The Raga Affair

by Glenna Meredith

My apologies for errors that surely are in this story, especially regarding the location and particulars of getting from one place to another. Still, I hope you find it entertaining. Reviews are most welcome.

Part I

The young man in the music store longed to play one of the exotic instruments he was admiring. He had passable skills and a natural inclination for music, and this was particularly intriguing to him. He wondered how many years it would take him to even begin to grasp the complexity of mastering such a beautiful thing. He could hear playing in the background, and it occurred to him that there was something deeper in the sound of it, spiritual even, if he were to use such words.

The blond took a deep breath, inhaling the incense and floral fragrances that wafted over him and through all of the rooms in the building. He was on the main floor, but he knew the conservatory was above on the second floor. That's where the music came from, and he longed to be there and watch as the students played, mastering the instruments of their culture. It was an intoxicating sound, and just briefly, it reminded him of his youth and the sounds he had grown up with; balalaikas and domras, similar to a mandolin, sweet and melodic, but not often within his hearing any longer.

As his attention returned to his surroundings, he was aware not only of the sounds and the smells but the look of this land and it's people. The women in brightly colored silk saris and men wearing loose cotton clothing that warded of the heat; he would have traded his suit for that apparel right now, the humid air closing in around him with the fragrant incense, slightly sickening in the sweetness of it. His head swam a little as it engulfed his senses, thick and pungent, momentarily leaving him lightheaded and without bearings. Then it passed. He looked around, wondering if anyone had observed him, but satisfied that he appeared to be just a tourist like so many others.

The Russian had come to India in search of a name; there was mole in U.N.C.L.E, and the damage being done had become personal; the breach had affected his last mission. His partner Napoleon now lay in the medical unit with injuries that were requiring time out of the field, sending him here alone to search out the only clue to the traitor's identity. A cryptic message was the solitary trace of a trail, and it was a musical one, the reason for him being here. "Raga', the man had said as Kuryakin held him, straining to understand the unfamiliar terms. " Arohi; panchama; tivar; vakra". And with that he had expired.

He had written down the foreign words quickly, making certain to keep them in the order in which they had been spoken, wondering how they could translate into feasible information. The dead agent lay at his feet now, and Illya had called in the information of his location, not yet ready to pass on his exotic code; without knowing who the mole was, he wasn't willing to risk it.

As he looked around the music store, his eyes caught images of two men in similar clothing to his own. They weren't tourists, nor did they appear to be music lovers. ' Thrush, most certainly', and he was in motion as soon as he recognized the thought. It would be necessary to navigate through the thick crush of people in here, all civilians and none of them expendable. In his efforts to move without attracting the attention of the other two agents, Illya bumped into another young man who was holding one of the strange looking instruments he had previously admired. The collision had caused the sitar to be juggled out of the other man's hands. Only the Russian's quick reflexes saved it, catching it and returning it in one graceful movement.

"Here you are...sorry" he managed the speedy apology as he was heading for the door. He registered only a quick glimpse of the man, but their eyes met in acknowledgement of the intrusion. The dark haired stranger muttered something, smiling weakly as the blond passed by, more anxious than ever to be out of the confines of that room. He pushed carefully past several groups of children, then quickly through a circle of men who spoke in one of the favored dialects of Bombay State, not one he understood. Finally, out into the sweltering heat and the unmanageable crowds that thronged the streets of Bombay, Illya Kuryakin of the U.N.C.L.E. took a sweeping glance at the city and decided to head towards the Hutatma Chowk at the southernmost end. The martyred protesters of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti had become a beacon for the ensuing efforts that would follow them into history, along with their cries for unification around the languages of India. Hutatma Chowk, recently renamed from it's original title of Flora Fountain, was dedicated to their memories and the flame of passion for their cause. India was gaining an international presence, after millenniums of contributions to the world's cultures and politics, and Illya felt oddly at home here regardless of his lack of linguistics. The feel of it was strangely familiar.

As he neared the center of the square he could feel the eyes of the men following him. He had taken several detours through marketplaces and alleys, shouldering through the crowds, ducking into dark corners. Still they followed, never seeming to lose their cadence as they traced his steps mercilessly. He wished for his partner to be near, now as always. There was no one at his back save the two Thrush goons, and his options were diminishing quickly. He couldn't go back to the hotel, nor did he have a car currently at his disposal. The Bombay U.N.C.L.E. headquarters was closer now, but he did not wish to lead them directly there, although it might be necessary if he couldn't shake them off soon. The thought crossed his mind that they most likely knew where headquarters was located, since they were now following him. Someone had tipped them off to his presence in India. Again, the mole was at work. In an instant the thought vanished as rough hands grabbed him, pushing him into a taxi that had pulled up suddenly in his path. The impulse to reply with a defensive action withered as blackness accompanied the prick in his neck; he collapsed into someone's arms and was thrown into the waiting vehicle in the same moment that it started to move. Soon it was lost in traffic, just as he was lost to the drug now invading his body.

When consciousness finally returned, Illya found himself in near darkness. It was damp and cold, and he recognized that he was lying atop stone, perhaps in a cave or cell, it didn't matter. He was not inclined to be here, although the ropes on his wrists and ankles spoke of his choices having been narrowed to simply being alive. There appeared to be carvings on the walls, and a wider more expansive hall of some sort from which the light had traveled. He had heard of the caves that were believed to be the work of non-human hands. The gods of India had carved out a niche, quite literally, for themselves on the outlying islands from Bombay. There were seven islands in the jurisdiction of Bombay State, and he figured that he might have been ferried across from Bombay to a different one.

He also took note that some of his clothing was gone. He had been stripped down to his trousers and shirt, and the latter had been nearly ripped from his body, judging by the lack of buttons and his exposed chest. That didn't bode well. Thrush agents were only too willing to violate the sanctity of a religious shrine in order to beat information out of him, and so he found himself mentally bracing for the event as he heard voices and footsteps coming in his direction.

"Mr. Kuryakin, we are relieved to see you again. It wouldn't do for you to have reported your findings to the Bombay office, now would it". Not a question, the voice taunted his failure and the dread of what lay ahead for him. He stood resolutely, not indicating anything like an emotion and certainly not the fear that his captor wished to see. The only return to the comment was a cool blue stare. Roland Curtis knew that look, and he knew this agent. The prize of U.N.C.L.E.'s favorite Russian would stand him in good stead with his superiors. All he needed from him was information, and a bit of blood. He could keep him alive, if only marginally so. "We need to know what you found out, Mr. Kuryakin. It is possible that others know what you possess, even though I believe Mr. Gupta's last words were limited to your listening ear. Still, we can't be too careful".

As though that had been an unspoken order, the two guards who had stood in the shadows came forward, each grabbing an arm and pulling the blond agent as he struggled against it, attempting to break the hold in spite of still being bound. They forced his arms from behind, encircling them over a free standing idol, forcing a grunt as his shoulders were wrenched backwards and over the statue. Just as he was recovering from the wicked pain of that movement, a force was leveled against him that caused white lights to shoot across his vision. A broken rib, maybe two and the undeniable agony of a choking breath against the pain. He threw his head back, daring his tormentor to do it again, and so he did; pummeling the slightly built man until he was spewing blood, sliding down the carved contours of the statue to which he hung limply. His head banged back against it with a fiercely knuckled blow, breaking off the tip of an ornate headpiece on the silent god. He could barely identify the wet ooze from the cut that resulted, slipping into unconsciousness and onto the floor.

