The cabby was silent throughout the trip to the dry cleaners, but it was a silence born of anger and frustration. He totally ignored the two men in the back seat, except that his eyes kept flipping from the road to the rear view mirror and back. For their part, his fare was keeping to themselves, with the exception of a throat clearing or two. The blond guy kept nodding off and coming back to wakefulness with a start when his head bumped into the dark-haired guy's shoulder.
The taxi pulled up alongside a curb and the men climbed out into the foggy night air. The tallest of the pair retrieved some bills from a breast pocket and counted them out before handing them over.
"Keep the change," he muttered, climbing out into the watery sunlight a London morning afforded.
"Ta, mate, maybe I can get rid the bloody pong," the cabby said, tucking the pound notes away. The taxi was gone within seconds.
"I didn't think we smelled that bad," the dark-haired man said, as he watched the taxi disappear back into the traffic.
The blond patted him, sympathetically upon the shoulder and nodded, "Trust me, Napoleon, you do," Illya Kuryakin said with a smile. He looked around, partially from curiosity, partially from caution. A careful agent had a better chance of livng to be an older agent.
"You're no bed of roses yourself," Napoleon Solo grumbled as they walked into the dry cleaners. The sign on the window proclaimed, 'In by 10, Out by 2'. "I wonder if that's for the clothes or the staff."
"Excuse me?" His partner, although well Americanized, still didn't always follow Napoleon's wry sense of humor. He frowned, tired blue eyes growing serious with thought. "I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Forget it, Illya, it's an old joke, anyway," Napoleon said, pulling the door open. A bell jingled merrily, announcing their presence before the aura of ripe garbage that surrounded them could. The gray-haired woman behind the counter smiled at them a moment before her nose crinkled.
"My word," she muttered beneath her breath, then louder, "May I help you good gentlemen? Quickly?" She placed her fingers over her nose and tried to block the smell.
"Yes, we seem to be in the need of some dry cleaning," Napoleon said, looking down at his suit in distaste.
"An understatement, certainly," Illya said, drily as the only other patron in the store hurried out the door, her hand clamped over her nose, dry-cleaned clothes upon hangers fanning out behind her like a swirling cape.
"It's breezy for this time of year," Napoleon said, doing his best to turn on the charm, despite his disheveled appearance.
"That's what all you Yanks say," the woman answered back, supplying her piece of the password sequence.
"Then I guess it's good that I say it," Napoleon said, with a sigh of gratitude. Relief was just a matter of minutes away now. For all of his experience with life, he couldn't think of anything now that could possibly equal the delight of a hot shower and clean clothes.
"You two must be Solo and Kuryakin. They said you were on your way in." At Napoleon's nod, she continued, "Right you are then. Step inside, if you will, spit spot." She indicated a curtained off booth and Napoleon nodded gratefully. He looked over at his partner, who had dug out his glasses and was reading the fine print on a dry cleaning poster. "Are you ready, Mr. Kuryakin?" Napoleon asked with another sigh, this one tinged with impatience.
Reluctantly the Russian abandoned the poster, pointing to it over his shoulder. "Napoleon, have you ever read one of these? They're not responsible for lost, stolen, misplaced, damaged, shrunken items or lost buttons. What else is there?" Illya asked, pulling off his glasses and tucking them into a breast pocket.
"Come along, Mr. Nader, we don't want to keep the Powers That Be waiting." Napoleon headed for the booth, holding the curtain aside until his partner had joined him. He tugged the curtain shut as Illya twisted a clothes hook to the right, then to the left. Obligingly, the back of the booth slid open silently and they stepped through into the reception area of the London branch of UNCLE-HQ.
"G'day, gents," the woman greeted them from the desk.
"Must have a head cold," Illya said, sotto voce, to Napoleon, who nodded. "How are you today, Jenny?"
"Sinuses mucked up, but what's new?" She handed over two yellow badges, the chemical on her fingers designed to deactivate UNCLE's elaborate alarm system. "Mr. Waverly is waiting for you. I trust you blokes know the way."
"As if it were my own bedroom." Napoleon pinned his badge on and started walking, knowing that Illya would be right behind him. Then he paused, mid stride, "He meant after we got cleaned up and made presentable - right?"
"I don't think so," Jenny answered without looking. "He said immediately...and I think he means immediately when he uses the word."
"Just our luck," Napoleon muttered as they continued along their way. He nodded as they passed a brace of agents on their way out. What a contrast, Napoleon thought, as they boarded the elevator. He and Illya were just off one of the most God-awful assignments of their career. They were totally exhausted, incredibly dirty and reeking from three days and nights hiding out on a garbage scow. In contrast, the agents heading out were fresh, clean and raring to go. Thank God for youth and its enthusiasm. It certainly helped to pick up the slack.
He looked over at his partner and smiled fondly at the agent. Illya's eyes were closed, head resting back against the elevator wall, trying to wrench out any rest that he could. Neither had had much opportunity for sleep in the past few days and after they had gotten separated, it was smarter not to. The rats liked to nibble, as Illya's bandaged hand proved.
"How's the hand?"
"Fine," Illya said, without opening his eyes. "It's my head that's killing me."
Napoleon frowned at the bruise that had formed on the man's forehead. "I should have warned you about the low threshold."
"I don't usually have to worry about hitting them. It was a...unique experience."
The elevator door opened and they stepped into the short hall before the office of Section 1, No. 1 of UNCLE's London branch. Just in time, Napoleon leaned back and punched the first floor button. Now if anyone took the elevator before it aired out, they wouldn't be able to blame either agent directly.
"At least your ego remains intact," Illya said, smiling ever so slightly, onto Napoleon's game. "Let us hope that Mr. Waverly is as equally kind and finishes with us quickly. I can't wait to shower off and grab some sleep."
The door opened upon their approach and they entered a room that was the duplicate of the New York office. Mr. Waverly was busy at a short wave radio, obviously trying to tune in some band. Apparently unnoticed, Napoleon and Illya entered and took seats at a round table.
Napoleon hadn't even realized that he'd nodded off, but he woke with a sudden start. Mr. Waverly was still at the radio and Illya was leaning back in his chair, apparently disinterested in the proceedings. Secure that no one had noticed, Napoleon relaxed again into a stiff leather chair that looked more comfortable than it was.
"Those short ones are the best," Illya said without moving a muscle other than his lips. Obviously Napoleon's lapse hadn't gotten past him.
"Did you read that on the bathroom wall?" Napoleon asked, aware of the double innuendo and grinned widely. "Or is it personal experience?"
