Raymond Bistro stretched out on his bed, thumbing through a report whose sole purpose was to bore the reader and keep some desk-bound bureaucrat busy. He ran a hand through his graying hair and pulled off his glasses. Try as he might, he couldn't keep his eyes focused upon the words. The news of the loss of a fellow Section 2 agent weighed heavily upon him tonight. Samuel Hawthorn had been a good agent, smart, loyal, dedicated, all those years of service and experience snapped out of existence in a mere blink. To have him die in something as mundane as a plane crash almost seemed obscene.
His wife walked from the bathroom, dressed in a heavy terrycloth robe and toweling her hair. She saw his serious expression and sat down upon the bed next to him. She draped the towel about her neck and reached for his hand. Ray smiled at her, comforted by her presence. While it wasn't fair that Waverly would pull an agent from active duty for marrying, he didn't begrudge a day of his decision. She'd easily been the best thing that ever happened to him. "Penny for your thoughts, mister," she murmured softly, as if afraid to intrude upon his thoughts.
"I just can't believe Sam's gone." He reached over to put an arm around her to pull her close. "I was just talking to him three days ago and now he's just a tick mark in a different column today. It's just not fair, Sara." He kissed the side of her head and sighed.
"It isn't fair when anyone dies, Ray. It was just their time. If it were our fate to decide who lived and who died, that would make us as big of monsters as the people they died trying to stop. It's not our place to second guess decisions made by a higher up, big guy."
"I know, but I don't have to like it." He kissed her head again, burying his nose in the freshly shampooed hair. "Now we have bigger fish to fry."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you think Franklin can handle the CEA spot? He's only been No. 2 for six months and out of Survival School for less than two years. I'm just not sure he has the experience for the job. I like him, he's a great guy and he's going to make a fabulous No. 1 someday, but not today. I just don't think that now is the time to put him in charge."
"What does the Old Man think? Ultimately, it'll be his decision. He's the one who will have to work alongside him more closely than anyone else."
"He was on the phone to Waverly when I left. Probably getting his advice for all I know. I'm not opposed to putting a young guy into the slot, but someone that green, it's like you're asking for trouble. Frankly, and brace yourself for this, I'd rather have...you know...the Russian...Illya."
"You're going to feel that in the morning," Sara said, with a laugh. "Considering the love, or lack thereof, between the two of you, I'm really surprised at your choice. Could it be you're mellowing?"
"No, just admitting the truth. He is the logical pick and, all personal feelings aside, God knows the man's worked hard enough for it."
"It would make Franklin crazy...er. I only know what I've heard come down the pipe line, but with Illya's reputed lack of a sense of humor, department meetings would be a blood bath. I understand he's a sort of no nonsense kinda guy."
"You have no idea. How he and Napoleon ever managed to carry off a partnership, let only a friendship is anyone's guess. Still, if you look at their record, there has to be something there, they remain the top team in the agency. If the Old Man really wants someone more qualified than Franklin, may God have mercy upon our souls, Illya is the only choice. And he has been No. 2 for three years now. He's got the experience, the training and the qualifications to make the move. However..." He nuzzled her ear, his breath tickling it. "I don't think he'd ever leave New York or...Napoleon."
She rested her head against him, rubbing at a strand of hair with the towel. "You honestly don't believe those rumors?"
Ray laughed and shook his head. "Napoleon? Not possible, that man is a born skirt chaser. I can absolutely vouch for Napoleon. Whether Illya is or isn't, that's anyone's guess. No, honestly, I think he's happy where he is and that's that, at least to his way of thinking."
Sara tossed the towel aside and froze, then let out a scream and jumped from the bed. She started to shake and cry. Immediately, Bistro was beside her, holding her, his expression a mixture of confusion and concern.
"Sweetheart, calm down. What's wrong?" She clutched at him and sobbed, unable to catch her breath. Scanning the room, he immediately saw the culprit. Slowly, making it way towards them was a spider, its legs cautiously poking a path before it on the bedspread. "It's only a Daddy Longlegs. Now stop, you're going to hyper-ventilate."
"I don't care. Get rid of it!"
"The heat must have driven it inside." He reached down and let it crawl up onto his fingers. "It's harmless. Just a common...ow!" He dropped the spider and it hurriedly crawled away, dropping off the side of the bed. "The damned thing bit me."
This was enough to shake Sara from her earlier scare and she took Ray's hand and examined the spot. "Should I panic and call a doctor?"
"Naw, they're not poisonous. Let's go to sleep instead. I'm going to need a clear head tomorrow. The Old Man wants me in early and I suspect it's going to be a very long day, especially if the topic of you-know-who is going to be delved into."
"Okay, if you think you're all right." She looked around for the spider but it appeared to have retreated to a safe haven. "I'm sorry I over-reacted like that. It's okay when I know they're around, but I just hate it when they surprise me like that."
"Hey, I'm the fearless spider defeater!" Ray thumped his chest and then coughed. "Anyway, it's why they pay me the big bucks!"
"My hero. And you're sure you're all right?"
"Perfect, sleep now, please." Ray waited for her to settle down beside him and clicked off the light.
Sara's complacency rapidly grew into concern as Ray began to toss and turn, his skin growing hot to her touch. Without bothering to turn on the light, she reached for the phone, feeling a prickle upon her forearm. Any thought that she might have spared for it was replaced by panic when she realized the line was dead. She clicked the receiver several times in a vain attempt to convince the instrument to function, but to no avail. Failing that, she flicked on the lights to find Ray's communicator and started to scream at the sight of the spiders, crawling upon the bed, over the furniture and upon the now lifeless body of her husband.
Napoleon Solo walked down the hallway, whistling, barely noting the doors as he passed them He'd walked HQ's corridors so many times they were as familiar as his own apartment, maybe even more so. You could always tell a new recruit fresh out of Survival School. The corridors, the doors, they all looked so similar that they were jokingly referred to as Survival School part 2. You weren't a fully-fledged UNCLE agent until you could walk from Point A to any other point in the building without getting lost.
As he approached a door, he could hear the soft, but steady clang of weights being lifted and lowered inside. Once an agent discovered that he or she possessed other senses beside just vision, the task of locating specific rooms actually got easier. Napoleon knew he stood outside the weight room now, even though this door looked identical to the one before and after it. The only visual clue was a small number off to one side. The door slid open as he approached it and he stepped inside.
Several agents sat or stood around the room, working either with machines or free weights. When an agent wasn't on assignment, it was all about training, splitting time in the gym, on the shooting range or in the class room. There was never any down time for them, not if they wanted to become older enforcement agents. And while the prospect of being retired from the field at 40 was not a pleasant one, it beat the alternative. So they did their best and trained to avoid that outcome.
Toward the center of the room, a man lay upon a weight bench, bench-pressing, with the spotter's hands carefully guiding the bar, lest an arm suddenly surrender to the burden and collapse. With as much weight there was currently loaded upon the bar, it would result in serious injury. Napoleon's partner struggled with the weight, muscles and tendons pressing against the man's light skin. The Russian was panting, his blond hair turned dark with sweat, as he rested the bar upon his chest.
