab some lunch in the cafeteria — on the house?"
"Thank you," Solo replied evenly, "but no. We have another errand to complete. We need to see Antonio Martucci."
"Nino? For heaven's sake, why?"
"Mr. Waverly requires a consult."
Dr. Newman harrumphed, one eyebrow arching sardonically. "My, my, my — you boys are having quite a busy day, aren't you?"
Solo shrugged easily, though he could still feel the lingering after-effects of their encounter with Louis. "It's our job."
"Well, if you're going in to see Nino, you're both going to have to surrender any weapons and devices you're carrying. And I mean all your weapons — everything."
They walked to a nearby security station and did just that. "Now I want you to empty your pockets," Newman ordered, inspecting the growing pile of equipment heaped on the security desk. "Completely — every damn thing, right down to your loose change."
"Is he suicidal?" Kuryakin asked.
"That's difficult to say, as you will see for yourself. He's made no attempts, but we don't like to take chances in any case."
Solo reached into his breast pocket and produced a black oblong jewelry case. "Mr. Waverly instructed me to give him this. I was told that tomorrow is Mr. Martucci's birthday."
"Oh yes," Newman agreed. "His fortieth. May I see what you have there?" Solo passed him the small case. The doctor clicked it open and took out the contents, an expensive-looking watch. While the timepiece itself was gold, the band was black leather. Watching Newman inspect the gift, the agents noticed that, rather incongruously, the usual metal buckle had been replaced by a plastic one.
"No tricks, no gimmicks, no devices," said Solo. "It's just a watch, it tells time, nothing more. And it's been modified as you requested: no expansion band and no sharp edges."
"Surely it couldn't be used as a weapon," Illya chimed in.
The doctor chuckled, but without humor. "Mr. Kuryakin, sir, Nino Martucci made his first successful kill when he was 14 years old. He's one of the most ingenious men I've ever known. To Nino, everything is a potential weapon." He handed the watch back to Solo without the case and added, "That's why Alexander recruited him in the first place."
Relieved of their own weapons and personal effects, the agents began to walk again, following Dr. Newman down yet another corridor. This one was quieter than the previous one, and branched several times, leading into the heart of the east wing.
"So I assume you're both familiar with Nino's case," Dr. Newman said as they walked. Both agents nodded. Like other great field stories, it was the stuff of legend and water cooler gossip.
"Eight years ago, Mr. Martucci was caught in an explosion," Solo recited, "and a steel beam pierced his skull. By some miracle, it passed through without killing him."
"But it did damage his brain, though no one realized it at the time," the doctor explained.
Kuryakin frowned thoughtfully. "Wasn't there another famous case that was similar? Back in the last century? I remember reading about it. Supposedly, they were blasting rock to make way for a railroad. One of the workers was standing too close when they ignited the charge and an iron rod was driven through his skull."
"The man's name was Gage and yes, it's in all the textbooks. He experienced what was probably the first rather crude frontal lobotomy." Newman sighed heavily. "In Nino's case, the entry and exit points are slightly different, but the nature of the damage is pretty much the same. There are lesions on the frontal lobes, causing a disconnection between thought and emotion."
"He's psychotic, then," Kuryakin surmised.
"Well, he has psychotic episodes. That's why he committed himself here in '61. In addition to a severe personality disorder, he also experienced sporadic memory loss."
"Does he know who he is?" Solo asked, to which Newman responded, "Do you?" The doctor laughed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Solo, but that's a more complex question than you realize. Self and personality are slippery concepts at best. If you're asking me, does Nino remember that he was an U.N.C.L.E. agent, the answer is yes. But whether or not he is who he was is debatable. Even without such a catastrophic injury, are you the same man you were five years ago?"
"But we're talking about something more disjunctive, here, aren't we?" Kuryakin pointed out. "A psychotic, a schizophrenic, changes personality by the hour."
"By the minute, sometimes it seems. But are we actually seeing a change, or just various sides of the same personality?"
"Are you being deliberately esoteric, doctor?"