"You're incorrigible." Illya opened one blue eye to glare at the older agent. "Can't you get your mind away from sex for even a moment?"
"I said nothing about sex, Illya, you merely assumed. You know what they say about people who assume," Napoleon pointed out. So far, neither man's voice had risen above a whisper and it was unlikely that Waverly would have heard them even if he were sitting at the table. Yet the old man's head turned in their direction to glare at them and both fell silent again.
Waverly gave up on his current task and rose stiffly, but it was a movement borne out of crouching in one position too long rather than old age. He settled into a chair and gave the rotatable table top a turn until two folders were centered in front of the agents.
"Did you gentlemen finish up your task?"
"Yes, sir," Napoleon said, straightening in the chair. "THRUSH was using a garbage scow as a disguise for their latest world-conquering scheme."
"That explains many things," Waverly murmured, lighting up his pipe. He puffed out a great quantity of smoke as if it would dispel the reek gathering in the room.
"We disbanded the group and destroyed the operation with a minimal loss of property and lives."
"With the exception of about a hundred thousand rats," Illya said, almost as an aside. "I'm sure there's no joy in Rat Heaven today."
"Your hand, Mr. Illya?"
"Yes, sir, my hand," Illya answered, looking down at the stained and ragged makeshift bandage that he'd made from his shirttail.
"You will stop in the clinic and have it examined. I would also suggest rabies shots."
"The thought had also crossed my mind," Illya said, dismayed at the thought of what he might be going through. "That's why I shot it and brought it with me." He patted a jacket pocket. "The lab can test it first."
"You're sure it's the one that bit you?" Waverly puffed again.
"I'd know those teeth anywhere. There is no mistake."
"You've been carrying a dead rat in your pocket for two days?" Napoleon asked in disbelief.
"Day and a half, actually."
"You want to see it?" Illya made a move and Napoleon grabbed his arm, staying it.
"If you will please open your folders," Waverly interrupted, obviously wanting to keep this meeting as short as possible. He waited for Illya to dig out his glasses and for Napoleon to adjust his jacket. "This gentleman whose photograph you have before you is John Houghton, a recent defector from a Third World THRUSH operation. Learn his face as you will be accompanying him across the Atlantic to the New York office."
"I take it he's fairly high level," Napoleon asked almost unconsciously.
"He would be your equal in the organization, Mr. Solo. It would behoove THRUSH not to let him make it through the trip alive. He had led them to believe he was far less valuable than he really was. Once THRUSH realizes their mistake, they will most certainly come after him with everything that THRUSH has to offer." He was sending his top two agents on a dangerous mission and he pulled no punches.
"When will this take place?" Illya asked, glancing up over the rim of his glasses.
"As soon as possible. He is currently being debriefed in the lower levels of this building, but we should be ready to move him in a few days. During that time, I would recommend that the two of you get as much rest as possible." Waverly sat back in his chair, frowning slightly. "Buy yourselves new suits, but be reasonable with the cost. I believe that there is a department store around the corner that would fit the bill. Clean up first though. You are enforcement agents, not garbage collectors."
"I can't believe this stupid assignment." To Monterey Kerr, being assigned a stakeout was the indication that he had done something very bad. The only thing worse would have been a courier mission. He paced the short distance between the two hotel beds and puffed madly on a cigarette. Shoulders stooped, brow furrowed, he was the picture of frustration.
"You smoke too much, Monty." Geary Poole didn't need to take the binoculars away from his eyes to know his partner had lit up again. The air in the small hotel room was already stale with smoke. "You'll never pass the physical again if you keep it up. Do you really want a desk job?" Poole could feel eyes boring a hole into his neck and he turned around, smiling as the dark-haired agent glared at him and crushed out the cigarette.
"You drink too much coffee," Kerr said in defense to which his partner merely shrugged his shoulders.
"Sue me. I like my caffeine and it doesn't give me bad lungs." Poole returned his attention to the window. "And I don't see why you insist upon considering this mission a punishment. We've got a crack at Napoleon and Illya, two of UNCLE's best. That must mean THRUSH places us pretty high up on the list of their better agents. Otherwise Halliway and Bybee would have been assigned."
"I know we have an important job to find out where they are holding Houghton and eliminate him before he can damage the organization too much. And to have a chance to grab Napoleon and Illya before they get the chance to move him, well, that would just be icing on the cake." Kerr paused before the hotel window and stared out at the dry cleaners shop. "But why did we pull the surveillance part of it too? That's for beginners and screw-ups." He unconsciously ran a hand through his hair as he studied the front. "Let me take over for a bit. What do you suppose made Houghton snap like that?"
"No one knows and that's the scary part," Poole admitted, surrendering the binoculars gratefully. He rubbed his eyes for a minute before replacing his wire rim glasses. "And that he defected to UNCLE is even scarier. Thank God he wasn't in a higher position of authority or we would be in even worse shape."
"He was high enough as it is. He was my trainer and mentor and now this. Are you sure Napoleon and Illya are in there?" Kerr interrupted impatiently, reaching into his pocket for another cigarette.
"Yes. You really aren't suited for surveillance work, you do know that." Poole collapsed back on the bed and lazily contemplated the shape of a water stain on the ceiling. It was easy to see that Kerr's barrage of questions didn't bother the man. He was truly his partner's opposite in every way. Kerr was impetuous, easily frustrated and impulsive. Poole was calculating, patient and naturally cautious to a fault. Neither man would have made a good agent separately and they knew that, but as a team, they were very good at their job.
"Tell that to management. I'm a field agent, not a..." Kerr stopped, standing up excitedly. "I think I've got them. Napoleon's tall with dark hair and Illya's a blond, right? And he's short?"
Poole was off the bed in a second to join him, reaching for the binoculars. "Right!"
"Forget it," Kerr said shortly. "It's not them."
"What? How can you tell?"
"They're holding hands."
"Rumors aside, it's probably not them. They wouldn't be that careless, even in London." Poole returned to sit on the bed just as his pocket radio beeped softly. "Poole here."
"Agent Poole, we've had reports that Napoleon and Illya have left the building via another exit. It would appear that their destination is the department store next door to our office."
Poole looked over at the still slumped agent. From his posture, it didn't appear that he'd heard a word. "Monty?"
"That would be Grace Brothers," Kerr said as he straightened. "Those guys should be shot." He set the binoculars aside and walked over to the bedside. "What a bloody waste of time," he muttered softly as he joined Poole. He took the unlit cigarette from his mouth. "Request permission to confront them."
"In a public area?" The tinny voice was incredulous.
