"What are you reading today, Illya? Perhaps a new scientific journal or something a little less interesting than day old bread".
Napoleon Solo loved to kid his partner, hoping each time to propel the solemn blond from his boring books and journals and into something more amenable to his own gregarious pursuits. He was not someone who lacked the intellectual capacity to appreciate the erudite subject matter his friend favored, only the desire to consume it.
Illya Kuryakin looked up from the magazine in front of him, removed his dark lensed glasses and raised one eyebrow; it was an obvious sign of disapproval and condescension.
"As it happens, I am reading an article on the upcoming Pan American Games, to be held in Sao Paolo, Brazil. It appears that we, you and I, will be going there".
That sounded better. It was nice and warm down in Brazil, instead of cold and drizzly as it was in New York at present.
"Well, that is wonderful, isn't Illya. And, pray tell, what are the details, my Russian friend?"
Illya shook his head, trying to remember why it was he actually liked this irritating American. Oh, best friend and partner…saved my life a few times…
"I do not, as yet, know the details. I only know that it is on our agenda for April. We seem to be getting this news well in advance of actually going there, and for that I have no explanation".
The American CEA of UNCLE Northwest was not unhappy to find out his future included a trip to Brazil. It was a matter of some curiosity, however, that they were being informed of it now, three months in advance. That bit of information led him to believe there was some type of preparation involved.
There was a whoosh of air as the pneumatic doors parted and the chief of UNCLE Northwest, number 1 of section 1, strode purposefully through them, allowing only the briefest glance at his two top agents. Alexander Waverly had more responsibility than a man should need to endure, and yet his demeanor never changed, nor did his affect ever betray whatever stress or anxiety might be hiding behind it. It was a stone wall that greeted his people on a daily basis, and the strength of that wall gave them confidence in the jobs they performed.
These two were no exceptions to that. If a young Russian had not seen the determination and focus in the face of his new employer, he might never have been able to grasp the true meaning of his role within the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. The resoluteness of the UNCLE chief held him together when the early days threatened to cast him on the rocks of suspicion and, sometimes, open hostility. It was to the young man's credit that he had overcome those obstacles and become, not a recluse or Ice Prince, as some liked to still remark, but a respected and well liked member of the New York office.
Napoleon Solo didn't need someone to bolster his confidence or his ego. Here was a man fully invested in his own self worth. It wasn't something that sprang up out of a self-centered personality; he was just a natural optimist and, because of that, he rightly assumed his place as a leader of men. His quick ascension through the ranks of the command had engendered admiration instead of envy, friends instead of enemies.
The two men, as a team, had a string of successes already that belied the idea that things should take more time. In just a couple of years together, they were the top team, and the top men in this New York organization.
"Gentlemen, I assume you have already perused the information in front of you, and are aware of your upcoming travels".
The old man looked up from his own reports and met the eyes of both Kuryakin and Solo, his expectations rewarded with their matching assent.
"I suppose, now, that you wish to know the reason for this trip, and so I shall tell you…'
He looked over at the blond, momentarily reminded of the young man who had come to him five years previously; skin and bones and looking like a teenager rather than an adult who had gained degrees from both Cambridge and the Sorbonne. He still looked ten years younger than his age should have demanded. It made him only slightly wistful for his own youth.
"Mr. Kuryakin, what do you weigh?"
"Sir? My weight… around 145 pounds, sir".
Waverly shook his head.
"No, Mr. Kuryakin, I doubt it. What do you weigh without your clothing and shoes?"
Now Napoleon looked sideways at his partner. He doubted there was a man in the organization who couldn't best Illya in the weight department; height, either, for that matter.
"I believe I weigh around 138 pounds, sir".
Now the chief nodded his head, indicating that he had known all along what the correct answer should be. He most likely had a medical report in front of him.
"Yes, Mr. Kuryakin. That is what your last check up indicated. Do you think you can find a way to gain five pounds?"
Now Illya looked less confident than he had a few minutes before. Was this a problem, him not weighing more? What, he wondered, was at stake.
"Sir, I don't try to stay this…thin. I believe I eat a substantial amount of food… I…"
"Quite so, Mr. Kuryakin. I am not concerned, as a rule, with your lean body weight. It is a matter of this assignment in Brazil. We need your weight to be firmly at 140 pounds or more, but not exceeding 147 pounds. Do you think you can manage that? Perhaps one of our nutritionists can assist you in… bulking up a bit. Mr. Solo may even have some suggestions".
Both agents thought they saw a slight smirk on their boss's face at that remark. Napoleon was not amused.
"Sir, if I may ask… why does Illya need to gain weight?"
Illya wanted to know as well, but was still mulling over how he might do it. He had spent his entire life being thin and smaller of stature. He didn't think he could remember ever being as tall as the men around him; he always found himself looking up. It might have created his need to be efficient in the various forms of self-defense. He rarely left reasons for others to doubt his abilities.
Illya looked up and prepared to hear the forthcoming explanation.
"your file indicates you have some experience in the ring… with boxing. Your next mission will depend on that skill coming to the fore".
Napoleon lacked words for expressing his surprise. Illya was deadly in a fight, but he had never considered him a boxer. He had now images of two men, sweaty and bleeding, dodging and dancing as punches were landed and someone ended up unconscious on the floor as the crowd cheered on the victor. He shook himself to close down the thought that the man left standing was not his partner.
Illya spoke up, his voice low and his eyes steadied on Waverly. This was not something he had any confidence in, and his record certainly didn't recommend him to this as a cover.
"Sir, I did do some boxing in the navy… the Soviet navy…'
Waverly was nodding his head. Of course he knew which navy.
"It was not a remarkable experience for me. It must show that…sir".
"Mr. Kuryakin, the point here is that you do have experience, and you are in the same weight class as the individual we wish to contact. It has been determined that the most effective and covert method is to have someone who can compete with him. He will be at the Pan American games in Sao Paolo, Brazil this April. He is a welterweight, which is the class you must be prepared to enter. In order for that to happen, you will need to gain some weight, young man. Your training will begin on Monday morning.
Mr. Solo, you will also be training, but due to your larger…ahmmm…your weight is not appropriate. It is also difficult to imagine you taking on this role. I believe you will agree with me".
As much as Napoleon hated to think he was limited, Waverly was right about his lack of suitability for this role; he wasn't the man to take on the persona of a boxer.
"What, exactly, will be my role here, Mr. Waverly?"
If he were also going into training, there was a reason for it.
"You, Mr. Solo, will be cast in the role of Mr. Kuryakin's trainer. That means you will need to know, first hand, what he knows. So, you will train as he trains, learn the business of amateur boxing, and you will ensure that he gains the weight necessary to get him into the welterweight class. Hopefully additional muscle weight will contribute to this as well, but he must eat and he must gain weight. Do you understand?"
Both men replied in chorus.
Behind a row of bars and second hand shops, across an alleyway littered with bottles and trash, and a few homeless men, a doorway was crowned with the illustrious signage, King's Gym. Once you stepped inside, the world of the alley and the people in it became a distant memory. If you were in King's, your life was now in the ring that stood in the center. Locker rooms and benches lined opposite walls, and a bevy of shapely punching bags were hanging at the end of the open room, just waiting to take the punishment for which they were created.
This place smelled of testosterone and anguish, mixed with pangs of regret at lost opportunities or desultory dreams. Only a few ever succeeded in this violent sport, so there was a deserved sense of astonishment at the number of young men who tried. To Illya and Napoleon, the contrast between these faux warriors and their own real life encounters was enough to give them pause at the sight of these combatants, pummeling one another in grueling workouts, the bruises and broken noses outnumbering the men who bore them.
"So, you boxed in the navy, eh Illya?"
The blond didn't respond, merely closed his eyes against the recurring vision of his own failed attempts to best larger and seemingly stronger opponents. He had been young and even thinner than now. Some of the men he had faced in the ring were twice his size…he felt certain that was not an exaggeration.
"Hey, are okay with this?"
Illya only nodded, his eyes focused on the square of activity that occupied the room.
Napoleon felt as though going into this together was an advantage. His role as a trainer would mean they didn't have to break contact with each other, a definite plus. Illya posing as a welterweight boxer in an amateur event was, he had to admit, a great cover for this affair.
The man they were to contact in Sao Paolo was competing on the team from British Guiana. He had been working undercover for the past year, trying to infiltrate a group they were certain was Thrush; the object of that criminal element was not fully defined, but seemed to concentrate around a covert mining operation that had discovered a new vein of gold, something thought long ago exhausted. If Thrush had their eye on gold mining in that country, then a coup of some sort wouldn't be far off. The information they collected from the boxing competitor/agent would be their first real key to how UNCLE should proceed.
Illya would be competing, as a personal favor to Mr. Waverly, as a member of the Canadian team. One of their own had been found using copious amounts of illegal drugs and dismissed, leaving a spot for the UNCLE agent to assume. The fact that most of the team was from British Columbia would help the Russian to merge in, citing his home as Montreal. It wasn't safe to pose him as a Russian defector, so he became an ex-patriot Frenchman, thereby explaining his accent and it's non-Canadian timbre.
Napoleon would be able to make use of his Quebecoise French, a particular irritation to his more fluent European partner, but a perfect element of this affair.
Illya was the first to spot their contact at the gym; Burt Infield was a veteran of the ring, and the owner of King's Gym. He had spent his life in boxing, both as a competitor and now benefactor to the various boys and men who aspired to the limelight in this precarious and, sometimes dangerous sport. Alexander Waverly had befriended Burt during a particularly hazardous event while he was in Germany with a group of boxers doing exhibitions across Europe. The details had been put away with other secrets that both men kept locked in their past, but the friendship had endured between the two unlikely chums. It could not be said of Alexander Waverly that he held anyone at arm's length because of their occupations or aspirations. That he hadn't been able to persuade Infield to join UNCLE had only added to the older man's admiration of him.
The owner of King's had been given a portfolio of the men being sent to him for training in the ring. The one playing the part of the boxer had some experience, but now, looking at him, he felt a sense of near despair at the sight of the small man. Wearing a turtleneck and jeans, he didn't look as though he would last the first round, let alone compete on a world stage among the best athletes in the western hemisphere. Alexander must have his reasons for thinking this guy could do the job, but they weren't apparent to him…yet.
"Mr. Infield? I am Illya Kuryakin, and this is my partner, Napoleon Solo. We are…"
"Yeah, I know why you're here…Illya. Let's get down to business, okay. You aren't exactly what I was expecting…'
Napoleon cut his eyes discreetly to gauge his partner's response to that. This guy didn't know who he had here, appearances aside.
"Go and get changed. We're gonna start you off in the ring, so grab some sweats and let's see what you're made of".
Illya shrugged imperceptibly and headed for the locker room. He was used to this, had expected it. How much of his life had been consumed with proving himself to disbelieving opponents? A resolve to overcome his own doubts and those of this Ingram fellow surged from that place within him that always supplied the fuel for his frequent need for fire.
Stepping up into that ring had a déjà vu effect on the blond. Napoleon, on the other hand, seized the experience as another chapter in his always open book. He and Illya had spent more hours than he could count grappling and wrestling on the mats at headquarters. Their ability to gain and regain control of their matches had held more than one spectator spellbound as they wound around one another, looking for an opening and, oftentimes, drawing blood with their no holds barred encounters.
The boxing ring was a new addition to this story. Even though the partnership was only a couple of years on, these two knew each other better than most in the organization. Their ability to communicate without verbalizing their intentions baffled some, but saved them a lot of time and confusion when in the field. Their success rate proved it to be true, and the senior agent had little doubt that this one would be no exception. He welcomed the opportunity to show what he had, even if the Russian was slated to be the star of this show. What good was a boxer without a great trainer? Napoleon reckoned he could be great at this, just like any role he took on. It was his lot in life to excel.
"So, you two have any experience in the ring…besides your navy gig?"
Infield nodded in Illya's direction at that, still doubting that the smaller man had enough power to knock down a dummy. What the heck was Alexander thinking when he signed this guy up?
"Uh uh…it's Burt".
Napoleon nodded, a smile hiding behind his relaxed posture. He knew what the man was thinking.
"Ok, Burt. I haven't boxed previously. Perhaps one of your guys could demonstrate with my partner…you know, sort of show me how it works".
Burt Infield like this guy. Napoleon, though…what a name. But, hey, at least the guy was honest and willing to take some instruction. The blond looked like he had a bad attitude. Maybe it was a good idea to take him down a notch…
"Hey, Sanchez…Carlos…over here!"
A young Latino sauntered over, his muscled chest and arms an immediate notice of how fit he was. He climbed easily up into the ring, eyeing Illya the entire time, relishing the idea of putting the guy down. These types who came in to test the waters against the real fighters…he had no time for that. Well, time enough to knock him around some.
Infield motioned towards the other man in the ring.
"This here is Illya. He has some experience, but he's needing a brush up course…a few pointers. You know what I mean?"
He jerked his head to the blond, winking as he did so, letting the younger man know he had his permission to go at it full throttle. He respected Alexander Waverly, and he wouldn't want to insult him or his men. But, this little guy needed to know what he would be up against down in Brazil. Chances were, he was gonna get his brains scrambled but good.
Both men had on the gear; mouthpieces were in and gloves shielded their hands. Head gear would soften the blows, should they come.
Illya kept his eyes on Carlos, expressionless and cold. If nothing else, he was confident he could win in that arena. He was poised for the first punch, but willed his body into the dance, remembering the routine and the feel of his feet moving swiftly and rhythmically around his opponent.
As both men circled, their plans were forming. Illya noted a slackness in the left arm, as though the man might have been injured previously. It was slight, but he was trained to notice the small things. Not willing to wait now for the other man to strike, Illya feinted to his own left, then struck a blow that landed with a thud on Carlos' left cheek. It had been quick, but the other man retaliated with a hard smack to Illya's midsection.
He nearly doubled over, but reclaimed his posture in time to receive a second hit, this time to his right ear. He shook it off, dancing away and around, never stopping to acknowledge the dizziness that accompanied the punch.
Burt was watching the footwork, impressed that the Russian kept going. Carlos was centering in on something and struck quickly, but Illya had anticipated it and blocked it, landing his own solid blow to the man's solar plexis, catching his chin as he doubled slightly to appease the catch in his breathing.
Illya was fast, and his strength, while not readily evident to these two, was more than enough to knock Sanchez back on his heels with a resounding left hook, leaving an opening to deliver the final punch. The faltering opponent went down hard, not a knock out, but as he touched the canvas beneath them, Napoleon was grinning widely enough to signal Burt that the blond was a ringer. He shook his head, calling to Sanchez to lay off, the bout was over.
Illya removed his gloves and leaned over to help the young man up from his prone position. While it was never a pleasant thing to be the one on the bottom of a match, Carlos had a new respect for the blond; he'd beaten him fair and square. This guy had some punch for little guy.
"Hey, you need a sparring partner? I'd be happy to step in for that role".
Illya smiled, just barely, and nodded his head toward Burt.
"I believe that will be up to him, but thank you for the offer".
Burt and Napoleon approached the ring, accepting the gear as it was passed to them. This would be the first of many such encounters as the two UNCLE agents prepared for their mission at the Pan Am Games. Illya hoped they would all be this easy, if it could be called that. He didn't think it possible, however.
While Napoleon learned the role of trainer, talking and, no doubt meeting beautiful women who liked to hang around the ring, it would be Kuryakin's head that was pounded, his body enduring the physical punishment.