The guards were forced to untie his hands in order to remove him from around the statue, their sense of confidence mired in the belief that the U.N.C.L.E. agent would not soon recover from this interrogation. They took him back to his little alcove, tossing him onto the hard stone and setting the beam that served as sentry. Doubtful that he could walk out of there in any case, they would let the electronic sensor do their work for them. Illya watched them set the sentry beam through one half open eyelid. He had seen the way out of the main temple area, remembering now with some effort that the larger room was annexed to smaller ones, with at least one corridor that he believed would lead out. As he struggled to sit up, his hands went to untying his ankles, groaning involuntarily at the pain in his shoulders and ribs. He had to get out, and he didn't have any time to waste. They would kill him, trophies not being on the agenda these days. If they had a mole high enough in the organization to thwart the kinds of missions on which he and his partner were sent, then he reasoned, they didn't need him.

It would have been nice to think that Napoleon was on his way to help, but that wouldn't happen. His partner had been shot and dragged until they thought he was dead. It was chance, luck as usual for Solo, that his location had been discovered. Illya had been left behind without a concern, the arrogance of Thrush usually a part of their undoing, and the Russian had located the U.N.C.L.E.'s Chief Enforcement Agent through the tracking wire in his mouth, a new and undiscovered aid out in the field. Kuryakin had been able to call for backup, and in the meantime slip into the Thrush satrapy, locate his partner and extricate him. After that he blew up the place, bending to Napoleon's accusations about the joy he derived from explosives.

Now, in this ancient grotto, he surmised through his pain that he could get out and away with a minimum of trouble. There had been no other guards in view before he was blindsided by the first wallop, and it seemed that they were depending on electronic "guards" to keep him here. He got to the doorway on his belly, inching against the injured ribs, and crawled under the beam he knew was about knee high. The sensors were easily detected once you knew what to look for, and his slender frame allowed him to easily move beneath it. Once out, he got up carefully and assessed his environment. There wasn't anyone in sight, and the only sounds came from an area to his left. The corridor he had spotted was in the opposite direction, guiding him in his movements and providing hope for the escape. He heard something click, then pause only to start the clicking noise again. He hoped it wasn't more sensors alerting his captors to activity. Unwilling to be dragged back into his prison, he ran towards the opening, closing in on it just ahead of shouts and threats from the men he had tricked with his pretended stupor.

From the mouth of the cave, he spotted water ahead, and then boats. He didn't think Thrush controlled the entire island, but he wasn't taking any chances. He needed to leave, and the sighting of several small boats gave him a rush of adrenaline as he mentally plotted a course to them. He was out and running, his chest heaving beneath the pain of fractured ribs, his bare feet meeting gravel and sand. The boat was within distance now, and he was leaping from the small dock and into the one small craft that had a motor attached. It would serve the purpose, and he pulled at the power cord furiously, cursing at it to start. It did so with a spurt, knocking him into a sitting position just as bullets started flying in his direction. The pain to his ribs disguised the one that caught his side, and he didn't notice the blood immediately, so intent was he on his escape. This was the boat that had transported him here in all probability, leaving his pursuers without ready transportation. The shots were still ringing when he realized that he had indeed been hit, his hand coming away from his wound with the evidence of his own blood. "Prodolzhai?te, chert voz'mi (keep going, damn it)

..." He was fighting off the effects of the beating and the blood loss, the shock that accompanied a bullet wound, and he couldn't stop. He recognized the ferry returning to the Gateway of India, the starting point for trips across the harbor from the southernmost region of the city. He could make it there, and with luck and some endurance, back to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. As the little boat covered the six or so miles to the jetty, it was only adrenaline that held him together, and that was waning. Closing in on the dock area, he looked for a place to pull into, hoping for something level, not confident that he had enough energy for something truly physical. He eyed an opening for the little motorboat, and pulled alongside a long slip of mortared stones that formed steps leading up to the dock. He didn't have the energy or the time to tie up the vessel, and left it drifting again out into the harbor. Every step was edged with uncertainty and pain, and he willed himself along the pavement, avoiding people and trying to stay close to a wall that might lend some support. He got his bearings, realizing that he needed to head west in order to get back into the heart of the city, having little faith in his body to get him there. That necessitated him moving out from the security of the buildings that had been holding him up and he eyed a group of religious devotees of some sort, moving as one across the street and onto the thoroughfare that seemed would lead him to headquarters. As he stiffened his body and denied the throb of his splintered bones and flesh, the blond managed to step into pace with the flowing robes. He halted only momentarily to catch his breath when a car brushed against him, causing him to spin and collapse to the ground. It was a little Mini Cooper, and it came to a quick stop as the driver realized what had happened. Another man jumped out of the vehicle, rushing to help the injured man...well, they had barely been moving, certainly not enough to cause any damage...But as he looked more closely he saw the bloody shirt and obvious bruising on the man's body.

"Raj, help me. This bloke needs a doctor, and we didn't do this". The feel of someone lifting him revived his senses from the temporary blackness, protesting the helping hands, cursing in Russian at the pain, much to the shock of his rescuer. "Relax, mister. We can take you to hospital." The voice was soft and, even close to blacking out again, he thought he recognized the accent as something he'd heard when at Cambridge, though it wasn't from that area. Farther north, he remembered, but was unable to recall at the moment... "No, no hospital, please. They're after me, they'll find me there", his fevered plea was a raspy response to the kind offer. "They'll find me..."

With that the battered agent lost consciousness again, leaving the man and his driver to weigh their options. Something in that statement, 'They'll find me", struck an empathetic chord within him. He understood only too well that feeling of being hunted down and living his life exposed to unwelcome observation. If this man had a reason to remain undiscovered then he would honor that. There was a place he could take him; to a man with enough influence to arrange things in an unorthodox manner.

A man sat at a desk in U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Hong Kong. He was younger than many of the men in his position, and had been a Section Two agent for less than five years, but Michael Sharpe had even higher aspirations. His career had spiraled from textbook beginnings in the organization to number one of section two in the Southeast region. His corresponding counterparts were all capable men, and some of them were as good as he. Napoleon Solo came to mind as his most compelling competition. It was no secret that the man had been tapped by Waverly as the eventual head of North America, therefore the predominant figure in the organization. It was up to him to assure his real loyalties were rewarded by Solo's elimination from that coveted position. Indeed, he would himself succeed Waverly if all of their plans remained unimpeded. They had nearly vanquished Solo, had it not been for the pesky Russian's interference. Someone had thought him more valuable alive. They would not make that mistake again.

The two men in the Mini Cooper wound through downtown Bombay, heading north. They exited the city and arrived Juhu, the famous beach that was home to many prominent Indian citizens, both in entertainment and politics. Mahatma Ghandi had once lived here, and it had remained a popular destination for tourists as well. The Arabian Sea lay to the west as the car pulled into a long driveway that fronted a house with a low modern profile. Beautifully manicured lawns surrounded the modest looking structure, with a stunning view to the waters beyond. As they maneuvered the unconscious man from the back of the car and through the front door, each man was dismayed at the amount of blood on their own clothes, not wishing to consider what that might mean to the victim. The thin young man upon whose instincts this was being carried out wondered at the predicament he was thrusting upon the owner of the house. This friendship was in itself fairly new, and as yet untested for something of this magnitude. He hoped that the trust they had found in one another amidst their mutual interests and convictions would survive the introduction of this complication.