"Absolutely, it would be the best of possible situations. If they are around innocent bystanders, UNCLE agents won't be likely to open fire. It should be a piece of cake to take them."
"He's got a point," Poole added. "We all know that UNCLE tries to be conscientious when it comes to dealing with the public. We could confront them and they would be powerless to fight us without injuring innocents."
There was a pause as the voice on the other end contemplated the situation. "Agreed. Proceed to Grace Brothers and apprehend Napoleon and Illya."
"Understood," Poole said, then dropped the radio into the pocket of his jacket. He stood and looked around the hotel room. "It shouldn't take us too long."
"Fine with me." Kerr pulled his jacket off a nearby chair. "I would feel better if I knew what these two looked like. I can't believe they send entire files out to branch offices. What are we? Chopped liver?" He stuffed the cigarette back into the corner of his mouth.
"I guess that they thought UNCLE would have Napoleon and Illya pick Houghton up in their Cairo office. THRUSH wasn't expecting a couple of unknowns to do it." Poole paused before a mirror to make sure his wavy brown hair was presentable. "Maybe HQ figures we carry little photos around in our wallets of THRUSH's Ten Most Wanted Dead UNCLEs. As for me, I prefer to have pictures of my kids there."
"You look fine, Geary" Kerr said, opening the door impatiently and finally lighting up the cigarette. He flicked the match towards the waste basket. "Can we leave within this century please?"
The elevator doors opened and Napoleon gave the operator one last smile before stepping out. Illya Kuryakin pushed past him, impatient to get on with it. Clothes shopping was not his favorite past time. In fact, he could think of a dozen things he'd rather be doing. Still, it would be nice to get out of the too-tight pants and too-big shirt and jacket that he was currently wearing and into something that came closer to actually fitting him.
Illya paused at the landing, waiting for his partner to finish his flirting. It also gave him the opportunity to study the shopping area before venturing down into a potential lion's den. It was this caution that was permitting both he and Napoleon to edge closer and closer to retirement age.
The shopping area was divided into two areas, men's wear on the left, ladies' intimate apparel underwear, or as the operator had said, ladies intimate apparel. Personally, Illya saw nothing intimate about hats, purses or mink jackets, but that was neither here nor there. There were two women clerks, heads close together, talking, behind their counter in the ladies department and three men across the floor from them, equally engaged. A taller, distinguished-looking gentleman stood between them, almost as if acting as a mediator between the two departments. He strutted across the floor , like a king surveying his kingdom.
Must be the floor walker, Illya decided. Why anyone needed employees just to direct customers to the proper department was beyond him. The difference between women's underwear and men's suits had been apparent to him at an early age. Illya looked back over his shoulder at his dark-haired partner and nodded the all clear.
"Talk about superfluous," he muttered as Napoleon appeared at his side. "And then they wonder why Britain's economy is suffering."
The older agent studied over the scene himself for a brief second before walking down the flight of stairs, with Illya close to his right elbow. At their descent, the women clerks' attention swiveled in their direction. Illya frowned and murmured to Napoleon, "Napoleon, that woman's hair is green."
"Maybe she isn't ripe yet."
"At her age, more like the opposite."
"Ah yes, but I direct your attention to the young lady to her left."
"Already have, what took you so long?" Illya asked as the floor walker approached them.
"Are you gentlemen being served?" As both had just entered and obviously had not been approached, it seemed a rhetorical question. Napoleon cleared his throat and smiled graciously at the man. "No I don't think so. We're interested in a couple of suits."
"Very good, sir. Mr. Grainger, are you free?"
The clerk being addressed looked to his left, to his right and nodded. "I seem to be unoccupied at the moment, Captain Peacock."
Captain Peacock led them to the men's counter, which was probably just as well. Mr. Grainger didn't look like he could make the trip across the floor.
"How old is that gentleman, Napoleon? Don't they have a mandatory retirement age here?"
"Probably about the same age as Mr. Waverly. Remember, Illya, you're only as old as you feel." The elderly clerk squinted at them from behind bifocals, obviously sizing them up.
"That makes me currently about a hundred and two then," Illya mumbled before falling silent. Something had just triggered his inner sense and he turned to look around the department again. From the women's counter, both female clerks were flirting madly, each in their own particular way. Eyebrow cocked, Illya continued his scan. Four women and three men had entered after them and were milling aimlessly about the department. Captain Peacock, the floor walker, was attending to one pair, a man and woman. Illya then realized that he was being addressed and spun back around. "I'm sorry?"
"I was asking if you knew your size," Mr. Grainger repeated, smiling with his bottom lip, his top lip crinkling in protest.
"A 28, I think, or maybe it's closer to 30 today," he said to Grainger, then murmured to his partner, "Napoleon," Illya nodded to the people, "this place was empty when we came in. There are seven customers in here now."
"Maybe it's the saturation principle and we're good for business." Napoleon broke off as Grainger asked, "Mr. Humphries, are you free?"
"I'm free," came the musical answer. Humphries was even more slender than Illya, with the same blond hair and blue eyes. However, he lacked the Slav's more dour personality. He was all smiles and he moved with a flourish that was hard to dismiss, bouncing on his toes as he walked.
"Mr. Humphries, this customer is unsure of his size. Would you be good enough to take his measurements?"
"I should be delighted, Mr. Grainger." Humphries flung out his tape measure as if it were a whip. Illya's eyes widened at the prospect and he swallowed. "Mr. Lucas, stand by!" And the third clerk, obviously the youngest and lowest ranking of the three, appeared with a pad of paper.
"Ready when you are, Mr. Humphries." He flicked his arms out and held his pencil to the pad. "Fire away."
"I don't know about this, Napoleon," Illya muttered, still staring at the tape measure. "I could just call Del and ask."
"Not to worry, sir," Mr. Humphries said, with a mischievous smile. "I haven't lost one yet."
"Customer or tape measure," Napoleon asked innocently, and then he turned to the older gentleman assisting him.
Grainger didn't seem to hear or didn't care as he asked, "And your size, Sir?"
"A perfect 30," Napoleon said without hesitation, his answer fueled by the contortions his partner was being put through. And that blond gentleman with the tape measure seemed to be a bit more concerned with Illya's inner seam than it seemed necessary. Napoleon was determined not to be placed in the same situation, especially considering Illya's furrowing brow and slowly reddening face. "I like extra room under the arms."