"C'mon, Illya, two more, you can do it. You're not even trying. Put your back into it. Jesus, you young agents are wimps. If Napoleon was here, he'd kick your ass." Quint Rupert had been running the gym facilities as long as anyone could remember. Even at his rather advanced age of 65, he was a force to be reckoned with. In short, his request was your command and Napoleon noted that Illya didn't offer any verbal protests, although it was obvious that the blond was at the end of his endurance.
Napoleon watched Illya strain, teeth clenched, neck corded, his back arched off the bench with the effort of getting the bar up one more time and then slowly lowering it back down.
"Keep your back straight and flat against the bench or I'll sit on your stomach, Illya," Quint threatened and winked at Napoleon. ""The last thing you need is a spinal injury."
With a grunt Illya rested it back upon his chest, his eyes flicking towards his partner as he acknowledged Napoleon's presence. He resumed his lift, arms trembling, until finally Quint guided the bar back to the uprights and settled it into place.
"You're done. Not too bad for a quitter." Illya grinned and took the calloused hand Quint offered, tugging himself up into a sitting position. He wiped the sweat from his face with a towel as Rupert asked, "Can I help you with something, Mr. Solo?"
"No, thanks, Quint, I'm here to collect my partner. Waverly wants you in his office fifteen minutes ago." Even though all the present agents were carefully avoiding eye contract with their superior, Napoleon knew every one of them would be closely listening to everything he had to say. They were Section 2, they couldn't help it. Observe, monitor and remember - it was something drilled into each one of them from the moment they arrived at the Survival School. It wasn't enough just to learn, one needed to actively remember those lessons and know what to do with them.
Napoleon's words galvanized Illya into action. He stood, draping the towel around his neck. "Oh, I'm sorry, Napoleon, I was too focused. I didn't hear the announcement. Quint, are the speakers out again? I thought they were fixed."
"They were working fine this morning," Quint said, glaring up at the speakers. He'd been waging his own war upon them for far too long to trust either mechanic or machine any longer. "You'd think with all the high tech crap they cram in upstairs that they could get a decent loudspeaker system down here."
"No announcement, I was sent to collect you personally," Napoleon said, bouncing lightly back and forth on his feet. Around him, the agents continued to work out and overtly listen. Even while Napoleon's actions didn't seem noteworthy, it was the experienced agent that knew to expect anything from their CEA.
"That means I've either done something very well or something extremely poorly," Illya said, wiping his face off again as a trickle of moisture trailed past one eye. Just because he'd stopped lifting, it didn't mean he'd stopped sweating. "Care to drop any hints?"
"Nope, but you should probably shower first. I don't think Mr. Waverly will be enamored with your manly smell."
"Hey, Napoleon, have you heard anything more about the crash?" Rupert wiped the bench down, prepping it for the next lifter. The crash that had killed Samuel Hawthorn, the South American Section 2, No. 1 man, had been the talk of headquarters for the last two days and everyone was hungry for details.
"Sadly no, the preliminary reports are in, but we still don't know anything more than we did. It looks like poor old Sam was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The FAA, of course, won't turn the black box over to us, so we just have to sit tight and wait to hear with the rest of the world."
"I didn't know him personally, but his record was outstanding. It just doesn't seem right somehow that you Section 2's face death every day and he's taken out with something as arbitrary as an airplane crash. It's just indecent and sort of makes you want to question the big decision maker." Rupert snapped his finger and pointed to the bench. Reluctantly, a young agent approached the group of older men.
He looked as if he was torn between bolting for the locker room or diving beneath the wrestling mat until the two senior agents left the room. Napoleon shook his head a bit ruefully at the thought. Had he ever been that intimidated by his Number 1? Naw, Ray Bistro would have simply ruffled Napoleon's carefully-groomed hair and would have told him to get on with business. So, Napoleon grinned warmly at the young agent and the man hesitantly settled onto the bench.
"What about Fairbanks? He was just killed by a drunk driver. I remember him from Survival School. He was in the class ahead of me. Really gifted marksman and an overall good guy, as was Hawthorne, but that's not why I'm here." Napoleon checked his watch again and held up his arm at his partner, showing him the time. "You have ten minutes left."
"Before I pick you up and carry you to Waverly's office myself." Napoleon glanced over at Rupert and crossed his arms defiantly. "And I can do it too."
"I should hope so," Rupert began to adjust the weights accordingly, pulling off the excess. "Otherwise, I'm losing my touch."
"Oh vanity, thy name is Napoleon. The only way you could carry me would be if I was unconscious." Illya headed towards the locker room before his partner could react further.
Waverly glanced up at the two men as they walked in to his office and he gestured to the circular table. At one chair, there was a manila folder and Illya dutifully slid into the seat to the side of it. Napoleon, as CEA, had first dibs on their assignment and any information. The Russian was content to wait.
Napoleon sat and spun the table until the folder was in front of his partner. "Read it and consider it very carefully, Illya."
Illya pushed the folder away without opening it. "Not interested, thank you."
"You don't even know what it is."
"You've offering me a transfer to Section 2, No. 1 in South America." At Napoleon's lifted eyebrow, Illya smiled slightly. "It doesn't take a genius to know I'm next in line for promotion. However, it's not what I want."
"I can, of course, order you to take the position, but I would rather not. However, I think it would a grave mistake on your part to dismiss it so summarily, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly said, his voice less commanding than usual. "It's a good opportunity and there are added benefits, such as a substantial increase in salary, prestige and, of course, a generous retirement plan."
"Not to be accused of being a fatalist, the chances of my reaching retirement age with UNCLE are minimal, sir. As to salary, my current pay is more than enough to meet my needs. I will never understand the tendency to give up something with the idealistic notion that additional power or money is more satisfying. I'm content with what I'm doing. If I were promoted to No. 1, it would be at the expense of what I find personally satisfying with my work here."
"I'm rather disappointed in you, Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly's voice contradicted his statement. In fact he sounded almost relieved. "You will not reconsider?"
"No, thank you."
"Then you are both dismissed." Waverly immediately turned his attention to the next matter at hand, not even bothering to see if the agents reacted or not.
Illya stood and left without waiting for Napoleon. After a heartbeat, Napoleon followed, catching his partner by the elbow just outside Waverly's door. Illya paused and glanced over at him as Napoleon dropped his hand.
"Illya, I need to say this while we're alone. You're the best partner I ever had, but I can survive without you. This is a tremendous chance for you and I don't want you turning this down because of some misguided sense of loyalty to me."
"I appreciate you speaking so honestly, Napoleon, but you flatter yourself. What I told Waverly is true. This is where I want to be. Besides, I would have to relocate to the tropics and I am not cut out for such a place." Illya turned at the sound of approaching footsteps. A man, clad in a rumpled three-piece suit, walked wearily down the corridor. His legs looked barely able to support the man's ample weight.
"Hello, Dillon," Napoleon addressed the Section 5 man. "When did you get back? How was London? It was London, right, the world computer conference?"
"Something like that. I'm jet lagged as all hell, to be honest with you. I don't know how you guys do it, running all over the world. One overseas plane trip and I'm ready to drop. I've seen you two get off the plane, debrief and head back out without even stopping to blow your noses," Dillon Dryers muttered. "But the conference was nice. I got to the British museum, saw a couple of shows, ate some great food...well, actually, a lot of great food...I don't know where the idea that British food is awful comes from."