Taking the lead, the brown haired Englishman led the way into what he knew to be a spare bedroom. Regretting the blood that would stain the bed linens, he nonetheless motioned to his accomplice to lay the man down, knowing that he would gladly replace them at a later time. A young boy entered behind them, his eyes questioning the scene but asking only how he could help. He was a local, employed by the homeowner with the knowledge that all who came here were subject to the same intense respect for privacy, his continued employment based on his ability to remain discreet. He had great respect for the man who lived here that bordered on awe; certainly he would never disappoint him with idle talk or gossip. Upon instruction, he went to find his employer, notifying him of this strange new circumstance.

Upon entering, the short Indian man was unable to suppress a cry of surprise at what he saw. "Oh, my friend...what have you brought here? Is this man still living?" The brown eyes of his young friend looked up, full of questions himself, but able to reply that yes, he was alive. "We need to get him help though. He didn't want to be taken to hospital...someone's chasing him, trying to kill him". It sounded unreal as the words escaped his lips, but he instinctively believed that it was true. He understood what it felt like to be hunted, although not with a gun. "Alright, I will trust that you are correct in this. I will call Dr. Bhatt, he can arrange for everything. He is acquainted with the circumstances that are required in cases like this, and will certainly help this young man". He looked at the pale figure in the bed, nearly as thin as his young friend who was responsible for this strange request. The blond was breathing in a ragged, irregular rhythm, his face nearly as white as the linens on which he lay. He wasted not a minute in calling his doctor, urging him to hurry and be prepared to save a man's life. "What do you mean you've lost him? He escaped from you again?" Michael Sharpe turned in his seat and faced the wall, his complexion darkening as he listened to the report from the inept operative who had lost Illya Kuryakin to the throngs of Bombay. "I suggest that you find him and kill him. I don't care what he knows at this point. Just make sure he can't live to speak it to anyone else."

That damned Russian was all that stood between his current safety and being exposed as the Thrush mole within U.N.C.L.E. The Hong Kong office had been the perfect location for his ascent to the highest levels of region five. He knew that Solo was still alive, but there wasn't a possibility at present for killing him. The alerts were high regarding Waverly's number one agent, and Kuryakin, as usual, was the easier target, plus had been the last to speak to Gupta, the agent who had finally broken Sharpe's cover. This one must have many lives at his disposal to keep avoiding death. "No more though, Illya. You're a dead man now".

It had taken hours to ascertain the wounded man's various injuries, and begin treatments that had included a blood transfusion of a most difficult type, B Negative. The bullet in his side had been removed, bandages applied to protect two cracked ribs, and an IV was intact to administer antibiotics and necessary fluids. This young man was damaged, but he would live. The bullet had missed hitting any organs, but it would be days before the pain subsided. In the meantime pain reducing medications were there for him as needed. The doctor would come back again the next day. This was a very delicate and covert type of house call, and he wondered without ever asking about the man he had treated. No name was given, and the secrecy to which he had consigned himself would remain intact. As he departed, there were thanks for his help as well as confirmations that he would visit them again the next day Inside, the two friends went to check on the stranger once more, retreating finally into the music room. This would be their solace for the disturbing afternoon. Glad of the outcome, they each had concerns about what might come next. Would whoever had attacked the blond man come looking for him, and what were the chances they could track him here? They were each familiar with the need for security, although neither of them generally utilized more than trusted friends for the purpose. Deciding that worry would not benefit them, they chose instead to resume what would have been their task had this extraordinary event not occurred. They sat in the traditional posture, each holding his own sitar, and began the day's session.

Napoleon Solo was not unfamiliar with the infirmary. He had, in fact, spent too many days and nights here, either in the bed or watching his partner as he lay there. Each of them had scars and memories of those times, none of them comforting. This time he was alone. Illya was in India, tracking down the man who had betrayed them. Someone in U.N.C.L.E. had turned. He wondered how long it had been since anyone had heard from his partner, and decided that it might be time for him to get out of bed and go looking for him. He rang for the nurse, who in turn went searching for Dr. Merritt, the new attending physician on staff. Napoleon was intent on being released, and was in the process of requesting travel arrangements from Mr. Waverly's secretary when the doctor entered the room.

"Hello, Mr. Solo. What is this I hear about you leaving today?" He knew how difficult it was for these section two agents to remain inactive, even when hampered with broken bones or bullet wounds. Superman's only advantage on these guys was that he could fly. "Yes, Dr. Merritt, I feel well enough for that, plus I'm needed in India. Time is slipping away, and my partner is missing. I need to go". That last was irrevocable, and Merritt understood. Solo was well enough, and with a missing partner, there was no sense in trying to stall the inevitable. "Okay, Mr. Solo. I know you'll just find another way out, so let me sign the papers and you'll be on your way. Good luck. I hope you find Mr. Kuryakin safe".

When he woke up, Illya Kuryakin knew he wasn't in a Thrush cell. He was pretty certain he wasn't in U.N.C.L.E.'s medical center. He didn't know where he had wound up, but it didn't feel threatening. There was a memory of the escape, of bullets flying and the unfortunate catch of one in his side. The sidewalks teeming with people and helping to carry him along, then crossing...he had been hit by a car. Beat up, shot and finally hit by a car, and now he was clean and comfortable and not dead. He sat up, managing to get a pillow behind his back, wincing at the pain that wrapped around his torso.

"Hello. Hari Krishna". The voice was soft and slightly lyrical. He figured the blond must be about his age, now that he was cleaned up and rested. It was hard to say, though. Sometimes he felt so much older than he was, age less of a physical thing than spiritual. "Hello.' The Russian knew now that the man wasn't Indian. He was English, the north from the sound of his accent, and he looked familiar... "And, thank you. You must be responsible for bringing me here'... he looked more closely now, his eyes focusing and memories starting to have a bit more clarity. "Have we met before?". Now he was certain that he had seen him someplace.. "You know, I've been wondering 'bout that m'self. You started looking familiar, and I think it was at the Shuda Conservatory Music Store. Do you remember, you bumped into me. I reckon that was part of a plan, since I later on bumped into the mini". He smiled at that, counting it a divine appointment of some sort, karma perhaps. This had probably been destined to happen. Illya smiled, recalling the incident in the store more vividly than the car. He had to wonder what it required for someone to arrange his medical care in a private home. Maybe Solo's luck had visited him in his partner's absence. He would have to thank Napoleon when he saw him next.

"I should try and leave here today and not take advantage of you. You've risked enough on my behalf, and I do not wish to entangle you even more. Your hospitality is extremely generous, considering how I came to you in this condition". He certainly would not wish to bring danger to this house, still...

"I've been chased a bit, haven't been shot. Some git did try to shoot up a plane I was in, though. In Texas. Bad things happen in Texas...all the lads were shook up with that one". He didn't admit to having nearly pissed himself a couple of times when firecrackers had been set off to simulate gunfire. He much preferred being here in India.

Illya let that pass without asking more questions. He couldn't imagine what might have involved the long haired man in so much intrigue. "Where are we, exactly?" The agent needed to solve the riddle that he'd been given by the Indian U.N.C.L.E. agent. Since he'd met this man in a music store, perhaps he might help him with the meanings of the words. He knew that the Indian scale had a completely different structure from what he was familiar with, and solving it here would be most convenient. "We are in Juhu, north of Bombay. It's very quiet here...not likely that we'll be found. You stay as long as you need to". That was very gracious, and seemed to have been an easy decision, or perhaps one made previously. In any case, he was grateful, if not a little wary for the safety of the household. The coded message still remained, so he ventured a request.

"Do have a knowledge of Indian music? I have a puzzle to solve, and it involves words or notes from the Indian scale. If I can figure it out, it will be of infinite value to my...employer". Now he was being scrutinized with a new look...cautious would describe it. "What kind of accent is that? And, if you don't mind, what's your name?" Ah, now would be the test for the agent.

