He had just walked through the door, ready to head for the shower when that blasted communicator started beeping.
"God, how I'd love to throw that thing through the window..." He didn't, however. He opened it wearily and spoke into it.
"Solo here...barely". Harrumph on the other end...
"Mr. Solo, have I disturbed you?" Oh, the other end sounded displeased.
"No sir. Sorry...I meant that I almost missed getting to the...sorry. What is it you need, sir?" Napoleon felt the color rush to his cheeks in one of so few incidents that betrayed that even he was vulnerable at times.
"We seem to have lost your partner, Mr. Solo. Mr. Kuryakin was scheduled to report in three hours ago, and we have not heard from him. I understand you've only just arrived back here in New York, however..."
"No, sir I'm...I'm available, of course. Where is Illya?" He felt that familiar knot begin to twist in his stomach; the one that showed up every time there was a possibility that his partner, his friend...his fatigue was replaced by the wrenching twinges of fear and dread with this latest news.
"His last location was in Dallas, in the Neiman Marcus department store. He has been there working as a photographer in the Gittings studio...uh...his assignment was to safeguard the Princess of Antolo, who is there to have her portrait done".
At that last, Napoleon felt a twinge of jealousy and regret that he had always given tha role of photographer to his blond partner. Now he was lost in the entourage, perhaps, of a princess from a little known country. That should have been his job. Still, Illya missing...not good. He returned to his business and the real concern that the man was in danger.
"I'll be on the next flight sir. I assume that's what you want..." Actually, sometimes the old man threw curve balls, but he figured his assignment was to go find Illya.
"Yes, Mr. Solo, that is exactly what I desire from you. That, and to find your partner. There were threats against Antolo, from a familiar nemesis of ours...Thrush. They have designs on that small country and its rich mineral reserves; specifically copper. For some reason that we have not been able to figure, they are mad for copper at present. You, Mr. Solo, and Mr. Kuryakin, after you locate him, are to get to the bottom of this mystery". "And, we will do just that, sir. You have my assurance on it. I'll be in touch. Solo out".
Napoloen emptied the contents of his suitcase and refilled it with clean clothes. He didn't have time for a shower, so with the newly filled suitcase and a quick brush at his hair, he was back on the street hailing a taxi and enroute to the airport.
The Neiman Marcus store in Dallas, Texas was the Russian's vision of American decadence come to life. Within this store the artistic and materialistic excesses that he had been trained to detest all came to life. Great art became the inspiration for private label textiles, the finest offerings of the world finding a home for their inglorious, capitalistic audience. Illya Kuryakin was at once repulsed and fascinated. Even Napoleon's excesses couldn't begin to compare with what the young agent saw within these walls, among the clientele that the store served. This was ultimate conspicuous consumption.
That had been his first impression, but as he now found himself waking up from a drug and fist induced slumber, bound and gagged in a dirty warehouse, his clothing ripped and blood drying on his face, a little decadence and comfort sounded very good to him. He would, without complaint, trade places with the well dressed salesmen he had only recently hissed at under his breath as he criticized them for being so complacent about the surroundings he had thought so distasteful to his soviet aesthetic. Now, in retrospect, that was rather an oxymoron, to have a soviet aesthetic. Somethow the two just didn't go together well. He was losing his socialist edge.
First things first...he had to get out of here. Princess Talia might be in danger if they'd spotted him already. She was the most likely target of a kidnapping attempt by Thrush. How had he been identified? His cover was secure, and his role as a photographer in the famed Gittings Studio within the Neiman Marcus flagship store had been well orchestrated. His skills were sufficient to pass himself off as a professional photographer, and all of the princess' sittings had been scheduled so that he would be close at hand. In exchange for the knowledge that he was from the U.N.C.L.E., she had agreed to let him accompany her to and from her hotel, portraying themselves as being friendly, if not romantically involved. He knew it had looked convincing so...it had to be someone inside her entourage. With that issue settled, he now went about trying to free his hands. They had been very well secured, and it was going to cost him some skin to get out of this predicament. He wrenched his hands and tried to make them as slender as possible, edging through the ropes, little by little. He could feel blood on his hands as the sisal roughed and splintered against his skin. At least this type would stretch, even if it did do more damage. He felt the ease in the fibers as his left hand twisted through and free of the emcumbrance. Hazards of the profession, he thought to himself. Long sleeves to hide the wrist scars, shirts to hide the chest and back. There were more limitations than freedoms in this job.
He hurriedly unfastened the ropes binding his ankles and then, almost absentmindedly, detached the duct tape from across his mouth. Taking a longer than ordinary deep breath, he stood up and began to take inventory of his surroundings. It was hot. He had to still be in the city by the looks of this place, because beyond the city there was not much more than houses and then countryside, and that big lake. Thrush probably had plans for him for later, so they wouldn't have dumped him too far away from their operation. He had nothing left on him; no communicator or gun, no gadgets. They had been efficient in disarming and disabling him, it seemed.
Illya moved stealthily through the building, just in case there were guards in unseen places. He couldn't hear any noise except traffic coming from outside; he was next to a freeway. As he eased near to a door, light was still coming through, although it was tinged with the colors of a sunset. He'd been in here for a few hours, and thought back to his last memory of being in the studio. It had been around lunch time, and he and the princess were to have taken lunch together. So, about five hours he reasoned, since then. Being October, the days were just shortened enough to have sundown at around six, so it was a little past five thirty.