"From those of us who actually lived there for a time," Illya said. "Believe me, bangers and mash wears thin after awhile as does Bubble and Squeak."
"Mushy peas," Napoleon said, with a grin. "And who could forget spotted dick?"
"The first time I heard that, I thought it was a venereal disease," Illya admitted, with a slight smile. "I do miss the fish and chips though, and the pies."
All during the exchange, Dryer kept looking around as if worried about eavesdroppers. "Listen, Napoleon, you need to know something, but you gotta promise to keep it quiet for now."
Napoleon exchanged a confused glance with his partner, who shrugged. "Not to worry, one thing I'm good at is keeping secrets."
"As opposed to stealing them," Illya said.
"Actually I'm better at that. What's going on?"
"Napoleon, I'm sorry, but I don't know how to say this except right out. I was down in Communications getting caught up with everything when the news came in. They found Raymond Bista and his wife dead this morning."
"Bistro," Illya corrected, sobering. While it was true he and the man didn't see eye-to-eye on most things, he was still UNCLE. "He's inactive Section 2 in the Paris office now, isn't he? He glanced to his partner for verification, but Napoleon's face had gone blank and Illya frowned, "Napoleon?" he tried and confused, he looked to Dryers for help.
"He was here just before you came, Illya," Dillon said, by way of an explanation. "He was retired from the field when he got married."
"I was his partner," Napoleon said. "He taught me everything, took me from a green recruit and made me an UNCLE agent. How...how did he die? Ambushed? Was it THRUSH?"
"Found him in bed, his wife beside him. They haven't finished the autopsies yet, but they think it was a fast-acting poison. The French authorities are calling it a suicide-murder pact."
"Murder-suicide? That's impossible," Napoleon said, more to himself than anyone else. Illya placed a hand on the American's shoulder, but the man didn't even acknowledge it. Deftly he guided the man into a conference room as the technician trailed behind them. Napoleon sank into a chair and shook his head slowly as he rubbed his face. "It just doesn't make any sense."
"Why doesn't it make sense, Napoleon?'
"We talked just a few days ago. They were getting ready to take a Mediterranean cruise. You don't make long-term plans if you're going to kill yourself. I can't believe that of either of them. Not Ray and he worshipped Sara. He'd never hurt her. He's just not wired that way, I know him." He glanced up at Illya and back down at the table with a bitter smile. "Knew him..."
"There was no sign of intruders or forced entry. It could have been THRUSH or a personal vendetta. I'm sure he picked up a few of those," Dillon said as he turned to leave, suddenly uncomfortable with the two agents' change of mood. "Listen, Napoleon, this is all still classified, but if there's anything I can do for you..."
"Thanks, you risked enough telling us this much."
"You won't say anything, will you? If the Old Man found out I was leaking classified information, he'd bust me to a janitor. I just thought you needed to know."
Napoleon shook his head, slowly. "We won't say boo to anyone about it until it's released. Thanks for telling me." The man scurried from the room, leaving the agents alone. After a moment, Illya settled a hand upon Napoleon's forearm and squeezed gently.
"C'mon, Napoleon, let's get out of here." He smiled slightly and suggested. "Maybe we can find something to eat."
"I'm not really hungry."
"A drink then, but I'm not letting you be by yourself tonight. When slapped in the face with death, the best thing is life. There's this little place I found over in the Village. The lights are very dim, the music is very hot and the vodka is very cold."
After a moment, Napoleon nodded slowly, but he remained unmoving. The hazel eyes flicked up to the Russian's face for a moment and then back down at the conference table. When he spoke his voice was quiet, barely audible. "Illya, I have no right to ask you this, considering how you felt about Ray and all, but the Old Man won't want me on this because of my history. He'd feel that it would make me reckless or worse impulsive. Would you...?"
"Yes, I will be your eyes and ears. I'll be on the next plane to Paris as soon as the information is made public, with or without Waverly's approval. Now, let's get out of here."
Napoleon still remained, finally muttering, "Thank you."
"It's what partners are for. It's what I do."
The spot that Illya eventually led Napoleon to was deep in the Village, but not far from the Russian's apartment. As they entered, Napoleon immediately saw what drew Illya to such a place.
The small jazz combo twisted its audience around its very talented fingers and kept the tiny dance floor jammed with bodies to the point of it being impossible to tell who was dancing with whom. Away from the floor, the lights were low and offered a great deal of privacy for those desirous of it, offering the world-weary Napoleon a spot to lose himself and his identity, both of which he needed and wanted tonight.
He shut his eyes and let the music carry him. He didn't recognize the piece, but knew Illya would supply both the name and composer if he asked. He didn't, he just wanted someone else to be in charge, so much so that he didn't even bother to protest when Illya ordered vodka for them. The bottle arrived and Illya filled two glasses with the clear liquid
"Nostrovia," Illya said, lifting his glass. "To Ray Bistro, a fine agent and a good man. I wished we'd gotten to know each other better, for your sake." He tipped his head back, swallowed the contents in one movement, eyes closed as the liquor softly ignited a small ball of warmth in his stomach. "Had I known your shared history, I would have made more of an effort. Perhaps even without that, I should have made more of an attempt to know the man."
"I could never figure out why you two never hit it off." Napoleon touched his glass to the Russian's and sipped. He was not as comfortable with vodka as he was around other adult beverages, but tonight was the Russian's show and he was disinclined to interfere, instead choosing to trust his partner with the details.
"It happens." Illya filled his glass again and swirled the contents, suddenly unwilling to meet his partner's eyes. "It was as if we were atoms, constantly smashing into each other, but never resulting in anything more positive than an explosion."
"But Ray was funny, impulsive, a real man's man. I mean, one time, he..." Napoleon trailed off at the memory and shook his head. "No, you're right. The two of you were destined not to get along. And while we're at it, a toast to Sara, who tamed that wild heart. I was best man at their wedding. You know I can still hear Mr. Waverly."
"Because Bistro got married, you mean?" Illya topped off Napoleon's glass before filling his.
"More than that, they were both Section 2's. Sara was still a junior agent when she met Ray. They kept it pretty quiet for awhile, but it got out."
"The hazards of your co-workers being spies, I would guess." Illya's fingers tapped rhythmically to the music.
"You can imagine the fireworks when the Old Man found out. You know how he feels about us getting married, but to have a pair of Section 2 marry each other... The picture wasn't pretty."
"I received a ninety minute lecture on the subject once." Illya paused just a moment before returning to his glass. "He felt I was getting too close to his cousin, Alice. He gave me a choice; either I left the field and made an honest woman out of her or I broke the relationship off. My choice was obvious."
"Imagine trying to explain you to the in-laws. Worse, imagine having Waverly as your cousin. There are so many ways that could have gone wrong." Napoleon fell silent for a moment and then shook his head. "I just can't believe it was suicide or even a murder/suicide pact. Ray was just too well adjusted. Something would have turned up in his psych exam."
"Napoleon, you don't have to try to convincing me. I believe you. If you say that Bistro had no proclivities towards suicide, then I will not doubt you. As his partner, you would have known the man as well as anyone, possibly better." Illya poked through the dish of pickled vegetables on the table, stabbing a pepper. "But that would leave THRUSH...or someone else."