All in all, it sounded like business as usual.
The pungent environment announced the presence of men who thrived on endorphins and manufactured pheromones like Hershey made chocolate. And there were others who were on the prowl. Napoleon Solo wasn't in the ring today, and he didn't need a boxing ring to prove his appeal. Still, the background didin't hurt. He was attired in black trousers, an uncharacteristic dark blue turtleneck and a jacket made from a small houndstooth check woven of wool and cashmere. His shoes were black leather loafers, handcrafted in italy, and his after shave was a custom blend. He was playing a part, and as always, doing it very well.
"Well, you see Annette, I like to think of boxing as an art form that has no subtlety. It is raw and brutal, like the men who inhabit it."
Napoleon nodded to the men in the ring as he continued his narrative on the virtues and rugged appeal of the sport. His partner was in the ring with Carlos Sanchez, the young man he had not so politely hammered during his first visit to King's Gym.
They were in the fifth week now, heading at a gallop towards the April appointment with the Pan Am Games in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Illya had benefited greatly from all of these workouts, and his physique was beginning to show the effects of strength training and vigorous workouts both here and at the UNCLE gym. The man was single minded, that was for sure. Napoleon knew that the lovely creature next to him had not failed to notice the muscles that flexed beneath the sweaty skin, the tension in the blond's body as he moved around the ring like a cat waiting to pounce. Yeah, he was certain that she had noticed.
"So, Napoleon, do you box?"
He raised an eyebrow and whispered something in her ear, causing a blush to spread from her décolletage up to her hairline. She giggled demurely and reminded him to not be late picking her up for dinner. Just as Illya had predicted to himself, Napoleon was using his bouts in the ring to gain new conquests on the other side of the ropes.
'All of this work, and all I have to show for it is a few more muscles and a tired body. Napoleon is getting his workouts after dark.' The Russian mused to himself as he moved around the ring. No matter, the mission was the thing. And afterwards…he could think of a few things that would serve as a reward.
Burt Infield had doubted Alexander's man when he'd first seen the guy. Welterweights were smaller, compact, but generally built of muscle. Illya hadn't appeared to fit that description, and his surprise at the man's performance had been genuine. His appreciation for what he was able to do was also real. When the little guy knocked down Carlos Sanchez, he got the man's attention.
The gym wasn't full today. Usually there was a crowd hanging around, including women like the one Solo was chatting up. He was having trouble keeping up with the women who paraded by, and had to admit Napoleon was drawing them in like flies to honey. Or, maybe they were here to see the blond. The guy had a little fan club going, judging by the number of females that had suddenly developed an appreciation for boxing. These two were somethin' else.
Mr. Waverly had continued to reassure his two agents that things in Brazil were going as planned. Their contact, another UNCLE agent who was imbedded with the team from British Guiana, had continued to report in on the gold mining operation that was being underwritten by Thrush. Since the athletics were amateur, no one thought anything about the man needing to work for a living, and his profession, currently, was as a surveyor, although no one asked for whom he worked. They were keeping tabs on the countryside, the mines and the people who were traversing in and out. Whatever new vein had been hit, Thrush was keeping a low profile while they carted out loads of refuse and, UNCLE was certain, gold.
None of this should have concerned the Games, or boxers. However, what had clued the venerable head of UNCLE to the venue in Brazil was a communiqué that had been intercepted in which a reference was made to the April meet in Sao Paolo. That Waverly had been able to secure a spot for Kuryakin, courtesy of his contacts on the Canadian team, was enough to convince the old man that going in as a competitor would be the safest and most effective method of observation and, hopefully, circumvention of whatever Thrush was planning.
All of the information available was in the reports that Solo and Kuryakin reviewed whenever they were at headquarters. When they weren't at HQ, most of their time was spent at King's. Illya boxed, Napoleon took notes and stepped in occasionally, taking pointers and learning the techniques he would need to keep his fighter in good shape. And he flirted with the women who came to see the boxers, whose money helped support some of them and, most assuredly, to get to know the handsome guy with the big brown eyes and his cute blond boxing doll.
Dancing in the ring, sidestepping Carlos…Illya could process the information in their man's report while he worked on his technique. Speed and agility, agility and speed. Those were the two most important aspects of this sport, and he reasoned with himself that he could master both of those. Strength was a given; he was deceptively strong compared to people's first impressions of him. However, even he was beginning to appreciate the benefits of the workouts he was getting, and Napoleon had lost a few pounds from his sweaty encounters. It was the movement that did it.
Illya, on the other hand, was still trying to gain weight. He had managed to gain only two pounds; he was three pounds shy of the weight requirement, and a few pounds past that would be better. Mr. Waverly made him go into medical every time he stepped through Del Floria's, and no matter how much he consumed, it was just burning up with his intense physical activity. He figured he'd have to start eating more pasta, and find someone to make him pierogis.
Feint to the right, upper cut and back away…dancing and…Napoleon was flirting again…
The momentary lapse in Illya's concentration as he spied his partner's antics with the shapely blonde, cost him the attention he needed to avoid Carlos' punch. A right hook caught the Russian on his left jaw, and the impact sent him flailing backwards, bouncing off of the ropes and onto the canvas; his ear was ringing and the thought occurred to him that he might be knocked out.
Napoleon disengaged himself from Annette's lips when he saw Illya flying backwards into the ropes and then down. He'd been knocked down before, but this had a look about it that signaled the agent to get back to business.
Illya wasn't moving.
Napoleon managed to get free of Annette and bounded up into the ring. Illya was knocked out, no question about it. He and Carlos had been sparring without any headgear on, and that punch had put the Russian out, decisively.
Burt was already at his side, and Carlos hovered over them both. He liked Illya, and didn't think his punch had been that hard. The guy must have a glass jaw to go down like that.
"Illya…c'mon man, shake it off. Illya!"
Slowly the blue eyes began to open, cautiously at first and then determined to see his way up from the canvas and back into the land of the living. Napoleon had joined the other two men in helping the blond up, and now he took it upon himself to be the one to examine his friend. His fingers grasped Illya's chin, turning his face first one way and then the other, demanding a look into eyes that were still tempted to see double.
"Hey, buddy, are you gonna be okay?"
Illya stumbled slightly as he tried to extricate himself from the three sets of hands that kept holding on to him. Of course he was fine…just fine…
"Whoa…hold on. You're still a little groggy, I think".
It was Napoleon. Did Napoleon knock him out? No, that was Carlos…they were sparring and…
"Ouch. Be careful, that's my jaw you're squeezing."
Scowling wasn't all that effective at ridding himself of the prodding. It was like being in Medical.
"Illya, you went down really hard. We just need to make certain that you're all right. You're a very valuable commodity at present."
Illya scowled a little less vehemently, understanding the meaning of his friend's words, and still unsure why he had gone down so easily. It was one punch, and he was used to being punched and brutalized. Carlos hadn't delivered anything more than the standard Thrush goon.
"Hey man, I didn't think I hit you that hard."
Carlos liked Illya, although sometimes the man scared him. Like now. When he looked out of those sharp blue eyes, he figured some people would just back down and not even bother to throw a punch. But he sure did go down easy.
The grey corridors looked even less animated than normal today. As Illya and Napoleon strode purposefully towards Mr. Waverly's office, they were each contemplating possible scenarios that might develop in light of this new dilemma.
They passed through the steel doors and took their seats at the round table, then exchanged looks that betrayed the confidence of one and the amusement of the other. Illya had no doubt the assignment would remain intact, and Napoleon wasn't quite done exploring the various methods of antagonizing his partner about his being prone to a knockout.
Alexander Waverly called the meeting to order.
Hands were searching for a match as his mouth compressed around the pipe stem.
"Gentlemen, I understand that we are confronted with…hmm…a new element to our intrigue. Mr. Kuryakin, are we better informed as to your frequent visits to medical?"
Napoleon rolled his eyes heavenward at that, while Illya remained stoic and steely eyed. There had been quite enough of this, and he intended to put a stop to it…now.
"Sir, I believe this is an exaggeration of the situation. I was knocked out, but this happens. I hardly consider it the result of a 'glass jaw', or anything else that Mr. Solo is intent upon. I do not quite understand the attention that this is receiving, sir, and…"
"Yes, quite so, Mr. Kuryakin. I agree with you, as does Dr. Wallace, that it is, indeed, a misnomer. That is not the reason you are here."
Now both agents were attentive as they waited to hear the reason their boss had called them in. If Illya was not at risk, then why….?
"No, the reason you are here, both of you, is that the assignment has changed. Our man in British Guiana has been found…'
He let a sigh escape before continuing…
"quite dead, I'm afraid. It seems that Thrush were aware of his presence, after all, and decided to put an end to the intrusion. Now, it seems, we have no need of the games, but rather a great urgency to stop whatever is going on before it can reach Sao Paolo."
Waverly looked up to encounter the intense scrutiny of his two top agents. Kuryakin had a bruise on his jaw that looked painful atop the slight swelling. His partner was predictably well groomed and without any sign of recent encounters in a boxing ring. The old man sighed again, involuntarily. It seemed always inevitable that it should be thus.
Napoleon spoke first, his curiosity about this development on par with a certain relief regarding it. He was glad to spare Illya the task and pain of competing; especially with the recent knockout.
"Sir, what exactly will our assignment be, then? Are we to take up where agent…'
He paused, realizing he'd never known the man's name.
"Agent David Peters. He was fine man, a good agent. A little careless, perhaps, in thinking he wouldn't be discovered. I had not deemed it necessary for you to know his identity. The less known the better…you understand."
The lighting in the room seemed inadequate, suddenly, and the lack of color an assault on Napoleon's senses. Another man dead. Another victory for Thrush to relish…for the time being.
"So then, sir, do we leave immediately? And, what exactly is our assignment?"
Illya looked sideways at his friend, understanding the numbing pain of losing one of their own. The possibility always remained that it might be one of them…
He stopped himself from going any farther on that conjecture. They were alive and capable, and the next thing they needed to do was shut down this Thrush operation. It wouldn't bring back Agent Peters, but it would satisfy some of the need for retribution…again.
Waverly took up his pipe, letting his fingers find their comfort with its familiar feel, his senses calming at the touch. Another man gone, two more on the way. These two, the pair he shouldn't favor, but who couldn't be denied a special place in the old man's affections. One of them would take his place, hopefully, and the other… Well, some things were kept closer than others.
"Gentlemen, you will take the UNCLE jet this evening. The files, photographs and all of Agent Peters' reports will be onboard. The flight time should be sufficient for your perusal and education concerning this affair. You must stop this gold mining operation, or at the very least remove Thrush. We now know that there is a quantum physicist on site, something to which you, Mr. Kuryakin, must pay special attention. You may yet need to get in a boxing ring, only it may be a box of an entirely different orientation."
At that, Illya furrowed his brow and resisted any urge to ask questions. The reports would give him the information he needed, and by the manner of their superior's fluttering hand, it appeared that they were dismissed.
He would need to find his answers on board the jet tonight.
The interior lights had been turned down, permitting the ones they now employed for reading to be more effective. Illya had the largest collection of paper and folders, while Napoleon was holding fast with a lengthy report on the political climate in British Guiana. He was reading portions of letters ascertained from sources, (many who had risked their necks to provide them to UNCLE), and was overwhelmed by the amount of political manipulations going on. Whatever they were heading into, it wasn't just about Thrush and gold mines.
"Illya, are you aware of the activities going on in this country? I wonder if Thrush knows, or if that's why they're in the middle of it all; they might be hoping for a coup themselves, if the Americans and Great Britain don't get their man in office."
The blond raised his head from the documents in his lap, removed his glasses and stared at his partner. In the dim lights, his eyes receded even farther into the pale features as he brushed his hair back, making it stand up in mock protest to the attempt at order.
"It is my understanding that the current premiere is considered too closely tied to Cuba, and other communist ideological pursuits. There exists a plan, I believe, to overthrow the current regime in a manner that will not look like what it is. I imagine also, that Thrush is hoping to gain a foothold there, plus whatever it is the gold represents. A quantum physicist and this political climate, Thrush and gold mines…all of it is difficult to decipher. And, I will refrain from commenting on the shades of totalitarianism being refracted in the light of this situation."
Napoleon just sat, wondering what his Russian partner really thought.
It was true, what the Russian said. The current political climate in British Guiana was in favor of a man who held to a certain viewpoint, and his programs were popular enough to have won him the top spot in a free election. What was feared was that he would align himself with the Soviets, thereby placing a cog in the wheels of democracy, within the region that was considered under the watch of the United States. Secret messages were being sent from the White House to the Prime Minister; espionage and covert operations were in play, were in planning stages and, most probably, in their way. Napoleon and Illya needed to be able to enter the country without hindrances and stop whatever it was that Thrush was doing. Gold mining in the country had virtually come to a halt, and had historically been limited to a small region around the Essequibo River close to the Venezuelan border. In some scenarios, whatever faction could control this new vein would certainly have an upper hand in the economic landscape that was dominated by the production and export of sugar.
"It's such a small country; just a shadow, really, next to Venezuela and the giant…Brazil. How does something so small become such a big target in international politics?"
Napoleon was wondering out loud, but the question was a puzzle to him, and the idea of it collapsing beneath the weight of so much interference was a sad commentary. He didn't ask his friend for an opinion; he knew he wouldn't give it to him right now. It would be difficult enough for him to slip in under the subterfuge that UNCLE offered, without being in the midst of a rant about the imperialism of the west. He'd heard it before, although he didn't necessarily, and for various reasons related to maintaining their relative positions, agree. But, in a situation like this…someone was wrong.
The sleek UNCLE jet landed in Timehri, setting down smoothly on the hot tarmac. Before the two agents stepped out into the early morning, they could feel the humidity and began to anticipate a warm day in this Caribbean country. It was in between rainy seasons, but with seventy percent humidity, any kind of warm was going to be oppressive. This would be the last time Illya would wear a turtleneck during this affair, and Napoleon's tie was begging to rest elsewhere.
Customs passed them through with only a cursory glance at their diplomatic passports. Napoleon didn't think he imagined a courteous nod to his partner as the customs agent read the name on the Russians documents. He only hoped the knowledge of a visiting Soviet wouldn't hinder their work; then again, it might be a benefit among certain groups.
A jeep had been placed at their disposal, arranged by an agent from the Caracas office, the nearest Venezuelan outpost. They might eventually have some contact with him, but for now it was better to not form any larger parties than necessary. The drive to Georgetown, the capitol city, was not going to take long with a distance of about twenty-five miles. Only the condition of the road would make the trip long, in addition to the heat and humidity. Illya was dutifully removing his jacket and preparing to drive even as Napoleon took his seat and began his report into Mr. Waverly.
That the government knew of their arrival and mission was a possibility. It remained to be seen, however. There would be no lack of curiosity when news circulated about the unusual team of an American and a Soviet citizen; UNCLE was known to be apolitical, but few in the ranks of government ever truly believed it.
The team of Solo and Kuryakin had no reason to expect anything different here.
Illya was willing to wait for an explanation as to why they were heading in the opposite direction from the gold mining region. This affair was being handed out to them in increments; he didn't like it, but he wasn't in charge. Napoleon had the details as given to him by Mr. Waverly, and if Georgetown had something to offer them in the way of a clue, spending unnecessary time driving along the poorly maintained roads of this hot, sticky country was what he would do. It would not, ultimately, be without complaint or a certain degree of surliness on his part, but then it was expected of him. Napoleon would have his turn when the going got rough…and dirty. They had a future up ahead that included jungles and rivers, traveling on foot, probably…and Thrush.