"Not a problem, Sir," the younger clerk, Lucas, piped up, looking away from his pad. "All our suits have the extra bit of room, but they'll ride up with wear." The latter was said as an aside to the blond clerk, but Napoleon's attention, like Illya's was distracted by the sudden influx of customers. Perhaps UNCLE had arranged it to make its top agents less suspicious, but Waverly would have surely mentioned it to them.
Suits were brought out on a rack and Grainger pulled out a dark blue checked suit. Napoleon winced and shook his head firmly. "I think something a bit more conservative. Perhaps the black suit on the end or a charcoal gray."
"Sir, I feel obliged to point out, that suit is 80 pounds."
Napoleon did the calculation in his head and nodded. "That will be fine then."
"It's genuine imported German material, with a special added feature of memory weave imported from Austria." Grainger apparently hadn't heard him.
"I said I'll take it," Napoleon interrupted gently but firmly.
"What? But I haven't even mentioned the double guarantee or long wearing cuffs?" Grainger seemed disappointed.
"You've made the sale, Mr. Grainger," Humphries interrupted and the older man looked at him, aghast, for a moment before turning back to Napoleon, all smiles.
"Very good, sir." There was a glimmer in Grainger's eyes that made Napoleon realize he worked on commission. "Would you care to try it on?"
"Please...I'll need a shirt and tie to go with it." He eventually met Illya by the curtained dressing room, each carrying an armful of clothing. "You too?"
"Mr. Humphries can be very persuasive," Illya said as he walked into the large room and settled down onto a nearby bench to undo his shoes. "Something is going on, Napoleon. I have a bell in the back of my head that's having a nervous breakdown."
"Same here, but why? THRUSH wouldn't be so crazy as to try something in a public place." Napoleon shrugged out of his borrowed jacket, then began to unbuckle his shoulder holster.
At the scream, he hesitated, glancing over at Illya. "Then again, I could be wrong." The Russian nodded curtly and pulled his own Walther free of its holster. Cautiously they approached the curtained door and peered out.
The scene that greeted them was hardly new to either of them. People were screaming and running, panic stricken. A man, his face hidden from their view was holding a gun to Captain Peacock's head. The floorwalker looked terrified. A second man had Illya's blond clerk slung over a shoulder, either unconscious or wounded, Illya couldn't tell which. However, Humphries was so slight that his captor, his face hidden by his burden, was having no trouble carrying him.
"What in the name of God is happening?" Illya asked as he watched.
"The news media would call it an 'incident'. Maybe they didn't like their suits," Napoleon ventured, keeping well out of view.
"I think their behavior is a bit extreme for that," Illya said, changing positions so that he could watch as the two gunmen made good their escape in the elevator. "I smell birds, Napoleon."
"But why take those two and not us?"
"Perhaps to negotiate a hostage exchange," the Russian suggested.
"A little coincidental to have it occur in the same store and on the same floor as the one we are on at the time, don't you think? Let's move!"
Napoleon and Illya burst from dressing rooms, guns at the ready, sending a new wave of screams through the departments as the few people who were still standing, hit the floor, going for cover.
Grainger peeked from behind a counter, his balding head hardly visible over the pile of Argyle socks. Lucas had taken refuge behind a mannequin peddling jockey shorts by pulling the elastic waistband in and out.
"Bloody hell, there's more of them," he shouted when he saw the two and spun the mannequin around to provide better cover.
"It's all right," Napoleon shouted, holding up his hands. "We're from UNCLE"
"Uncle who?" yelled back the young female clerk from across the room.
"The UNCLE," Illya said, holstering his gun and grabbing a phone. "How do I reach the front entrance?" he demanded from Grainger, who was still too panic-stricken to speak. His mouth was willing, but his voice was gone. Illya turned to Lucas, who stammered, "Ring 50."
"No answer," Illya report after a moment, spinning as a tall, bespectacled balding man abruptly appeared in a doorway. He slammed the man against the wall, a forearm against the man's trembling Adam's apple, pinning his head back. "Who are you? What do you want?"
"R-r-r-rumbold. I work here. Somebody, tell him. M-m-mr. Lucas...tell him."
"Will this go in my favor for my next raise?" the dark haired man asked with a grin.
"It will, if you don't," Rumbold snapped.
"He's one of us," Lucas said, settling his jacket on his shoulders. "You're with that international spy organization?"
"Yes," Illya said, releasing Rumbold. "My apologies, but we had a situation here."
"It's quite all right," Rumbold murmured, adjusting his glasses. "I was just coming out to see why two men were accompanying Mr. Humphries and Captain Peacock out of the store. Did they have an appointment that I am unaware of? I shall have to take this up to the Board Room level." He lifted his eyes upward, as if addressing heaven itself. "Away from the store on company time without prior notice is a serious offense."
"So is death," Napoleon said, putting his P-38 away. "We have no proof, but we suspect your two clerks..."
"One clerk and a floor walker," Rumbold corrected.
"...Were taken hostage by THRUSH."
"No," Rumbold said after a moment's consideration. "Those were definitely men I saw them with. I do know the difference between men and birds."
"I don't believe this. You have to be management," Illya muttered as he dug his ID from his wallet. "We are agents..."
"Spies..." Lucas interrupted helpfully.
"...Of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Those men who captured your employees work for an enemy organization called THRUSH. I just wondered why they would take your people."
The green-haired lady marched across the floor and grabbed Illya's wrist to study the ID closely, squinting as her eyes flicked back and forth from the id to his face. "Ellya Curry-a-kin," she sounded the name out and turned to the other woman clerk. "Miss Brahms, isn't that what that rubbish called Mr. Humphries?"
"Yea." Miss Brahms voice had a definite Cockney twist to it. "He said,...um..." She flapped her hands for a minute. "Oh yeah ... Christ, Karykcan's fainted...give us a hand! Then they carried poor Mr. Humphries out."
"I do not faint," Illya said, pulling himself up to his full height, which left him nose level with the older woman.
"You did in Monaco," Napoleon said, joining his partner mid floor.
"I'd been shot twice, Napoleon, you try and stay conscious! I pass out, but I never faint."
"Maybe you don't," Miss Brahms said, helpfully. "But Mr. Humphries does. He's sort of...um...high strung."
"That would explain why he walks the way he does. Either that or his pants are cut too high," Lucas said with a chuckle. He'd recaptured his nerve and had come to the middle of the floor. Grainger wasn't taken any chances, he stayed put behind his counter, protected by a tie display.
"This is not what my reputation needs, Napoleon," Illya said, with a sigh as he tucked his ID away. "How could they mistake him for me? We don't look anything alike."
"Actually, you do, Illya," Napoleon said, slowly. "You both fit the general description, slender, medium height, blond, blue eyes. If someone had only that to go on, it could easily happen."