"Maybe it's all some big scheme to bring down UNCLE. They got tired of targeting the Section 1's and now they are after us. I mean, if you look at it, it's been Section 2s, both active and non, who've gone down."
"We're natural targets, like those little ducks at the shooting arcade." He paused to chew the pepper. "They're always after us and to what end? The positions are filled as soon as they're vacated, perhaps not always with men as experienced, but usually just as competent as the ones gone."
"Hopefully more so, but then what do all these deaths have in common?" Napoleon toyed with his glass. "There has to be a single factor, something that connected these men in some way."
"They're all dead." Illya hunched his shoulders and Napoleon pulled the bottle further across the table away from him.
"We should order food."
Illya nodded and raised his hand to signal the waitress. She responded by bringing another bottle of vodka to the table along with the menus.
"You've...ah... been here a time or two, I take it."
"A time or two." Illya acknowledged, with a sheepish smile. "Do you trust me?"
"Of course," Napoleon admitted with a chuckle.
Illya ordered quickly without taking the pre-offered menus. She blushed under his gaze and hurried off.
"She's pretty," Napoleon said, watching her retreating form. "Those legs are something else. They go on forever."
"And meet an unfortunate end. I would not pursue that course, if I were you, Mr. Solo." Illya emptied the first bottle. "There is much more to her than meets the eye."
"She is a he."
"I beg your pardon?" For the first time, Napoleon took a moment to study the bar and its patrons. Realization suddenly slapped him in the face and he leaned forward to whisper, "Illya, tell me this isn't a gay bar."
"As you wish." He knocked back his drink. "But I would be lying."
"How...? I mean, what...?" Napoleon stopped and gathered his thoughts. "Any explanation you'd care to share with me?" He sat back suddenly self-conscious about his proximity to his blond partner.
"I stumbled upon it one night and thoroughly enjoyed the music. It's wasn't until much later that evening, when I took one of the patrons up on her offer, that I realized my mistake."
"That must have been a surprise." Despite his discomfort, Napoleon had to smile at the image dancing across his mind.
"Needless to say, the evening turned out a bit differently than I had envisioned. Not necessarily bad, just...different.
"Why didn't you tell me about...this?"
"Would you have come if I had?"
"Then you answered your own question. There is a given sense of anonymity that exists here. No one really sees anyone else by mutual consent. Here, you can be Napoleon Solo, the man, not Napoleon Solo, what everyone else wants you to be."
"Illya, you have the soul of a poet."
"So I've been told. However, perhaps it would behoove us to turn back to our puzzle. Commonalities besides their demise, gender, job and the inherent danger of the job?"
"None that I know of. Ray was married, the others were single. Fairbanks was Hispanic, Ray was Irish, and Hawthorne was European. Two brunets and a red head and they all were Christian, I think. Oh, and they were all right handed."
"As is a good portion of humanity, Napoleon." A basket of dark, heavy bread was brought to the table with a bowl of something that vaguely resembled butter. Illya offered the basket to Napoleon before tearing off a chunk of bread for himself. "I can't see that as a connection. What else? Ray was your partner - you must have some insight into the man."
"That hasn't helped with you."
"That's because I choose to remain a mystery."
"Perhaps more than even I realize." Napoleon sipped at the vodka. Somehow it didn't seem quite as potent as it did a few minutes earlier. He chewed the bread slowly and thought. "Besides being Section 2, No. 1's either currently or retired, I'm at a loss. I worked with them, drank with them, bled with them and yet, there's nothing more I can tell you." He emptied the glass. "That's a rather sad statement in and of itself."
"I will run a further check when we get back into the office tomorrow." The waitress approached, carrying a tray and Napoleon grimaced at the contents. There wasn't anything he could immediately identify and that was unusual for him.
"Are you sure about the food here?"
"Absolutely," Illya said, draining his glass yet again. "It's the patrons of which I remain wary."
A loud jangle of bells brought Napoleon Solo straight up in bed and the movement elicited a loud groan from somewhere near his feet. He was disoriented as he tried to make out the familiar shape of his bedroom, but only unfamiliarity greeted him. Then he heard his partner's guttural muttering and the fog clogging his head lifted slightly. They had left the bar with neither of them in any condition to drive, so they had walked to Illya's apartment for some black coffee. They had, instead, finished off a bottle of something Napoleon couldn't now recall the name of. It, apparently, had proven fairly lethal.
He struggled to sit up, fighting off a particularly aggressive blanket. He was still partially dressed in his clothes from the previous evening. Other items were strangely missing.
As his eyes adjusted to the dim morning light, Napoleon looked around until he located the Russian sprawled, stomach down, across the foot of the sofa bed, a motionless lump, partially obscured by a blanket and pillows.
At the second ring, Illya moved, knocking a glass to the floor as he did, but he didn't attempt to stop it. It was easier just to curse its heritage, or at least that's how Napoleon interpreted the man's half-croaked words.
The instrument rang again and Napoleon tried to talk, but his mouth and throat felt full of dryer duct lint. He swallowed a few times and made another attempt. "Illya, the phone."
"Yes, that is the phone, very astute, Napoleon."
"Shouldn't you answer it?"
"As soon as I remember where it is. It doesn't ring very often." Illya rose slowly, carefully glancing around the room as if moving too fast would only result in an undesired consequence. He took a hesitant step towards a cluttered table and then paused, waiting for another ring.
"Maybe you should shovel the place out." Napoleon massaged his temples, still not motivated enough to leave his spot on the sofa bed.
"No, I just move. It's easier in the long run." Illya uncovered the instrument, pushing technical journals and papers aside to reveal the receiver. "Illya...yes, sir...yes, sir...yes, sir...yes, sir...no, sir...yes, sir....yes, sir..." Illya hung up the receiver and started to plod his way to the bathroom.
"Well?" Napoleon managed to get to his feet. To his great relief, the room wasn't swirling too much. He kept a hand on the back of the sofa, just in case of a sharp tilt though.
"What did Mr. Waverly want?"
"Oh, you're not to go home. Apparently there's been a massive man hunt for you for a few hours now." The bathroom door muffled the Russian's voice.
"Why didn't he just call me on the communicator?"
"That is a very good question. Do you know where yours is?"
"Jacket pocket, right side. It's always there."
"Not anymore." Illya walked from the bathroom holding a tube of toothpaste, a silver communicator rammed through it. "Napoleon, why did you feel the need to stab my toothpaste? I know it's not your brand, but really."
"We have got to start taping ourselves when we do this - talk about threatening world security." Napoleon made it to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "Yours is in the butter - same question." He checked the date on the orange juice before taking a swig from the carton. He leaned against the counter for a moment before pushing himself towards the bathroom. "Illya, why can't I go home and, I shudder to ask this, what is that smell in here?"
"The sharp acidic smell or the vaguely uncomfortable musty smell?"
"Let's go with the first one." He looked into the bathroom where Illya was bent over the sink, brushing his teeth.
"Landlord fumigated the building while I was in Madrid. That led directly to the second smell, but I haven't found anything dead in here for at least three days now."
"That's reassuring...so why can't I go home? He leaned against the door frame.
The man looked up from his task of brushing his teeth and held up a finger. Napoleon took another long drink from the carton and waited until Illya finished his task.