"Not at all. I'm just not as convinced as the psychiatric establishment that personality is an objective, concrete reality. The self may be more fluid, more fragmented, more situational, than we realize."
"This is all well and good for an intellectual exercise," Solo cut in, "but in practical terms, what can we expect from Mr. Martucci?"
They'd reached a door located at the very end of a long corridor. Newman produced a ring of keys from his pocket and shook one out.
"In practical terms?" he repeated as he inserted the key into the formidable lock. He looked up and smiled grimly. "He'll probably scare the hell out of you."
The scene that met the agents was not quite what they expected. True, the windows were heavily barred, but since the room was located at the very end of the wing, it enjoyed both eastern and southern exposure. Light from the late afternoon sun streamed in and if you stood close to the plexiglass windows and peered out, you could see a garden beyond.
The accommodations were pleasant but simple to the point of austere: a single bed, a single chair, a single bookcase, a single table. It might have looked like a cloistered monk's cell except that all the furniture was made of tough, durable — and unbreakable — plastic.
"I'll leave you to perform your own introductions," Newman said, as he stepped aside to allow them to enter. "I'm sure you fellows can take care of yourselves. If you need us, wave at the overhead camera. When you're ready to leave, press the button you see to the left of the door. An orderly will come to let you out."
Solo and Kuryakin stepped inside and the door locked solidly behind them. As the agents scanned their surroundings, they couldn't help noticing that nearly every inch of the white washed walls was papered with drawings. At that moment, the creator of those drawings was occupied at the small table, positioned in front of the eastern window.
"Ah — mi scusi? Signor Martucci?" Solo said.
The man looked up from his work. "Si?"
"Mi chiamo Napoleon Solo. Spiacente, ma —."
At the sound of the name, Martucci turned and his face lit up with recognition. "Oh, si, si. You are Nate's boy. Piacere." He pushed back the chair and began to rise.
So this is Nino Martucci, Solo thought, feeling himself bristle at being called, 'boy." After all, they were nearly the same age, though Martucci had joined U.N.C.L.E. when he was barely twenty years old.
Fleetingly, Solo ran through the details from the dossiers he'd read and the stories he'd heard: the Sicilian Mafia family. The murder of the local padrone — the killing that Newman had mentioned — when Martucci was just 14. Membership in the Italian Communist underground, leading to work with the Allied Resistance, leading to an exemplary career with U.N.C.L.E. Martucci had been the youngest of the original thirteen — and probably the youngest regular field agent ever — hence the diminutive, "Nino," by which he continued to be universally known.
Even now, Martucci's face had a youthful, innocent quality: full lips and high cheekbones, thick curly black hair barely touched by gray, and big, brown, almost feminine eyes. The handsomeness of it was the second thing Solo noticed. The first was the enormous, spider-like wound in the center of the ex-agent's forehead, which made him look like a sculptured angel that had been brutally smashed.
"Le presento il Signor Illya Kuryakin ..."
"Ah, si. Il Sovietica. You no need to speak Italian, eh? I understand the English pretty good." Martucci nodded to Kuryakin. "Nate, he tells me about you. The Major gave to you his gun, si?"
By "The Major," Kuryakin knew he meant Gregory Von Linden, the German of the original group, now deceased.
"Yes. His Lugar."
The gun was tucked away in a bureau drawer. Kuryakin hadn't thought of it in years.
"He musta like you, then."
"I couldn't say," the Russian agent replied with a careless shrug. Von Linden had been a cold, distant man and a cynic who'd claimed to believe in nothing and trusted no one. In the end, he was unfathomable.
"Yes, I think he like you," Martucci persevered, "and I think I know why, eh?" Kuryakin arched a curious eyebrow, anticipating an explanation, but none came. Instead, Martucci turned back to Solo who asked, "Does Nate visit often?"
"Mmmm... when he can. He tell you to come here today?"
"No. We're here on business. From Mr. Waverly."
"Mr. Waverly wants your opinion on something ... a new Thrush weapon."
"Ah." Martucci cocked an eyebrow, indicating interest. "Per favore, mi mostri — eh, show it to me."
