The Bargain

New York City, Halloween night, 1964

"… And there it was — the hook — still attached to the outside handle of the passenger door…"

As he finished his story, George Dennel sat back in his chair, feeling very pleased with himself. He wanted to add an evil laugh at the end, but thought better of it. He wasn't very good at evil laughter anyway.

The small group that was gathered in the commissary of U.N.C.L.E. HQ offered polite nods and smiles. Mandy even clapped. It wasn't quite the reaction he'd expected.

"That's an old one, George," Napoleon Solo observed from behind the nearby counter where he was mixing drinks for all of them. "Everyone's heard it before." It was long after the dinner hour and except for the janitor mopping up the floors, the kitchen staff was gone for the night.

"Really?" George asked, genuinely surprised.

"In my country," Illya Kuryakin informed him, "it's a scythe hanging on the side of a hay wagon."

George shook his head, not entirely convinced. " It's still a good story," he muttered stubbornly, and Mandy Stevens, ever the good supportive friend, patted his arm in agreement.

"Well, the deal still stands," announced Connie, who usually worked the night shift. "Whoever tells the scariest story takes me home and gets a piece of my grandma's pumpkin pie, the best in the world." She looked to Solo as he set down the drinks at the table. "What about you?"

"Sorry, the only story I can think of right now is last week's episode of 'Twilight Zone.'" Beside him, Mandy took a sip. "Mmmm… this is good. What's in it?"

"Cider, of course. Cinnamon and a shot of some lemon juice. I had to improvise. Be careful, though: there's a lot of rum in there." The way Solo slid into an empty seat sideways provided evidence that he'd already sampled his share. "But I'll bet Illya's up to the challenge." Solo knew Connie had a thing for his partner and sure enough, she turned toward the Russian agent with bright, expectant eyes.

Put on the spot, Kuryakin took a healthy swig of his own glass of spiked cider and considered. "All right. I'll take you up on that bet." Then, as a pair of lit jack o' lanterns flickered cozily nearby, he began:

"Once upon a time—"

"I like it already," Mandy murmured, but George shushed her.

"— in a small town located beside the Borgo Pass, lived an ill-tempered innkeeper. He hated his neighbors, the other villagers, and they returned the favor. One night, after he'd locked up and closed the shutters, a stranger knocked at the door. "Please let me in," the stranger said. " I'm cold and I'm hungry and I have no place to rest."

"Go away, we're closed," the innkeeper replied, but the stranger persisted. 'I am a gentleman and I am very wealthy. I will pay you well.'

"Now the innkeeper was tempted by the offer, so he slipped the latch and threw open the door. 'Come in,' he said, and the stranger rushed in with the speed and force of a gale wind. In the next instant, the innkeeper was pinned against a wall, held fast in the stranger's iron grip. The stranger, you see, was a vampire and his fangs were nearly at the innkeeper's throat.

" 'Is that how you repay me for my hospitality?' the innkeeper cried. 'You are no gentleman, sir!'

"This gave the vampire pause.

"Thinking fast, the innkeeper added, 'But you did tell the truth. You are cold and hungry. If you kill me now, you will still have no place to rest. Therefore, I will make you a bargain."

" 'Go on,' the vampire said.

" 'You can stay here, in a room at my inn, for as long as you like. But you must promise to pay me in advance and not harm me in any way.'

" 'And your friends and family?'

" 'I have no friends or family,' the innkeeper replied. 'To my neighbors, you may do what you will.'

" 'Fair enough,' agreed the vampire, and he released the innkeeper. And so, they boarded up all the windows in one room to block out the light, and the vampire retired there after handing over a large sack of gold coins.

"For an entire month, the vampire slept during the day and went out every night to feast on some villagers. And slowly, one by one, the villagers died and soon, the village cemetery was filled with freshly dug graves and new tombstones.

"For his part, the innkeeper did not care. He was safe within his inn and satisfied with his sack of coins.

"At the end of the month, all the villagers were dead and the vampire was ready to move on. And because he was truly a gentleman — or, at least, had been — he kept the bargain and left the innkeeper alive and unmolested.

"When the innkeeper found the room abandoned, he breathed a sigh of relief and congratulated himself on a bargain well made. But that evening, as he sat contentedly beside his hearth contemplating his new-found wealth, he heard a knock at the door. Before he could answer it, there came another. And another. And then came a knock at the window. And then a second knock. And a third. A fourth. A fifth. On and on and on.

"When the innkeeper peeked through the curtain, he saw all of his old neighbors, the villagers, surrounding the inn outside, for they were now, all of them, among the undead.

" 'Let us in,' they called out to him with flashing teeth and glowing eyes, 'for we are very cold and very, very hungry.' And they continued to pound on the door, on the windows and on the roof until the wood splintered and the innkeeper knew he was doomed. For he could not fight all of them off forever, and he also knew that they would not rest until they had him."

Illya added, "The end," and for a moment, there was silence all around.

"Ooooh," said Connie with a shiver as she clutched her forearms tightly. There was no doubt that she was pleased.

"And the moral is—"

"Love thy neighbor?" George guessed.

Napoleon chuckled. "More like payback is a bitch."

"And every bargain has its consequences," Illya declared with a triumphant smile, contemplating the pumpkin pie and whatever else Connie might offer him that evening.

"Indeed," Napoleon agreed, knowingly.