"Two reason really," Illya said, wiping his mouth off on a towel. "First, there appears to be a dead woman in it - the police are somehow convinced that you are directly connected with that."
"Oh, you're in protective custody. Apparently, overnight, you officially became the only CEA left alive in the organization."
"Last night, the last three bought it. THRUSH took one."
"No surprise there." Illya exchanged his toothbrush for the orange juice as he moved to the kitchen. "You want coffee?"
"Not as much as want as need." Napoleon worked at the delicate task of not getting tooth paste all over his hand from the pierced tube.
"Hoonjahn threw himself from the top of HQ in Hong Kong and Valledares took a dive off the side of a ship into the Aegean Sea." Illya took a long pull from the orange juice container.
"Valledares couldn't swim."
"Probably should have thought of that beforehand," Illya muttered, going through the familiar task of brewing coffee. "Anyhow, I've been assigned to protect you."
"Rest assured I have no intention of tossing myself out your window, even if it wasn't nailed shut. Mind if I use the shower first?"
"As long as you don't kill yourself in it, feel free." Illya retrieved his communicator and began to wipe the butter from it. Just when he thought it was a lost cause, it chirped. He grinned and answered, "Illya."
"Finally!" The communication clerk's voice was nothing short of exasperated. "I've been trying to reach you for hours."
"Didn't Waverly tell you he contacted us just a few minutes ago?"
"Why would he do that?"
"Oh, sarcasm, Janet, just another service you offer?" Illya pulled down two mugs from a shelf, checking to make sure there was nothing in either of them. He tipped a couple deceased spiders into the sink and sighed as he turned on the water. "Yes, I am keeping an eye on Mr. Solo, just as Mr. Waverly requested. Do we know who the woman is yet?"
"Apparently his cleaning lady. She comes in to clean late at night, like say at 3 a.m."
"Who cleans at 3 a.m.?"
"My cleaning lady," Napoleon said as he exited the bathroom rubbing at his hair with a towel. "Why?" At his partner's distressed expression, Napoleon suddenly connected the dots. "I gotta go."
"Napoleon, you can't!"
"Why the hell not?' Napoleon demanded as he tossed the towel aside and reached for the door knob.
"A couple of reason - first, and this is a big one, you're naked and this is New York, not London. Second, I was ordered by Mr. Waverly to bring you directly into HQ with no side trips."
"And since when do you listen to Mr. Waverly?"
"In case you haven't noticed, Mr. Solo, CEA's are dropping like flies and I'm responsible for keeping you safe. Waverly knew you wouldn't like it, he told me to use force if I had to."
"In your dreams."
"Perhaps, but until then, you need to stay here."
"All right, you have my word," Napoleon muttered, stooping down to pick up the towel he'd dropped and knotting it around his waist. Illya handed him a cup of coffee.
"Like your word is good for anything, partner," Illya said, walking towards the bathroom. He grabbed something from the back of the couch. "In the meantime, I have your pants."
"I'll wear yours then!"
"Napoleon, be reasonable. You can't get into my pants if you wanted to. You've been trying for years..." Illya suddenly glanced down at the communicator he held. Smiling sheepishly, he brought it up to his mouth. "How much, Janet...?"
"How much what?"
"How much is it going to cost me to have you forget about what you just heard?"
"There are no words to describe it. Channel D out."
As they pulled up to Del Floria's Tailor Shop, Napoleon felt a curious sinking in his stomach. Two patrol cars sat outside the entrance, their drivers lounging expectantly against them.
"New York police? I don't like the look of this, Napoleon." Illya brought the sedan to a halt. "Are you sure there's nothing jaded about your past?"
"In this country, you're innocent until proven guilty. And, honest, Illya, I'm innocent. I was with you all night."
"In Russia, you're guilty until you're guilty - it's quite a time saver. In any event, and this is nothing personal, but I do not know you." Illya climbed out and gestured to the dark-haired agent to follow.
Neither of the uniformed men paid any attention to them. Still, Napoleon was relieved when they reached the familiar surroundings inside Floria's shop.
"What's with the uniforms outside, Del?" Illya asked conversationally.
"No one tells me nothing. They came squealing up here about an hour ago and haven't moved since. A plainclothes was escorted inside. Other than that, I can't say. I'm just a meshugana tailor."
"Guess it's safer that way."
"Mr. Solo!" Floria's voice caught Napoleon as he was about to enter the fitting booth that was one of the secret entrances into UNCLE HQ.
The tailor had come from behind the counter and, with his handkerchief out, approached him. He snatched something from Napoleon's shoulder and Napoleon looked for a tell-tale stain on the material.
"A marvelous specimen of Arachnida Phalangida."
"A what?" Napoleon inspected the area again, more thoroughly, just to be sure.
"A Daddy Longlegs, Napoleon." Illya pushed him through the curtains, leaving Del Floria behind with his prize. "This has to be the Year of the Spider. They've been everywhere as of late"
Napoleon self-consciously patted at his suit jacket before entering Waverly's office. It was bad enough to have to sleep in his clothes on duty, but he wasn't used to it here. As soon as he had five minutes, he'd head for his locker. In spite of his shower, he felt rumpled and ill at ease, not a feeling he enjoyed.
Illya scowled at his concern and raked a hand casually through his blond hair, but Napoleon ignored him. After all, at least the Russian had the privilege of clean clothes. The slender, shorter man pushed past Napoleon and entered their superior's office a full two paces before his partner.
Waverly sat at the circular conference table, fumbling with his pipe as usual. Across from him sat a stranger. The man was dressed in an ill-fitting two piece suit and had an overcoat draped across the back of his chair. His face was long and wrinkled, reminding Napoleon of a basset hound.
"Gentlemen." Waverly's tone was as gruff as always, but his face was drawn, weary and concerned. He looked even older than he was, if such a thing was even possible. He nodded to their chairs and both men sat, patiently waiting for the older man to resume speaking. After a long moment of repeated puffs, Waverly did just that. "Gentlemen," Waverly repeated, "this is Detective Dorman Parish from the New York Police Department. He has some business to conduct with you and I hope that you will both be as cooperative as possible."
"Oh?" Napoleon sat up a bit straighter. "What can we help you with, Detective?"
"If possible, Mr. Waverly, I would like to talk to your men separately."
"Of course, Mr. Kuryakin, if you could excuse us for the moment?"
The Russian nodded and stood, but paused as the detective said, "But don't go far."
"I seldom do," Illya murmured and let the door slide shut behind him.
The detective let the man clear the room before turning back to the dark-haired agent.
"First you can tell me where you were last night."
Napoleon smiled, looking at his boss to approve the request. At the man's lack of response, Napoleon said, "Well..." he paused, pursing his lips in thought, "After we left here, we went over to some restaurant...well more like a bar that served food."
"My partner and myself." Napoleon nodded to the door.
"I'd gotten some bad news and he seemed to think a drink might help."
"And what was the name of this bar that served food."
"I can't really recall, but Illya would know. It's one of his usual hang outs, judging from how he was treated by the staff. They would remember us."
"How long did you stay there?"
"Illya knew the band, so we stayed until they finished their last set, about 1:30 and then went back to his place for a nightcap."
"I see. What then?"
"We drank and then went to sleep. I was there this morning when Mr. Waverly called."