Georgetown sounded like a good idea, come to think of it.
The drive to Georgetown was uneventful; always a refreshing change from the alternative mayhem that often followed them. Reciting the directions he had been given on his last communication with headquarters, Napoleon attempted to navigate, passing alongside centuries old canals that helped keep the city from flooding. Being situated at three feet above the high tide line, the two men marveled at the choice of location, but equally so at the ingenuity that had kept it relatively dry during the years. In looking closely, it was apparent that some of the buildings were on brick and concrete pilings, intended to allow floodwaters to pass beneath without moving or destroying the homes and businesses that were, at this time of the day, full of activity.
"Do you know where we are headed, Napoleon?"
To his credit, Illya's voice carried only the dimmest indication of his growing weariness and discontent. It wasn't his partner's fault that they were here in the heat and humidity, not yet situated in a hotel or, more importantly, without a meal in front of them. For some reason he hadn't been particularly hungry during the flight, but now his appetite was expressing its demands. Hopefully…
"I do, my friend, and we are going to turn right…on this street! Hurry, right turn!"
Illya fairly peeled around the corner at the commands from the passenger side of the jeep, keeping the vehicle from turning over by sheer willpower and years of experience heeding his partner's directions.
"Napoleon, when will you learn to look far enough ahead to give me a fair chance at following your directions without spilling us out on the pavement?"
The American's response was to ignore his companion, all the while pointing to a large white wooden structure that now stood in front of them in a type of cul-de-sac; the grounds were lush with tropical vegetation, flowers and, if his hearing was correct, Illya thought he heard various bird calls all around the park like setting.
"Here you are, my little hot-headed Russian. Perhaps a drink in the bar of this beautiful establishment will ease the obvious tension that is troubling you."
A slow smirking smile began to cover the handsome agent's face, serving only to increase the ire of the blond, his weariness now exacerbated by the seeming aloofness of the man seated next to him.
It was too hot to indulge in any irritation. Besides that, the prospect of finding air conditioning or, at the very least, a highly efficient fan, was now more important than continuing to be a grouch. He thought that was the word Napoleon had used to describe him one time. He didn't wish to carry the title…at present.
"It really is quite lovely. How long do we intend to stay here?"
Napoleon looked pleased with himself. It wasn't his choice for them to stay here, but having directed them he felt somehow responsible and, therefore, accepted the other man's appraisal as a personal kudos.
"I agree, it is very inviting. We have the rest of the day to sort through some details, but the real adventure doesn't start until tomorrow. We can enjoy our evening here among…'
Illya raised his eyebrows as if in anticipation until he rolled his eyes in a standard acquiescence of what he knew must come next.
"…the natives. So to speak."
With that, Napoleon's face broke into one of his trademark smiles. He was already imagining what delightful company he might find here in such a beautiful environment. Illya contemplated more reports, and the eventuality of encountering the enemy. He knew he had more work to do, studying and…
"I'm starving. I hope the food is good."
"You're always starving, and sometimes you eat it even if it's not good."
"Very funny, Napoleon, but…"
They were talking as they walked from a parking spot into the hotel lobby. Before Illya had finished his sentence, Napoleon grabbed his arm and thrust him sideways behind a tall potted palm. At the desk was Victor Gervais, a known Thrush man with an impressive organization in France. If he was here…
"What are you…"
"Sshhh…Illya, do you recognize him?"
Napoleon indicated Gervais, but the Russian hadn't seen him previously. In spite of his usual knowledge of nearly everything Mr. Waverly might bring up, he was not familiar with this man. Napoleon had never met him, but was aware of his successes in Europe.
"Victor Gervais. He's based in France. What is he doing here, in British Guiana of all places? This must be a bigger operation than even we have suspected. This might call for a little…hmmm…creative dialogue."
Illya suddenly had a bad feeling about all of this. Even though they hadn't been paired for long, he had come to learn that when his partner got creative ideas, it usually meant that someone was going to walk into the lion's den, so to speak. And more often than not, Illya was the bait for the lions.
The two men watched Victor Gervais as he conversed with the desk clerk, receive his room key and pass a card of some sort. A young woman appeared at his side, a blonde with a heart shaped face and an hour glass shaped figure.
Napoleon straightened up slightly, adjusted his tie and motioned to Illya that he was going to join them. Illya merely leaned his head back against the wall behind him and extended his arm, indicating that his partner should do just that. He knew he couldn't stop him, and assumed that he was also unknown to Gervais.
The American smiled and chuckled as he took in the sight of his partner up against the wall, his turtleneck clinging to his torso as a result of the heat and humidity, and his hair disheveled hopelessly from the ride in a topless jeep. Of course it was up to him to approach Victor Gervaise at this point in the game. Illya's part would come later.
This was where Napoleon Solo excelled; he would set the stage and do it with style. Gervais and his companion would welcome him, and soon the men from UNCLE would know exactly what was going on in this country.
This then, was the beginning of their little play.
Napoleon reached the desk with a relaxed and cheerful demeanor, his attention equally divided between Gervais and his blonde companion. The woman appeared to be in her twenties; it was a typical liaison, perhaps, between an older, sophisticated man and a younger woman who was willing to be agreeable for the exchange of amenities it would provide.
"Oh, hello. I'm sorry…am I interrupting?"
The feigned concern over his inopportune appearance caused the tall and elegant Frenchman to turn in the agent's direction, unaware that he was, in truth, the object of the man's interest.
"I am interrupting. Please, I will be more than happy to wait my turn."
His smile was infectious, and the woman scanned him with brown eyes that betrayed dark roots, and careful attention from her hairdresser. Brown eyed blondes were rare, and Napoleon doubted she was any less duplicitous than the man she accompanied.
"No, not at all monsieur …?"
"Solo. Napoleon Solo. And I do apologize for my abruptness. I've been driving through this heat, I am just very anxious to get into my room. But, I'm certain we all have pressing business at hand."
His was a knowing smile, a charismatic grin that put Gervais at ease. He was accustomed to dealing with the brawn and, while sometimes efficient, less than elegant men he was forced to employ. This man, however, sparked a desire for a more sophisticated and subtle approach to world domination. This was a man he might consider a friend under certain circumstances.
"Mr. Solo, I am Victor Gervais. We are all, as you say, subject to this tropical clime, and here for business rather than pleasure. Perhaps, however, we might enjoy a meal together, to commiserate on our circumstances in this… somewhat primitive country. Dinner…tonight?"
"Please, Napoleon. It will lessen the strain of these circumstances."
Gervais was hooked.
"Yes, you are right, and so it is first names, although yours is very daunting to a Frenchman such as I.
The smile again, and a hearty handshake as he nodded to the young woman who was also smiling now at the handsome American.
Napoleon, this is my daughter, Evangeline. She has agreed to join me on this … trip. Are you here alone?
"Umm…actually…I am here with a colleague; Dr. Illya Kuryakin, recently of the Sorbonne. He is meeting with some fellow scientists to discuss the possibility of a future forum on…well, you probably don't want to know the details of a quantum physics symposium."
At that stroke of manipulation, Victor Gervais' eyes brightened momentarily before returning a cool reply to Solo's enticement. A quantum physicist might prove interesting, especially in light of the current project.
"We must meet your Dr. Kuryakin; it wouldn't do to leave him alone in his room while we dine together. Please, do bring along your colleague…shall we say eight o'clock in the dining room?"
"Victor, Evangeline…I look forward to it. And I'm sure Dr. Kuryakin will be pleased to join us."
With that the two, father and daughter, left the desk and headed towards the modest staircase. It didn't appear that the hotel possessed an elevator, and Napoleon watched as the two started their ascent to the second floor. He made a point of not looking interested, but was able to take note of the doors they entered.
Illya had been observing the exchange from the safety of his palm, noting with a hint of amusement the equal amount of observation going on between the three participants. The woman obviously found Napoleon attractive, and had spent much of her time producing adequately provocative gestures with her eyes and mouth. She fingered her hair in a manner that betrayed her interest, the subtle signs of flirtation unique to the female gender. Now he emerged from his hiding spot and walked casually across the lobby, empty save for the two agents and the man behind the desk.
"So, what type of arrangement have you made with monsieur Gervais? Are we now members of Thrush?"
Napoleon hinted at laughter as his partner approached him, nodding to the desk clerk that he would have his key now. They would require a change of clothes; an entirely new wardrobe for Illya, perhaps.
"He is traveling with his…uhh…daughter. Or so they say. I can't really imagine why he would concoct a story about it, so I suppose it's the truth. You are, by the way, Dr. Kuryakin."
He waggled his finger at the blond as he announced the title, indicating a plan of some sort was in the works, and that Illya was, as he had known he would be, the bait.
He sighed in resignation, knowing that it was the only path they could travel. Gervais would need a reason to engage them in any type of business dealings, or even social encounters. Thrush were not known for being casually social or gregarious. No amount of natural charm could overtake the desire for obtaining the goals of the hierarchy; world domination was a full time endeavor.
"What is our agenda, then? I suppose you are to charm the young lady whilst I enter into the deeper waters of actually spying on the enemy. That is the plan, is it not?"
Napoleon had to admit he had thought it would go something like that. But, what was the benefit of traveling with a quantum physicist if he couldn't be dangled in front of power hungry megalomaniacs? Illya should have thought twice about doctorates before he launched into all of that. Thrush was looking for scientists, and here they had one to deliver, so…
"Illya, I have no doubt you will handle it all with your usual aplomb. Your expertise is what we have going for us right now. Well, that and my obvious connection with Gervais' daughter. I think, for not having had a plan, the one we've ended up with is going to work out splendidly."
He managed to say all of that with a smile on his face, while his partner fairly scowled at the obvious good sense it made. He was tired, and needed to change into something not saturated with perspiration and dust. Napoleon caught that look, and immediately launched into yet another facet of the developing scenario.
"I was thinking that perhaps we should get you into appropriate clothing for the role. I think you need something other than basic black, and you don't intend to wear any more turtlenecks in this weather, so…"
Illya gave up trying to hold back the scowl. New clothes…only Napoleon would deem it necessary to outfit him in how he thought a scientist should dress.
"Yes, well you see…umm…I'm thinking something less serioius, to offset the obvious. It's hot here, and linen is the best choice. Being an intellectual doesn't mean you can't have good taste. With Victor Gervais involved, I think every effort needs to be made to impress."
The rumpled blond knew his partner was right. He wouldn't be taken seriously as a world-class physicist if he were dressed in his normally staid and spy like wardrobe. Unless he were a Russian scientist, of course, which is what he was.
He stopped. What was the point? Linen would be more comfortable in this humidity, and it wouldn't bother him to dress more casually. At the moment the idea of stripping down to his shorts seemed like a very reasonable alternative to standing here sweating.
"All right, and where do we begin this shopping excursion? I will go along with this as long as you don't over do it."
Napoleon merely grinned. When did he ever overdo anything?
At precisely eight o'clock, Napoleon and Illya made an entrance into the hotel dining room. The dark haired American was dressed in a pair of white trousers, a crisp white shirt beneath his blue blazer. He had abandoned the idea of a tie in favor of a silk paisley scarf at his neck. In this place, it was a suitable substitute, and even in this heat he remained cool and unaffected.
He had determined that Illya would show best in white linen; and he did intend to show him off. The first impression was intended to wow Gervais, to set him at ease regarding the Russian. The Frenchman was, if nothing else, a stylish man of means who would appreciate good taste and refined embellishments on a man or a woman. Even a Russian scientist could be portrayed as having an élan born of discerning origins.
The first thing that struck Victor Gervais was the contrast between the two men who entered the dining room. Napoleon Solo was not a big man, but his ability to fill the room made an immediate impression. Dark and handsome, he exuded a continental elegance that belied his American birth. He had no doubts that Evangeline found the man attractive and, for Gervais, signaled a need to watch him carefully.
The other man, Dr. Kuryakin it would appear, was slighter of build and appeared to be not much older than a college student. It was hard to believe he was already an acknowledged physicist, a member of the global scientific community. He noted, also, that several tables' occupants had turned to observe the two as they walked through the room. The blond had an affect of extreme confidence; different from Solo's but just as domineering. He wondered at the conflict these two might construct out of opposite points of view, the scenes of alpha competition an interesting possibility.
The older man rose as his new companions reached his table. Evangeline nodded and smiled, holding out her hand for the requisite kiss from the American. A slight bow came from the blond, his eyes causing her to start slightly. They were a shocking shade of ice blue, and the intensity of that brief encounter chilled her.
Whereas monsieur Solo had a warm intensity in his brown eyes, Dr. Kuryakin's gaze was icy and penetrating. She felt intimidated and, momentarily, emotionally naked as the introductions were made.
"I'd like to introduce my friend, Dr. Illya Kuryakin. Illya, this is Victor Gervais and his daughter Evangeline."
"Monsieur, mademoiselle…it is a pleasure".
It was flawless French in which he greeted the two, and they both acknowledged a better than average accent from one not of French birth.
"You are familiar with our language, then, Dr. Kuryakin? Your accent is excellent."
Illya let the corner of his mouth betray a wisp of appreciation for the compliment as his partner suppressed a grimace at the now familiar nod to the Russian's expertise with languages.
"You are most kind, monsieur. I studied in France, at the Sorbonne. I owe whatever compliments come to me as an homage to that time, and the people who guided me.'
He fairly gleamed in the crystal glazed lighting in this room. His white linen suit was only a few shades lighter than his sun streaked hair, and the effect of driving in the tropical sun lent, if not a tan, at least a more colorful complexion.
"Are you here, if I may inquire, on business…or pleasure?"
Gervais was pleased with this man. He considered that he and Evangeline were quite fortunate to have met these two; in the midst of Thrush business, it was a pleasure to encounter men of similar breeding and tastes. The normal Thrush personnel grew wearisome very quickly.
"Ah, Dr. Kuryakin…"
"You must call me Illya. We are not formal here, I hope."
That was accompanied by a rare and captivating smile, something not easily pried from the Russian's repertoire of expressions. Both father and daughter were immediately captivated by it; Evangeline forgot the earlier chill, deciding that he was not cold…not at all.
"Yes, you are generous, doctor…oh, Illya.'
The man's grin spread across his face as he acquiesced to the enticement of UNCLE's most charming duo. If he had only known…
"I must admit, you seem quite young to be so accomplished in your field. Napoleon has told us a little about your business here; a symposium on quantum physics, I believe?"
Illya let his eyes drop seductively, inviting more speculation than was already present.
"We are in the process of planning only. It would be of great interest to gather the world' pre-eminent people. There are so many theories, so many paths of exploration!"
He let himself sound carried away by the subject matter, which in fact, he was. Although several years removed from his studies, the intermittent trips to the labs and the stacks of journals in his apartment kept him abreast of the latest developments in his former field of study. He was warming to this role, and Napoleon sat by and waited for the pay off.
At some point, Victor Gervais was going to want this Russian on his project.
Round One to Team UNCLE.
If Victor Gervais had suspected anything threatening or covert about his new acquaintances, he gave it little time to develop. Although it was his business to be careful and untrusting, the two men with whom he and his daughter had dined put his mind at ease concerning hope for the current generation. If only Thrush were populated by more men of their quality and temperament, his job would be easier and his worries much diminished.