"Russian. I am Russian, but lived for a while in Paris, then England. Now I live in New York", his blue eyes met the brown ones of the other man. Each of them held the gaze, gauging the importance of that information. "My name is Illya Kuryakin, and I am an agent for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. We are a peace keeping organization...multi-national. I'm trying to stop a rather bad man from doing great harm, and that's why you found this', he gestured to his bandaged body. "It's an occupational hazard". There, that was it. These people deserved an honest answer for the risk they'd taken to help save his life.

"Oh. Sort of like James Bond, then. Well, I hope you get time for tea once in a while". He gave Illya a crooked grin with that, indicating his nationality wasn't a problem, nor his work. Maybe this fellow had experience with covert operations as well. "Joe.' He had a crooked grin, and Illya found himself thinking that the man didn't look like a Joe, wondering if that was his real name. "I'm here studying with the maestro; he's teaching me the sitar...trying to. I'm a bit better on guitar." The reply was tinged with humility, the nature of the instrument curbing whatever ego might normally invade the musician's demeanor. "We can help you with your code. If there's an answer to be had, my friend will find it for you". What a relief. Perhaps they could make quick work of it, and he could relay the answer, finally, to U.N.C.L.E., and catch the mole before he did any more damage.

"Thank you. I am indebted to you both for so much". Illya thought of his friend and partner, wounded also and waiting in New York for some word, some resolution to this puzzle. He would like to deliver it sooner than later. Tiredness overtook him in the midst of these thoughts. The relief of his circumstances and the expectation for answers seemed to relax him as the medications resumed their desired effect, lulling him into sleep once again. Geo watched the blue eyes droop and finally close, then he helped him back into a more prone position. 'Spies and secret codes', and then he chuckled at the absurdity of life imitating art.

Michael Sharpe sat in the restaurant across from headquarters, exuding the part of second in command to the Southeast section. He didn't betray the anxiety that was eating at him, wondering where the Russian had disappeared to, what he had discovered. There was not any progress on finding him, and the best explanation was beginning to be that he had gone into the harbor after being shot and was now lying in a watery grave. There was no indication of any other scenario. The man had vanished, and so far, no one was after him.

Illya found it a relief to be out of bed, reclining in a chair in the music room. He had slept through the previous afternoon and night, awaking only when the doctor had arrived there earlier. He had removed the IV and left him with antibiotics and pain pills. The wound was cleaned and redressed, the bandaging around his ribs adjusted as well. His appetite had returned and was rewarded with a hearty vegetarian lunch, seasoned with intoxicating Indian flavors and served on a patio that had a view of the Arabian Sea beyond. He felt good in spite of some aches, and looked forward to breaking the code. The only dread was in having to face the certainty of a traitor among his fellow agents. That was a hard reality.

The Indian maestro eyed the blond quizzically, waiting for the list of musical terms to be written down. What a ponderous thing to utilize his precious music for spying. Then again, the mysteries of music revealed much about life in any event. "Here, these are the words, in the order they were given to me". Illya handed it to him, Geo was close by, eager to begin the process. It was like a game, and he liked those well enough. He wondered how the others would react to this story when he shared it...if he shared it. He hadn't been given a thumbs up on it from Illya...not yet.

The small Indian man who was regarded internationally as a master of his instrument, took the list cautiously, as though it might respond to touch. He could interpret the meaning of the words, in musical parlance, but could not begin to imagine how it was a code to unlocking an intrigue such as Geo and Illya had described to him. Young men, so full of promise, both of them holding secrets. He wondered if they weren't very similar in spite of their stunningly opposite physical exteriors. He looked at the list, still thinking the whole affair to be quite mysterious, and wondering what type of man lived his life in this manner of upheaval. The blond haired man barely looked in his twenties, and yet Dr. Bhatt had told him of numerous scars on his chest and back, the most recent ones but part of a long history, he surmised. Some, he feared were decades old, indicating very rough treatment as a child. The middle aged musician thought there was a sadness to his guest, but he dared not conjecture. His job would be simple, and he began to explain:

"Arohi speaks of ascending; it describes how the rag moves up the scale. In order of the scale, panchama is the fifth note. Tivar relates to the position of the notes, indicating higher. In western music it might be described as sharp. Vakra indicates something twisted, or crooked. I am simplifying it, for your sake, but those are easy to grasp, are they not."

It didn't need more description for the Russian to understand. A rising star in the organization, in the fifth region, the Southeast, was crooked or twisted: Sharpe. He was shocked and saddened, wondering how Waverly would handle the situation. There had been numerous occasions when he and his partner had dealings with Michael Sharpe, and he had liked the man despite some misgivings about his meteoric rise through U.N.C.L.E. The only man with more stature at that level was his partner, Napoleon Solo. It was clear that the recent attack had been meant to eliminate his friend. And here in Bombay he himself had been the prey. It seemed unlikely, but he wondered if Thrush could have tracked him to this house.

The two musicians noted the change in his expression, the blue eyes downcast, a pall over his countenance at whatever this revelation meant. When he spoke to them, however, the calm control belied the previous affect, causing them to both question their initial reaction.

"Thank you. I understand it now. I need to call my superiors and report this. May I use your telephone?" He rose cautiously, guarding his injuries as he was led to the next room where the phone was located. He contacted New York, asking to speak to Mr. Waverly. It was pointless to start anyplace else. 'So much madness on so many levels'. He gained his connection and began the report:

"Mr. Waverly, Kuryakin here', and in answer to an inquiry regarding his current status he gave a very edited account of the past two days. "I was held briefly by a Thrush contingency headed by Roland Curtis. I believe you are familiar with him. I did manage to escape and have been aided by some generous people from whose home I am now calling" "Are you well, Mr. Kuryakin? Does Thrush know of Mr. Gupta's message?" Illya drew in a deep breath, his ribs aching with the effort. "Yes, my hosts have provided medical treatment for me. The message was known to them, sir, but I had not deciphered it until now...' He let that have it's impact, then continued.

"I have the information we've been seeking". "Very good, Mr. Kuryakin. Do you feel confident relaying that to me now?" The question was necessary, but time was short and they needed to apprehend the man quickly. "Yes. It's Michael Sharpe, sir. He is the mole. Mr. Gupta's message is very clear; I have no doubt that Sharpe is the one". He had relayed it, now someone else would take care of it. He suddenly felt very weary, and his body ached with the fatigue brought on by his injuries and the bad news.

"Very well, Mr. Kuryakin. I admit I have had my suspicions, although not anxious to yield to them. It is a most troublesome business, this'. He paused, and Illya heard the deep breath on the other end of the line, envisioned the pipe in the old man's hand... "Will you remain in your current location? You may certainly consider yourself removed from field duty until you are given a medical release. That is, of course, unless you feel up to resuming your duties." The old man heard the exhaustion in his agent's voice, and was willing to give him the time off necessary for a complete recuperation.

"Thank you, sir. Yes, I will remain at least for the night. I will notify you of any changes. Sir, how is Mr. Solo?" He suddenly missed his friend. He expected that the man was being nursed back to health by a variety of lovely women, all of whom would gingerly tend to his every need. But, just for bit, it seemed good to Illya to sit and drink Vodka and talk into the night about sailing or music... "He is doing well, and has been released from medical. I suspect you will be hearing from him soon". "Thank you, sir. I am relieved to hear it". "Take care of yourself, Mr. Kuryakin. Please remain alert, no need to think that Thrush ever sleeps. This discovery will not go down well, I fear. Waverly out".