Reaching into his inside breast pocket, Solo produced a fat, overstuffed legal-sized envelope. Martucci took it and sliced through the seal with his finger. He unfolded the half dozen pages and, squinting, began to scan the first one.
"Di sigarette? You have cigarettes, please?" he asked without looking up.
"No, I'm sorry," Solo replied. "Everything was confiscated before we came in."
"Ah, the doctore," Martucci muttered. "He worry too much." He moved closer to the window for better light and continued to read.
Solo glanced at Kuryakin, who offered a little shrug in return. It was difficult to see what everyone was so concerned about. Martucci was dressed in a simple cotton shirt, pants, and slippers. He seemed calm and accommodating, although there was something vaguely wrong about his responses. It took a moment for Solo to realize what it was.
No genuine emotion, the agent told himself. And it wasn't just the absence of a smile. Throughout their brief conversation so far, where someone else might have expressed puzzlement, enthusiasm and even mild disgust, Martucci's disposition remained perfectly even. Solo was accustomed to seeing agents repress emotion and often did so himself, but there was no evidence of repression here. Martucci simply didn't feel anything, or at least, not enough to register. Odd — and even odder, considering that he was Italian.
"You read this?" Martucci asked the agents, looking up from his pages.
"No," Solo said. "It was FYEO."
"It tells of Thrush invention — pill that cuts you up inside — like-a knife."
Genuinely at a loss, Solo glanced sideways once again at Kuryakin. The latter shook his head and frowned to indicate he hadn't heard about any such pill, either. "How is that possible?" the Russian agent asked.
"Sound crazy you think?"
Indeed, that was exactly what Kuryakin was thinking, though he'd resisted the urge to say so aloud.
"So you look at this, eh?" Before the agents could point out that perhaps Waverly did not wish them to, Martucci had thrust two pages into Solo's hands. Kuryakin peered over his partner's shoulder to read. As his eyes traveled over the schematic, he heard Martucci explain, "A pill, a capsule. Large, about so big." Martucci held up his thumb and forefinger and pinched the air. "Like to cure a horse. But not so big thata man can't swallow it. It goes in the mouth, see? Then down the throat into the belly. The juices, the —"
"Enzymes?" Kuryakin offered helpfully.
"— si, enzymes. They melt the jacket — emmm, the coating. The pill opens —"
Martucci pantomimed a blooming flower with his hands " — and the inside, the filling, it swells, emmm... expands."
As he listened, Solo studied the schematic in his hands. "And this is what's inside the capsule? It looks like a snowflake."
"A snowflake made of steel, Napoleon," Kuryakin pointed out, "with each edge razor sharp."
"Like a tiny mace," Solo said, considering. "Or maybe, like a Ninja star." The other two men nodded.
"Jesus." Solo looked at Martucci. "Is this feasible? And if it is, how could it be used against us?"
"That'sa what Signor Waverly wants me to think about."
As he spoke, Solo's eyes wandered past Martucci and focused on the wall behind the Italian ex-agent. There were dozens and dozens of pictures, all done with pastels and watercolor. Interspersed among the few landscapes, which Solo recognized as scenes of the Sicilian countryside, were carefully crafted illustrations of various wounds to the human anatomy and intricately detailed sketches of the weapons — some exotic, some not — that made them. It was a chilling tableau, a gallery dedicated to the aesthetic study of murder.
"You do a lot of thinking about death, don't you?" Solo asked dryly.
"We all do, no? In this, emm, profession, is unavoidable."
"A necessary evil perhaps," Kuryakin allowed, his level voice echoing from the opposite corner of the room. The pictures had piqued his interest, too, and now he was traveling along the walls for a closer look. "But with all due respect, Signor Martucci, it appears that you've made it your avocation."
"And why not? It is once my vocation, as it is yours."
"Again, forgive me Signor Martucci," Kuryakin replied, coolly polite, "but we don't think of our jobs that way. Our interest is in peace, not death."
"Then you will enjoy the peace of the dead. Knowledge is life." Martucci addressed himself in the Russian agent's direction. "You take-a this little pill, for instance. If you swallow it, either by accident or under a gun, what do you think will happen?