"And you were never out of your partner's sight all night?"
"Not for more than a few minutes at a time."
"Can you prove that?"
"You can check the lock record."
"The electronic locking mechanism on the doors, they register when they are triggered. It should be fairly straight forward to pull those records."
"How do you know Mrs. Elsie Plout?"
"She's been my cleaning woman for many years. Not much more than that. I rarely saw her."
" What we want to know is why your cleaning woman was in your apartment at three o'clock in the morning, Mr. Solo. That's the doctor's estimated time of her death."
"Elsie liked to work nights, so whenever I could, I'd arrange to have her come in then. I'm gone more than I'm here, so it worked out well for both of us."
"What was she doing in your apartment at 3 in the morning, Mr. Solo?"
"Cleaning presumably. She liked to work nights and it didn't really matter to me as I'm rarely in town. I usually call her when I'm in town so she doesn't surprise me."
"Why's that, Mr. Solo?"
"I'm an enforcement agent, Detective. It's unwise to startle me in the middle of the night."
"I see. That's all the questions that I have for you, Mr. Solo." He shut the small notebook and looked over at Waverly who had sat quietly through the entire conversation. "Would you be so kind as to send your partner in?"
Napoleon nodded and rose, moving quietly and gracefully from the room. Just outside the Section One's door, his partner lounged against the wall. "He wants you now."
"This should be a joy."
The Russian reentered the room and resumed his seat at the table. He folded his hands before him and stared at them.
"You are?" Detective Parrish glanced up from the notebook that was once again open and being used to scribble hasty notes.
"Illya Nichovetch Illya, Section Two Number Two, Enforcement."
"How do you know Mr. Solo?"
"He's my partner." When he didn't move to add any more to that, Parrish studied him for a long moment.
"Well, your partner said that the two of you went out on a bender last night."
"I could not envision Mr. Solo using so crass a term, so I am assuming that you are paraphrasing. However, that is essentially correct. We went to a bar in the Village."
"The name of it?"
Illya paused for a moment and shook his head slowly, "I knew we should have gone somewhere else. It was the Flaming Cossack."
"Napoleon said you are a regular there."
"I like the music, yes."
"And you were there all night? "
"Only until about 1:30 or so until after the band played its last set. We went back to my apartment and were there all night."
"Excuse me?" Illya tilted his head slightly, frowning.
"I happen to know of the bar."
"Then you will know that is none of your business, except to say that we were there until Mr. Waverly's call this morning."
"And Mr. Solo was with you all night?"
"Yes, he was." Illya paused and took a deep breath. "He passed out around 2:30. I remember because I happened to looked over at the clock."
Parish scribbled a notation.
"He was upset about a colleague's death." He knew Waverly didn't approve, but he'd be hanged if he'd be charged with murder just to keep the Old Man happy.
"Thank you, Mr. Kuryakin. I'll have to ask you to not leave town."
"Don't tell me, tell him," Illya muttered, but Waverly merely hedged his eyebrows.
"Are you quite through, Detective?"
"For the moment, I suppose that I am."
"Mr. Kuryakin, would you escort the detective out and send Mr. Solo back to me?"
"Of course, sir." Illya stood and waited for the detective to collect himself. As they exited the office, Napoleon was sitting on the corner of the secretary's desk, obviously engaged in some mild flirting. It came to an abrupt end when he saw his partner with Parrish.
"He's waiting for you, Napoleon and he's not happy."
Napoleon smiled and nodded his goodbye to the secretary. "Oh, Illya, do me a favor and pull the record log for your locks. The detective will want to take a look at them."
They walked quietly down the corridor, Parrish following the Russian just a few steps back. Illya stopped in front of a door and waited for it to slide back. The clatter and hum of the communications room immediately filled the air. A couple of clerks glanced up as they passed, but no one seemed to pay the pair any attention. Illya slid down behind a console and began to punch in a series of numbers upon a keyboard. Parrish watched him for a long moment.
"Wish I could touch type," he said as he split his attention between that of the man's fingers and the room around them. Some people were constantly moving while others remained almost statue like, only the lips moving as they recorded information into various languages and codes.
"Join the Russian Navy," Illya murmured and then sat back in the chair. "This should just take a moment." A series of numbers appeared upon the screen as Illya punched in another set of letters and numbers into it. "That is a record of the locking mechanism of my front door. The numbers to the right are when it was engaged or disengaged in the last 24 hour period." Illya followed the column down with his finger. "As you can see, it was disengaged at 1:34 a.m., re-engaged a minute later and then not triggered again until 10:27 this morning."
"Then it appears that you two are telling the truth."
"What's this all about, detective?"
"Didn't your boss tell you?"
"Only that I was to place Napoleon under protective custody and that he was not to return to his apartment because a dead cleaning woman had been found there. Mr. Waverly can be remarkable sparse with details when it suits him."
"A neighbor arriving home this morning noted that the door to Mr. Solo's apartment was ajar and when he entered, the body of Mr. Solo's cleaning lady was discovered."
"They say it comes in threes," Illya muttered, more to himself than to anyone else.
"What comes in threes?" Parish demanded, regarding the man warily.
"Death, Detective. We lost two of our operatives in France yesterday, not to mention another three last night. While our life expectancy is very short in this business, even this is excessive for us."
"A variety of ways, some apparent accidents, other through manufactured means. How was the cleaning woman killed? Have you heard back from your medical examiner yet?"
"She seems to think it was poison.
"There you have it," Illya said, slapping the desk. "Poison is a female's weapon of choice. Why would Napoleon use poison when there are so many other more efficient ways?"
"And how would you know that Mr. Kuryakin?" The detective was suddenly very interested in the blond agent.
"It's my job to know." At the detective's accusative look, he added, "If it's any consolation, I only kill the bad guys though."
"You mean the ones you deem bad guys," Parrish corrected.
"No, the ones UNCLE does," Illya said. "I'm not a barbarian nor do I crave violence for sport or enjoyment." He stopped for a moment and tilted his head in thought. He leaned forward and flicked up a switch.
"Medical." A familiar voice answered and Illya smiled in spite of himself.
"Nellie, good morning."
"And to you, Mr. Kuryakin. How are you?'
"Fine, surprisingly enough. Have we gotten the autopsy reports back on Bistro and his wife?"
"Not yet. How did you know...?"
"I'm an enforcement agent, Nellie. Think about it. When you find out, will you let me know? It's rather important."
"Of course, Mr. Kuryakin, but it's going to be awhile. We are a little backed up down here right now."
Illya nodded, as if unaware that she couldn't see him. "Thank you." He clicked off the switch and turned back to the detective. "I wonder if we compare the blood analysis for the dead woman against our most recent case if we will discover that it's the same type of poison that killed Bistro and his wife." Illya's interest was piqued. "We've been experiencing a rather unexplainable loss of our CEA's at the moment. If someone had laid a trap, it was most likely for Napoleon. They had no way of knowing that he wouldn't be coming home last night."
Illya stood and headed back towards the exit with Parrish tight on his heels. As they headed back towards Reception, the detective spoke up again.
"I have just one more question for you, Mr. Kuryakin." He let the receptionist remove his UNCLE badge. "How do you and your partner feel about spiders?"
"I will confess that I am not overly fond of them since being tossed into a pit of tarantulas. Why do you ask?"