"They would never send such an agent out in the field. You and I are not unknowns to THRUSH or its agents. And why the floorwalker..?" Illya stopped in mid-sentence. "Napoleon, they couldn't have thought he was you? He's at least 20 years your senior."
"Would it be wrong of me to ask what in world is happening here?" It was apparent it had taken Rumbold this long to screw up his nerve to ask this question. Napoleon smiled at him congenially, cranking up his charm. "Do you have some place private we can talk?"
Monty Kerr shook his head slowly as if the motion would relieve the tension that was performing a crescendo in his head. Out of sheer desperation, he had gagged Napoleon to keep him quiet. Illya was proving much easier to handle than his reputation had led Kerr to believe. Every time the agent revived, he would take one look at the guns and would pass out. Kerr took a long pull on his cigarette and let the smoke creep slowly out his nose.
"There's something wrong here, Geary," he said, looking back over his shoulder at his partner. Poole was checking Solo's bonds, confused at the agent's total and complete surrender to the situation.
"You got that right. I didn't think Solo was that much older than Kuryakin. This guy is about ready to be put to pasture." Napoleon sat up, obviously indignant. "Do you think it's some kind of ruse that UNCLE is pulling?"
"Maybe. Kuryakin's out like a light...again. Look." Kerr lifted an arm and released it. It flopped back to earth, totally lifeless. "From what I understood, the only way to keep Illya contained was in chains, drugged or preferably both. This is weird. Maybe we should make some calls. Is there anyone upstairs who knows about these two?"
"Let's find out." Poole straightened and walked to an intercom. "Agent Lander, please," he said, waiting for a response. It came a moment later. "This is Lander."
"Doug, it's Geary. Do you have anyone in your department that knows Napoleon and Illya? We've got them on ice downstairs, but they are acting very peculiar. They may be drugged or something."
"I've got a guy who Kuryakin slapped around pretty bad. I'm sure he'd like a shot at 'identifying' him."
"Perfect, just as long as he leaves something for us to work with. Will you send him down to the Interrogation Cell?"
"Not a problem." The intercom went dead.
Poole glanced over at Solo and grinned. "Now, my friend, we are going to see some action. And if Doug's friend can't help, then we will turn to a more primitive method." Poole held up a hypodermic and grinned. Solo's eyes widened as clear fluid squirted out and he shook his head frantically.
A few minutes later, there was a pounding at the door and Kerr moved cautiously to it. "Yes?"
"Agent Kingston. Lander said you had something for me down here?" The door was opened to reveal a large man, tall and muscle corded. His face was thick with scar tissue and his top lip was pulled up in a permanent sneer. All in all, not a person Kerr wanted to meet in a dark alley.
"Come in, Kingston, I think you and Mr. Kuryakin have something to discuss," Kerr opened the door wide and gestured the man in.
Kingston looked around the room, frowning. "So where is he?"
Poole pointed to the unconscious form of Illya and Kingston's face clouded as he studied the profile, then it grew blotchy red. "I ought to kick your bloody teeth in," he snarled, grabbing Kerr by his jacket lapels.
Immediately Poole was to the aid of his partner, but Kerr had knocked himself free, shoving the angry agent away. "Remember your position, my friend; I can make sure you'll never see the outside of this building again."
"How could you think that little... little... ponce could have taken me?" Kingston demanded as his trembling finger pointed at the UNCLE agent.
"What do you mean? That's Illya Kuryakin"
"That's not Kuryakin!"
Poole walked over and pulled the gag off of Solo. "And I suppose you're not Napoleon Solo?"
"That's what I've been trying to tell you, you imbecile," the man snapped. "My name is Peacock; I'm a floor walker for Grace Brothers!"
"I think we may have a little problem here," Kerr conceded, looking at his partner for guidance.
"I think we have a little problem here." Napoleon Solo sat forward at the desk, his attention totally focused upon the voice that was speaking to him by phone. "Yes, sir, the best I can figure is that the THRUSH agents thought that Peacock and Humphries were us and grabbed them. We feel that they may have been taken to the local satrap for interrogation and UNCLE doesn't know where that is. When THRUSH discovers its mistake...well, they aren't known for forgiveness or for letting their mistakes walk away." Napoleon shifted the receiver to the other ear. "Illya and I would like to affect a trade, in short, offering ourselves for Peacock and Humphries."
"He will now expound upon the impossibilities of said mission," Illya muttered, looking out the window at the afternoon traffic. Somewhere in one of those buildings, two innocent men were going to be killed because of them. A tragic mistake and one that Illya didn't necessarily want to live with. Too many innocents had died in their battle with THRUSH.
"Yes, sir, I know it would be dangerous, but Illya and I are better equipped to handle it than those two. If we contact them and offer the swap, I think we can save the lives of two innocent men," Napoleon said. He listened for a moment longer and held a 'thumbs up' signal at his partner. "If anything happens to us, sir, I would recommend April and Mark take our places. They can get Houghton where he needs to go."
Napoleon hung up the phone and Illya walked over to the desk to sit down on the edge of it. "And tell me, Oh Great White Hunter, do you have a plan or do we just sit around and hope that they call us? THRUSH isn't exactly listed in the yellow pages. We don't know what the agents look like or where they took Peacock and Humphries."
"As soon as I come up with an idea, you'll be the first to know," Napoleon said, picking up a pencil and tapping the eraser on the desktop. There was a knock at the door and he looked over at it. "Yes?"
Rumbold opened the door and peeked in cautiously, as if afraid of gunplay. "Ummm, Rumbold here."
"Yes, Mr. Rumbold," Napoleon said, standing and gesturing him in. "Thank you for the use of your office."
"You're quite welcome. I guess you can tell that Grace Brothers treats its managers well." Rumbold entered and stood proudly before the desk.
"I'm sure it does, but we're a little pressed for time here," Illya interrupted. "We have to find your two clerks." Illya stopped and held up a hand. "I know, one clerk and a floor walker," he corrected himself. "Before THRUSH realizes its mistake and kills them."
"You mean, killed as in dead?" Rumbold's voice grew weak.
"Only kind I am personally aware of," Illya said firmly as he started to usher the manager from the room.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Rumbold said, over his shoulder. "We have a couple of witnesses."
"Who saw the faces of the gunmen as well as someone who saw where they were taken," Rumbold finished. The sudden shift in atmosphere was unnerving as Rumbold was taken to a chair and both agents focused totally upon him.
"Why didn't you tell us sooner?"