He had come here to this tropical country in order to spearhead an operation of unbelievable potential to Thrush, and to him personally. He would no longer find it necessary to supervise the minions under him, on any continent, should the experiments go well. A new age was ready to dawn on unsuspecting mankind; Victor Gervais intended to be the master manipulator when it was revealed.
Illya and Napoleon had excused themselves from their dinner companions at just the right time, leaving monsieur and mademoiselle Gervais both enchanted with their company, and disappointed at an early departure. The two agents claimed a need to discuss some aspects of their business before retiring, and took refuge in the hotel bar.
It was not a lie, and both men were beginning to feel the lack of sleep now that the hour was getting late. Neither of them had taken time to nap or even rest since they had left New York. The flight had been taken up with reading and studying the information regarding this assignment; the long day had been one activity after another.
"I am ready to climb into my bed and hope to not be disturbed until morning. Do you think that is a possibility?"
Napoleon grinned at the chagrined sound in his partner's voice. When Illya actually admitted a need, it was serious business. He had to admit, he was also very tired.
"I hope so, Illya. Since we've established how we're going to proceed, we should be able to afford a few hours sleep. I expect we'll be hearing from Gervais tomorrow; he's going to find some way to invite you to join him on his project, I'm sure of it. It beats having to go traipsing through the jungle in hopes of discovering it ourselves. This couldn't have been planned better if we'd tried."
The two men raised their glasses in a toast, the icy vodka and smooth bourbon reflecting the men who held them.
As the sun rose and the heat of the day began to fuel the humidity that never seemed to rest, both UNCLE agents emerged from their rooms and converged in the small sitting area. The hotel was equipped with several large suites, theirs being one of them. It was always a bonus to have the luxury of space, and considering the cover that had come into play, this suited their roles nicely.
Napoleon had begun to wonder if Alexander Waverly knew ahead of time that Victor Gervais would also be in this hotel; it was not normally the type of accommodation he allowed for his agents, the budget always being a concern.
"Call up for coffee, will you? I'm going to get in the shower, unless…"
Illya shook his head.
"No, it's fine. Shall we breakfast here, or downstairs?"
"Hmmm…downstairs. Just in case Gervais is in the dining room. We want to make sure we run into him again."
Napoleon closed the bathroom door as Illya was dialing for room service. Tea and coffee would be up shortly. Before he had hung up the phone, a knock at the door prompted him to go back to his room and grab his robe, dreading the extra clothing on his already warm skin. Still, it wouldn't do to go to the door in his boxers…
He opened the door, holding his Special in the pocket of the robe. He hadn't been able to wear it last night, and even now he wished he could put his holster back on and feel more at ease in the comfort of its confinement.
"Mr. Kuryakin? This message was left for you at the desk."
Only slightly surprised, Illya nonetheless was not prepared to offer the man a gratuity for his service. He motioned for him to wait as he turned to check for any cash that Napoleon might have left on the table. In that instant and without a warning intuition regarding it, the messenger launched himself towards the agent, tackling him and drawing him down onto the floor.
Having been totally unprepared for the attack, Illya was momentarily at a disadvantage. He quickly rolled the other man onto his back, unable to avoid completely the knife in his hand before he knocked it away and delivered a jaw crunching blow to his assailant.
That was enough to put the man out, as Illya flashed back to the last time when he had been on the receiving end of a knock out punch; he was getting up just as Napoleon emerged from the bathroom.
"Ah, room service. I see they have a different way of doing things here."
Illya nodded, his hand not leaving his side.
"Yes, you might say that. He said he had a message; I just wonder who it's from…'
As he said that, he turned his head towards his friend, his eyebrows raised in a questioning expression, the blue eyes accentuated by a ray of sunlight as it pierced through the gauzy curtains on the window. He felt the blood oozing through his fingers, but said nothing. Napoleon looked again at the man on the floor.
"I don't think Gervais would do this. He has no reason to suspect, and in any case, this doesn't seem his style. Someone else then…but who?"
As if to punctuate the question, another knock at the half open door, and then a gasp of discovery from the man who stood there.
"Mon dieu! What has happened here?"
Victor Gervais stood at the door, gasping at the scene. Both he and Napoleon seemed to notice at the same time the blood on Illya's hand as he pulled it away from his side; it had been hidden by the robe.
Both men were at his side as the blond began to waiver, the loss of blood and the sudden drop in adrenaline now serving to make him slightly dizzy.
"No, really…I'm fine. It's not that bad…"
It was Napoleon who caught him as he finally passed out. Gervais was on the phone immediately, calling for an ambulance, or a doctor…whichever would be the quickest. He was assured there was a doctor in the hotel, and would be up immediately. He hung up the receiver and went to the sofa where Illya was now conscious, if not entirely alert.
"How did this happen? Do you know this man?"
Gervais was insistent on an answer, and wondered secretly if one of his own inept employees had, for some reason, targeted the scientist.
"I simply answered the door. He said he had a message… I turned away to get money for a tip. From now on I shall keep cash in my robe pocket…"
He smiled slightly at that, and then grimaced at the pressure of a towel being applied to his wound. Napoleon had gone for that immediately upon getting his partner to the sofa.
Gervais' concern over the incident was interesting, and reaffirmed to the American that he intended to take the Russian scientist under his wing, so to speak.
It was fortunate that Illya's gun hadn't been discovered. It was still in the pocket of his robe; it wouldn't do for Gervais to know about it.
As far as he was concerned, Dr. Kuryakin was important enough to merit the attention of an adversary, and a dangerous one at that. If it wasn't Thrush who was after him, then who might it be?
Victor Gervais would handle things from now on. Dr. Kuryakin needed his protection, and Thrush needed Dr. Kuryakin.
The hotel manager was alerted to the violence, and in turn called the police in order to clear up the room and settle the cause of this unwelcome event. His hotel was known as a tranquil place of respite. It would not do for this to get out, and he certainly did not want anyone to know an intruder had attacked a guest. No, this would not do at all.
Without spending too much time questioning the victim, the police officer reassured all parties that the perpetrator would be dealt with, and all answers would be forthcoming as soon as they were known. Perhaps it had been random, he surmised in his ignorance; all parties in possession of the knowledge had failed to mention the man's use of the name Kuryakin.
Two other policemen hauled the surly intruder out of the room as the others watched. Illya lay on the sofa, his hand holding the towel to the wound, and Napoleon and Victor Gervais stood close by, each with his own set of concerns.
By the time the physician had arrived, the bleeding had stopped and Illya was certain the wound was not serious. It appeared to have made a hole in the flesh without hitting anything internal. After a quick inspection, Dr. Wheaton, a guest who conveniently happened to be a physician, confirmed the same and reassured Napoleon and Victor Gervais that their friend would recover without need of hospitalization. He applied a topical pain killer and was able to stitch the wound together, apply a secure bandage and, to Illya's relief, say goodbye. As he closed the door, the blond was already up and heading for his room.
"Are you certain you are all right? It seems inconceivable that you should sustain this injury and then…"
Gervais shook his head, marveling at the man and even more certain that this was someone he needed on his team of scientists. So far, they had only the German, Dr. Schmidt, who was beginning tests in the mines to the west. They were behind in their schedule, and plans for their presence at the Pan American Games in Sao Paolo was beginning to look bleak indeed. All of this was going through his mind as he watched the Russian.
"I assure you, I will be fine. A broken bone would be much worse than this."
Illya excused himself and returned to his own room, closing the door behind him and collapsing onto the bed. It hurt, and he felt weak, but Gervais mustn't know it. Napoleon would find out soon enough, but for now he would rest for a little bit longer. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't be of any use to his partner as the day progressed.
Napoleon didn't want to lose his access to Gervais, but he needed to get him out of the room. It wouldn't do for him to wait for Illya to come out, because the agent was pretty sure his partner was in no hurry, in spite of his protests about being fine.
"I believe Illya will probably need a few minutes, and then we do have some business to attend to. Perhaps we can plan on dinner again this evening. I'm sure we'll all have plenty to talk about, including this little drama. Shall we make it eight o'clock again?"
Victor Gervais acquiesced to the obvious request for privacy. He also had business affairs in need of attention. Travel arrangements needed to be made for a trip to the Thrush mine near the Venezuelan border. He was still hopeful that Dr. Kuryakin would be accompanying him, but he knew not to push too hard. He wondered what business had prompted the attack; the two men he had found so charming and sophisticated obviously had enemies. He would need to do a little investigating of his own to discover just who had wanted the scientist dead.
"Yes, yes of course, Napoleon. You must make certain that Illya doesn't push himself too soon. You must call on me if you have need of anything…anything at all."
Napoleon smiled, shaking the older man's hand as he walked him to the door. When at last he could close it, he locked it and began a thorough inspection of the room. Someone knew they were here, and if it wasn't Victor's man who had attacked Illya, just who was he? Confident that the room was clear of bugs of any type, he sat down and opened up the cigarette case/communicator, dialing his connection and opening up the channel he needed.
"Open Channel D, please. This is Solo…"
"Yes, Mr. Solo. I have been wondering when I might hear from you."
"I apologize, sir. Illya was attacked here in our room. We've only just cleared it of police, doctors and…Victor Gervais."
"I see…and how is it that Monsieur Gervais was present for this…attack?"
"Oh, no he wasn't here when it happened. He was coming up to our room to…well, I don't actually know why he was here. But he seemed genuinely shocked about the attack. Mr. Kuryakin is going to be fine, by the way, sir. It's a knife wound, but it didn't damage anything internal. A doctor was available and stitched him up."
"That is good to know, Mr. Solo. Do we know why Mr. Kuryakin was…attacked? If not a Thrush move, then who?"
"I'm afraid I don't know…yet. The police thought it might be random, but Illya says the man had a message for him, and called him by name. Is there anyone else who might be aware of our presence here…someone who has a reason to object?"
"I suggest you make it your business, Mr. Solo, to find out just that. Please let me know when you do. Waverly out."
Napoleon knocked on Illya's door before entering. It was a formality, but he intended to check on his partner in any event. In spite of the reassurances from both him and the doctor, the man had lost enough blood to set him back a bit. Besides that, there was the question of who had sent the assailant. He was fairly certain that Gervais had nothing to do with it.
Considering where they were and the political climate the country was dealing with, Napoleon had to consider the possibility that Illya had been targeted because of his Soviet citizenship. There were several factions at work here, and at least two of them were against what they assumed Kuryakin stood for.
Their trip here could have been misconstrued by any number of political types, and the Russian would be the most likely target. Napoleon could see now that he had his work cut out for him.
It wasn't just Thrush they needed to be concerned about; now he was probably dealing with the CIA and British Intelligence.
Nothing was ever what it seemed.
DISCLAIMER: I know nothing about quantum physics, and am parlaying some finite research into a story line. I hope no one is offended if my science fiction is more fiction than science. Thanks
Napoleon walked softly into his friend's room, fully expecting to see him asleep. Instead, he was propped up in his bed, still in his boxers and the very efficient looking bandage the doctor had wrapped around him; he was reading what looked like a scientific journal of some sort.
"I guess I should have known a little skirmish with a knife wouldn't be enough to put you out completely."
He smiled at his own remark, realizing that Illya had fled the room partly to get away from people. He was like a cat in that way; he would rather lick his wounds in private than be on display.
"Napoleon, do you know anything about quantum mechanics? Because the presence of gold suggests, in combination with this need for quantum physicsists, that there is something being done in regard to relativistic quantum chemistry…'
He noted the glazed expression in his partner's eyes, and backed up a little to try and help him understand.
"You see, gold is, as I'm sure you know, one of the heavy elements and so, you see that the relativistic effects are more prominent in heavy elements, because in these elements electrons attain relativistic speeds. These are necessary in reaching light speed, which in turn, some believe, produce something …
Look, Napoleon… two soviet physicists, Viktor Ambartsumian and Dmitri Ivanenko, discovered that not only the quanta of the electromagnetic field, photons, but also other particles such as those with a nonzero rest mass, may be born and disappear as a result of their interaction with other particles. This idea is the basis of modern quantum field theory and theory of elementary particles. There are some who believe that by manipulating heavy elements, such as gold, in a relativistic speed dynamic, it is possible to simply lift a solid object out of it's current environment and place it elsewhere."
He stopped, slightly breathless form his spontaneous presentation, and watched as the signal lights slowly began to burn in Napoleon's brain.
"Time travel? Is that what you're talking about?"
"Well, not exactly but close. It allows for the particle to simply disappear from sight. It requires the exact and perfect combination of all the possible elements, but there are theories. It occurred to me that Thrush might be in the market for this, considering the shopping list they've produced thus far. A gold mine, at a certain elevation in a region known for suspicious occurrences of weather and seismic activity…"
Napoleon nodded, his imagination beginning to grasp what could only be fiction…
"And quantum physicists to push all the right buttons."
They were both grinning now, and Illya was flush with excitement. As much as he didn't want to help Thrush develop something of this nature, the opportunity to be present when it happened was nearly more than he could be expected to relinquish. It was wild and it was unproven, but it was possible.
"Okay, then, I see that we have a lot of work to do. I'll contact Mr. Waverly and see what he thinks of this. Illya… just how likely is it that this could actually… I mean…?"
"Oh, it's highly unlikely, and only the likes of Thrush would be seriously considering it as a means to conquer the world. But, if it were possible, and Thrush did find a way to overcome the natural laws as we know them, they would be unlimited in their ability to reach into secret places and snatch the people who safeguard sanity in this world. It would be very bad."
He shook his head, not quite sorrowful at the prospect of witnessing something this fantastic. Still…
"Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say. Why don't you get some rest, or just keep on reading, since I suspect that's what you're going to do…"
The blond head was already bent forward, his glasses obscuring the blue eyes that were absorbing every word as his brain began to formulate just how it might be done.
Napoleon turned and started toward his own room, then remembered that he'd never had his coffee. Not that the adrenaline surge hadn't more than compensated for the caffeine kick, but somehow the day wasn't the same without his morning cup. He decided to finished getting dressed, since he was still only in his trousers and a tee shirt; he would go down to the dining room and see what there was to see. Perhaps another conversation with Victor Gervais was in order.
As it turned out, Napoleon was a little relieved to be able to have his coffee in the quiet and solitude of the dining room. He found a table near the French doors and let the gentle whiff of the ceiling fan keep him cool. It was a strange compulsion to have that morning cup of hot coffee, especially considering the approaching heat of the day. Some things deserved a place in life, however strange and unpredictable that life might become. Coffee was a stabilizer; it meant that there was a balance in life that wouldn't be upset. At least not today.
As he sipped the last of the rich brew, he saw Evangeline Gervais descending the stairs. Her hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and accentuated by a bright pink scarf. She was wearing a white dress, belted with patent leather of the same hue as the scarf. Her white sandals echoed the effect of the dress; her pedicure had been finished off with a similar shade of hot pink.
Napoleon thought about approaching her, but decided to just observe. He left his tip for the waiter and slowly took up the challenge of spying on the daughter of the other spy. It wasn't likely that Evangeline was involved in this Thrush business, but then it wasn't entirely out of the question either. With Illya upstairs pouring over his quantum theories, and Gervais nowhere in sight, this seemed like an interesting and, possibly, rewarding diversion for the morning.
Rather than drive or take a taxi, the girl started out on foot. If the day became much hotter, this could get to be tiresome. Napoleon had wisely decided to not wear a jacket, opting instead for a lightweight blue cotton shirt that he wore loosely over linen trousers. There was no point in not looking like the natives, and they certainly understood how to keep cool.