A chill went down his spine. 'Why did he say that?' No musicians were injured in the writing of this story. All references to famous names are completely fictional And in no way indicate permission from those who hold title to them.

Part II

Napoleon felt stiff from sitting so long. His legs needed more room than the business class seating allowed, and all of the injuries that hadn't quite healed were now complaining about being pushed back into service too soon. He knew that he could have stayed longer in medical, and that his partner wouldn't have wanted him to risk more injury; especially now that Illya had been located. It wasn't in the CEA's makeup, however, to just pass on the obligation he felt to provide back-up to the Russian, and make certain that the stubborn little blond was able to carry on with the affair, hopefully without getting shot up again. They both courted disaster fairly regularly, but it did seem that his partner was more adept at it. Now it was his job once again to make sure it didn't get him killed.

Sharpe had not been apprehended in Hong Kong, nor did they have a lead as to where he might have escaped. Agent Gupta was already dead, a victim of the mole's desperate efforts to remain undiscovered. Napoleon believed that Illya would be next on the list; he was the one who had identified the traitor, and he would almost certainly be a target. It seemed as though things never really got better. If they managed to save the world from Thrush, something cropped up and ruined the party; something like a traitor in their own organization.

The question now was whether or not Sharpe had always been Thrush, or if he had turned. If the latter was the case, everyone wanted to know why. The somber mood at headquarters directly reflected the questions, each agent wondering if somewhere in his or her own make up there was the potential for doing the same thing. It seemed incredibly ironic to the dark haired agent, remembering the early days with his Russian partner and some since, that so many people had concentrated their efforts on nailing his hide to the wall based on his nationality, overlooking his stellar record and obvious dedication to the organization; he had his own bed in medical to prove it. All the while Michael Sharpe had been schmoozing everyone and deflecting attention from his own deception.

As the welcome call came to disembark, Solo stood and stretched gratefully. He had spoken with Illya last night, making the arrangements necessary to meet at his hotel in Bombay. His friend didn't want to bring the hunt to the home in which he had found refuge and care, preferring instead to risk coming into the city. It wasn't the most prudent choice, but it was unlikely they would evade notice for long under any circumstances.

There were probably enemy agents in the terminal, but Solo was determined to survive the trek from plane to baggage and to the safety of an escort being provided by the Bombay office. He knew who to expect, and when the two men spotted each other, it was with a certain sense of relief that they were able to exit the airport and head downtown to the Taj Mahal Hotel. He had questioned the accommodations, but only mentally; only too pleased to stay in Bombay's finest, albeit in one of the lesser rooms he reasoned. He entered and was immediately smitten by the old style elegance of the vaulted alabaster ceilings and onyx columns. A variety of artwork and artifacts adorned the luxurious lobby, as well as glittering crystal chandeliers that highlighted the beautiful cantilevered stairway. Yes, he would enjoy staying here, no matter what the room looked like.

"Napoleon Solo, I should have a reservation. Or it might be under Kuryakin", his eyes took in the desk clerk, his dark eyes and black hair. The man perused the reservations list, then looked up smiling, with a new sense of respect. "Yes sir, Mr. Solo. Mr. Kuryakin has already arrived and is waiting in your suite. Please take Mr. Solo's bags to the Presidential Suite', he motioned to a bell hop waiting for his orders. "Sahi will take you to your suite, Mr. Solo. All other arrangements have been completely taken care of. Please enjoy your stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel, and welcome to Bombay". Napoleon was still reeling from the shock of a suite in this establishment as he followed Sahi into the elevator. "How?", he muttered under his breath.

When the still puzzled agent was ushered into the suite, he was drawn first of all to the view of the harbor, the Gateway to India standing against a blue background of sea and sky. It was breathtaking. Next he saw his partner, reclined on a chaise longue and looking very pale and wan against such brilliant accommodations. Momentarily the blond stirred, raising himself up on his left arm in order to take in the arriving men and luggage. "Thank you Sahi", a generous tip was greeted by a big grin and genuine thanks from his efficient bellboy. He was available for anything the gentleman might need.

"Well, you certainly have taken on the expense account now, tovarish. How did you manage this place?" The question was merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. He walked to his partner's location and helped him sit up properly, taking a seat on a nearby ottoman. "How are you feeling?" Grateful for the suite, Napoleon was more interested in the health of his friend, and the prospect of keeping him alive. "I've been well taken care of, and am much improved for it. I am glad to have you here, though, Napoleon. How are you doing? " Illya knew his partner had left medical early in order to be here in India, and wondered if his injuries were healed enough for action. "Between the two of us we should make at least one healthy agent, I imagine. Our accommodation will probably help us heal faster". He smiled the trademark Solo smile, which comforted the Russian deeply. He also was requiring an explanation for their rather grand digs.

"The people who befriended me arranged for this. They seem to be well off...and generous. I am very lucky to have been found by them".

The dark eyes narrowed just slightly as more questions arose, remaining unspoken for now. As Napoleon got around to really inspecting his surroundings, he also now looked more closely at his partner. The slightly built frame of his blond partner was draped in white cotton, loose fitting and resembling the clothing he had seen on numerous men out on the street. It was regionally sound to be dressed thusly, the fabric and cut of the clothing helping to combat the humidity and heat of the monsoon season. 'Too bad we had to be in here in July', and he realized his suit might become impossible in this weather. Still, he couldn't see himself in the outfit Illya was wearing. He had to assume that his new wardrobe might have also been gratis, from the mysterious benefactors.

"So, who exactly are your friends?" His curiosity would get the best of him every time. How had his partner managed to pull this off? "Geo and the maestro. I didn't want full names, as it might endanger them for me to know too much. I didn't want to be able to identify them should I end up..." That last bit trailed off, he didn't want to think about it again right now. Napoleon understood, and approved. Still, mighty generous folk in this part of the world to offer them a retreat like this. "Ok, I understand. Now, tell me about the code..."

Illya told him of the musical terminology and how the maestro had solved the riddle for him. It was most fortuitous, he explained, to have landed in the care of musicians who could so easily translate the message for him. "What information do we have on Sharpe? Any trace of him or where he might be headed?" Illya pretty much knew what the answer would be. He was the destination, retribution for his disclosure of the mole's identity would be a priority for the former U.N.C.L.E. agent turned traitor.

"Was he Thrush from the beginning, or did he turn? It's difficult to believe we didn't see the signs". That was a difficult aspect of this: their failure to see through the façade of the double agent. He had been good at his assignment. Napoleon saw the dread come into his friend's face as he theorized and relented to the obvious threat to his own safety. Unfortunately, because he was the object of Sharpe's hunt, he was also necessary bait in order to capture the man. They each simultaneously drew a large sigh, both stifling a grunt from the pain it caused to each of their injured ribs. At least they had nice beds to sleep in...for now.

Michael Sharpe was spirited out of Hong Kong on a Thrush jet that had been made ready on very short notice. The other mole, the one in New York, had alerted him to the discovery of his betrayal nearly as soon as it had been learned. Obviously, they had not yet found his accomplice in that location, which meant that he now also knew that Kuryakin was still alive and had been the one to crack the code from Gupta. Damn them all anyway. His life would be more complicated for a few days, but then he would simply move into a new office with his real purposes in concert with Thrush's agendas. For the moment, he was heading for Bombay and would personally oversee the capture and permanent demise of the Russian. Hopefully Solo would be close by and he could be rid of them both. Teams were all over the Indian city, scouring the most likely places where the two might be holed up as they waited for this very confrontation. No doubt they would be expecting this as soon as they heard he had escaped the U.N.C.L.E. radar. Both of them had been wounded, neither of them would be up to their usual standards of performance. He could use that to his advantage, although he knew to not underestimate them, regardless of whatever limitation they might appear to have. That team hadn't survived all of these years by giving in to injuries or intimidation. Still, he had something to prove: he really was the better man.