"I just found out myself," Rumbold admitted, taking off his glasses and polishing them. "Mr. Lucas and Mr. Harmon..."
"I am Harmon what saw your abductors," a strange voice answered from the doorway. He was an older man, like Grainger, but with a youthful twinkle in his eye and voice that the other lacked.
"And exactly what did you see, Mr. Harmon?" Napoleon asked politely, crossing his legs and leaning back in the chair.
"I was having my elevenses down by the shipping door when I sees two men going into the building next door."
"So?" Illya prompted.
"Mr. Humphries and Cap'n Peacock was with 'em."
"THRUSH headquarters is next door?" Illya sat down with a thump. "I want to go home now, Napoleon."
"Did you get a good look at their faces?"
"Not exactly," Mr. Harmon admitted hesitantly.
"But I did," Mr. Lucas interrupted as he came around the ajar door. It swung open to reveal the rest of the staff, all crouched over. Immediately, they assumed loitering, uninterested attitudes.
"Why don't the rest of you come in," Napoleon said when it became apparently that he wasn't going to get one without the entire batch. It didn't take a second invitation to make them crowd into Rumbold's office. "Now, Mr. Lucas, you said you saw the two agents?"
"Very clearly," Lucas said with a grin.
"Could you identify them again?"
"I could, but I won't." Mr. Lucas crossed his arms to illustrate his defiance.
"Excuse me?" The undertone of anger in Illya's voice was unmistakable. "Are you saying that you won't cooperate with us? That you are willing to let two innocent men die instead? Do you know how we make people like you cooperate?"
"Illya likes to start with thumbs," Napoleon added, helpfully. From the stricken look on Lucas's face, Napoleon knew he wouldn't have to resort to any violence to get what he wanted.
"She made me swear," Lucas blurted, grabbing the senior female clerk and using her as a shield. "Tell 'em, Mrs. Slocomb, tell 'em."
"Weak as water," she snapped at the younger man and faced the UNCLE agents. "I have a pussy braver than you and twice as tough!"
"So all the chaps in the fallout shelter said," Lucas said, unable to let the moment go by.
"If you don't keep your lip button, you'll get a smack around your ear hole! Yes, I made him promise. What are you going to do about it?"
"Mrs. Slocomb," Rumbold chastised, smiling placatingly at the agents. "Why would you do such a thing?"
"Mr. Humphries and Captain Peacock are our friends. If we were to identify the abductors, we would be squeezed out of the picture. Therefore, we will not cooperate unless we are allowed to figure into their rescue. And I am unanimous in this."
"Mrs. Slocomb," Napoleon started, using his charm to its maximum. "There is a high degree of risk. Illya and I are paid to take these risks, but you are not." He reached out a hand to caress her cheeks. "You're too fine a woman to take chances with such beauty."
"Gaaww," Lucas half choked, then looked at Illya in disbelief. The Russian smiled ever so slightly at the man.
"You are watching pure art," Illya said, ever so softly.
Mrs. Slocomb batted her heavily-shadowed eyes at the American. "You men are all the same," she giggled.
"Don't count me in on that," Mr. Harmon said, looking sour. Mrs. Slocomb turned to glare at the man.
The phone rang and Rumbold, the closest, picked up the receiver. He listened for a moment, and then held it out to Napoleon. I believe this is for you, Mr. Solo."
Expecting Waverly, the strange voice startled the American. "Napoleon, I believe we have something of yours that you'd like back."
"Who is this?"
"Let's just say I'm a business associate."
"If you've done anything to hurt them..."
"Rest assured that both Peacock and Humphries are still in excellent condition. However, I can't guarantee that they will continue that way. Do you agree to a trade?"
"Yes, give me the instructions." Napoleon gestured with a free hand for a sheet of paper. "Isn't that a little complicated, especially since you're next door?" He asked as he wrote.
"How did you know that?" The voice was incredulous.
"A little bird told me," Napoleon said, shifting ears so that Illya could hear as well. "Why don't we just make this easy on all of us?"
Monty Kerr held his hand over the receiver of the phone. "Hey, Geary, they want to make this easy on us. Any suggestions?"
Poole shook his head so hard that his glasses nearly flew off. "Short of committing suicide and saving us the effort, I can't think of a thing."
"Are you going to let us go?" Captain Peacock's tone was hopeful.
"Not exactly," Poole said as he loosened the older man's bonds until he could shake his hands free. "We are going to use you two for a trade."
"Trade?" Mr. Humphries' soprano voice was doubtful. He was managing to stay conscious for moments at a time now. "What are you trading us for?"
"Not bubble gum cards, that's for sure," Poole said, rising. "We are trading you for two of UNCLE's top agents."
"Surely not the poor unfortunate that that muscle bound barbarian was raging about?" Peacock asked. "Why, he'd...he'd kill him."
"One in the same, along with his partner. After our friend finishes with Illya, he'll be spitting out broken teeth. However, he will still be alive enough to giveus what we want out of him."
"His brain, mostly intact."
Humphries put a hand to his cheek, his mouth ajar in terror at the mere thought that he had been temporarily confused with the agent. Thinking the blond was getting ready to swoon again; Poole went to his side, ready to grab an elbow.
"You are a very nasty man," Humphries snapped, keeping his elbow well out of reach. "Mr. Kuryakin was a very nice gentleman. I should know - I measured his inseam. You have no right to abuse him, you brute."
"Uh huh, I've heard that before," Kerr said as he joined the trio. He lit a cigarette and tossed the match towards the trash can. "I told him we would swap at the store front. They march in with their hands on their heads and these two will go out. That's providing Blondie here can stay awake long enough to do it."
"Did they actually buy it?" Poole asked, pulling Peacock to his feet. He turned towards Humphries, who quickly stood up as well.
"Guess so, they agreed to it and we'll have plenty of cover. Besides, I don't think UNCLE would risk a shoot out in the middle of a busy street."
"Good thing they didn't know about this place beforehand. After this, we'll have to abandon it. Pity too because it was so convenient to things."
"Once we release these two, we won't have any choice. Of course, we could kill them afterwards."
"We won't say anything," Captain Peacock interrupted, holding himself erect. "I was in the military. I know how to keep secrets."
"Don't look at me," Mr. Humphries said as all heads turned in his direction. "Even when I was a little boy, my mother knew I'd never make the clergy...at least, not that way," he finished with an arched brow. "I couldn't keep a secret if my life depended on it."
"It very well might," Peacock muttered and the clerk's face paled. "I didn't quite mean it that way," he amended.