Kuryakin paused in his scrutiny of the artwork and considered. "Well, it will either lacerate the stomach or the walls of the intestines or both. The victim may not die if he undergoes surgery in time, but the resulting damage will be substantial."
"And slow and painful and cruel?" Martucci pressed. It seemed to Solo that the Italian ex-agent was finally revealing a hint of annoyance at Illya's detached and rational assessment.
Abruptly, Martucci spun on his heel to Solo. "Can you imagine this?"
The agent snorted. "I'd rather not."
"Would you take it of your own free will?"
"Are you certain?"
"If you're talking suicide, no, never."
"But suppose you are ordered to, eh?"
"Ah, see?" There was a glint in Martucci's eyes that wasn't there before. "You are ordered by your superior."
"I can't imagine a scenario like that —"
"By Signor Waverly himself."
"But there'd never be a reason to —"
"But let us say there is."
" — he would never ask such a thing —"
"But he does. You know he does. He asks all the time."
"Oh, this is ridiculous —."
"I don't believe that —."
"Even knowing of the pill what you know now. Would you?"
" — oh, Christ —."
"Would you?!" The words came out in an angry burst.
From his corner, Kuryakin silently watched as Solo squirmed and protested. Something was happening here, something dark and evil and he didn't like it. We should leave, now, the Russian told himself. His eyes searched along the side of the door for the location of the security buzzer.
Startled by Martucci's sudden display of emotion, Solo paused and took a moment to gather himself. When he answered, his voice was eminently reasonable. "I don't know the answer, Signor Martucci. Is that what you wish to hear?"
"I don't wish anything," the Italian replied dismissively. "I know the answer, even if you don't. You endure pain already for that old man."
"It's not for him."
"The Cause, then. One and the same. You give up many things — even a woman you love." He eyed Solo slyly. "But you no give her up, I think. Uh-uh, no. She give you up, yes?"
Solo lowered his eyes to the smooth linoleum floor. The bruising truth of Mara's farewell was still too raw, too recent, too fresh in his mind.
... it's better this way, Napoleon. You know it is ...
He did know it, but that didn't make it any easier. A different woman, different circumstances, but in the end, it was Clara all over again, standing on the airfield, sobbing in the rain, telling him she wouldn't, couldn't, be there waiting, when he returned from his mission.
"So you must be more careful, eh? Always to make love to those you do not love."
"That's enough," Kuryakin said irritably, crossing the room. Martucci was unperturbed. He turned on the Russian like a snake refocusing his attention on new prey. "Ah, but you would say that, since you are the one who left the woman he loved."
A fleeting image of Masha, her eyes wide and liquid, peeking over the edge of her lace handkerchief, seared sharp and vivid, across Illya's mind.
... I'll come back, I promise.
No, you won't ...
"That's none of your damn business!"
"It seems Nate's been telling tales out of school," Solo joked weakly, trying to lighten the mood and break the tension.
"Nate tells me nothing. I see you and I know."
"You don't know us," Kuryakin said flatly. Martucci was indignant.
"You are a smart boy, so don't talk like a fool, eh? Of course I do. We are formed in the same womb, all of us. We have the same scars. Here, the mark of brotherhood —" Martucci pointed to the thin scar paralleling the lifeline in the palm of his right hand — "and here, the mark of Cain." His fingertip touched his mutilated forehead.
"The mark of Cain was the mark of a murderer," Solo said. "I don't consider myself a murderer."
"Oh no? You a Catholic, yes? Forget the communion. How often do you feel clean enough to enter a church?"
Solo rocked slightly as if he'd received a physical blow. Unable to answer, he exhaled a breath and merely shook his head. His partner's retreat was too much for Kuryakin.
"I've heard many good things about you, Signor Martucci, so I must assume that it's your injury that makes you act so cruelly and speak so indiscreetly. I'm sorry for that. I wish we'd met years ago, before your accident. I would have liked to have known you before you became so morbid and bitter. I'm sorry for your injury, too, but it has nothing to do with Napoleon and me. Nothing."