The two U.N.C.L.E. agents both felt the need for some rest. Napoleon was still not one hundred per cent, which was compounded by jet lag; Illya was definitely still recuperating from his recent battering. The new arrival found his bed and, removing his clothes found the comfort of it too difficult to resist. Within minutes he was sound asleep, while in the living room the bedraggled blond had resumed his nap on the chaise. Neither of them witnessed the sunset that colored the sky beyond the harbor view, nor did they dream of danger or escaped madmen. Profoundly weary, they each slept with a rare sense of peace that would fuel their energies for the waking hours yet to come.

The Harbour Bar in the Taj Mahal Hotel is an iconic establishment, famous for history as much as the ambience. The solid white marble bar that has beckoned to rich and famous alongside a few fortunate locals, now hosted the two agents from New York. Solo was once again the suave and handsome magnet to which women were drawn, falling easily into a persona long rehearsed in order to achieve it's casual affect. The smaller man, blond and tightly built, had an equal attraction if not the accessibility of his friend. In this location, especially, he was the exotic element in a room of mostly dark hair and skin; the blond hair and blue eyes stood out as dominantly as the white marble, his dark clothing a stark contrast to his pale complexion. It seemed that all eyes turned to watch them enter, following the pair discreetly as they found their way to the bar.

"Gentlemen, what will you have tonight?" More dark eyes and a flash of a smile as the bartender greeted them. "Vodka, Stolichnaya". It needed to be Russian. He hadn't had anything alcoholic for days, and a thirst for something familiar was dogging him now that he felt better. Napoleon ordered a martini, dry with an olive. The scotch would come later. The bartender nodded, taking little time to deliver them their drinks. Illya raised his glass, meeting that of his partner and threw back his head, downing his drink in one swallow. He motioned to their drink dispensing friend and indicated another. It came without delay, the process was repeated twice more and then the subject of food was breached. The other man watched with amusement as the vodka disappeared time after time, a very slight color rising in the cheeks of his drinking mate, while his own glass remained nearly full.

"Sometimes you are so Russian", he smirked and took a luxurious sip of the martini. Said Russian returned the smirk as he downed another glass, and proceeded to ask for a menu. Light meals were served here at the bar, so they ordered a plate of h'ordeurves and Dahi Bara; dumplings made from some type of beans and served with yogurt. Illya had sampled it at the maestro's home and developed quite an affinity for the dish. They retreated to a table against the far wall. They would eat in a little more private space, ready now to begin perusing the room for possible enemies. It was never too soon.

"When do you think Sharpe will arrive here in Bombay?" Illya asked the question, knowing that the man would, in fact, show up here. Napoleon had been trying to establish some sort of timeline for the expected activity. If Thrush had truly been baffled by Illya's disappearance, then it might take them a few days to finally locate the two of them here...especially at this hotel. It was not a usual U.N.C.L.E. choice for it's agents. That would work to their favor. They would have some time to go looking before they were spotted, perhaps. "I think we have a couple of days, probably, before they figure things out. Your benefactors have given us a slight edge". The blond eyebrows shot up and he nodded his head as he chewed, thinking that he needed to learn Indian cooking after all of this was finished. Geo had assured him there was plenty of protein in these dishes, even without the meat. "Yes, I believe you are correct".

Just then the blue eyes widened as he saw the man who entered the bar. The long dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and he was dressed in more western style clothing now, the notable exception being the paisley print of his shirt. He looked around expectantly and spotted the lone blond in the room.

"Illya, I was hoping to find you in here. You look much better". Geo looked at Napoleon, waiting for an introduction that was eagerly made as the Russian stood up and took the Englishman's hand. "Geo, this is my partner Napoleon Solo...Geo"...he extended his hand to indicate the thin man, gesturing for him to sit down and join them. Solo thought he looked familiar, but couldn't quite place him, but he would. He wondered if this fellow had a last name, as none was offered. "Nice to meet you, Geo. Thanks are in order, as you most probably saved my friend's life. And, of course for your generosity in securing our current lodging...thanks don't seem sufficient". He couldn't quite figure hold old he was. He seemed young, but something else made him appear older than he looked. "It needed doing, didn't it..." Not a question, a statement. He smiled, obviously embarrassed at the attention and not in need of praise.

"So, where is the maestro? Did he come into the city with you?" Illya had become fond of the older man, intrigued by his generosity and his talent. He had spent several hours listening to the two of them on sitar, wishing for the strength and the time to join them and learn the strange instrument. "Uh, Ravi. He's on tour...left early this morning. You don't mind knowing his name, do you? I had thought you might have figured it out by now". His smile crept up on them both, and Illya began to quickly turn the pages of what he knew about Indian music, which wasn't much. But the name Ravi... "Shankar? That man is Ravi Shankar?" Now things started to whirl in his brain, the current interest in Indian music, the people who were making headlines...

"And you,' Napoleon suddenly realized to whom he was speaking, "are George Harrison". What an incredible situation his little blond friend had fallen into. There was a momentary flash of headlines, crowds of screaming teenagers and then a reminiscence of hearing the music, although not much. Illya was only vaguely familiar with the band in which he played. It wasn't jazz, and his interests were limited, according to some. Jazz and classical were what he mostly listened to. Pop music, as such, didn't get much attention from him. Still, headlines were headlines, and you'd have to be dead to not know this man. Ironic that he'd been almost dead, and still hadn't recognized his generous host.

"Really...should I be embarrassed about not recognizing you?" The blue eyes were serious, almost as though he had slighted the famous musician. "No, not at all. It's nice to just be a normal person once in a of the reasons I come here whenever I can. You spy blokes aren't the only ones gettin' chased around the world". Another smile, but behind the brown eyes the hint of something the two agents recognized; the weariness that comes from always being at work, looking over their shoulders at who might be behind them.

George looked up and waved at two people coming through the entry to the bar. A tall blonde girl was accompanied by a shorter, dapper looking man who looked to be in his thirties. They spotted George and started towards the table. Napoleon straightened up automatically, measuring himself against the new man's appearance, appreciating the pretty girl on his arm.

"Hello luv, I'm glad you're here". He gave her a modest kiss and then, turning to his tablemates, the musician made the introductions. "Illya and Napoleon, this is my wife Patti, and my friend Derek". The group made pleasing noises; so nice to meet you, how was your flight and how soon can we many variations on the English accent that the lone American had trouble keeping up.

"We have reservations, but you should join us. They'll set it of the perks, you see". Again, the crooked smile opened up George's face as they all agreed to move into the restaurant. The evening passed with engaging conversation, the intrigue of the past few days offering new adventures and glimpses into a life that even international stardom hadn't provided. Finally, fatigue settled in on Illya, and George as much as Napoleon observed the effect. The young musician looked at his wife and his friend, indicating they should move on; they made their farewells at the table and the two parties took their leaves of one another. The English contingent headed out into Bombay's night life, not quite ready to head to their own hotel rooms. Illya and Napoleon welcomed the beds so generously provided for them by their new friend. All in all, quite extraordinary.