"We found several dead..." he consulted the book. "...Daddy Longlegs near the woman's body as well as several others scattered throughout the apartment."
"I didn't know they colonized," Illya murmured. "We've been suffering from a rash of them around here. There was even one in my car this morning."
"You had them in your car?" The notebook came up again. "How about your apartment?"
"My landlord fumigated the place a week ago. There's not much of anything living there now, including me." Illya said with a slight smile. "But I wouldn't pay much attention to them, Detective. After all, they are harmless."
"So I've heard." Parish flipped the book closed as they stepped into the small reception room. "Thank you for your time."
Napoleon Solo sat at his desk, staring down at a sheaf of papers, his mind miles away in thought. The lecture both of them sat through was blistering, but expected. They worked hard, they played harder, it was their nature and Waverly knew it. More than that, Waverly knew that they were aware of it.
No, his mind wandered to Elsie and to Ray Bistro, about life itself and how tentatively he clung to it. He had no doubt now that it was his own death that had been planned, not that of his housekeeper. Yet who was responsible? THRUSH? More than likely, but an independent couldn't be ruled out either. Too many times before personal enemies had looked him up with disastrous consequences.
He leaned back in the chair, making a face at the long squeak it made. The sporadic typing of his partner had stopped and Napoleon wasn't surprised to see the Russian come around the corner and sink into a straight-back chair beside his desk.
"Can't work?" Napoleon had been listening to the stop/start clatter of the typewriter for the past hour and he knew it took a lot to distract the slender blond, even from the most boring of tasks, such as typing up a field report.
"I can't keep my mind off all those deaths, Napoleon. There has to be a pattern, there has to be."
"Weren't you the one last night who insisted they were coincidental?"
"That was before your name came up as the next one to possibly be carved into a gravestone. No matter what others might think, I do not want your job or anyone else's for that matter. If I did, I would have taken that promotion yesterday."
"Know what you mean. I've been thinking about that myself."
"Well, let's take this a step at a time." Illya grabbed up a sheet of waste paper from the trash basket and patted his shirt. "Do you have a pencil?"
Napoleon scanned over the top of his desk and shrugged his shoulders. "Never have one when you need one." He yanked open a drawer, then stopped, his expression odd enough to intrigue the Russian.
"Napoleon, what's wrong?" He finally posed the question when the man remained unmoving.
"Illya, your handkerchief, please." Napoleon held out his hand while never taking his eyes off the drawer.
Curious, but without hesitation, Illya dug the required item out of a pants pocket and passed it over.
Napoleon shook it once to open it fully and then tossed it into the open drawer. "Despite what you might think of my personal hygiene, I've got a perfectly good reason for this. Besides, I've seen enough of these over the last two days to make me more than suspicious." He opened the cloth briefly to expose the trapped spider within. "Why don't we take this over to our friends in the labs and see what they say while I call Mr. Waverly. If this is indeed a plot of THRUSH's, I want to know how this got in here." Safely ensconced within the linen, the spider moved restlessly, making the fabric rise and fall with its efforts.
The phone rang then and Illya snatched it up. He listened for a moment, murmured an affirmative, and then cradled it.
"This is getting odder all the time."
"Now what?" Napoleon tucked the handkerchief into a manila envelope and sealed it shut.
"We've just been invited to dine with Mr. Waverly tonight."
"Well, that's rare, I grant you, but hardly what I would consider odd."
"At the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Del Floria." He stopped as Napoleon looked self-consciously down at his suit. "Not to worry, Napoleon, Mr. Waverly has sent out for something for you to wear."
"You're right. This is getting strange. Let's get this little darling dropped off, shall we?"
The residence of the Floria's turned out to be a small brownstone structure in the heart of Manhattan, one that was tiny enough to not attract the attention of the land-hungry builders, yet large enough to be comfortable.
"This was definitely not what I was expecting." Illya murmured to Napoleon as they settled themselves down in leather armchairs. "I never knew Del's wife was a gourmet cook."
"Just goes to prove you can't tell the tailor by the seam he stitches." Napoleon attempted to study the room, but the lack of adequate illumination kept the walls and most of the room dark except for a lit pool in their immediate area.
Del came in talking with Waverly, his voice still carrying the nervous edge that comes from having one's employer in one's home.
"That was a most excellent meal, Del," Waverly was saying as they entered. "Your wife is really a marvelous cook."
"Thank you, I'll pass on the compliment. After having raised five kids, though, she's had plenty of experience."
"Indeed." Waverly seated himself on the overstuffed couch and took the brandy sniffer Floria offered him before starting on a search of his jacket for his pipe. "Now, Del, if I may be so bold as to inquire, this afternoon you hinted that this find of yours dealt directly with Mr. Solo's and possibly Mr. Kuryakin's safety." Botha agents unconsciously sat slightly forward at Waverly's admission.
"It could, sir." Del's voice lost some of its uneasiness. "This morning, I picked an Arachnida Phalangida, or a Daddy Longlegs, if you prefer, off of Mr. Solo's shoulder. There have been several in the shop the last few days and I'd been thinking about fumigating. But then, if it's not them, it's the rats and sometimes they're even worse..."
"Yes, man, go on," Waverly urged. He'd located his pipe and was now struggling with a match.
"Anyhow, I'd never seen one this big before, so I caught it and put it into a preserving jar." Del turned on the overhead light and it was only then that Napoleon saw the room's true decorations. Picture frames on the walls held carefully preserved insects, not pictures of the grandchildren. All over the room, shelves held bell jars with prized specimens within.
"I didn't know you were an entomologist, Del." Illya stood to examine some of the jars' contents more closely.
"Amateur, I assure you, but I do like to play with insects, I always have. It is a hobby my wife doesn't share. In fact, she hates spiders. She doesn't even like coming into this room. Isn't that how it always is?" He cast a fond glance at the door as if his wife was lingering just outside and then recovered his train of thought. "As I was saying, I put the spider into a preserving jar and later began to examine it. That was when I called you, Mr. Waverly."
"I don't follow you, Del." Napoleon took a sip from his brandy sniffer. "And I have a feeling I should - very, very closely."
"There's something most people don't know about Daddy Longlegs, Mr. Solo. These arachnids are naturally aggressive and their poison is fatal to man - more so than that of a Black Widow or Brown Recluse. If the Daddy Longlegs bit you, you would die without immediate help."
"But I thought they were harmless," Napoleon protested. "We had them all over the farm. I used to play with them and I never got bit."
"Exactly. They are harmless to man because their mouths are too small and weak to break through a person's skin, but they are incredibly and naturally aggressive. Say some unscrupulous person decided to do a little genetic engineering..."
"Del," Illya interrupted excitedly, "I'm way ahead of you. Did the spider you took from Napoleon's shoulder this afternoon have a larger than normal mouth?"
The Italian's face fell briefly, but he nodded. "Mr. Solo's Daddy Longlegs had a mouth three times larger than that of a normal one." He gestured to a microscope. "If it had gotten to his skin and bitten him, he would not be with us now. The treatment is fairly straight forward, but it's such a unique poison that most doctors can't isolate it before the patient dies on them. After all, how many people are bitten by Daddy Longlegs each year?"