Evangeline walked briskly past the hotel park, heading straight towards a shopping district that was located at the end of the avenue on which the hotel was situated. The cul-de-sac seemed to have been constructed solely for the purpose of the Hotel George, perhaps a site of an original edifice constructed by the early British settlers. He might have to look into that, just as a matter of curiosity.
When he reached the little Mercado, it was not just a collection of tourist oriented shops, but a single destination that was divided into individual stores that appeared to carry high end merchandise. Whether they were European, or American perhaps, Napoleon couldn't immediately tell. What he did see was Evangeline slipping into one store that sold jewelry, her interest seeming to land in a display case of gold jewelry of varied descriptions. Napoleon hesitated about getting too close, then determined to just be bold. That usually worked for him.
"Why, hello mademoiselle. I thought I recognized you when I passed by this shop."
The smile was disarming when she turned around, and the American thought that among all of this gleaming gold, she seemed to reflect some of its splendor. Napoleon felt elated at the sight of her, and glad at his decision to follow her here.
"Ah, monsieur Solo…Napoleon. So, you are shopping today also?"
He grinned like a little boy, just a little embarrassed at the lie he was going to tell her. He was a spy, and lying was part of the job description. Why should it be a problem for him now?
"Yes…yes I am. And, I saw you and decided to take a chance that we might enjoy some shopping…together."
Now, that part was true. He did want to spend some time with her. He had seen the look on Victor's face when Evangeline sized him up. He could cope with that; it's not like people actually still did things like shotgun weddings. Besides, he would be all business…
"Oui, yes…that sounds delightful. And perhaps lunch later? I have heard there is a wonderful little café not far from here that serves some wonderful fish dishes. It is, as someone told me, off the beaten track. Is that right?"
He chuckled at her, enjoying the naiveté she displayed. Wow, he could really get himself in trouble with this one.
At the same time that Napoleon was resisting all manner of temptation regarding Evangeline Gervais, Illya was up in their suite engrossed in his exploration of all things quantum. It took several rings before he thought to answer the phone, and when he did it was more than regret that swooped in upon his short lived abandon.
"Mr., or is it Dr. Kuryakin?"
The voice was unfamiliar, and held no accent; it was not someone local.
"To whom am I speaking?"
He didn't answer the question, merely posed one of his own.
"I can tell by your accent that you're the man I'm looking for. I think we should talk, Dr. Kuryakin."
The title of doctor was drawn out, as though spoken by a person who disdained such things. His tone was at once condescending and petty, although Illya recognized the inflection of someone educated, or at least from some privilege. CIA operatives were notoriously well educated, and often Ivy League alumni.
"I do not yet know to whom I am speaking. Perhaps we can start there, unless you're so covert as to have forgotten."
It would be impossible to out-disdain Illya Kuryakin, not to mention be more condescending. This other man was an amateur.
"Oh, I think you know who we are. You're here on borrowed time, Kuryakin. In spite of your UNCLE covering, it is not polite of you to show up here in a country that's trying to avoid becoming a satellite state of your government. The Soviets aren't welcome here, Mr. Kuryakin, and you would be wise to get out…now."
Illya just stood there, wanting to heed his partner's advice and not antagonize the enemy. This was the enemy, at least to him. How long did one have to reside in America and work for a multinational organization like UNCLE, in order to not be suspect?
"You are obviously not informed, perhaps due to your own low station in the order of things. I am not going to fill in the gaps for you, so perhaps you should talk to your superior, and he can speak with his superior and finally the links in your chain may obtain enough height to finally speak to my superior. As for your assassin, he failed, obviously. I had hoped for more civilized behavior from the CIA."
With that he hung up the receiver and stood until his head ached again and he felt the need to sit somewhere.
Without hesitation, he determined to not give any more thought to the phone call or the CIA agent on the other end. He wondered how he was going to take a shower with that big bandage the doctor had wrapped him up in, and decided to take it off and risk getting the stitches wet.
He stripped off his shorts and headed for the bathroom, relishing a hot shower with a cold rinse to help him shake off the anger and disappointment he now felt.
Lunch came and went while Napoleon and Evangeline talked of traveling the world, fantasizing a life without conflict and more time to spend on the beach. Each of them proceded cautiously, each for a different reason.
Napoleon knew he could never become involved with this young woman, in spite of his attraction and interest. As for Evangeline, she was not ignorant of her father's work, and had determined early on in life, in spite of her great love for Victor Gervais, that she would never fall in love with anyone like him. She held no illusions about what provided their wealth, only the hope that it would not hold her captive forever.
As the two made their way back to the Hotel George, Napoleon noticed the same policeman who had spoken to them in the morning, after the attack on Illya. He was heading towards the lobby, and Napoleon hailed him, excusing himself from Evangeline and reassuring her that they were to dine together that evening.
She checked at the desk for messages and headed up the staircase, aware of Napoleon's lingering gaze as she took each step with care.
Mr. Solo, I am glad to have run into you. I was hoping to talk once again to you and your friend, Mr. Kuryakin. Is it possible for us to speak in private…the three of us?"
Napoleon wondered why the special visit instead of a phone call.
"Certainly, why don't we go upstairs to my suite. I'm certain that Mr. Kuryakin is up to some questions. Is that what you intend, sir…questions?"
Officer De Willem had turned forty years old on his last birthday. He was a descendent of Dutch settlers who had come to this country and helped to carve out this small stretch of civilization in what had become known later, under the British, as Georgetown. He was familiar with the wrangling between powerful nations that was thrusting his own little one into political turmoil.
Now, without warning, an act of violence had opened yet another wormhole of hostility. He favored neither the American-British alliance nor the Soviets. He only wanted peace and prosperity for his country, and the sanity of such.
He allowed the American to lead the way, as he speculated a little about the new information regarding the man upstairs; Illya Kuryakin was a Soviet citizen, and the man who had attacked him was a lackey of the CIA. A despicable situation, a seemingly innocent man attacked in his own room by a hired assassin. He would rather wash his hands of the entire incident, but he feared there was even more to contend with here.
When they reached the door to their shared suite, Napoleon was unsure of the state in which he might find his partner. He figured Illya was dressed by now, but then again…
"Illya, where are you? Officer De Willem is with me…"
The blond emerged from his own room fully dressed, and Napoleon noted the lack of bulkiness around his waist, indicating the bandage was gone. Stubborn Russian.
"Good afternoon, officer. Is there anything wrong? I was just intending to go downstairs for a little fresh air."
De Willem looked around the room, re-imagining the scene from earlier in the day. Kuryakin looked tired and had circles beneath his eyes consistent with the trauma of blood loss. It was rather remarkable that he was up and about; he didn't look resilient enough to withstand that type of damage.
"I think we should all three of us sit down and have a chat. I don't imagine that you, either of you, will be very surprised to learn that the man who attacked you works for the Americans. My curiosity about all of it is quite keen, I assure you. What, exactly, are you doing in British Guiana, Mr. Kuryakin?"
Illya's expression remained passive, his eyes not giving anything away. Napoleon blanched only slightly at the question. If the man only knew, he would avoid asking.
"Officer De Willem, I am a scientist. I am here to conduct a survey of other scientists regarding the possibility of holding a conference here, in your country, of some of the world's leading scientific minds. Does that warrant suspicion?"
The room was warm and the fans were succeeding only in pushing that warm air around in circles. With the sun beginning already to push its way westward, the lighting was beginning to diminish, and neither man made any move to turn on a lamp. All of the sunlight had puddled near the eastward facing window, so that the conversation was being held in shadows. It was appropriate in many ways, because no one in the room was interested in shedding much light on the information he held.
Napoleon needed this man to be on their side, but he wasn't ready to reveal their affiliation with UNCLE. Better to leave him a little ignorant for a while longer. He wanted to know how the man knew about the CIA's involvement, though. That was not what he had expected.
"So, let me get this straight. The Americans sent an assassin to kill a Russian scientist? Why do you think they would do that, Officer De Willem? What would be their objective?"
De Willem decided to switch trails a ltitle…
"I noticed you are acquainted with Victor Gervais. Is he also a scientist, Mr. Solo? I was under the impression he traveled in, shall we say, different circles. How is it that you know this man, and what interest does he have in a meeting of quantum physicists?"
Napoleon and Illya were both surprised. Just how much did De Willem know? Illya considered his question and then remembered the phone call from earlier.
"Officer De Willem, I received a call a little before noon. It was a threat, and the man fairly admitted that he had sent … by the way, what is his name? I like to know who it is trying to kill me."
"His name is Otto Brezhni. Curious, isn't it? That the Americans should send someone with a name like that to kill a Soviet scientist…
Mr. Kuryakin, or do you wish to be addressed as doctor? We are in a very perilous situation, politically. Your being here is a dangerous thing, for you and perhaps others. I am merely trying to arrange the facts in front of me so that I can better protect…everyone. Are you willing to cooperate so that I can do my job?"
He appealed to them in earnest, but they could not include him in their business. They would have to remain silent on the details, while appearing to cooperate. As Mr. Waverly had said to them two days ago; the less known the better.
Napoleon and Illya exchanged looks that meant little to the policeman in the room with them, but they understood each other perfectly. He might think there were rules by which to play, but for them the rules were different.
This was not a gentleman's game.
The three men determinedly avoided telling the whole story; De Willem knew more than he wanted to disclose for fear of tipping the scale in one direction or the other, should these two be working for a government agency. The UNCLE agents needed to protect this man from knowledge that might potentially endanger his life. Thrush would not care about killing civilians or police personnel, if it meant maintaining the status of their experiments.
When the policeman finally left, it was without answers. Napoleon showed him to the door and then turned to face his partner. Illya had sat back down on the sofa, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to deflect a returning headache.
"Perhaps you need to get some more rest. We won't be doing much today, I don't think. We have dinner plans with the Gervais. I wish Evangeline weren't here; if we have to take down her father it's going to be…awkward."
Illya knew then, without a doubt, that his friend had fallen for the girl. He always fell for the girl, so it didn't surprise him. And it would seem that he almost preferred the ones who were dangerously close to the enemy, if not one of them.
"Must you always complicate our lives by getting involved with a woman during the course of a mission? Is it not enough that I am attacked and bludgeoned by assassins, or must we also incur the paternal wrath of a Thrush chief?"
Perhaps he should lie down. That had come out rather more hostile than he had intended. He might even call it a fit of pique. Napoleon was most assuredly going to call it something.
The afternoon was beginning to dip into the most debilitating part of the day, with the temperatures near ninety degrees and the humidity soaring around eighty percent. Illya felt as though he needed another shower, and Napoleon looked slightly wilted; a most unusual sight indeed.
"You disapprove, then."
Illya had not meant to. His expression begged understanding, if not forgiveness. Americans were so sensitive about these things.
"I apologize. It is not for me to approve or disapprove. I do not want to see you…disappointed. And she doesn't deserve to be hurt by this. But, I spoke out of turn. I think I need an aspirin…'
He turned then and walked back into his bedroom, genuinely in search of pain killers of some type. He thought the doctor had left something stronger. He called out from the bedroom. Napoleon wasn't speaking yet.
"I believe you said something about dinner? What time? I'm hungry now…haven't eaten anything today."
Napoleon had been listening without paying attention. Illya was right, and the sooner he quit mooning over Evangeline like a schoolboy, the sooner he would be able to concentrate on the issues at hand. They needed to get ingratiated into the operation at the goldmine. Gervais needed to want Illya there, and of course he would go along as well.
"Illya, do you think you can direct the conversation towards something along the lines of what you were telling me this morning? I think we need to make our move on this, and soon.'
Illya came back into the sitting room, aspirin in hand and in search of water.
"You're right, by the way. Evangeline is off limits, and from now on I'm going to forego the pleasure of her company in favor of getting us up river and into the goldmine Thrush is working. So, what do you think…about tonight's conversation? Can you do it?"
Illya's expression never changed. Only a crease of discomfort remained as he willed the headache to leave. Between the two of them Victor would be begging them to join him.
During the course of the afternoon, Napoleon checked in with Mr. Waverly; the report of nothing much going on did not gain the older man's approval. To his way of thinking, his agents should have been into the mines by now, not dawdling with dinner dates and CIA assassins.
"What, Mr. Solo, do you intend to report to me tomorrow? Something slightly more spectacular than what you have for dinner, I trust."
Napoleon winced at that remark, knowing full well that his superior didn't hold them accountable for the turn of events this morning. However, he also knew that the man was right in expecting more action, sooner than later.
"I believe we have a very good chance of being brought into this operation, as early as this evening. Illya has happened upon a theory that might very well be what Thrush is planning. If they succeed…"
A harrumph at the other end indicated what Waverly thought of Thrush succeeding.
"Mr. Solo, you and Mr. Kuryakin are there in order to insure that Thrush does not succeed. You have twelve days before teams begin to report to Sao Paolo for the Pan American Games. Thrush has intentions of being there, for a purpose only they know. Your objective is to find out, to make certain that they do not initiate whatever it is they have planned. Do I make myself clear?"
How many times had he heard that question?
"Yes sir, very clear. We will have something to report by the end of the evening. In any event, we will make plans to head up river to the gold mining region of the country. There would appear to not be any other likely place for their operation. Illya says he will be physically able to make the trip."
"That sounds acceptable, Mr. Solo. I do not believe we can fail in this mission. I trust you will not. Waverly out."
Napoleon let out a sigh, a breath that he hadn't realized was waiting for permission to let go. Tomorrow then. They had to move tomorrow.
The dining room was nearly full when Victor and Evangeline Gervais sat down to dinner with Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Preliminary remarks of concern were offered to the wounded man, and Victor noted once again how remarkable he seemed to be; not only apparently brilliant, but brave and resilient as well.
Napoleon was courteous to Evangeline, and she in turn was nothing more than charming. She made no effort to flirt with him, having made a similar decision about him that he had concerning her. They recognized that and acknowledged it with a particularly casual and gracious manner, something the father took note of and, with a renewed sense of admiration for the American, determined to reward in some manner. Evangeline had a destiny reserved for her; the success of this new Thrush discovery would insure that she received it.
Conversation flowed from the topic of weather, to the state of affairs in the Southern Hemisphere and finally, much to Napoleon's relief, back to scientific explorations. Illya wanted to approach his theory in as natural a manner as possible, not appearing to be searching for something with a predetermined knowledge that it existed. Gervais must think that asking Illya to join Thrush was his idea.
"…Yes, I am quite interested in the potential for all types of exploration. The field of quantum mechanics appealed to me for that reason. There is so much we do not know, cannot possibly comprehend in its entirety. Why, do you know there are theories of time travel that exist within the scientific community? The ability to transport, if I may use that term, from one spot to another, within or beyond one's current time frame, or plane of existence…'
Illya demurred slightly, affecting a pose of embarrassment at having gone too far.
"I am overly enthusiastic, I fear. Please, forgive me. You would undoubtedly rather discuss something less… fantastic."
Napoleon never ceased to be amazed at how manipulative his partner could be. The calculated raising of his eyebrows into a furrow of such extraordinary innocence, the blue eyes reflecting the crystal chandelier so that they became like sparkling gems; all of it was a ruse, and no none did it better.
"Oh, no Illya. You are wrong there. I find all of this entirely too fascinating. You are a man of great vision, I can tell already. I think there are…certain companies and…organizations, perhaps, that would be only to glad to welcome you and help you realize these… comment puis-je le dire? Vous avez des rêves."
Illya nodded enthusiastically.