First thing upon awakening was the urgent beeping of a communicator. The American heard it first, his lay on the table next to his bed. He had slept so soundly that the insistence seemed not as close as it should, only now penetrating his groggy but satisfied mind. "Solo here". The response was the eternally present voice of his superior, the tone swathed in irritation at having been kept waiting. "Mr. Solo, do you, by chance, have anything of interest to report. We haven't heard from you in...twelve hours. I understand you are staying in quite comfortable surroundings, courtesy of some wealthy young man of Mr. Kuryakin's acquaintance". How did he know... "Yes sir. Mr. Harrison, the man who rescued and then provided medical care for Illya, has generously paid for our hotel rooms. He seems to have felt some sense of obligation in the aftermath of his injuries. We are, uh, very grateful for his consideration". Truth without too much embellishment.

"I am quite familiar with Mr. Harrison, and also appreciative. It will be a relief to not incur these expenses ourselves. I trust that Mr. Kuryakin is recovering sufficiently to embark on the search for Mr. Sharpe. You are both aware that he is now in India, I assume". He knew that they had no idea, but their lack of communication required some sort of reproof, after all. Illya appeared in the doorway, hair askew and eyes bleary from the vodka and, uncharacteristically champagne, of the previous night. He mouthed the name...Waverly? "Thank you for that, Mr. Waverly. We will be on alert, although it is doubtful that Thrush will look for We have already determined that Illya will present himself as bait, so to speak. It seems the quickest path to finding Sharpe. The Bombay office could perhaps be on hand to assist us, should we need it". Well, that sounded like a plan, so they didn't appear to have been completely idle for the past 24 hours. "I shall see to it, Mr. Solo. Carry on, then. Waverly out". Whew, that was a wake up call he could do without. Better to keep current on the updates.

"Sharpe is here?" Illya asked it without expressing the dread he was feeling. Some days he just didn't want to go back to work, and the surroundings here elicited a desire for rest and reflection. The thought of introducing all of that nastiness in the midst of so much elegance and..what? He couldn't identify it. There was a sense of tranquility among these new people, interspersed with a love of life that he sometimes forgot he needed in order to really survive. No, not just survive. He really did desire to enjoy life...completely. "We need to formulate some kind of plan for gaining his attention. I hate to push you into the line of fire, but how else will we accomplish getting him into the open?" Napoleon truly did dislike the notion of dangling his partner as bait, and was open to other suggestions. They were both unable to come up with one, however. Illya sighed resignedly, choosing to order tea and coffee instead of deal with the situation at hand. They decided to eat something away from the hotel. They were going hunting, so being visible might as well start with breakfast.

It was nearly ten o'clock, and it would be hot outside, prompting the Russian to choose cooler clothing. Tan slacks and a lightweight white cotton shirt. No ties and coats today, not in this weather. Basic black just didn't seem appropriate for the climate. Napoleon saw wisdom in dressing cooler as well. He had on khaki trousers and a white polo shirt. He opted for a lightweight jacket to cover his holster. It would be his job to carry a weapon, as they had decided that Illya would be more "attractive" to Thrush if he appeared to be unarmed. That didn't include the gun around his ankle, however. He wouldn't go out completely naked of hardware. Thrush had men lining the sidewalks of Bombay. This directive had the full force of Central behind it: Get Kuryakin. It was simple, and if they happened to nab Solo as well, so much the better. Information had begun to trickle in concerning their location, so it was inevitable that a team would pick up the two if they ventured out anywhere in the city. It was a waiting game, and all concerned determined to play it with supreme patience. The luck of spotting them early in the day fell onto the two men who were eating in the same little restaurant into which the U.N.C.L.E. agents entered around ten thirty in the morning. The Russian was not armed, or so it seemed. His clothing didn't offer any hiding places, leaving only the senior man, the CEA of New York, ready to do battle with the well known special that was undoubtedly in the barely concealed holster. As the two found a table and began to peruse the menu, they were aware of the approach of a couple of men although they feigned ignorance of their movements. Neither man wanted a scene here, especially if it might endanger innocents. That meant their options were limited, and if necessary would require them to submit to whatever the Thrush demanded.

"Mr. Kuryakin, Mr. Solo...we've been hoping to run into you". The voice had an unpleasant tone to it, indicating equally unpleasant plans for the two partners. Napoleon smirked slightly, raising his eyebrows and responding to the mocking comment, "Then you must be thrilled about now, since you seem to have exceeded someone's expectations". He felt a gun barrel in his back, noted the lack of expression on his friend's face.

"We especially wanted to collect your friend here. Someone is anxious to talk to him...well, maybe not talk, exactly. Still, considering we now have the two of you, I think there will be some celebrating tonight". Obviously this man had never had any personal experience with his two trophies. Somehow it was premature to talk of celebrations, thought Solo. "What exactly do you want from us?" Illya was asking the question, knowing full well what they wanted. They wanted him gone, most likely. Still, they would play along for as long as it was necessary. "How about for now you just get up nice and slow, and march over to where my partner is standing. Then we're gonna go catch a ride. C'mon, get up and don't make a fuss. I would hate to have to kill one of these people in here". With that, he knew the advantage was his, and according to their reputations, they wouldn't risk innocent bystanders to save their own lives. It was good to have that type of information.

The trio moved slowly to the door, each man aware of the room full of people; the U.N.C.L.E. agents not willing to make a false move and the Thrush man only too willing to kill anyone who got in his way. For the time being, they were properly caught, it seemed. Michael Sharpe got the information quickly, and with it he began imagining how he might reward Kuryakin for exposing his secret. He hadn't been ready to come back to Thrush, his life at U.N.C.L.E. had been satisfying and somehow easier than life within his real employer's domain. Hong Kong had treated him well, and he was giving up a good life in exchange for the ignominy of being a traitor. He had position in Thrush, but still he was somewhat of an outsider, having spent so many years within the enemy camp. He would survive it and eventually come out well above the crowds that clambered for position in the business of world domination. He was a natural, and natural talent always prevailed. As for the other two, Solo and Kuryakin, he would handle them personally. Illya had never really warmed up to him, although it seemed doubtful the Russian ever warmed to anyone except his partner. The two were legendary almost from the beginning. It would be a pleasure to end the partnership, perhaps leaving Solo alive to grieve over his friend in the end. On second thought, better to be rid of them both.

The four men exited the restaurant, leaving behind the pungent aromas and colorful assortment of patrons. As they neared a parked car that was to be their ride to Thrush headquarters, another man walked out of a tailor's shop. He was accompanied by a small Indian man who held several wrapped packages and was leading the way to their own vehicle...a Mini. As the taller of the two turned his head to view the walkway beyond, he saw two familiar faces; they looked grim, and appeared to be pushed or prodded by the ones behind them. It seemed inconceivable to him later when reflecting on his actions, but he took off in a run, his companion trailing not far behind. He needed to reach them, he was certain that they were in some type of danger and he had already invested too much in the Russian to let him die or be injured again. A line came to him as he legged the distance to the quartet nearing their car, 'I don't reckon on runnin' away'. He almost laughed at the lunacy, but instead he piled into the group of men and knocked over one of the two meanies.

