Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin used to be in the spy business. Well, they called it Law Enforcement, and the organization is, in actuality, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. UNCLE. It was then and remains an über police force, neither nationalistic nor loyal to one dogma of political thought. It has existed for the sake of doing good. Period.
So why would a man who was full of idealistic zeal for the cause of pursuing justice at almost any cost, and protecting the innocent through almost any method, be compelled to leave UNCLE?
Napoleon Solo was the heir apparent to the seat occupied by its head of operations worldwide, Alexander Waverly. Hand picked by the wily veteran of two world wars and numerous encounters with spooks of every description, Solo was the boy wonder of the Northwest region; perhaps the entire organization. Certainly he and his partner, Illya Kuryakin, set the bar when it came to the number of victories over evil won with exceptional style.
That, and the sheer improbability of it ever happening, was the reason everyone was so completely shocked when Napoleon Solo walked away from the U.N.C.L.E. with a wave of his hand and a smile on his face. The old man performed the obligatory rite of refusal, attempting to cajole and then coerce his Chief Enforcement Agent back into the vision of his eminent promotion to head of operations in New York.
Solo knew, however, that it wasn't going to be that straight forward. He would be sent to a less prominent location first in order to obtain the necessary credentials gained from running a regional office. He and Kuryakin would have necessarily been separated, the partnership plundered for the sake of his own advancement. That had stung, but perhaps not as much as Illya's refusal to yield to any show of sentimentality. He had insisted that Napoleon should move on, and accept the inevitability of the partnership's demise.
In a rare glimpse past the age of 40, the magic number that was considered the goal post of an agent's life, Napoleon Solo suddenly had a clear vision of his, and he didn't like the picture. The endless nights of reporting in to a chief that was never off duty, and the wearisome task (loathsome even) of sending out the endless supply of wiling men and women to a possible death, or worse was the job of Mr. Waverly. In the midst of the memories Napoleon inserted himself into the Big Chair, and something within his delicate soul rebelled against what had been written for him.
Napoleon Solo didn't want the job.
Illya was not entirely surprised by his friend's decision to decline the offer of ultimate responsibility. What did cause him to wonder and then ask, was Napoleon's offer to exit from UNCLE as partners still, only now in search of a job rather than in the service of the Command.
"Napoleon, are you quite insane? Where would you go? Where would we go, like a set of salt and pepper shakers looking for a meal to season?"
Napoleon liked that analogy. In years to come he would remember that question, and the expression on the Russian's face as he asked it. Poor Illya. He always did prefer a plan, had never fully understood how the more spontaneous Solo could rely on the so-called Solo Luck for all of those escapes and clever victories.
Illya was a man who liked to know going in what he would meet on the other side, or, at the very least, who would be there. For every valiant rescue he had performed there was an equally fortuitous circumstance that had been a complete surprise and impossible to foresee.
What no one foresaw, including Napoleon was the incredible amount of money to be made in computers. Well, ironically, if anyone could have it would have been the technically savvy Kuryakin. And yet, fifteen years later it was Napoleon who was sitting on a fortune made from selling his serendipitous company devoted to computer technology and peripheral components. Big Money.
Equally ironic to some was the current daytime job held by the sometimes irascible, and now former, Russian agent. He had also finally left UNCLE, although with less fanfare even than Solo. A blundered job behind the Iron Curtain had been a type of last straw for the stoic Kuryakin. Often viewed from afar as lacking the charm of his partner, he had turned out to be surprisingly (to some) the more emotionally damaged of the two when he was unable to recover from the trauma of losing an innocent.
No one really knew the details, nor did Illya volunteer any to those who might have asked. He simply left. A letter on the desk of Mr. Waverly along with his I.D. card was the lone concession to an explanation beyond the obvious. He kept the Walther with the inlaid initial K, as well as his pen communicator. They were the hard won trophies of his loyal service to something he had believed in with all of his soul.
Certainly both men still believed in the ideology of UNCLE, as well as the good they had helped preserve. But, in the end, they just did not believe that they belonged in those grey halls any longer. One had nothing to do with the other. The kind of men who thrived on constant change and adventure were hard pressed to actually endure to the age of forty, let alone live to see it. Being a Company Man, it turned out, was easier said than done.
Napoleon left in the summer of 1968, at the age of thirty-five. On a sultry New York day with the temperature soaring near ninety degrees, he emerged one last time from Del Floria's little tailor shop, looked up the street and down, and hailed a cab. His apartment had already been sublet for the rest of the summer, but Napoleon would never return to it as home. Before Labor Day and his scheduled return from an extended stay in the Virgin Islands, Aunt Amy would pass into her eternal reward and Napoleon would collect an early return on his. The famed penthouse apartment would become his new home, the place from which he would embark on a new life.
Illya Kuryakin was also thirty-five years old when he departed the U.N.C.L.E. Not quite a year after Solo's last day Kuryakin would type his letter of resignation and have it delivered to Waverly's office, not daring to enter himself and risk being deterred from his task. There had always been something unique between the venerable old head of UNCLE Northwest and his Russian recruit. It was difficult to explain, but their connection had been different from others, even Napoleon's. Perhaps it was the blond's war-ravaged youth that somehow affected the older man's affections, although that didn't keep him from nearly casting Illya into the deep on more than one occasion.
Ultimately, as with all those before him however, Illya had been of less importance than the organization itself. Sentimental notions about the worth of any one agent never usurped Waverly's absolute belief in the mission of UNCLE.
It was that perspective Illya blamed for the fiasco in Yugoslavia: Waverly had not warned him of Janus' depraved deception, but had let the scene play out. The result was a death, and ultimately the departure of Kuryakin from the Command. Waverly accepted it with his usual grace, regretting the circumstance but never wavering in his conviction that the ends justified the means. The girl had died, regrettably, but the microdot had escaped the traitor's trap and been returned to New York along with the emotionally ravaged Russian.
All of these events and memories remained unstated between the two men, much as in the old days. Little by little the details would eventually begin to trickle out as age and distance began to mellow the mood and determination of Solo and Kuryakin. For now, and in the afterglow of their successful reunion efforts that had stopped a re-emerging Thrush from gaining a foothold, it was once again a shot of vodka and the warbling of a silver pen that punctuated the evening.
Everything old was new… again.