"Oui, monsieur! Yes, I have dreams. I have great dreams of things no one has done before. If only there was a way, if there was enough money to devote oneself entirely to these pursuits."
He affected a solemn pose at that last sentence. It was obvious to anyone, (especially Victor Gervais, if one could hope) that the man was passionate and being held back only by lack of financing. If only, indeed…
Gervais could stand it no longer. He was not an impulsive man, but the past forty-eight hours had shown him that this Russian scientist was someone who must become part of his project. It was unthinkable to consider continuing on without him.
Napoleon watched all of this, confident that they were now in. In, as in going to the goldmines to stop Thrush before they could launch some new terror on the world. Without any doubt on his part, Napoleon knew that Illya had played his part perfectly, and Victor Gervais had believed it, had embraced it for all it was worth.
He was going to be able to tell Mr. Waverly something good for a change. He couldn't help the smile that covered his face, and the rest of his dinner companions merely thought it was in honor of the bons sentiments among them. Yes, good feelings…very good feelings.
And then he considered the past twenty-four hours.
What a difference a day makes.
It was early the next day when the two UNCLE agents found themselves aboard an impressive vessel appropriately named The Bird's Nest, traveling through the Amazonian tropical rain forest on the Puruni River. The final destination would be a place called Peters Mine; it had been an exciting gold discovery in the 1890's, producing significant amounts in the first decade of the current century. Located about one hundred miles (160 km) southwest of Georgetown, it would be a good part of the day getting there; the boat trip was not exactly what they had expected, the destination different from what they had originally planned.
The vessel was large, a yacht actually, according to its size. There was a generous deck upon which the men were now standing. The rooms below included a sitting room, or salon, a larger than average galley and four bedrooms. There were smaller cabins for the crew and two more rooms, or cabins, that had not been included in the tour. It was a beautiful vessel, and it cruised this river with ease.
Not enough ease to relieve someone of his natural disinclinations to traveling on water of any sort.
Illya was trying very valiantly, but without much success, to remain unaffected by the trip. It was a recurring and humiliating defect in his physiology that caused him to have motion sickness on the waterways of the world. This was proving to be no different from other times, something that was a cause for only slight concern and a certain amount of vindictive humor from his partner. He couldn't understand why Napoleon took his perverse pleasure in Illya's discomfort; unless it had something to do with…
"Illya, are you going to be all right? You look just awful."
He scowled as effectively as was possibly under the circumstances, eliciting a sadistic smile from his friend, a term he was considering with some hesitation at the moment.
"Your concern is touching, if a bit nyeiskrennii."
The American drew back as if struck, his hand covering his mouth deftly before the smile could be discerned. It didn't help, as his eyes could not disguise his amusement.
"I am genuinely concerned. How could possibly think of me as insincere, Illya? I'm crushed."
Their banter was interrupted by Evangeline, who was also on this little trip up river. Her father had relented as she cajoled him into joining the expedition that was entirely Thrush business.
When she had approached him about making the trip, her father had at first said no. They both knew of her dislike for Thrush, although her interest had more to do with the men he would have accompanying him. Ultimately his affection for her could not deny her the things for which she asked. If only her mother could have lived to see their beautiful daughter. Abruptly the sweetness was interrupted as he remembered that it had been he who had ordered her death. Tsk tsk…such hardness in life. La chagrin d'amour…
"Bon seigneur…Do you two always carry on like this?"
Her tone was sweet, but the underlying concern was real. She saw how pale the blond scientist was, and wondered if he wouldn't fare better below deck. She thought him to be pretty, in a masculine sort of way. Such a contrast to Napoleon, and yet together they seemed rather like two parts of a whole, rather than separate entities. It was peculiar…
"Merci mademoiselle. I am … fine. It is an unfortunate aspect of my nature that traveling in this manner has a negative effect on me, but I will be fine. You are very kind."
She took note of the mannerisms between these two as she had previously, and decided that they were not what they appeared to be. There was something else, something…
Not romantic. But a familiarity that came with certain types of relationships, partnerships…
How had her father not known this? These two were very good…very good indeed. She had sensed it from the beginning, and her aversion to Napoleon had not been because he was like the Thrush with whom she had been acquainted over the years.
"Bon, I am glad to hear it. I will leave you then, to your conversation and, hopefully, your recovery."
The woman left, not too abruptly she hoped, and went down below to speak with her father.
Illya looked at his partner, the same question reflected in Napoleon's brown eyes.
"What just happened? I know I'm green around the gills, but that woman just caught onto something, and I have a bad feeling about it."
Napoleon nodded his head, incredulity covering his face. Evangeline wasn't Thrush…
"I don't know tovarisch. But, I agree with you. Something gave us away, and her eyes gave her away."
He paused and looked at Illya, the smaller man still showing signs of his discomfort.
"What did we do wrong? How could she possibly…"
Both men turned in the same instant as footsteps came up from the rooms below them. Without hesitation, they turned to the railing and prepared to jump into the green waters that were churning beneath the steady thrum of the boat's engines. Before they could make that move, however, there were Thrush converging on them, pushing them down onto the deck, shoving their faces hard against the teak stained boards.
"So, it appears that my good fortune in finding a physicist was nothing more than a ploy by UNCLE to infiltrate my mining operation. You must have had very good intel to discern my plans, Mr. Solo…Doctor Kuryakin; if indeed you are a doctor of quantum mechanics, as you so boldly proclaimed."
Victor Gervais was mad. He didn't rant or give away his displeasure with common vulgarities or anything so pedestrian as a show of temper. These two would know the depth of his disappointment, however. Once again he thought of his daughter and her unerring ability to spot the enemy. She had saved him more than once with her uncanny discernment. It was, in hindsight, very fortuitous for her to have come on this trip.
The agents made no attempt to try and talk him out of his discovery. They each wondered how Evangeline had known. What had they done to provoke her suspicion? Their partnership was not entirely new, and certainly there was a familiarity between them. But, to be spotted like rookies… This would require some review and quite possibly revision. Well, assuming they were going to get out of this situation…
"It is a profound disappointment to discover your deceit. I quite liked you both, and our conversation last night was so very encouraging. So much so that I must believe that you, Mr. Kuryakin, are what you claim to be. And because of that, I shall have further need of you. Mr. Solo, on the other hand, is more of a liability than an asset; he is not a physicist, also, is he?"
The bemusement on his face did little to hide the disdain in his voice, or the not so subtle shake of his head as he raised his eyes heavenward as though merely seeking clarity on a less volatile situation. They would be arriving at their destination in less than an hour, so decisions would have to be made.
His thoughts ran to the operation that was meticulously making way for his triumph. He feared that Kuryakin understood his goals better than the men presently working for him. Perhaps there was a benefit in keeping Mr. Solo alive; leverage was a good thing when held in the right hands
With that he fluttered his in an indication that the two UNCLE agents should be taken down below decks.
It seemed they were going to find out about those other two rooms after all.
Being unceremoniously dumped is the best way to describe how an UNCLE agent lands when being deposited by a Thrush goon. It's not a pretty sight, even considering the two agents who were involved. No amount of natural grace or élan could counter the rough handling that Napoleon and Illya received at the hands of Gervais' men; they were shoved simultaneously through a too narrow opening, landing in a heap in the darkened cabin.
It was to Solo's credit that he hadn't worn a suit today, opting instead for khakis and a golf shirt. Illya's jeans served him well as he slid across the linoleum flooring, but his cotton shirt was torn open from the several buttons that had been jettisoned away when the biggest of the crew tried to haul him downstairs by pulling on it.
"I think I cracked my skull open on this chest. Am I bleeding?"
Illya looked at his partner, running his fingers across the other man's forehead in search of damage.
"No, but you're going to have a bruise, probably. I believe, however, that the stitches I received yesterday are not quite intact. That imbecile of a thug punched me in the same place as the knife wound."
He was still on the floor, watching as Napoleon made his way up on hands and knees, searching for a light source. A sliver of light was piercing through a small porthole, but it had been mostly covered in some type of paint. The occasional streak allowed a minimum amount of daylight to penetrate the small cabin, but a stealthy perusal of the room was rewarded with a light switch. Napoleon wasn't even able to get a good look at their surrounding before the door was flung open and Victor Gervais entered. His height was accentuated in the doorway, the white hair and brown eyes providing a contrast in his features. The man was smiling, slightly, and took note of the Russian's posturing as he struggled to sit upright.
"Ah, I see your wound has reopened, Mr. Kuryakin. Unfortunately, there is no one onboard to see to it.'
Illya was, as usual, disheveled from the short encounter with the Thrush crew and, to Napoleon's dismay, bleeding more than his stoic friend had indicated. It was one thing to pop a stitch, quite another to be bleeding out by the pint.
"Tie him up."
Gervais gave the order, indicating the blond agent. Napoleon was surprised by that, having thought he would be the bait to keep Illya in line, and working towards the Frenchman's goal. Two of the crewmen hauled Illya up from his reclining position and sat him down hard in a chair by the trunk that Napoleon had rammed into earlier. Grunts of pain were expelled without apology as the jeans clad man was jostled into position. When he tried to bolt against the manhandling, he was rewarded with a slap on his left cheek that stunned him momentarily. It was long enough to finish tying him securely.
Napoleon watched without any idea of Gervais' next move. This one didn't make sense, somehow…
"Now, Mr. Solo if you will kindly come over here…'
Gervais motioned him to stand beneath what both agents could now see was a metal ring attached to the ceiling.
"And now you will raise your hands above your head…yes, just like that. Cuff him to the ring. I will consider our next move when we arrive at our destination. It won't be much longer, so enjoy the solitude and…peace. I assure you, it won't last."
With that last promise, the party of Thrushmen left. Napoleon and Illya both made the cursory effort to free themselves, but they were each securely bound. Illya was also losing ground as his wound continued to bleed.
"How are you feeling? You're not going into shock, are you?"
Illya shook his head. It would take more than this amount of blood loss, but he felt tired.
"I think we need to consider our options, Napoleon. What are the chances that we can overtake the guards and escape?"
Napoleon almost laughed, but he considered the look on his partner's face and decided against it. Perhaps Illya was suffering from shock.
"Umm, I don't know if you noticed, but we seem to be pretty well captured at the moment. Although…"
Illya caught that and raised his eyebrows, his expectations fueling a glimmer of hope that they might actually be able to get free from this situation.
Napoleon scanned the room: there was that chest. No, what good would that be. A bed against the wall; well, a bunk actually. Nothing was useful unless they could get free of their bonds, and right now he didn't think he could manage it. Illya…
"Is there any way at all that you can get out of those ropes?"
Illya was trying. Each ankle was tied securely to a chair leg, and his hands were secured to the arms…just maybe…
"If I can break the arms free from the back of this chair, then I should be able to…"
"Just do it. My feet are free, and if anyone comes through that door, I think I can scissor him between my legs."
Illya went to work on the chair, wiggling the spindles that held everything in place, rocking the arm pieces to which he was tied. Little by little things began to move until he had broken the front spindle and could slide the rope forward. It wasn't easy, and he had to smash it against the wall in order to break more of it off, enabling the rope to slide beneath the top of the arm.
One arm was free of the chair, although the single piece of rope held both arms in place. He stretched across his body, turning in order to better reach the left wrist, his fingers grasping for rope as he struggled with the knots that held it in place.
Napoleon watched and listened, hoping against hope that no one would be returning for them before they reached wherever they would dock. The engines were still churning and it remained quiet outside the cabin door. As Illya worked at the rope, Napoleon urged him on, his mouth contorting as he punctuated his friend's movements with his own attempts to help, much like a passenger will apply the brakes in aid of the driver of a car.
Finally, and in spite of the discomfort of the still bleeding knife wound, Illya succeeded in freeing his hands. He quickly reached for his ankles, nearly passing out from the movement, but persevering until that too was accomplished. In as quick a movement as was possible, he was up and attempting to free Napoleon when they heard the engines slowing. The metal cuffs around his wrist resisted Illya's attempts to manipulate them into opening. He needed something…
"Oh, I keep forgetting about these.'
Napoleon directed Illya to reach into his pocket and retrieve his money clip.
"This is too large, it will blow us up."
Illya had heard of this one, and wondered at the Thrush ineptitude that they would not relieve the UNCLE agents of all of their tools.
"No, not the clip. Pull out the ten dollar bill. There's a fiber in the portrait; see it? Roll up the bill with that on the outside and put it in the link; pull on the fiber and…"
Illya was following instructions as they were given to him, and when he pulled the slender fiber it caused a small psssfft, and the cuffs split in two, letting Napoleon fall free from the ring on which they had hung.
Napoleon was very pleased.
"That is exceptionally useful."
"Isn't it just."
The two men were free as far as this room was concerned. Now they needed to get off of this boat. They neither one had any doubt that in spite of Illya's usefulness to the project, they wouldn't survive for long if Victor Gervais was successful in his pursuit of whatever it was he had planned.
"Do we try and go out the front door?"
"Perhaps we should try to hide in plain sight."
Illya didn't understand. Sometimes he was still at a loss when conversing with Americans.
"What does that mean, and where is this plain sight that you have in mind?"
Napoleon heard the boat pulling into the dock, and he knew they had very little time to execute the rest of a plan that he hadn't formulated just yet. It did occur to him, however, that there was another cabin next door, and that Gervais would probably not expect them to stay onboard the boat if they were able to free themselves.
"I say we go next door and wait out the storm."
"You want us to stay here? Are you certain…?"
Napoleon was opening the door as his partner asked questions. The hallway was empty, so obviously no one had thought they would escape. Silly Thrush.
He motioned for Illya to follow him, and they slipped out of the cabin they had been in, turning quickly into the next one. It was identical to their previous place of confinement, right down to the trunk. He looked at Illya and mentally measured him against the size of the trunk. Now all he needed was a similar hiding place. It was too easy, but he figured it was worth a shot.
"Okay, you get in there…'
He pointed to the chest, and Illya raised his eyebrows and the lid. He would fit.
"I'm getting under this bunk, but first…"
Napoleon backtracked as quickly as he could manage it, looking for any blood that Illya might have tracked into the room. There was none, which was a good sign all around. He lowered the lid on the chest and then, with one last look around and an ear to the approaching footsteps, he crawled beneath the bunk and into the farthest corner.
And they waited.
Napoleon had crawled as far back under the bunk as he possibly could manage. The bunk was a typical cabin size, not quite as large as a regular twin bed. They were fortunate that it wasn't built in and doubling for storage. This was more like a navy design, open below for stowing a bag or supplies.
He didn't try to speak to Illya, and wondered if his partner was still bleeding. That knife had plunged deep enough to do creditable damage, and this type of activity less than twenty-four hours later had been more than the fresh sutures could handle. It seemed longer ago than that, and thinking about it brought up one of the other pieces in this convoluted affair.
Where was the CIA? They had wanted to make their position clear yesterday when the assassin was sent to eliminate Illya, and then nothing was heard from them again. No doubt Mr. Waverly had been in communication with some key people; hopefully that had put an end to things. Still, Napoleon wondered…
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps; the door to the cabin they had escaped from was pushed open and then, it seemed, all hell broke loose. Shouting and cursing, three distinct voices he thought; surely they would have known it would take more than three to handle him and Illya.
The door opened and Napoleon could hear the same voices, but they didn't seem very interested in this room. It was unlikely that any of them would have considered putting a grown man into the trunk, and their lack of imagination precluded them searching any more in this room.