"Don't worry that little blond head of yours," Kerr mumbled around his cigarette as he reached out and patted Humphries' cheek. "We'll be out of here long before UNCLE could be mobilized to attack. For once, THRUSH holds a trump card." He blew a mouthful of smoke out and smiled confidently.
"Let's just get this over with," Poole interrupted and waited impatiently for his partner to grind his cigarette into the cement floor of the interrogation room.
"What's your hurry?" he asked as he pulled on his jacket and searched a pocket for the key to the door.
"I'd prefer to close this chapter in our mutual careers, if you don't mind. It's been damaging enough as it is without prolonging the agony." He gave Captain Peacock a shove. "Let's move."
"Once more into the breach, dear friends," Napoleon muttered as he interlaced his fingers and placed his hands, palms up, onto his head.
"You seem disgustingly pleased with yourself," Illya said, following his partner's example. "Might I remind you that these people want us extremely dead?"
"Yes, but you see we have an ace up our sleeve that they don't know about."
"Us, of course," He said, grinning at Illya. "We've gone in under much worse conditions. We're both healthy, conscious and on top of the situation."
"Pardon me if I don't share your enthusiasm," Illya said as they stepped off the curb and started across the street. Suddenly he paused, "Napoleon, that woman going into the mannequin shop, her hair is green."
"You don't think..." Napoleon started, and then trailed off as a tall, balding gentleman with protruding ears joined her.
"Tell me again about being on top of the situation. I have a feeling that the bottom has just dropped out of it," Illya said, watching the pair enter the shop. A tall dark-haired man, collar up around his face approached from the opposite direction. "Is that Lucas?" Illya asked, frowning slightly.
"I think so and it looks like he's got that delightful Miss Brahms with him." The junior clerk from Ladies' Intimate Apparel followed a few steps behind the man, her face nearly obscured by a pair of sunglasses. "At least that maintenance man and Grainger haven't joined in this fracas."
"Think again, Napoleon, and direct your attention to four o'clock." Mr. Grainger was walking slowly, clearing the sidewalk for the maintenance man, Harmon, who was pushing a huge crate along on a hand truck. "I have a very bad feeling about this."
"I knew this would happen," Napoleon muttered. "We'd better get on with this and maybe we can head them off at the pass." Together they walked, as directed, to the Shipping and Receiving door and Napoleon knocked.
Almost immediately, his arm was grabbed and he was hauled from sight. Illya, slightly behind him, was saved such an abrupt entrance, instead eyeing the two men who were holding weapons at his midsection and waving him inside.
"Well, you look a whole lot more like UNCLE agents than these two," the shorter of the pair remarked "Mr. Solo?" He asked, shifting his eyes from one face to the other.
"I'm Napoleon Solo," Napoleon said. "This is my partner, Illya Kuryakin."
"Ah, Mr. Kuryakin, we have someone upstairs that has been waiting to see you again. Do you remember Agent Kingston? He certainly remembers you."
The Russian's face didn't betray a single emotion at the news. Instead, Illya looked over the man's shoulder at the two Grace Brother's employees. "Captain Peacock, Mr. Humphries, are you all right?"
"Quite all right, thank you," Peacock said, his eyes shifting from Napoleon's face to the gun and back. Had Peacock been a trained agent, he would have been signaling trouble or an escape attempt, but Napoleon didn't respond to it. It could be nerves on Peacock's part as much as anything else.
"Let them go," Napoleon demanded instead, his voice gentle, but with a firmness that couldn't be argued with. "We won't cause you any trouble."
"You can say that again," snapped the second agent, pinning Illya's hand behind his back. He twisted the arm until it was nearly between Illya's shoulder blades. Peacock winced and raised himself on tiptoes as if it would somehow relieve the pressure. For the Russian's part, his face remained frozen as the THRUSH agent continued. "You have already made us the laughing stock of London."
"That doesn't sound very hard," Illya muttered and his eyes narrowed slightly as the pressure on his shoulder joint was increased.
"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. You would be wise to remember that, Kuryakin," the THRUSH agent whispered in the Russian's ear.
A sudden noise to his right made all four agents react, Immediately the THRUSH recovered, keeping their weapons on the UNCLE agents.
"I don't see why you had to wait until the middle of July to decide that a Christmas mannequin wouldn't work." The big man was complaining as he pushed a crate into the small work area.
"Well, we couldn't very well return it while it was on display, could we?" Mr. Harmon was saying. Mr. Grainger was trailing behind, making clicking noises with his tongue. "When was the last time you had a new suit, young man. We have quite a variety of new suits at Grace Brothers, you know. In your size too. And that's not easy, considering how large you are."
"I'm sure you do, old man." The three stopped then, aware of the scene in front of them. Illya immediately recognized the THRUSH agent as Kingston. He understood he'd taken the man off the street for quite some time, according to office gossip, if you believe such things. With his hand held firmly between his shoulder blades, there was very little he could do but wait and watch.
"You little Russian bast...," Kingston started. He crouched down to Illya's level and took a step towards him. He might have had an opportunity to connect if Harmon hadn't chosen the exact same minute to turn the mannequin on. It swung wide its arms, opening the Santa Claus robe as it did. The motion not only exposed a sexless plastic body, but the right hand caught Kingston just above the nose. It had all the force of a well-aimed karate blow and Kingston dropped with a groan. At that moment, Grainger pushed the mannequin and it toppled over onto the THRUSH agent, pinning him to the ground. "Ho, ho, ho, little boy, have I got a surprise for you," it sang to Kingston.
It was inevitable that both THRUSH agents reacted to their fallen compatriot, just as it was inevitable that the UNCLE agent sshould take advantage of the situation. Illya drove his body backwards, slamming his captor into the wall with enough force to knock the wind from him.
At the same time, Napoleon flipped his hands over and brought the intertwined hands down into the neck of his enemy. The man dropped to one knee, then came back up, his fist clipping Napoleon's chin. It wasn't a powerful blow, but it was enough to stagger the dark-haired agent back a step to collide into the gape-mouthed Mr. Humphries.
"Don't you let him get the better of you, Mr. Solo," he trilled, pushing the UNCLE agent back into battle. Napoleon fell into the arms of his attacker, knocking them both to the ground. They wrestled for awhile and Napoleon came up on top.
"Reminds me of my last date," Mr. Humphries was saying. "All hands and legs that one was."
Someone made a clever aside, but Napoleon didn't hear the comment. He was too intent upon knocking his opponent out. His battle won, Napoleon turned his attention to his partner. Illya was just putting the finishing touches to his own fight. Even though the THRUSH agent was larger, he apparently went down fairly easily. In fact, the Russian wasn't even breathing hard when he came up and said, "Mr. Harmon, your timing couldn't have been better!" He dusted his hands off and looked around for something to truss the THRUSH agents up with.