"You think so, eh? So certain, so superior." Martucci chuckled deep in his throat, a dry, empty, plastic imitation of a real laugh. "You think nothing like this can ever happen to you —."
"I didn't say that."
"— well, my young friend, I have a news for you. It already has."
"You're wrong." This, from Solo, who spoke with renewed determination.
"Am I? " Martucci laughed again, and the sound made Solo wish he wouldn't.
"You would deny to me that a part of you is dead? What friends do you have, what family? No marry, no have the children, no make-a the ties."
"We have friends," Kuryakin said stubbornly. "We are friends."
"Oh, si. Until a mission makes you choose. And what do you choose? Your partner over an innocent stranger? Over the fate of a town, a country, a world?
No, never. Tell me this is not so, I dare you."
"Well, the assignment must come first ..."
Martucci nodded, his chin bobbing quickly. "Ah, si, yes, and I know this, just as you do. I also know you split in two when you become an agent. And one part kills the other, as it must. And you are marked — we all are marked — like Cain, a mark that punishes, but also, protects."
He turned back to Solo. "What does the good book say? 'If anyone slay Cain, vengeance be taken a sevenfold.' So you wander the earth as he did — dead and not dead. And they will keep you that way and use you, and never let you go."
"I don't feel the least bit dead," Kuryakin cut in before Solo could reply himself. "Come on, Napoleon, I think it's time to leave." Pivoting, the Russian agent stalked towards the door.
"Well, you are dead, my friend," Martucci persisted. "Dead to the girl you left behind, to your family, your culture, dead to your country ..."
The last words stopped Kuryakin in his tracks. Against his better judgment he turned, and Martucci smiled, icily triumphant.
"You think when this is over, you go back, eh?" Glancing at Solo, the Italian added, "And you think you will — how do Americans say it? — 'settle down.' You will have many women, but you will never keep a wife."
"So you own a crystal ball, do you?" Kuryakin challenged.
"I see what is. And I tell you again, you will never go back. Never. You will live many places, but you will never know a home."
Barely suppressing his anger, Kuryakin punched the security buzzer with his fist.
Solo cleared his throat. He wanted to flee as much as Illya did, but there was still unfinished business. "What about your report, Signor Martucci?"
"Tell Waverly it will be in tomorrow's packet." Martucci was beginning to withdraw again, both psychically and physically. He drifted back to his desk. "It take time to write witha crayon."
Solo nodded, relieved to be bringing this interview to an end. He couldn't wait to be out of here and back on the road in the Lincoln, with maybe a detour to the nearest bar. As he nervously shrugged his shirt cuffs into place however, he suddenly felt the weight inside his breast pocket.
"Ah — sorry, I almost forgot. Mr. Waverly wanted me to give you this."
Martucci had returned to his previously placid state and Solo had to almost thrust the gift into his hands.
"What is it?" the Italian asked as he slowly lowered his eyes to his hands. As soon as he recognized the object, he murmured, "A watch. A gold watch."
A moment passed and then he began to laugh again, that same hollow, mechanical laugh. He was still laughing when the orderlies arrived to let the visitors out.
"They never let you go," Martucci called to the departing agents, "Never never never never never never never..." And his voice followed them through the door and echoed after them a long way into the hall.
"He's wrong, you know," Dr. Newman said as he watched the agents retrieve their belongings from the security station a short time later.
"Oh, really?" Solo retorted. He rotated his shoulder to settle his holster back into place. Beside him, Kuryakin pocketed his communicator and wallet. "You mean that the news of our deaths has been greatly exaggerated?"
Newman ignored the sarcasm. "I mean about letting people go. Patients are released from here all the time. When we find a treatment for your friend, Louis, as I'm confident we will, we'll dress him up, pat him on the back, and send him on his way."
"And what about Nino Martucci?" Kuryakin asked.
The doctor ran a hand through his thick hair and eyebrows knitted together. "Well, I'll admit, Nino's a tougher nut to crack — no pun intended — but I never consider any patient incurable. There's always hope."