Napoleon unconsciously lifted a hand to his shoulder as if to flick a nonexistent spider away. "Ray," he murmured, then louder, "and Sara and Elsie. It looks like we've found your pattern, Illya."
"But what about the air crash and the crazed driver?" Illya was not so easily convinced.
"And then there's Hoonjahn and Valledares to consider."
"The crash was due to pilot error; you said so yourself," Napoleon pointed out. "What if some of these spiders had been loose in the cockpit and bit the flight crew? Or what if a driver suddenly found herself in a car full of spiders? I could easily see Hoonjahn leaping off a building to escape from a spider - he was terrified of them and Valledares, I don't know about him though."
"That's a lot of 'if's', Mr. Solo," Waverly offered, ever skeptical of an almost too easy answer.
"Napoleon, did we ever hear about that spider from this afternoon?" Illya approached him hurriedly. His hand was already reaching for his communicator.
Napoleon started, "No, we haven't and that's strange because I made sure to mention it was a priority call."
"Give me a little credit, Napoleon," a voice from the doorway interrupted him, and all the men turned. "I wouldn't be so stupid as to try and kill you in UNCLE HQ. That little darling got out of its cage."
Mrs. Floria stood there, her posture stiff, mainly due to the gun stuffed into her ribs. Dillon Dryers smiled at her, then over at the foursome. Almost unconsciously, both enforcement agents took their place in front of Waverly, ready to shield the man with their bodies if necessary.
"I don't believe this." Illya rolled his eyes. "You, Dillon? You're not going to make me believe that this was you." The Russian's hand was making steady progress towards his Walther P-38.
"Why not? Don't you think I'm smart enough to have figured something like this out? And if you try to pull your gun, Illya, I'll give the little lady here an appendectomy. Both you and Napoleon, throw your guns over there." His head pointed to a far corner and the agents complied. "You're right, of course, about the spider's mouth, Del. It was too weak to do much of anything. But, thanks to me, they are much more efficient now. The actual engineering didn't take very long, once you knew what you were doing." He held up a carton in his other hand. "And they reproduce very quickly, you know, which made it possible to isolate the characteristic I needed within just a few generations. Along with the larger mouth, I had to produce a larger spider. At first I thought that was going to be a problem, but once people identify them, they just ignore them."
"Why, Mr. Dryers?" Waverly asked.
"The oldest reasons in the world, I should think, Mr. Waverly - jealousy and envy." Napoleon purposefully kept his tone light as he worked to find a solution to their dilemma
"Of us?" Illya exchanged a glance with Napoleon, who shrugged his shoulders.
"Why not? We have freedom, an exciting lifestyle, travel, women and we get paid too. Who wouldn't want what we have?"
"You forgot to mention the very real danger of death hanging over our heads at any given time. A desk is much safer."
"Do you know what it's like to have to sit in a stinking lab every day, cooking up ideas to make you guys look good, and never getting any of the credit for it? Why should we? You're the ones who save the world. You can do all the things I never could." He paused to push up his glasses. "So, I decided that if I were to eliminate all of UNCLE's top men, eventually, it would get to the point of no one wanting the job..."
"And then you'd step in to save the day," Napoleon finished for him. "You're crazy, Dillon. Our spots would never be open for long. There are too many good men in the world for that."
"Then I shall simply have to kill them all - but I will be Section 2."
"Why not just apply yourself, man?" Waverly suggested, undaunted even at the thought of his own demise. "There's nothing wrong with you that a little self discipline wouldn't fix. Ninety percent of the job is that alone. Let the woman go and we'll talk about it."
"There's nothing to discuss, Mr. Waverly. I've killed some of UNCLE's finest - our own people, plus about sixty more on the plane. You're not going to let me walk out of here - let's not kid ourselves. And, if it's any consolation to you, Napoleon, you hit the pilot and driver practically on the nose. The only one I didn't plan was Chandler. The poor bastard really did get taken by THRUSH."
"And him you have sympathy for. Now you're going to kill all of us? Dillon, haven't we all had enough?" Napoleon used his best negotiating style. "Waverly's right, let's sit down and come to an agreement."
"Not until I see you writhing on the floor dying, Napoleon. You two have been able to elude me this long, but not anymore. I'm tired of playing your straight man, Napoleon." He glanced over at the Russian. "And I'm tired of living in your shadow. No matter what I do, it's always, "Well that's not how Mr. Kuryakin would do it. Well, screw you!" He glanced at the woman and smiled. "Pardon me, ma'am, I don't usually use language like that in front of ladies."
"This wasn't exactly the way I saw the evening ending." Del's voice was apologetic, his eyes never leaving his wife's face. She seemed searching his for something.
"True, but if you had invited us here for supper and our murders, I don't think we would have showed up." Napoleon glanced over at him and smiled slightly. "And for what it's worth, that was an incredible meal, ma'am."
"And who would suspect a lowly scientist of such crimes? Certainly not your wife or she'd never have let me in," Dyers chuckled softly and Del Floria nodded slowly.
"No, but you could have at least warned her of what was in the box. There's nothing worse for an arachnophobic to learn than there's a box full of spiders dangling a few inches from her face."
"What?!" A previously subdued Mrs. Floria exploded into a frantic attempt to break loose, her fear of the gun overcome by her fear of the spiders. It was just enough of a distraction to give Napoleon the brief second he needed to leap across the floor and tackle the man. He grabbed at the container and the gun in the same motion. The gun went flying into the room and Illya scooped it up, stuffing it into the waistband of his pants.
Dryers and Napoleon went over backwards out of the room, freeing the woman. Del rushed to her to encase her in a firm hug. Mr. Waverly, visibly relieved, walked into the dining room where Napoleon was putting the finishing touches on anunconscious Dyers.
He rose, a bit shaky, and began to dust off his suit. "Illya, you'd better call the hospital."
"Why? Is he dead?"
"No, but those spiders got out while we were scuffling and I'm afraid one of the little nippers got me." He held up a hand to display the small, reddened spot. "I don't think I'm going to feel very well soon."
Alexander Waverly walked into the hospital, intent on finding the proper elevators. He rounded the corner and stopped in surprise at the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Del Floria.
"Mr. Waverly, how are you?" The woman clutched her purse more firmly to her bosom and smiled.
Waverly bowed slightly to her. "Quite well, thank you. Did the fumigator get rid of all your little unwelcome guests?"
"Yes, thank you, and it was very nice of UNCLE to pay for it."
"Well, the whole mess was sort of our problem to begin with. Are you on your way to see Mr. Solo?"
"From what I've heard, the poor man was rather ill."
"According to Mr. Kuryakin, he's making remarkable progress and should be released in a day or so."
The couple exchanged relieved looks, and Del spoke up.
"What about the maniac with the spiders?"
Waverly rubbed the side of his head for a moment and then shook it. "I don't think we'll have to worry about him anymore. From what I understand, he was done in by his own evil."
"You mean his spiders got him?" The woman shook her head sadly. "Pity; he seemed like such a nice boy, in spite of the killing and all."
"Well, I'm glad!" Del was definite. "Otherwise, after I got through with him, he'd wish he were dead."
"Why, Del?" Mr. Waverly was curious.
"For ruining a perfectly good dinner party!" Del glanced over at his wife and muttered, "You know how I hate party crashers!"