"Sorry', an upward lilt to the last syllable. He was grinning maniacally at the two U.N.C.L.E. agents, reliving a scripted moment from an unreal adventure. "You chaps need a lift?" The two Thrushies had been thrown out of the rhythm of their abduction and hesitated just long enough for their captives to take action. Illya and Napoleon each connected to their Thrush counterparts with forceful right hooks, the smaller blond nearly losing his balance in the process. His partner grabbed him and kept him from falling, both of them watching as the Thrush car took off, not intending to be caught in this melee. The Bombay contingent of U.N.C.L.E. were true to their word, however, and were able to apprehend the fleeing vehicle within minutes. They returned with a clean up crew to pick up the two Thrush thugs. They gathered up the captured men and shoved them into the back seat, behind the safety glass that separated the two sections of the car. A thorough interrogation would take place as soon as Napoleon and Illya arrived at headquarters. They needed these two men and whatever information they had about Sharpe.

It only took a minute for Napoleon to capitalize on the situation. "George, can you give us a ride to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters? It's not far from here". He received a nod, and Raj, the driver who was just now catching up to all of them, turned back to where he'd come from. George, gasping a bit and shot through with adrenaline, just kept grinning. This just kept getting better and better. "George, that was exceptionally courageous of you. Again, I owe you many thanks". Illya was still slightly stunned by the musician's actions and intensely relieved that no harm had come to either him or his Indian friend, Raj. "I couldn't seem to help m'self. I'm not naturally the type to rush into danger, I promise. It was a reflex...probably never happen again". "Well, your timing was perfect. We can hopefully get the information necessary to end this whole affair". Napoleon was not completely optimistic about that being the case, but their two feathery dupes might just break down under the proper interrogation. Illya had no reason to be nice right about now, and he, on the other hand, would try to soothe them into compliance. One way or another, there would be some kind of answer forthcoming.

The interrogation had been easier than anticipated. The most senior agent of the Thrush duo had seemed almost grateful to be shed of his responsibilities and, more importantly, information. He divulged everything they needed, and not as part of a ruse. They had used Pentothal as a back up to the first responses, not willing to enter an ambush situation. The man wanted some type of asylum, some protection from Thrush and a life away from the intrigue. He'd seen enough, and he really just wanted to go live in an ashram and have a peaceful life. 'Imagine that', thought Napoleon. But, Illya wasn't too surprised. This region seemed to have that effect. This wasn't Berlin, where intrigue and danger seemed appropriate for all of it's inhabitants, with spies on every corner. Here the environment, although crowded and sometimes loud, still held a sense of quiet and introspection. He was even yielding to it, concerned that it beckoned him to linger.

The other bit of information would be even more stunning, perhaps, than the new of Sharpe's defection: there was a mole in New York. The now contrite Thrush agent didn't know who it was, only that the individual in question was within Section V, and he thought it was a woman. That would make flushing the person out much easier, if the man was correct. All of this was relayed to Mr. Waverly, who took it rather hard that he had fostered a traitor within his own territory. They received word within the hour that the individual had been found, and Napoleon was nearly scandalized to realize that he had dated her...more than once. "Sheri Samms...I'm shocked". Illya thought he was probably more disturbed that she might have helped send someone to kill him. Not good for the reputation.

"Alright then, Sharpe is here', Napoleon was pointing to a neighborhood just beyond the edge of the city, to the north. Ironically, Illya had been just a few miles from there while staying at the maestro's home. "We'll go in within the hour, before there's time for him to rethink his location. He will have been waiting to hear from these two, and since it's been nearly four hours from our first contact, we don't have the luxury of waiting any longer. Illya and I will lead the mission, with all due respect to your territory. But, this has become personal. I'm sure you understand". He looked to the station chief, who in turn nodded his approval and understanding. Better to be done with it, in any event. He wanted this business out of his jurisdiction and soon.

So it was that, in broad daylight with the Arabian Sea as a backdrop, twenty U.N.C.L.E. agents, led by New York's two top men, surrounded a home in Juhu Beach, not two miles from where Illya had been welcomed and nursed back to health. That information would never reach Sharpe, though. No one would ever know it. There was no acceptable risk in this instance. When Michael Sharpe saw the guard at the front door drop to his knees, he knew what was going on. He recognized the stealth of an U.N.C.L.E. operation, the use of the silent mercy bullets instead of the deadly counterpart. He was receiving no response as he tried to reach the men outside of the house, and his security was now falling in front of him, victims of the climate induced open windows. What a fool he was to think he had any business being lax in this place, it had lulled him into a false sense of his own invincibility. There was no alternative to the next action he took. Thrush wouldn't save him, and U.N.C.L.E. would have no mercy on a traitor...not now. He had gone too far to ever be received with any measure of grace. Thrush still believed in suicide pills, and so did he. Nothing more to live for, nothing compelling to cause him to think life held anything more for him than torment and retribution; humiliation and recompense. He swallowed the pill, just as Kuryakin came through the door. He would let him watch, horrified at his inability to capture the man he sought. One last victory...

The group of attractive young people were seated around the white marble centerpiece of the Harbour Bar. The events of the past week had been unbelievable for one of them, tragically routine for the other two men. Only the girl, who sat near to her husband, scolding him for his reckless behavior but proud of it just the same, had no first hand knowledge of how it had all felt to be so near danger. She was glad for it, knowing that her real life had held it's own intrigues, and encounters with those who fooled themselves into being angry rivals.

"Illya, I think we must have known each other in a previous lifetime. Could be I've saved your life before". The smile erupted again, crinkling George's face and eliciting a snicker from Napoleon as he imagined this playing itself out over various lifetimes. "Perhaps. But, I only know of this one, and I'm glad you were close by. Are you certain you don't work for MI5? You're rather adept at this line of work". The Russian downed his vodka as he let that sink in, then motioned for a refill. He had the promise of a sitar lesson when next they could arrange a meeting. It might take a while, but there was a connection here, unexplainable but equally undeniable. Napoleon witnessed something like a wordless conversation, wondering that Illya could have developed this friendship so quickly; it seemed somehow out of character for his sometimes inhibited friend.

"I hate to be the one to break up the party, but our plane is scheduled to leave in forty minutes. George, Patti, it's been a pleasure. Please give our regards to Derek when you see him. Illya, you ready?" He was standing, waiting for his partner to finish the goodbyes, somehow anxious to get on that plane and back to a place he better understood. India was slightly disconcerting, he thought. Illya exchanged kisses on each cheek with the blonde girl, in the manner of the continent, shook hands with George and said his farewells. He left the two of them staring after him, both of them taken by the image of his departure, she especially thinking that he looked more like he belonged in their crowd rather than that of a company of spies.

On the plane, the two agents settled into their seats, each adjusting for the residue of pain they still had. "Do you think you'll ever get that sitar lesson?' Napoleon had a tinge of jealousy at the easy way his friend had been welcomed into this new group of people. He could see him, black turtleneck and jeans, strumming a guitar and looking quite at home with his long hair and quasi-English accent.

"You like them, like that life, don't you?" Illya recognized the uncertainty of his partner's tone. Understood it. "Do you mean would I trade what I have now for that, and take on that group and the way they live? No, Napoleon. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I play instruments, but I am not a musician. It isn't my destiny to live that life. Besides...' He couldn't resist, in the midst of Napoleon's inquiry, he understood the real question had more to do with their friendship and partnership. "I couldn't take you with me. You're just too much of a drag, a well known drag". The blue eyes were vivid, the smile unmistakable. The older agent lit up, just a little. A drag huh, he'd see about that... "Really, a drag? How about I drag your Russian behind back into headquarters and let Mr. Waverly add up the cost of a sitar and lessons?" "'d do that? You're incorrigible". Yes, indeed. And glad his friend hadn't been tempted into a different life from the one they shared within the hallways of U.N.C.L.E. He didn't like the idea of doing this job without Illya to back him up in the tough places. "And you're Russian. Let's go home tovarish".

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