They began to travel down the corridor toward the main entrance. "Forgive me, doctor, for saying so," Solo began. He was feeling tired and cranky and still a little unnerved. The day had turned out to be even more of an ordeal than he'd expected. "But considering the number of agents who return to the field, your batting average isn't so hot."
"Well, if you judge it by that standard, my 'batting average' as you call it, absolutely stinks. But you see, there happens to be a very good reason why agents who are admitted to this hospital don't return to work at U.N.C.L.E."
"Uh-huh. I won't allow it."
"Never?" Kuryakin asked, giving voice to the surprise on Solo's face. "No one?" The doctor nodded. He folded his hands behind him as he walked, tipped his head back and squinted at the ceiling.
"Let me tell you a story. During the war, I had a patient. James Tompkins was his name. Everyone called him Little Jim. Waist gunner, 34 missions behind him, but even though he had a purple heart and a citation for courage, he was hardly more than a kid. Dragged around an old acoustic guitar and he drank a lot.
"Now, the reason that he was sloshed all the time was because he was suffering from a bad case of survivor guilt. His plane had been shot down — crashed, caught fire. The whole crew died and one of them was a guy named Big Jim, Little Jim's best friend. The kid tried to pull his buddy out from the flaming wreck, but he couldn't. He panicked and ran — and kept on running, at least in his mind, from the memory, from the pain, and most of all, from himself.
"I gave him a shot of sodium pentothal — 'flak juice' the patients used to call it — and helped him work through the trauma and the guilt and the grief. We patched that one up real good, real good. Sent him back into the fray with clean bill of health." He paused. "A couple of months later Little Jim was dead, shot down over Berlin. The plane was last seen going down in flames.
The entire nine-man crew was lost."
Newman didn't have to say it: the frustration, the utter futility of helping a boy to survive one crash only to send him off to die in another was obvious.
"And Little Jim wasn't the only case like that, oh no sir. There were plenty of others, more than I can remember by name.
"When Alexander offered me this position, I made him swear to me that I wouldn't be forced to do that again. So you're right, I'm happy to say: this is truly the end of the line, gentlemen. Alexander might trap 'em. Mr. Cutter might train 'em. But if they come to me, I do my best to set 'em free."
Solo grinned. "Doctor, do I detect a note of —."
"Self-righteousness? Oh, you betcha. Been in the hero repair business a long time. I've never served on the frontlines, but I know all too well what war can do.
"It's relentless, that's for sure. It wears you down like the surf breaking constantly against the rocks. Some men crack wide open and their humanity just spills out. Others have their souls chiseled away so completely, all that's left is a mean, hard shell."
"But we're not at war now," Solo pointed out.
"Oh yes, Mr. Solo, you are. You are, indeed. But don't get me wrong: I'm no pacifist. I can see the reason for war when it's justified. Some men, a lot of men — like those poor sonavabitches who used to puke in their cockpits every time they went up — can't tolerate war. But others —" he clicked his tongue against his teeth "— why, they can't tolerate life without it. And now that Alexander is recruiting female agents, I suppose I'll be meeting a few gals for whom that's true, too."
Outside, the sun was dropping low, painting the sky a musty gold. Newman stood for a moment with the agents on the mansion's imposing front porch.
"I can't stop thinking about Louis," Solo said as he leaned a hip against a white pillar. Kuryakin scanned the river that ran calm and steely gray, beyond them. Like his partner, he felt enormously weary.
"Suppose you do manage to cure him?" Solo asked. "What then?"
The doctor shrugged. "Then we'll bid him a fond farewell and release him to the bosom of normal society, and he'll live out the rest of his fourscore years in whatever peace the good Lord grants him."
"But suppose he's one of those who needs war?"
"Then we'll just have to teach him to live without it."
"Suppose he can't?" Kuryakin asked softly, his eyes focused on a small pleasure boat as it cruised down the Hudson. Newman cocked his head and sighed. His gaze followed the agent's out to the river.
"Well now. That is the question, isn't it?"
