Princess Talia Evangelique of the principality of Antolo was a beauty. She was also very intelligent and had a cunning that one would expect in a man of the world rather than a female in a token role. There was no real future for her among the politicians who ruled her small country. The little nation, or principality, was of no consequence on the world scene, and their ration of minerals and natural resources was not enough to lure any corporation or, even a megolamaniacal organization like Thrush to their verdant hillsides. Andolo had no future, which meant that Talia had no future within it. She wasn't the type of woman to wait for a man to legitimize her existence, nor did she long for the fulfillment of motherhood, as some did.
What she had decided upon was an adventure beyond the imagination of anyone in her family or the royal court. Neither the prime minister nor her father would ever dare to think of her as she truly was tonight: a jewel thief. The ruse of Thrush wanting to invade their country had been just that; a ruse to get UNCLE to provide a cover for her presence in Dallas. If the agents were kept busy looking for enemies that didn't exist, then she and her team would have opportunity to do this job. The precious gems and jewelry exhibition at Neiman Marcus was just the type of bold acquisition she had been looking for. It had prestige and presence, an opportunity to make a name for herself...or rather her alter-ego. She hadn't come into anything press worthy as yet, but this would most certainly up the ante among her peers, and those who followed such things. That it would also put her on a list among Interpol and the FBI was of little concern, given her ability to pass borders and governments without scrutiny. The situation was perfect.
At least it was until she saw Illya lying on the floor looking all the world like a dead man.
"Ahhhh...Violet. What has happened? Where is Evan and why...?" She shuddered as she bent down to check for a pulse. Illya groaned at her touch, emerging from the unconscious state that had claimed him earlier. "Illya...how badly are you hurt?" This wasn't supposed to happen. Violet leaned over Talia's shoulder to get a glimpse of the blond man lying among the merchandise into which he had fallen. Something beneath him had made the landing a little easier, if only from the standpoint of not being on the hard marble floor. That might have killed him, or done some other kind of permanent damage.
"Talia, we don't have time for that. Get up here and let's finish this job!" Evan was peering over the railing Illya had managed to clear in his descent to the first floor. The two women were hesitant to leave the stricken man, but they had to get this job finished and return to the hotel before anyone interrupted them. If the UNCLE agent was in this shape, Talia hated to think of the guards Evan had encountered. Perhaps he wasn't suited to her style after all.
"Evan, he's hurt. What have you done, and where are the guards?" She needed to know; it had never been about anything except the jewels. No one was supposed to get hurt.
"He's fine. He...' motioning with his hand to Illya...
"He came after me. I had no choice. Now get up here, our time is running out". She and Violet got up, reluctantly, and headed to the second floor and joined Evan. She would make a phone call later, to the police or a hospital. The entire escapade had taken on a menacing air, but she pushed herself forward to complete the job.
Napoleon had taken cover among a display of men's suits and was calling for back-up to their location. He requested an ambulance for Illya, but specified no sirens on approach. The Dallas office was sending agents to assist him in apprehending the three thieves upstairs, and he informed them of the back entry.
Now, having accomplished all of that, Napoleon moved out from the shadows once again and stopped to check on his partner. Illya was unconscious, but he had moved at some point. Relieved to see that paralysis wouldn't be an issue, the agent began to ascend the stairs, careful to maintain a vigilant ear to the thieves who were dismantling the exhibit of precious gems and jewelry. Their bags were being stuffed full, their conversation muted as they worked swiftly and with a practiced hand. This was a career choice for them, but Talia would have words with Evan later regarding his actions tonight. She would not tolerate violence to become imbedded within their modus operandi. She was, after all, a princess.
Illya heard himself groan as he moved his left arm, trying to find a position that would allow him to sit. He was on top of something...clothes he conjectured. It was hard to see in the low light, but something had broken his fall. He was very grateful for that, considering how much it hurt without hitting the marble floor. As he righted himself, he looked up just enough to see Napoleon slowly climing the escalator's stairs. He remembered now...Evan had punched him, sending him over the railing and down to the first floor. He thought he remembered Talia's voice, and so reasoned that all three of the princess' entourage were upstairs. They were robbing the exhibit! He extricated himself from the clothes and whatever else he'd landed on, and got his body turned in the direction of the escalator. He didn't want to stand up or bring attention to the fact that he was up and about, so he crouched as low as his aches would allow and headed towards his partner. Napoleon glanced down and saw him approaching, pointed up to indicate the presence of the royal threesome.