"Thank you, kind sir, but you must thank Fate, not I." The old gent doffed an imaginary hat to him.
"Great," Napoleon muttered, reaching up to smooth his hair. "Would you two be so kind as to escort Mr. Humphries and Captain Peacock out of here and back to the safety of Grace Brother?"
"What about Mrs. Slocomb and Mr. Rumbold," Grainger protested, sticking his bottom lip out in a pout. "They are still out in the main show room, creating a distraction. It isn't fair that they get to stay and not us."
"We are going to get them right now," Napoleon promised. "But we don't know how many THRUSH agents are stationed here. We will fight better knowing that you are safe."
"I'm for that," Mr. Humphries said with a fling of his wrist. "I can't wait to tell me mother what's happened today." He began towards the door with a peculiar short strided little strut, but hesitated in his tracks as he heard a woman's voice declare, "Weak as water!" He turned and took a step towards it, but Napoleon pushed him in the opposite direction.
"Get out, we'll take care of them," he said. "Captain Peacock, I'm putting you in charge here. Get these people out of here!"
"Very good, sir," he said, but managed to catch himself before he saluted.
As the four left by the Shipping and Receiving door, the two UNCLE agents cautiously approached the curtained doorway and peered out.
From her spot beside a display model, Mrs. Slocomb was beating a clerk over the head with the display's arm while glaring at Mr. Rumbold. For his part, the manager looked very sheepish and timid.
Mr. Lucas was preparing for a fisticuffs with a second clerk, warily circling each other.
"Here, like this," Miss Brahms said. She stepped in, took the THRUSH agent by the shoulders and kneed him solidly in the groin. "That's how we do it in Cheswick." The man doubled over and Napoleon gave a sympathetic groan. Mr. Lucas used the opportunity to step in and finish the man off.
"Remind me not to invite her on a date," Napoleon muttered to his partner, and then he pointed. "Reinforcements coming in at two o'clock. Shall we enter into the fray?"
"Why not? That's the best offer I've had all day," Illya said, grinning at his partner. "They shouldn't be allowed to have all the fun."
Mr. Kuryakin and Mr. Solo leaned back in the chairs. Despite their efforts, it was apparent that neither man was terribly comfortable. While it was true that the board room was opulently decorated, it was for looks, not for comfort. In fact, it reminded Napoleon a bit of Waverly's office and he decided to share that opinion.
"These chairs are as bad as the ones we use," Napoleon said softly to Illya, although his discretion was not needed. For their parts, the staff of Ladies' Intimate Apparel and Men's Wear were quite impressed with their surroundings, staring and whispering amongst themselves.
Napoleon did his best not to overhear and correct their version of the whole episode. It was slightly askew from the facts at hand as he knew them. Still, it was probably the most exciting thing that had or would ever happen to them, so he let them run wild.
"I wonder why we were all called here," Mr. Humphries said, looking over at the Russian UNCLE agent. Illya shook his head slowly, as if only half hearing the man for he was busy staring at a cart that stood at one end of the room. "Why is this here?"
"It was from that cart that Mr. Grace began his retail business," Mr. Harmon said. "If you take a deep breath, you can still smell the fish."
"I wondered about that," Miss Brahms muttered, wrinkling up her nose delicately. Napoleon found it endearing.
"Obviously upper management wants to congratulate us on a job well done," Mr. Rumbold was the only one who looked comfortable in his chair. Perhaps he was more used to sitting that Napoleon was. "It was all very exciting. What a wonderful life you chaps lead."
Napoleon smiled without appearing condescending. True, many people even within UNCLE found the work that he and Illya did wild and exciting. Napoleon liked to point out at that time how few enforcement agents actually made it to the mandatory retirement age as opposed to a clerk. Or how many times Illya and he ended up in hospital beds in the course of a year. Or how many bones had been broken, times he'd been shot, knifed, run down, or tossed out of a moving vehicle.
However, none of that even seemed real to the people on the outside and Napoleon had eventually learned to just play along. "Yes, it is a job that never gets boring and it is glamorous."
"Aside from the stake-outs on garbage barges, living in flea-infested caves for a week at a time, being thrown into a Mexican jail, tortured and having hospital beds with our names permanently affixed to them, it is fun. Bleeding in the course of one's daily tasks is fulfilling, in a macabre way." Illya's tone was dry. He didn't believe in misleading the public like his partner did.
Any retort Napoleon might have been able to come up with was cut short by the opening of the large oak door. In stepped a fragile, age-huddled man flanked on either side by two beautiful women. Beside them walked Alexander Waverly.
"Those were the days, eh, Alexander?"
"Indeed they were, Hubert, indeed they were. Hardly a young lady was safe from you then."
"Or now," muttered Mrs. Slocomb, eyeing the nurse and secretary.
"Mr. Waverly," Napoleon said, standing to offer his superior a chair. "I take it that you and this gentleman know each other."
"We came from the same neighborhood actually. I didn't even know what had become of him and look at all of this. He had no head for business when I knew him as a lad."
"And you, Alexander," Mr. Grace interrupted. "The head of an international spy organization - how times have changed. I understand that some of my people were involved in a bit of an altercation with some of yours, Alexander."
"That they were," Waverly said, looking at his men in a reprimanding fashion, as if the two agents had really had any control over the situation. Napoleon did his best to look totally innocent of any and all wrong doings. After all, he was but a hapless pawn in this game.
"I also am of the understandings that my people somehow managed to help with the capturing of several enemy agents...terns?"
"THRUSH," Waverly corrected, a hand patting his pockets for a match. Captain Peacock obliged with a light and Waverly nodded his thanks.
The benign head of Grace Brothers smiled at his people and proclaimed, "You've all done very well."
In unison, his employees bowed their heads slightly and chimed, "Thank you, Mr. Grace."
Waverly glanced over at his two agents and gave them a tight smile. "I shall speak with you gentlemen later in private."
"Yes, sir," both agents mumbled together, more or less.
"And now, Hubert, tell me your secret for success," Alexander Waverly took a deep puff on his pipe and leaned back into the chair. Napoleon's chin hurt from the clip it had taken and there were more than a few bruises vying for his attention. Miss Brahms was seated at the far end of the table, and although Illya was seated beside him, he seemed even farther away, his eyes glassed over. Napoleon sighed and slipped down in his chair. It was going to be a very long morning...