The agent let out a breath he'd been saving for Christmas as he heard the door close, and then silence. After what seemed sufficient time between the closing of the door and the sound of those men running to what was sure to be an angry Victor Gervais, Napoleon breathed out his partners name.
No answer. Perhaps he just couldn't hear him; he was, after all, inside a trunk.
Slowly and carefully, he extricated himself from beneath the low bunk, wondering now how he'd managed to remain hidden there. Illya was practically back in the womb, his slight frame was so compactly folded inside of this…
"Illya, are you still breathing?"
Napoleon was relieved to see a surly expression on the Russian's face. Surly was good, under the circumstances.
"Yes, Napoleon, I am still breathing. Although, I will need your help…'
A hand was reaching towards the blond as he grunted out his response, pulling him up and out of the awkward position. Somehow, getting in had been easier than trying to get out.
"Ouch! My neck feels as though it has been wrung by a butcher."
Napoleon smiled, vaguely aware that he was visualizing his partner with the body of a chicken, the blond hair spiking up like a rooster's comb. Stop it… He resisted a full-blown chuckle at the image.
Gingerly, and still favoring his side, Illya unfurled slowly, like a flag in a soft breeze. Something graceful remained in him, in spite of the discomfort. Being small of stature had never been a hindrance to the man, and between the two of them, it was obvious that he was the only one who could have crawled into this trunk and survived.
"Okay, now that we've got you out, we need a way to get off this boat. I think the search has moved to land, but Gervais is no doubt still onboard."
Illya wrinkled his brow beyond his always present furrow, his eyes catching the little stream of light that came in through the painted glass of the porthole.
"Why do you think Evangeline spotted us?"
Napoleon returned a quizzical look to his partner's scowl. Illya didn't like being spotted, especially by someone whom they had thought a benign aspect of this affair.
"I'm afraid I don't have a clue, tovarisch. She's highly intuitive, perhaps?"
A long pause was a luxury here, but it was taken anyway. Illya shook his head, ending the discussion. They needed to get off of this boat, and the question of their discovery would have to wait. It didn't matter now, as it was firmly established. It was officially UNCLE vs. Thrush, no more games or subterfuge.
The mines must be close by, as most of the mining operations were near the various rivers. This one would be no exception. Undoubtedly the laboratory would be located there as well. Whatever was going on needed to be stopped. If Illya's theory was correct, Thrush was on the verge of some sort of time displacement or manipulation, and Gervais was poised to gain control of something that would endanger the entire world. Thrush would be able to go back and retrieve whatever they needed to conquer nations and corporations…it was a daunting and ferocious danger.
"Are you able to travel? The bleeding…"
Napoleon was looking beyond the dried blood on Illya's shirt, glad to see there were no fresh deposits visible.
"I'm fine. It was momentary. We need the fastest way out of here, before they decide this room needs another looking over. Any ideas?"
Napoleon did have an idea, and it wasn't complicated.
"Yeah, I think we should just walk off of here. There's really nothing else to be done about it. Most of the crew is gone off looking for us, and if Gervais is still here, he's most likely in his own cabin, gathering his things. The sooner we move…"
Illya nodded his head in agreement. So that was that. They went to the door, opening it slowly and, with no trepidation, casually walked out of the cabin and down the hallway. Illya spotted their guns and communicators on a table just beyond the stairs that led up top. He quickly retrieved them, wondering who would have been so reckless as to leave them out for easy access. Then he remembered that they weren't supposed to just wander out of their confinement. When, he wondered, was Thrush going to figure things out.
"Do you see anything?"
He whispered it to Napoleon, who had already reached the top of the stairs. The answer was a shake of his head, signaling that they could both continue up. No one was on deck, and the dock itself was empty of activity. This was a private dock then, and The Bird's Nest the only boat here.
Napoleon motioned to his partner to lead the way while he kept a keen eye on their surroundings. It was good to get a break once in a while. If Gervais thought they were already ashore and heading for the mine, it wouldn't do to disappoint him. Perhaps the Thrush chief had already disembarked and was himself on the way to his lab.
"Where is everyone? I would have thought it would be more populated than this."
Illya's surprise was shared by his partner, but neither of them argued with their good luck in finding themselves alone and unchallenged. Now if they could just find a …
"There's a jeep. Do you suppose the keys are in it?"
An amused look came across both of their faces as they headed towards the vehicle. Eureka, or something like it, marked their delight at not having to hotwire the jeep. Now, if they only knew where to go…
"Uh, Illya, does this look like a map to you?"
"Well, considering it is one, and there is a big red circle around this one location…I'd say it's where we need to go next."
An expression of smug delight covered Napoleon's face. He knew that some people said he was lucky. He liked to think he was just very good at his job.
"Onward then, my good man. Let's find ourselves a goldmine."
The road leading away from the river was no less challenging than the one they had taken from the airport into Georgetown. This one had the added attractions of a rainforest that threatened to overrun the road itself. As they traveled along at, thankfully, less than breakneck speeds, Illya was attempting to enlighten his partner concerning their environment.
"What you see here, the color of the soil is due to the concentration of iron and aluminium oxides, the laterization process gives the oxisols a bright red hue and sometimes produces mineral deposits such as bauxite, a very important economic element here in British Guiana."
Napoleon nodded, once again impressed at the vast amount of information stored in his partner's mind. He wondered facetiously if it ever hurt…just a little.
"What about the gold? They seem to have hit upon a hidden vein, considering there hasn't been any reports of continued mining in this area. It's been decades since anything significant came out of here."
If the map were correct, they were heading for Gervais' operation, and it would undoubtedly have a few surprises for them. Only Illya really had any idea of what was being concocted by Thrush, his quantum mind being what it was.
"I only know they need the gold in order to create the situation that I think Gervais is orchestrating here. It seems…"
A huge rut in the road caused them to bounce in the air, each of them losing whatever thoughts they had concerning Gervais. The jeep went airborne for a few minutes as the men inside held on for dear life; Illya clutching at the steering wheel as Napoleon held on to the roll bar overhead. It was a long interlude for them both that ended in a bone rattling thump as the vehicle finally landed and continued on its way, apparently unscathed.
They kept going, each of them trying to mentally regain the conversation that had been interrupted by the unexpected launch. Instead of talking, they traveled on in silence, aware of how quickly things could change.
It was better to hit a rut in the road than to encounter a more deadly article, like a mine or incendiary of some sort. They were heading into enemy territory, and in spite of their good fortune at finding the jeep and map, serious business awaited them. They hadn't forgotten, but the former euphoria was now solidly replaced by an intensity of purpose that would not be found wanting during the remainder of this affair.
Napoleon was monitoring their progress against the plot they had charted on the map. He motioned to Illya to slow down, as it appeared to him they were approaching the mine site. If he was correct, then they needed to stash the jeep here in the jungle and travel the rest of the way on foot. Gervais would be expecting them, no doubt, since they had disappeared from the boat. Although not entirely familiar with the man, Napoleon realized that he hadn't risen within Thrush without being competent, if not completely ruthless.
Illya pulled off into the jungle, finding a spot that was well hidden from the road, but still within distance should they require a hasty retreat. Since that was the type they normally needed, it seemed the best course of action.
Both men collected the few items they had found in the jeep, a length of rope and large pickaxe, checked their Specials out of habit, and set off towards the mine indicated on the map. Having had a lecture on the nature of their environment, Napoleon felt none the better in this primeval forest. He loathed insects and snakes, all of the slithery inhabitants of such places, and added to that list jaguars and boars. He shuddered to think what they might run into.
Illya, on the other hand, was hard pressed to not stop and take samples. He was in scientist mode after his more recent incarnation as a quantum physicist, and all of this was a keen reminder of his aspirations not so many years ago. It was now an almost humorous aside to his autobiography (something that would never be written), that he had actually entertained thoughts of entering the sciences. Little had he known that the Soviet government that sponsored his education had always intended for his purpose to be of a covert nature.
They were both traveling with an ear to the canopy above as well as the path ahead of them. Their eyes had adjusted to the lighting within this foreign environment; the dense foliage required the use of the pickaxe they had taken with them, their chopping impeded only slightly by the lack of sunlight.
They traveled like that for an hour, perhaps a little less. As they reached the edge of their enclosure, there was a small clearing in front of what looked to be the mine entrance. Two guards were stationed there, but each agent knew more must be close by. It was not possible for the operation to have such sparse coverage.
Kuryakin looked at his partner, wondering again at how he came up with his schemes.
"Unless what, Napoleon?"
The American smiled knowingly, a sudden inspiration punctuating his already sanguine temperament. Something else Illya wondered about at length…
"What if this little operation isn't an official Thrush item. Perhaps our monsieur Gervais is doing a little extra-curricular project here in the jungle. It would explain why his daughter accompanied him, and why we don't see any more Thrush around this compound, if we can call it that. I think Gervais is a maverick of some sort, and this is his own personal power play."
The Russian was stalled for an answer. It might make sense, but if it were incorrect…
"All right, what do you propose to prove this conjecture of yours?"
Napoleon considered that for a minute. Gervais was bound to be inside, and there were probably cameras. They would need to wait and see if the guard changed, and if so how many times. He didn't think their duty would be longer than four hours, since that was about as long as anyone could stand out here in heat without some type of break. He needed one himself, and they'd only been on foot for a little over an hour.
"I say we sit here and watch until someone relieves these two. Then we wait and see how long it takes until the next break. What do you think?"
The blond head shook, and Napoleon wondered if that was a yes or a no, Illya sometimes forgot the difference to Americans.
"You are probably correct, although now I wish I had raided the galley before leaving the boat. I am very hungry all of a sudden."
That made his partner chuckle; no matter where they were, the Russian was hungry.
"I'm afraid we'll have to just wait on that, unless you think you can go foraging for our supper. I guess it has been awhile since we last ate something. I almost wish you hadn't mentioned it, because now I'm famished."
Illya looked around, his hunter/gatherer instincts kicking in amidst the emptiness in his stomach. This was a jungle, and there had to be something edible within reach.
"I will go and look for something. Perhaps I can find a mango tree."
Napoleon grimaced slightly. He had some bad memories of a mango…
"Okay, happy hunting. I'll be…right here."
With that Illya took off, back in the direction from which they'd traveled. He thought he remembered seeing some fruit hanging near the road. It was not uncommon to see fruit squashed from being run over by cars and trucks. The indigenous fruits were in such abundance the waste almost equaled its consumption.
As he thought, there were spots near the road with some large mango trees. What he needed was one that didn't tower over him at 100 feet or more. He spotted one and started the climb up towards a branch that would support him and allow him to pick some of the fruit. Ripe would be best, and surely there would be a few that hadn't fallen and been trampled on. As he reached a sturdy branch, the sound of an approaching vehicle caused him to stop, precariously perched on the limb as he was.
He peered through the leaves, trying to get a glimpse of the car that was laboring over the dirt road. It was both incomprehensible and incredibly lucky that it was a convertible, and within it's expensive frame rode the Frenchman, Victor Gervais.
"So, you didn't precede us, monsieur."
He spoke aloud to no one, determined now to make his way back to Napoleon and watch the scene at the mine. He grabbed several mangos and threw them down, after first testing the feel of their flesh. Almost ripe might have to do. There were a few others on the ground, and as quickly as he could he shimmied down the length of the tree trunk and gathered up his harvest of fruit.
He made his way back to his partner as quickly as he could through the jungle brush, leaping over fallen limbs or tangled roots, holding his mangos in the shirt that now served as a basket.
"Napoleon!" He called out the man's name as he approached the spot where he had left him.
To his surprise and dismay, Napoleon was gone.
Illya let the mangos he carried in the front of his shirt drop to the ground. Napoleon was nowhere to be seen, and a sudden panic rose up, quickly squelched by an overriding sense of professional detachment. He didn't have time for anything that wouldn't aid his partner, should he be in need of rescuing.
But, how had they gotten to him, if he was actually in Thrush's hands?
The two guards had been replaced, and now there was one man at the entrance. What Illya saw next convinced him that this one would soon be relieved of duty as well, considering the approach of his formerly missing partner. Napoleon crept up soundlessly, delivered a blow to the back of the man's neck that might have rendered him paralyzed if not administered by someone of Solo's skill. As it was, the man would wake up with a horrendous headache.
As he was going down, Illya crept from his hiding place and then ran across the open space to find his spot next to Napoleon. The two exchanged looks that were filled with year's worth of agreement; two years worth, to be precise.
The American took the lead, having picked up the guards weapon he now motioned for the blond to change into the Thrush's uniform. They appeared to be about the same size, and Illya was the one who needed to get into the lab. Looking like one of the crew would help in that pursuit.
They accomplished everything without speaking, each motion confidently executed as though part of written orders. By the time Illya had changed, his partner was assuming the role of a prisoner, letting the Russian push him in a way that indicated a mastery over him.
"Hey, I found him outside. Where do you want him?"
He spoke to the first person he saw, assuming almost anyone inside would have access to a holding cell, or to Gervais himself.
"The Frenchman is in his office. Take him there…"
His response was cut off as Illya delivered a punch to his jaw that knocked him out immediately. Solo dragged him into an open doorway, evidence of the improvements that had been made to an otherwise rugged interior.
"You looked like you were back in the ring, tovarisch. It's good to know those boxing skills aren't lost."
He was grinning as he stripped off the uniform and assumed his new disguise. It seemed like years instead of months since they'd spent time at King's Gym, and that last time Illya had been knocked unconscious.
"Hmmm…well, it's easier with gloves on. I'm surprised my knuckles aren't in a constant state of arthritic pain. I never get used to this."
"Okay, which way do we go? We need to find the lab and put an end to whatever it is Gervais has going on here. I'll concentrate on him and you can disable the…what is it, exactly?"
Illya grinned, although his eyes telegraphed something indefinable. Perhaps he didn't want to destroy it; the potential was a phenomenal leap into the future if they were accomplishing anything like what he had described to his partner only two days ago. That seemed rather far away as well. They seemed to live in a time machine of another sort these days…
"I am not certain, my friend. Whatever it is, in the hands of Thrush, the potential is alarming. I rather wish I could take it back to New York, however. I suppose it is not practical to consider."
Napoleon wondered at his somber partner, the mind of a scientist always at work behind this dangerous exterior. He was the most complicated person he had ever known, and the most dependable. As much as the man probably wanted to tinker and experiment with this new futuristic toy, the UNCLE agent would never shrink back from the responsibility inherent in the assignment. Illya would destroy it, and leave the research to another time, another place.
"Just make sure they haven't already figured out what to do with it. I'd hate to think that Thrush could go back and find out how to make an atom bomb or, worse, side up with Hitler and win that war. This could change history, and none of it for the better."
Illya knew it was true, knew that human nature would most assuredly destroy whatever good could be gained from such a discovery.
The two men stepped out cautiously from within the room that now contained two unconscious Thrush. The mine interior was mostly what they had expected; the rough walls retaining the appearance of what it was, an excavated cave. Several passageways indicated operations going on in various locations within, but conveniently arranged with accompanying directions and headings.
LABORATORY was indicated by a large red sign, a small bird the only additional embellishment to the word.
"So, I suppose we should head that way."
Illya looked serious, but anticipation of what lay ahead made a small quirk at the corners of his mouth. He was ready for the rumble, so to speak.
Funny how the promise of an explosion set the Russian's mood in such a good humor.