Afterward, after the handshakes, the goodbyes and the regards to Mrs. Newman, the agents made a quick exit, climbing into the car gratefully and driving back down the access road.
"You were right," Kuryakin said as he negotiated the winding route through the topiary. "It was like being a tourist in hell."
Solo cocked his head, an I-told-you-so gesture, and lit a cigarette. He settled in next to the window and looked out. Besides the gardens, there was nothing really much to see. It was growing late and the patients were all inside, probably preparing for dinner. One lone nurse hurried along the path, cutting through a break in the hedges, obviously late for something, and then disappeared into the evening shadows. As they approached the clinic's entrance, Solo kept turning Newman's words over in his mind.
Some men ... can't tolerate war. But others ... can't tolerate life without it. ... But suppose he's one of those who needs war? ... Then we'll just have to teach him to live without it... Suppose he can't? ... That is the question, isn't it?
The guards at the gatehouse waved them on. As the Lincoln glided through the massive iron gates, both agents seemed to let out a sigh of relief.
"You know, Illya," Solo said after they were back on the public highway, "if something ever happens to me, and they want to send me up the hill, I give you permission to shoot me. Just please, shoot me."
"I know," Kuryakin replied, with a small chuckle.
"No, I'm not kidding. I mean it."
The agents looked at one another.
"I know," Kuryakin said again.
U.N.C.L.E. HQ. Two days later.
"Ah, Napoleon, so there you are."
As the door swished aside to admit him into Waverly's office, Solo knew immediately that the voice he was hearing belonged to someone else. It wasn't only because it would be a cold day in Hades when his superior greeted him so jovially, but also because the Old Man never used his agents' first names.
"Nate," Solo declared, pleasantly surprised, "how are you?" He didn't see his old mentor very much any more since Nate Cassidy had become Station Chief for Las Vegas.
"Not bad, not bad." Cassidy was leaning back in Solo's usual seat at the big conference table. "The desert air's been good for my sinuses and I won five thousand at craps last week."
From the head of the table, Waverly cleared his throat impatiently. Cassidy quirked a knowing smile at Napoleon that said: Back to business.
"Ah — what can I do for you, sir?" Solo said, redirecting his attention. The earlier summons called down to the Section secretary had been unexpected and unequivocal: Come now. As Waverly continued to read through a file written with large, bold letters, without looking up, he said, "Mr. Solo, we need you to tell us everything, as exactly and completely as possible, about what transpired during your meeting with Mr. Martucci the other day."
Damn, Solo thought. "I just finished the report on the clinic visit this morning, sir, and it's being typed as we speak." Which was almost the truth. The report was sitting on his desk, awaiting Mitzi's return from an emergency dental appointment. "Sorry for the delay, but we had that assignment mix-up in Brazil yesterday and I'm afraid I got side-tracked."
"No matter," Waverly said dismissively. "You may deliver it verbally." Finally, he looked up. "And Mr. Solo?"
"Try to include every word, every action, every detail — as much as you can remember."
Feeling distinctly uncomfortable now, Solo shifted from foot to foot. No one had invited him to take a seat, so he didn't. The lack of invitation could only mean trouble.
"Go ahead, Napoleon," Cassidy coaxed, offering an encouraging smile.
Solo did as he was asked. Both he and Illya had good memories for details, but whereas the Russian agent could recall entire manuals of technical specifications, Solo's talent was for grasping personal nuance. It had served him well in the past, and it served him well now as he related not only the dialogue that occurred, but what he perceived behind and around the words as well. Holding nothing back, he talked for almost an hour straight, and neither of the other two men interrupted with so much as a comment. While Solo spoke, Cassidy lounged in the chair, listening intently, but halfway through, Waverly left his own seat and wandered over to the complex's sole window. Outside, the sky was the same gunmetal gray as U.N.C.L.E.'s steel walls and a light rain mottled the bulletproof glass.
"And then we shook hands with Dr. Newman and left," Solo said finally, finishing up. He didn't think it necessary to relate the conversation in the car that followed, nor did he mention the fact that he and Illya did indeed stop on their way home for a beer. That was personal.