Once at his side, the Russian indicated he would take the left and go around to their backs, while Napoleon took a more direct approach. He raised up to his full height and began to walk casually towards the busy thieves, their attention fully on the task at hand.
Just as he neared them, Evan looked up and started to move his hand toward something concealed in his waistband.
"I wouldn't'...the voice was almost a growl as Illya reached to remove the gun from the confused man. How had he survived the fall and ended up here? Princess Talia dropped the jewels in her hands, indicating with a glance to Violet that she do the same. Something else was in that look, however, and as one the two women spun around, one towards Napoleon and the other to the stunned Illya. They kicked the guns out of their hands and landed back to back, ready to take on the surprised agents. Evan retrieved his gun and held it on the blond, challenging Napoleon to make a move. Somehow the American had no doubt that his partner would be in danger from this man; he seemed to not have any remorse about his previous actions, and would probably not hesitate to shoot.
"Princess Talia, you have to give this up. There are other UNCLE agents, as well as an ambulance already heading here. You won't be able to get out, so...just give up now and maybe we can work something out". It was all he had, and the CEA went into executive mode as he chisled out the prospects for a deal with the young royal.
"No, no Mr. Solo. This is not our first heist, if I may use such a crude term. We've...um...been in business for a while". She smiled with little conviction as she ran different scenarios through her mind, none of them happy. This wasn't going to end well, she feared.
"Talia, you and Violet leave...now. Let me handle this". Evan had something in mind, and none of them had any doubt what it would be. The girls hadn't counted on anything like this when they dreamed up the adventurous lifestyle of a jewel thief. Her father would never forgive her if she were caught and exposed for what she had become.
"Evan, finish up here...Violet, get the bag and come with me. Illya...' She walked up to him and kissed him. This was something she would regret the rest of her life.
"Goodbye gentlemen. I am truly sorry". As she turned to leave, she grabbed Violet's hand. At that instant, Illya threw a punch at Evan who's attention had been diverted by the women's departure. Napoleon grabbed at Talia's wrist and spun her around, causing Violet to be thrown off balance and down the escalator. As she tumbled down the stairs, Napoleon subdued the thrashing princess, taking her down to the ground and sitting on top of her. Illya, meanwhile, endured a blow to his torso that slowed him momentarily before he returned one of equal power to the man with the gun. His grip on the weapon failed as he went down on his knees, sagging beneath a second roundhouse punch from the smaller but highly skilled UNCLE agent.
As the battered Violet reached the bottom of the escalator, two section three agents were coming upon the scene, followed by a medic. They automatically assumed that the girl was the patient, so started bundling her onto the gurney brought by the ambulance. Illya hauled Evan up, never lessening the firm grip as he pulled his arms up higher than they were intended to go. Napoleon had obtained handcuffs from one of the Dallas agents and was in the process of turning the princess over to him with instructions to notify the Antolo officials of the situation. Evan was likewise handcuffed and headed for transport to the Dallas UNCLE office.
"So, a royal jewel thief, no sign of Thrush and a nose dive from the second floor. You've outdone yourself this time, tovarisch". Napoleon looked smug as he shifted the responsibility over to his partner, although he was still concerned about any injuries the man may have sustained.
"Are you feeling okay? That was quite a fall you took". Illya shrugged, then winced as his shoulder complained at the movement.
"Yes, I am fine. Fortunately I landed on a clothing display that had as much cushioning as hard surfaces. I imagine the bruises will show up tomorrow". He looked around the store, then at the departing party of jewel thieves that had fooled not only UNCLE but most of Europe as well.
"No one would ever have suspected her of this extra-curricular activity. Why, Napoleon, would a princess enter into a life of crime...even if it is glamorous crime? I am at a complete loss to understand this".