He opened the door, and seeing no one around began to make his way towards a car in the parking lot. There were several, and he looked for keys in an ignition. It was a longshot, and he would certainly have no trouble starting an engine without keys, but sometimes it was nice to have it be easy. Unbelievable! Keys on the seat. This must be a secure lot, he thought, for them to be so cavalier about things like this. He opened the door and reached for the keys. Then, as an after thought, decided to check out the undercarriage for an explosive. He also checked for bugs or...
"I should have known. They expected me to get out...' he said it aloud at the sight of the homing device. He easily disengaged it and then, having satisfied himself that the car was safe to drive, put the key in the ignintion and headed for the gate. He had to ram it, but did so without thought to damaging the car or the gate. He could see the center of the city, so found the onramp and headed for downtown Dallas. First stop was his hotel. He couldn't go anywhere looking as he did, so he headed downtown to a hot shower and a change of clothes.
Napoleon managed to be himself on the flight to Dallas, flirting and engaging in provocative chit chat with the stewardesses. Tired or not, the sight of lovely ladies in form fitting blue uniforms seemed to add enough spark to revive him somewhat. The only thing that stopped him from making a date for that evening was the uncertaninty of his partner's wellbeing and whereabouts. Illya had still not checked in when he landed at five o'clock, which would have been six in New York. He had an extra hour to stay awake now.
His first stop was the Neiman-Marcus at Main and Ervay. This was the flagship store, the heart and soul of the magnificent retailer. Napoleon had once attended a Fortnight there, the annual celebration of art, fashion and culture that was a highlight of the Dallas holiday season, and attended by celebrities and dignitaries from all over the world. His role had been on the arm of a lovely lady from Spain whose shopping acumen was second only to her charms in the bedroom. Napoleon heaved a sigh at the memories as he exited his taxi and entered the glass doors that led to the decadence within. "I cannot begin to imagine Illya in here among this luxury". He said it aloud as he passed by the first row of the season's most current offerings. He had to wonder if one of the employees had done something to the little Russian in retaliation of what he most certainly had uttered in defiance of such gratuitous luxury.
"Hello sir. May I direct you someplace?" The accent had a soft drawl, but the face was a vision to the weary American. Red lips in a matte veneer of perfect application, long black lashes surrounding deep brown eyes...
"Oh, I'm meeting someone at the Gittings studio. Where might I find that?" He returned her smile and determined to come back and look her up after he found his partner and settled this matter.
"Just take this up to the second floor, sir. Are you just visiting?" She was smiling with a vengeance now, her eye for quality resting appreciatively on the suave agent.
"Uh, yes...as a matter of fact I am visiting, from New York. Perhaps after I conclude my business here we might have dinner together". That just slipped out, but he did so desire to wine and dine this gorgeous creature.
"I reckon you can find me here...my name is Penelope". She said it with a perfectly drawn out cadence, and he fell for it completely.
"I'm Napoleon Solo...at your service". After completing the transaction with Penelope, Napoleon was heading upstairs to the studio where his partner had been spending his time. The girl at the reception area grew slightly pink as she recalled the handsome blond with the exotic accent. She hadn't seen him since earlier in the day, around lunch she thought. He was waiting for Princess Talia of Antolo, who had a sitting scheduled. He had received a phone call and left, and the princess had never arrived. She wasn't aware of any other plans he might have had. Mr. Gittings was still not on site, and all of Mr. Kuryakin's appointments had been cancelled.
"Well, thank you very much. I'll just have to catch him at home. Good night".
The agent needed to get to Illya's hotel and try to discover something, anything that might be helpful in locating his partner. If the girl was also missing...but that's not what was said. She didn't show up, and so far no one had contacted him to say she was missing or demands had been made. Only Illya was officially off the radar.
His communicator started beeping at the moment he was coming to these conclusions.
"Solo here...any news on Illya?" "Yes, as a matter of fact. He's called us from his hotel phone. You can find him there now, Mr. Solo. I suggest you make that your next stop". Oh, just as though he hadn't been heading there.
"Yes sir, I was on my way. Did he explain where he's been?" He must have lost his communicator to be using a phone.
"He will fill you in on all of that when you see him, I'm sure. Waverly out". Napoleon imagined the old man now, reaching for a pipe and not lighting it, just tamping and fidgeting with the thing. Still, it brought a smile to his face.
Illya had showered and dressed, but only after checking in. He called headquarters and discovered that Napoleon was in Dallas, and that there was nothing to report concerning the princess. If she had been abducted, there was nothing to indicate it. For now it seemed that she was safe. Then he thought of his own misadventure. Getting caught had been stupid, and he was mentally kicking himself for letting it happen. Sometimes he wondered if he were any good at his job.
A knock at the door brought him back from his thoughts; he grabbed his Special and moved cautiously towards it, tensed for action until he heard his friend's familiar greeting.
"Oh Illya...it's me. You can open the door". Each man envisioned the smiling face of the other, the relief at not encountering a Thrush at this moment. Illya unlocked the door and opened it tentatively and then wide as he got a good glimpse of Napoleon, leaning against the door frame in a nonchalant posture.
"Napoleon, you got here fast. I suppose Mr. Waverly sent you to find me". He was glad to see his friend, but at the same time it was a little embarrasing to be the subject of another rescue. At least he'd gotten free without help.
"Yes, well I was already in a travel mode, so I just repacked my suitcase and got on another plane". He did look tired, and as he entered the apartment his eye was scanning for a bottle of something to supplement his weariness.
"Sit down, I have vodka and...vodka. Sorry. We can go have a drink at the bar downstairs. Actually, I'm starved, so let's eat while we're at it". Napoleon had set down his suitcase and was already walking out the door as the words came out of the Russian's mouth. Hungry, thirsty and tired. He hoped they weren't in for a long night.