It was Friday afternoon, November 22nd. Illya Kuryakin bundled his wool coat about him as he stood leaning against the boardwalk railing, looking out at the choppy ocean. He'd found himself in a bit of a mood, and was unsure as to what had triggered it. He had an odd feeling, one that usually told him something bad was about to happen. Since he was technically off duty, he dismissed it as a tinge of paranoia that crept into every covert agent's being.
He'd been following some local political campaign for a New York appellate judge, and found it strange. Judge Sydney Foster would reach the constitutional age limit of 70 years at the end of the year and would retire.
Both Democratic and Republican state committees met early in September and nominated Democrat Francis Bergan, the presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, to succeed Foster. The Liberal State Committee met a day later, and endorsed the Democratic/Republican nominee as well.
The only candidate was elected, of course.
"Hmmm, just like home," Illya mumbled. That confused him, as his partner constantly reminded him of the power of Democracy, yet here it seemed just like back in Soviet Union. You cast your vote, even though there was but one candidate...strangely it somehow made him long for home, where politics were not quite as confusing.
"No, maybe that was wrong, home was not the correct word," he thought.
After coming to work for U.N.C.L.E. he was, for all intents and purposes, an outcast in the Soviet Union, or at least that was how KGB viewed him. The GRU, his former employer vacillated on his position, depending upon who was wielding the power. No, he longed not for home, but for Russia itself. The people, traditions, and definitely the food.
To resolve these feelings he'd taken a trip to Brooklyn, specifically to Brighton Beach, otherwise known as 'Little Russia.'
There were a few people strolling past him on the boardwalk, bracing themselves against the November winds blowing in from the Atlantic. They were people that looked like him and that he found comforting. He heard them chatter quietly in Russian, and longed to engage them in conversation but he refrained.
He turned, walking along the boardwalk following the passersby, having caught a few words of their conversation. They were heading to a restaurant called, 'Tatianya's.' Illya's ears perked up at that, as it was his mothers name.
Illya trailed along behind them, staying far enough away so as to not let them think they were being followed. The old paranoia still existed here in the Russian community, fear of the KGB, and the Vory as well, even though it was America, land of the free and home of the brave.
He chuckled at that thought, the Americans had their freedoms yet still there was the CIA, FBI and other government organization monitoring the populace, for fear of the 'Red Menace.'
He felt that even at U.N.C.L.E. as he heard the whisperings behind his back and seeing those who side-stepped, staring at him. No doubt someone from the CIA could be following him at the moment and he needed to be careful about who he spoke to, as he might be accused of making contact with a Soviet operative. Even on his off time, he had to look over his shoulder not only for enemy agents, but for those of the American intelligence services.
They arrived at their destination, and Illya walked in behind them, pausing for a moment at the wonderful scent of the food in the air. "Russian food," he sighed, but as he watched, the people handed over their coats and submitted to a patdown for weapons.
"Chyort," he muttered, this was obviously a mob place, or at least one frequented by the Vory v zakone. He had to turn and leave, as he was armed with his Special as well as his backup pistol strapped to his ankle. No use asking for trouble, and perhaps this was the trouble his instincts were warning him about.
That made his mood worsen, as he wandered the streets looking for another place to eat. He finally found it, a small storefront cafe, no doubt family owned.
A welcoming brass bell tinkled as he opened the door, again to the wonderful smells of food, but before removing his coat, he glanced around, surveying the clientele. No mobsters from the look of it, or men who looked like KGB. Just some couples eating their meals, and several older women who were waiting on tables..
"Hallo," one smiled at him. "You vont to eat?"
"Da, pozhaluysta," he smiled shyly at her, speaking Russian.
"YA ne uznayu vas, vy novichok v etoy strane_I do not recognize you, are you new here?"
"YA byl zdesʹ nekotoroye vremya, no ne khvatayet russkoy kukhni . On pakhnet tak khorosho zdes_I have been here a while, but was missing Russian cooking. It smells so wonderful in here."
The woman smiled at him, it was warm and genuine thought missing a few teeth.
"Togda prikhodite , yestʹ. Vy posmotrite, kak vy mogli by ispolʹzovatʹ nekotoryye otkorma . Zdesʹ vy mozhete imetʹ realʹnuyu pishchu , a ne kak sumasshedshiye veshchi, oni yedyat zdesʹ, v Amerike ... kak te Coney Island khot-dog_then come, eat. You look like you could use some fattening up. Here you can have real food, not the crazy things they eat in America...like those Coney Island hot dogs.