"You know, Illya, some people are just never satisfied with what they have. What is more disturbing is that she was willing to...to let Evan kill us in order to save her reputation". He shuddered slightly at the thought of being left dead in Neiman Marcus. Which reminded him, the suit was a mess, one pocket was torn away completely... "You know...we're still missing one member of their team". Illya had sat down on a bench near the front door, the effects of his fall beginning to overwhelm the decreasing adrenalin.
"Who? Oh...Penelope. Yes, the beautiful girl who served you the drugged tea'. Illya was nodding his head as Napoleon visualized the lovely Penelope.
"So, where do we find her? She'll be waiting to hear from the others. Although, she might show up for work tomorrow..."
Penelope did show up for her normal shift, and a Dallas agent was waiting for her. She was flustered and indignant, but she went willingly enough, ready to tell everything she knew and claim coercion from the three Antolans.
Less than 24 hours later, Napoleon and Illya found themselves in New York, at UNCLE headquarters, facing Mr. Waverly. "So, gentlemen, would you like to tell me how it is that an international jewel thief with a permanent room at the Antolo palace, succeeded in fooling her father, UNCLE and, for a time, even you Mr. Kuryakin?" Illya dropped his eyes just slightly, catching his partner's slip of a smile as he prepared to make his remarks.
"Sir, she was very convincing in her royal personna. Certainly, to her father and the royal court, she never gave any indication of her...avocation. It was only after investigating her bodyguard's room that I began to suspect what they were doing". "Yes, yes...I'm certain that you were onto her as quickly as was possible. Of course, being caught off guard and taken to that warehouse...any explanation for that?" The gaze settled on blue eyes, then diverted to a search for the elusive pipe. Illya knew the attention was still entirely on him, however. He had questioned the trio in Dallas, discovering that the abduction had been a ruse; like every other part of this affair, everything was done to create a rabbit trail of some sort; Illya was expected to escape. Talia hadn't wanted to hurt anyone, at least not in the beginning. Getting Napoleon to Dallas would have given more credence to the illusion that Thrush was involved, and they had hoped to keep the two UNCLE agents busy chasing that idea.
"It appears that their entire escapade was designed around keeping us looking for Thrush's involvement. Timing, or lack of it, was their undoing. When Evan wasn't in the room, suspicions started to mount and...well, it just took off from there". Napoleon knew that there had been a few mistakes, but given the situation, they had solved the mystery and shut down a previously successful jewel theft operation.
"Well, it's a troublesome thing, royals taking off like this and pretending to be jewel thieves. The girl has made a terrible mistake, and I don't see that she will recover from it. Her father has denounced her actions and the line of ascension has passed on to her younger sister. Princess...or rather Talia, will never be queen'...He found the pipe and started the ritual of filling it and tamping down the strong smelling tobacco.
"That is all, gentlemen. I'll expect your written report in 24 hours". He ushered them out with his gaze, the doors opening with a whoosh as they approached them.
"That went well. I guess we're in the clear". The CEA of UNCLE New York flicked an imaginary piece of lint from his left sleeve, and winked at Waverly's secretary as he passed her desk.
"Yes, it did, rather. I uh... don't suppose you'd like to get some dinner, as it appears we've been dismissed for the night". The blond hadn't eaten in several hours, and he had an empty refrigerator at home. Plus, the mission had been a success overall. They deserved to treat themselves to a good meal.
"You know, that sounds like a great idea. In fact, there's a new Manhattan eatery I've been wanting to investigate. I think it will be perfect tonight, considering what we've just been through". He had a smile on his face reminiscent of a cat who's just finished off the family canary.
Seeing the glint in his friend's eye, Illya supposed he should bite, so to speak...
"And, my friend, where might this be?" Ahh, the moment...
"Le Bijou...The Jewel. What do you think?"
"Oh, Napoleon...' the groan was overdone, but the sentiment did not fail to amuse the Russian.
"Yes, alright then. So, the food is good you say..."
And with that they sauntered out of the steel corridors, into the night and bound for an evening of good food, wine and the security of friendship. They were glad to be home without injury, satisfied that they had done their jobs.
It was true that there were certain things in life, certainly their lives, that could not be bought, bartered or stolen. Jewels and possessions might demand the wealth of royalty or the attention of worldly collectors. The most important things, though, would remain priceless.