The two assumed the attitude of men at work, and headed off towards the advertised laboratory with a sureness of step that indicated they belonged there. Anyone observing would have assumed the two were simply about their business; anyone except for Evangeline Gervais, who happened to observe the two agents from a half open door.
She had assumed they were not invincible, but perhaps she was wrong. Here they were, against all odds, and clearly intent upon destroying her father's work. She shouldn't allow it, being aware of their presence as she was. It was she, after all, who had alerted her father to their real identities. She only half regretted it, seeing that they had emerged still in tact, and not showing any signs of damage. Napoleon looked rather handsome in that uniform, she thought…
Still, wasn't it her duty to try and stop them? Or was it? Perhaps her father's loyalty didn't need to be hers. She loved Victor Gervais, and was devoted to him after the nature of a daughter. The death of her mother had left her with the one parent, and he had done everything for her, including spoiling her with trips like this one. She wasn't Thrush by choice, and that alone was enough to make her want to foil their plans, as they had foiled her life with the dedication that motivated her father even more than any love he had for her.
With that coursing through her brain and emotions, she decided to simply follow the two UNCLE agents. She wouldn't alert anyone just yet, and if it suited her, she might even help them accomplish whatever it was they were intent on doing. The worst that might happen to her father didn't occur to her, and fascination with the two men overwhelmed her inclination to blind loyalties.
She was due for a change.
Illya could sense the lab up ahead. His anticipation of seeing what was there fueled him to increase his speed, causing his partner to also. Behind and unknown to them, Evangeline quickened her pace as well. She intended to be there when they did whatever it was they were going to do. Excitement over the prospects of a show began to build within her, and she realized that she was now on their side. Thrush was the menace that had plagued her life, taking her father away from her too many times. Deep down she was certain it had been the cause of her mother's premature death. She never allowed herself to believe Victor had contributed, but it didn't preclude a small measure of blame.
All of these things were rising above the usually reserved demeanor, demanding a place within her organized mind. She had set things into compartments, not letting them mix one with the other. Life had to be properly defined, the elements of that life not complicated by assumptions or accusations that were beyond proving. It was how she was able to cope, not knowing or admitting the evidence into her line of vision. The entirety of her existence was built upon a fragile hope that the worse thing she could imagine was not true.
She continued to follow the agents who were now disguised as Thrush. She marveled at how easily they assimilated the roles, just as they had appeared initially, to her, as scientist and diplomat. This world of deceit and treachery was a way of life, and yet she was willing to yield to them, protect them, rather than expose their presence to her father. The same instinct that had alerted her to their real identities was now telling her that she should trust them, and not the man for whom she had reserved such loyalty.
It was almost too much, and yet she knew she could not resist. She would not turn back from this, regardless of the cost. As surely as she knew they were the ones with a more righteous cause, she knew her father was on the wrong side of this battle. She had let blind loyalty lead her for too long. It would end today.
Illya held up his hand as they approached the entrance to the laboratory. His heart was beating at a disproportionate rate to the situation. He was stunned at his reaction, the knowledge that before him, possibly, lay the means of harnessing an untold measure of knowledge and opportunity. In his hands lay the means to destroy it.
"Illya, are you all right?"
His partner had grown unaccountably pale, his breathing seemed rapid, and not a result of the pace they had kept in arriving here.
"Yes…yes, quite all right. Forgive me for yielding somewhat to the scientific just now. If what I imagine this to be, is as it should be, then we are on the verge of destroying what is, perhaps, one of the greatest accomplishments of this century. Of any century!"
Napoleon nodded, not quite understanding the conflict that his partner was enduring. It must be agonizing, seeing both sides of this situation with equal clarity. The scientist in him most certainly dreaded destroying what he would have so loved to explore; the agent intent on just that very thing.
The Russian took a deep breath before he opened the door, having utilized the passkey found in the uniforms they wore. What he saw when entering the room nearly took his breath away.
The room was vast, with computers lining the walls on either side of a large glass enclosure. Or, at least it looked like glass. Illya assumed it was something else, something less fragile. Within its spherical shape were various sizes of cone like structures, perhaps catalysts of some sort. A dizzying array of lights and buttons displayed against the clear structure, all of it pulsating as though accompanying a musical score.
There was a rhythm to it that was not lost on the two men. It was entirely possible that the mathematical equations necessary for the construction of such a wonder had somehow merged into a type of musical composition. The two were not that far removed, and Illya understood only too well the relationship between one and the other.
Their intrusion into this space was unnoticed by the few men who tended to it. Most of their attention was on the banks of computers that stacked against the far wall, opposite the door. Illlya began immediately to figure where best to situate an explosive device; something he had yet to lay his hands on. He figured it would not be difficult to set up a cascading effect in this room; one well timed incendiary torching off the next, and so forth. The centerpiece to the room, the clear enclosure, was where the transformative experience of time or space displacement occurred. He knew that instinctively.
If only he could see it demonstrated, just once…
"Gentlemen, I see you have found your way to my little experiment."
Napoleon and Illya turned as one, startled not only to hear the voice of Victor Gervais, but the shocking scene as his henchmen held Evangeline. Confusion was evident in Napoleon's eyes while his partner maintained a look of complete disinterest. Looks were deceiving.
"I, uh…well, we're certainly pleased to be here. This is quite some operation you have going, Gervais."
Napoleon spoke as though merely interrupted in a walk through a museum, and not in the face of some ultimate evil. Illya returned his gaze to his surroundings, still calculating how to destroy it.
Gervais must have ascertained as much, as he motioned for a guard to take the Russian in hand, meeting resistance as he did so. Another Thrush stepped behind him, hitting him hard with the butt end of his weapon. Illya collapsed into a heap at the feet of his partner, causing Napoleon to wince as he resisted the urge to go to his aid.
Right now, he needed to keep Gervais in check, all the while wondering why Evangeline was also it seemed, in custody.
"Is this thing ready to launch?"
The question was casual in its delivery, but Napoleon was hopeful for a negative reply. He needed Illya to figure out the method of disposal for this. That's what a scientist was for. He was trying to figure out a way to dispose of Gervais and the three guards he had with him when Evangeline let out a shriek and then sank to the ground as though she had fainted.
Gervais couldn't resist, in spite of the hardness of his Thrush countenance. His daughter, his Evangeline…
Napoleon wasted no time in disposing of the man who held him, who was momentarily distracted by Evangeline's swoon and her father's response to it. The man holding the girl tried to respond but was kicked in the face and removed as a threat. The third man, trying to make sense of the sudden attack, was met with the business end of his fallen comrade's weapon so quickly that Gervais had no time to even rise up from his position next to Evangeline.
The entire episode was swiftly executed, and all three Thrush guards were on the ground, Gervais kneeling down in their fallen midst. Evangeline was miraculously alert, considering her feigned distress. Illya was still out cold, something that did not inspire Napoleon with good feelings.
"Evangeline, will you please do something for me?"
She nodded, moving away from her father before he had the presence of mind to grab her and use her for a shield. Funny how she had known he might do that very thing.
"I see a piece of rope hanging on that wall…over there.'
He motioned with his head, noting that the two men in lab coats who attended to the computers had not moved from their jobs. The agent wondered if that was dedication or an aversion to violence. Either way, he didn't care as long as they stayed out of his way.
Evangeline fetched the rope, knowing that it was for her father that it was intended. She proceeded to tie his hands behind his back without any further prompting from Napoleon, causing him to wonder…
Illya began to stir, cursing softly in Russian as he held a hand to his aching head. He rose swiftly, considering what must have been a sense of vertigo after having his skull assaulted by a rifle butt. He looked around the room, decided on the computer panel that he would target first. Gervais sighed as he realized what was soon to occur, his project in grave danger. Still, there was nothing to be done about it. His own daughter had finally turned against him, in spite of his best efforts to hide what he really was. Like her mother, keen instincts and an uncanny ability to see the truth had uncovered his duplicity and…he chuckled.
"What is it, Gervais? You find humor in the destruction of your time machine?"
Napoleon was perplexed, still not understanding why Evangeline was helping him and Illya.
"Monsieur Solo, I cannot begin to explain it to you. However, you are not yet successful in your quest. Perhaps there are other guards on their way here even now, and you and your partner will yet end up quite dead."
The smile was half formed, his eyes betraying the lack of amusement. Victor Gervais was a dangerous and deadly opponent, in spite of his elegant appearance and gracious manner. Napoleon was not fooled by any of it, and should they survive and meet again, he had no doubt the Thrush chief would want him dead.
Illya had rounded up the scientists in the room, still amazed and slightly sorry about what he was going to do next. Through a series of electrical signals, the first computer was set to explode, sending a command to the next, and then the next one after that and so on, until the room was consumed by them. He wasn't going inside the enclosure, however. It remained locked, and was not able to be penetrated without a command from the banks of computers. Without them, it was a useless isolation chamber, not able to communicate or respond. An UNCLE clean up crew would be able to dismantle it later.
"It's ready, Napoleon. I suggest we remove ourselves from here, and very soon."
At that, a fizzing sound was heard, and then popping and hissing ensued, lights flaring and the beginnings of the explosive chain that lllya had orchestrated.
They all turned quickly to the doorway, even Gervais moving rapidly as he lost all interest in saving his precious project.
Evangeline clung to Napoleon as he propelled her forward, with Illya taking up the rear. The scientists had run out first, knowing that their work was now lost to this destruction. There were no heroics involved with this crew, and the noise of multiple explosions was enough to chase them completely out of the now defunct mine.
As the smoke chased them, the UNCLE agents lost sight of Gervais, lost in a small crowd of guards and personnel in which he had managed to disappear. When the interior was completely emptied and the noise of exploding computers and falling rock were behind them, Napoleon and Illya searched the area for the Frenchman, their eyes finally falling on the empty space where his car had been previously.
"He got away, and didn't even say goodbye. I guess that means we're not friends anymore."
Napoleon only half smiled at his own comment, putting his arm around the escaped man's daughter. She buried her face in his chest, realizing now that life as she knew it no longer existed. For now, she would take some comfort in the safety she felt in the American's embrace.
Illya continued to gaze back into the smoke blackened entrance of the mine.
All of that potential…gone.
He hadn't even been offered the opportunity to see if it worked. The realization came to him that he could at least confer with the scientists who had worked on this quantum marvel. Perhaps there would be answers to his questions among them.
"I think we'd better call this in. Perhaps Gervais can still be stopped at an airport or…"
Evangeline straightened up at that, shaking her head.
"No, father will be on his way out of the country via something unknown, even to me. He has so very many ways of traveling. I fear you will not be able to apprehend him, not this time."
Napoleon considered it, agreeing with the girl.
"I suppose you're correct, Evangeline. Perhaps we will meet up with him again with home field advantage."
Illya smirked a little, thinking that New York City did belong to them. Thrush rarely bested them in their own backyard.
The American looked down at the girl again, wondering about her future. She sensed his concern and tried to reassure him.
"Napoleon, I am not without my own resources. I have friends who are unknown to my father. I believe I shall go to them for a time, to try and plan my future. It will be challenging, but perhaps starting over is something I will enjoy. I have learned quite a lot watching the two of you."
He smiled back at her, believing that she, of all people, could indeed start a new life. Illya noted the exchange, deciding to leave them for a bit.
"I shall see about rounding up these scientists. They could be of some use to UNCLE, and might appreciate the working conditions more; no threat of death if they fail."
With that he headed off to the cluster of white coats that had melted into a solid mass in the shelter of some mango trees. It was a wonder that one of them hadn't been plunked on the head by now.
Illya looked uncomfortable where he lay, his hands encased in the large gloves and his blond hair splayed out around his head. The canvas beneath him was hard, especially when it greeted his flailing body on the way down from a particularly vicious right hook.
He thought he was still conscious, but he was not certain of it. Things seemed to be floating in and out of his line of sight, and he wanted to sleep now.
"Illya…Illya! Don't go to sleep on me now, tovarisch. You're not done yet."
That voice, yelling at him from beyond the ropes…
"What? Napoleon? Are we still in Sao Paolo?"
Somewhere in the back of his memory, he knew that he had ended up in Brazil, at the Pan American Games. The slot on the Canadian team had remained open for him, in spite of his absence to stop the time machine in British Guiana. He did remember all of that.
Why was it, he wondered, that even when they weren't on an assignment, he was still the one getting his head bashed in?
Waverly had decided to let him compete, since he had been inserted onto the team as a personal favor to the UNCLE chief, for what he had thought would be the actual mission assignment. Since his absence had left a hole in the team that, for some odd reason, they hadn't been able to fill, the old man had sent him back to join them. Napoleon had come along to fulfill that role of trainer, even though he doubted it was much help to him.
He got up slowly, some of his actions imbued with a calculation of his next moves…
Clang! The bell rang again, and without hesitating, Illya began to dance around the ring, gathering momentum as he anticipated the punch necessary to end this thing now, once and for all. He was in his last match, having lost all hope of winning anything. Still, this consolation event had to be finished and he didn't relish going out the loser.
His opponent was an unfortunate fellow from Uruguay, and Illya figured he would dispatch him now, having figured out how he'd failed to duck out of the path of the man's glove earlier.
The two men were soaked in sweat, their bodies glistening beneath the hot lights. If one were inclined to lascivious observations, this certainly provided fodder for that type of fire. Illya had not gained more than a few pounds, barely making the minimum requirements. He was, however, all muscle. His upper body had attained a firmness that matched that of his legs, always strong due to a constant state of running, he thought.
In these lights his body sort of glowed, blond hair and sparkling sweat combining to set his appearance apart from the darker shading of his opponent. From behind, those fortunate enough to have that view saw a tautly framed body, the back rippling with a sinewy appearance that tapered to a slim waist and hips; all of this eliciting several whimpers from the audience members, not all of them female. The features of his face were undamaged, although the last blow would leave a mark eventually.
His blue eyes were steely, firm and resolute. He saw where he wanted to place the final blow, and feeling only slightly hesitant to take out a legitimate competitor, the barely 140 pound blond made one decisive move and flattened his opponent with a left hook that had come out of nowhere.
The man's body flew backwards, hitting the ropes first before sliding bonelessly to the canvas, sweat and spittle spraying from his head and mouth as if in slow motion. He landed with a thud, and the arena erupted into a wild frenzy of applause and shouting.
The considerable number of women in the audience, not unheard of but certainly increased due to the interest in the handsome faux Canadian, screamed and whistled at the man still standing. It wasn't often that the numbers of boxing fans increased in such impressive amounts. Little did they know he would not be seen again in this setting.
Napoleon merely smiled, his enthusiasm not abated, but his need to appear unaffected a matter of surviving the flight home.
When finally they were seated on the UNCLE jet that would ferry them safely back to New York, Illya succumbed to the weariness that had threatened to claim him one round too soon.
"I have no interest in ever doing this again. I hope you get the next assignment that requires this type of brutality."
Brown eyes reflected a humor as dark as they were.
"Sorry, tovarsich. It's just not my style. Besides, didn't you see all of those women out there? I'm surprised they didn't jump over the ropes and haul you out into some sort of orgy for the masses; with you as the main event."
Illya merely snarled at his partner. Leave it to Napoleon to make a boxing match a prequel to sex.
"I am tired Napoleon. Your foolish ideas hold no appeal for me, all the more reason to let you do these things. I have no doubt that you would go willingly with whomever would have you."
"Ouch! I think I'm insulted."
But the smile remained, and did so even as his partner yielded to the drowsiness, and then sleep.
"It's all right, my friend. I'll let you rest…for now."