Illya smiled at that remark, knowing his partner's penchant for such American delicacies.
Anticipating the usual comment from women about his weight he, got the jump on it. "Yes I would like that very much, though I warn you, for a skinny fellow I have a very big appetite."
The woman laughed told him her name was Oksana, and was the owner.
"Menya zovut Illya." He introduced himself, smiling back at her.
"Sit, sit Illya," Oksana laughed, I will bring you soup, shashlyk and pelmeni, da?
"Da, that sounds perfect."
The first course arrived and he dove into the bowl of cabbage soup with gusto; made the right way, as after cooking it was left to stew on the stove. It made him think of one of the many proverbs associated with it..."Shchi dakashapishcha nasha_shchi and porridge are our staples" Oksana served it properly with smetana_sour cream and rye bread.
When the soup was gone, the second course was promptly served...Shashlyk, a form of Shish kebab, with marinated grilled meat on skewers, alternating cubes of beef and onions. Along with the Shashlyk he was brought baked turnips and carrots, mushrooms, pickled cabbage, as well an order of pelmeni_ dumplings stuffed with potato.
With his meal he was served Medovukha, a sweet, low-alcohol drink, made with fermented-honey and spices and after several glasses, he wiped the remaining plate clean, soaking up every bit of sauce with remaining pieces of bread.
Once his meal was concluded, a bottle of Moskovskaya vodka was brought out. He was surprised to see that label here, and didn't ask how she'd obtained it.
Oksana cleared the dishes and replaced them with small plates of caviar, pickles, and raw vegetables known in Russia as zakuska_snacks that generally accompanied vodka. He supposed this was a sort of dessert, as his partner would look upon it. He smiled, sipping his vodka, as Russian tradition prescribed that vodka be sipped in order to taste it; it was not acceptable to simply swallow it down when accompanied by zakuska. Along with everything else being just right, the vodka was served to him cool, but not ice cold. He smiled at Oksana's look of bemusement as he wiped his mouth, finishing his last mouthful.
"Vy ne shutil, kogda vy skazali, chtoappetit . YA udivlen, chto vy yeshche etogo toshchego Illya_you were not joking when you said you had a hearty appetite. I am surprised you are still this skinny Illya. You need to come back here more often so I can put some meat on your bones. That or you need to find yourself a good Russian wife...there are plenty of pretty girls here. My brother Semyon has a beauty of a daughter, perhaps I can introduce you?"
"Spacibo Oksana. I am not in the market for a wife at the moment, but I thank you for the offer as well as the good food. Illya smiled at her, paying his bill and leaving a generous tip.
Oksana thanked him as well for his patronage and invited him to return, and hugged him with a kiss on each cheek. "Come back again my young volchonok, and I will take care of fattening you up at least." The rosy cheeked woman smiled at him with a twinkle in her grey eyes.
Illya blushed, as he hadn't been called wolf cub since he was a child. A remark such as that might have made his mood melancholy again, but he was warmed by it, and perhaps by the good vodka as well. He smiled, thinking of his Babushka and his mother, remembering how they used to sing to him in harmony, lulling him to sleep.
He left the restaurant with a full belly and a happy heart for once. This place helped him feel like he was home, even though it was in New York, a veritable melting pot of people from all walks of life and different countries, trying to make their little niche there feel like home for them as well.
Illya Kuryakin returned to his apartment, and sitting down on his old green sofa, he turned on the radio. He did not own a television, disliking it for some reason. As he listened, to the announcer's voice colored with grief as he made a tearful report. The American President, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
The suspect had been arrested, one Lee Harvey Oswald, a man who it was said had links to the Soviet Union.
Illya buried his head in his hands. He was shocked, a rare feeling for him and he worried as well. This could potentially trigger a war if the Soviets were found complicit. He braced himself, knowing he would be recalled to Moskva...if he wasn't arrested by the CIA before hand. His trip to Brighton Beach now was ill-timed, even if it had only been for something as innocent as a proper Russian meal; he could be accused of making contacts with supposed Soviet operatives.
His communicator chirped, calling him from his concerns.
"Kuryakin," he answered promptly.
"I need you to report to headquarters immediately, as I'm sure you have heard the news," Alexander Waverly answered.
"Yes sir. I understand the possible link to the Soviet Union could be," he paused, "problematic."