"I expect this must have been a very unpleasant experience for you and Illya," Cassidy observed sympathetically. "But I hope neither one of you will take Nino's words to heart. After all, he was crazy."
Solo nodded, but without much conviction.
"Poor Nino," the older agent sighed to himself. "Such a good, decent man — we loved him like a son, all of us." He looked up and added, "A damn shame."
"Umm —" Solo glanced over to the window. Waverly's back was still toward him and the Old Man hadn't made a sound or moved a muscle since he'd positioned himself there. "Might I ask why you needed this information, right now, like this?"
Cassidy hesitated. Then he said, "Nino Martucci died very early yesterday morning... a suicide."
"Oh, God." It was only at that very moment that the gold watch sitting in the middle of the conference table caught Solo's eye.
"Now, don't start thinking it was anything that either one of you said or did," Cassidy added quickly. "You have nothing to feel guilty about. Nino has been terribly ill for a very long time. He hasn't been himself for years."
Does he know who he is? ... Do you?
Solo blinked. "I'm very sorry anyway."
"Yeah, well ... we all are." Cassidy glanced at his watch. "Look: it's almost one and we've kept you long enough. Why don't you go get yourself some lunch?"
Although he didn't feel much like eating, Solo was glad for an excuse to leave. "I'll see you around, Nate."
"Yeah. See you."
Pivoting, Solo headed for the door. But just as he reached it, he heard Waverly's voice behind him, sounding thicker and crustier than usual.
The Old Man still hadn't turned around. "Thank you for the report. It was very thorough."
"You're welcome, sir," Solo said, without understanding exactly why he was being thanked. It didn't occur to him to ask. Then the doors opened and he went through.
"You're late," Kuryakin remarked casually, as Solo slid into the opposite seat at the commissary table. The Russian agent was finished with lunch. The discarded dishes were piled in the corner and now he was hunched over the New York Times, working the crossword puzzle. "I thought you wanted to talk over the plans for that Venice operation."
"Sorry. Couldn't be helped." Solo ripped open a packet of sugar and dumped it into his coffee. "I was in with the Old Man."
"Anything you can share?"
"Martucci's dead," Solo said, keeping his voice low. "Died yesterday. Nate was in the office, too, and he told me." Kuryakin's pencil froze in mid-stroke, the expression on his face expectant.
Solo nodded as he sipped at his coffee.
"Did they say how he accomplished it?"
"Nope, and since no one seemed keen to volunteer the details, I didn't push it." Glancing down at the bowl in front of him, Solo asked, "How's the vegetable soup?"
"Guess I'm just not very hungry." Solo tested the unappetizing glop with a few experimental swirls of his spoon, then gave up and retreated to his coffee.
"So, how do you think he did it?" Kuryakin asked after a moment.
"Gee, I don't know." Solo considered. "There was nothing lethal in that room. They wouldn't even trust him with a pencil."
"Newman said he was creative."
"The only thing I can think of is the watch. Something in the watch..."
"Leather. Unless he stuffed it down his throat."
"Soft plastic — we replaced it, remember?"
"The crystal." This time, it wasn't a question but a statement of fact. Suddenly, Kuryakin knew and Solo knew, too. The image of the watch on the conference table flashed through the agent's mind. There'd been something wrong about it, something that registered subliminally. Now, Solo knew what it was: the crystal had been missing.
"He was supposed to be an expert with knives," Kuryakin said. "He must have cracked the crystal and used the shard to slit open an artery."
"Christ." The words came out as a hiss. Solo closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. "The gold watch. It was supposed to be a birthday gift."
"A fortieth birthday gift," Kuryakin pointed out. "I guess it was just Nino's way of retiring from the field."
"What an awful thing. How horrible. How he must've felt..."
"Well, don't feel too sorry for him, Napoleon. The man we met was in torment. Now, at least, he's at peace."
But the picture that Solo was remembering was that of Alexander Waverly, standing alone and silent by the window, not turning, not daring to.
"It wasn't Martucci I was thinking about," he said.