"Ahem," Waverly cleared his throat. "Yes that is of concern and I've already been contacted by the CIA regarding your security clearance. I have assured them you are clean, but I'm afraid you'll be confined to desk duty for a while young man, as I need to keep you clear of any situations that might be considered questionable. You are a valuable asset to us and I'll not have your reputation sullied because of this reprehensible assassination."
"Yes sir, I am on my way in now, and thank you for your trust." Illya thought of telling his superior about his trip to Little Russia, and decided he would do so once he reached headquarters.
"Young man, I wouldn't have brought you into the U.N.C.L.E. fold if I thought for half a moment that you couldn't be trusted."
"I only hope there was no involvement on the part of my government sir, as I am sure that a war would ensue."
"That is my hope as well. Now get yourself here as quickly as possible. Don't stop anywhere or speak to anyone. Am I clear?"
"Crystal sir. Kuryakin out."
Illya arrived via taxi to Del Floria's, picked up his badge at the security entrance and made his way to Alexander Waverly's conference room.
He walked with blinders on, ignoring the stares and mumblings behind his back and as he turned a corner he ran head on into his partner. The look on Napoleon's face spoke volumes.
"I am so sorry for the loss of your President my friend, he was a great man...one ahead of his time perhaps."
"Thanks chum," Napoleon answered, downcast. "We're a strong country and we'll get through this. Lyndon Johnson has already been sworn in as President, the transition, under the circumstances, was quick and smooth."
Just then someone walked past them, uttering a venomous comment to Kuyakin. "You Commie bastard, you killed our President."
Illya said nothing, his face remaining calm, but his partner came out swinging and decked the man without a moments hesitation. The man collapsed to the floor.
"That was unnecessary Napoleon, as I have braced myself for such words. I did no wrong and I believe my country would not have been that stupid as to risk inciting a nuclear war. Only time will tell us why Oswald did what he did, and if anyone else was involved. I think even T.H.R.U.S.H. would not have been so blind as to back such an assassination."
Solo called Security and had the downed man taken to medical. After the meeting with Waverly a directive was given to all Sections in regards to Mr. Kuryakin...anyone uttering derisive or accusatory remarks, or acting in contradiction to policy would be detained, de-programmed and dismissed from the organization. There was no place for prejudice of any sort in U.N.C.L.E. and Alexander Waverly would not tolerate it.
Napoleon sat at home watching the his television, and took a sip from his cup of coffee as he stared in at the film of the motorcade moments before the President was shot. It happened while Kennedy while on a routine campaign stopover in Dallas. He watched as the the President slumped and Jackie dove across to him, then threw herself toward a secret service agent at the rear of the car.
He shook his head in disbelief. There were so many things dark and threatening that he'd faced in this world, but this shook him. Seeing a bright light like Kennedy extinguished was hard to bear.
Napoleon thought of his partner and tried to imagine how he was feeling, given there were possible implications to the Soviet Union being involved. It was no wonder Waverly had the Russian confined at least for his own protection. The anti-Soviet sentiment had been fueled by this, and the incident at headquarters showed that even U.N.C.L.E. wasn't immune to it. Tensions were just running too high at the moment...
Kuryakin, at the request of Alexander Waverly, remained sequestered at headquarters for the next few days, just to be on the safe side and there he was to maintain a low profile.
He was sitting in front of a monitor in Security, sipping a glass of hot tea as he watched and replayed video of the assassination, analyzing everything. There was talk of shots being fired from three locations, a Book Depository, the area of a grassy knoll, and the Dal-Tex Building, though the FBI investigation was pointing to the sixth-floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository as the sole origin of the shots.
He had his doubts about that, and suspected multiple shooters. There were a few things he saw in the film that convinced him he was right. A shadow and what looked like the glint of the sun on gunmetal in another window, and the sound of an additional rifle repeat...this was film that was not made available to the public.
He would report his findings to his superior, but he being Russian, doubted the American investigators would even listen to what he had to say.
Waverly could leave his name out of it, but eventually they would want to know who was the source of the theories, The seed of his country's suspected involvement had now been planted and therefore his findings would be held in low esteem by some. Though there was talk now the possibility of Soviet involvement had been eliminated, and he was comforted by that.
With the exclusion of Kremlin interference, the threat of war was gone. He knew at least there would be no going back to Moskva and breathed a sigh of relief.
Illya Kuryakin knew only time would tell as the layers of truth were peeled back like the skin of an onion...an odiferous task that would no doubt bring tears and fears to many. It was going to be a long time before the real truth surrounding the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be revealed, if ever...