Illya Nichovetch Kuryakin was bored, flat out, ready-to-climb-any-available wall bored and he made no attempt of hiding the fact. Even now he roamed the lower corridors of the New York UNCLE headquarters, unable to venture up to the higher level for want of the proper badge. Still, he did have to admit to himself that he was lucky the therapist had decided any walking around was good exercise for his slowly recuperating body. Otherwise, he'd be condemned to a world of soap operas and game shows. The doctors had even gone so far as to take away his glasses when it was discovered he was reading late into the night when he was supposed to be asleep. It didn't stop him, but the ensuing headache would often make him stop long before he was ready.
Perhaps even worse than the boredom was the feeling of total uninvolvement; it had been a strict order set down by his doctors and seconded by Waverly. Illya wasn't even allowed to talk to Napoleon, except for a few brief visits when he first came out of his coma. Napoleon had been there to reassure him that he was going to be okay and checked in with him a couple of times afterwards, but that had been the limit of their interaction. He missed Napoleon more than he could say and the conversations he'd had with the medical staff were sadly lacking in both depth and interest.
Illya hobbled back to his room and slammed the door as hard as he could, but the spring caught it and it hissed shut. Now, in the relative privacy his room afforded, he eased his plaster-encased arm out of the sling and flexed it carefully. He sat on the edge of his bed and happened to catch sight of his reflection. Most of the bruising was gone and his nose felt nearly healed.
"Well, Illya Nichovetch, this might be an excellent time to take up primal screaming," he said to his reflection. Instead he passed the next ten minutes tearing ads from a magazine and lobbing them at a nearby trash can, an attempt to strengthen his broken left arm.
The door threatened to open and he quickly slipped the arm back into the sling and leaned back against the pillows.
A head poked around the edge of the door and Illya groaned as Karen Aniello, his physical therapist grinned at her patient.
"And I'm happy to see you too. I'm glad to see you're resting." She glanced over at the over flowing trash can and smirked.
"I have a choice?" Illya muttered. "You've eliminated nearly every other option open to me."
She laughed and pushed the door all the way open to enter. Her wavy brown hair rested lightly on the shoulders of her crisp white uniform, but Illya paid no attention to either. As bruised as he still was, he didn't even want to think about getting an erection. It was uncomfortable enough just to urinate. It was also the first time in his life he'd really regretted having a catheter removed.
"How are you feeling today?"
"The same as all the others - bored, restless... useless..." He tilted his head back and stared up at the all-too-familiar ceiling tiles.
"Good that means you're getting better." She sat on the edge of the bed, first easing his arm out of its sling to examine his fingers.
At least they no longer resemble sausages, Illya thought, keeping any discomfort from his face as she straightened each one and flexed his elbow. He kept his breath steady as she touched his leg and began feeling her way up it, experienced fingers searching for anything that might indicate trouble.
Her fingers reached the end of the bandages and Illya closed his eyes, trying to mentally will himself away as her examination became more intimate. He knew she was a trained professional, but it didn't mean he had to like it.
"You seem to be healing all right. Another week and you can probably even start having sexual activity again." She paused at Illya's grunt and then smiled again. "And I have some news for you. Against my better judgment, you need to get dressed. Mr. Waverly wants to see you as soon as possible." She nearly squealed as Illya reached up, grabbed her, and kissed her squarely on the mouth.
"That is the best news I've had in a month!"
"That was the reaction I was afraid of. You know, there's no shame in giving your body time to heal," she murmured, trying to make the words harsh, but Illya wouldn't hear them. He'd been sprung!
Alexander Waverly, Section One, Number One, sat at the circular desk in his office and idly flipped through the file before him, biding his time until his agent's arrival. He knew the doctors were none too happy with returning Kuryakin to active duty, but Waverly listened to the reports of the Russian's growing restlessness with concern. He knew agents were like trapped animals when held against their will, even when injuries countered every one of their denials. He knew Dr. Aniello didn't understand enforcement agents, their desire, no, their need for excitement and action. To them, being calm and relaxed was something they could appreciate for a day or two, but for no longer than that. Waverly also knew he'd better do something with Kuryakin before the agent got into serious trouble without his help and this assignment would be perfect, low impact and time consuming.
A wall panel opened and the slender, blond haired man entered to stand before him at near parade rest.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Kuryakin, have a seat please." Waverly watched the man sit. Kuryakin was trying to appear normal, but he could see the slight hitch in younger man's movements that spoke of a still-healing body. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine, sir, ready for action," came the stock answer and something that he anticipated from one of his top agents.
"I'm afraid that this assignment won't have quite the action that you are used to, but I'm sure you'll handle it with your usual aplomb. Your attention to the screen, please?"
The room darkened in response to Waverly's suggestion and the agent watched the screen intently.
On it appeared an individual, strumming a guitar and mouthing silent words. The picture widened to include several other musicians and singers, both male and female. Then the focus of the scene shifted from the stage to that of the audience. Happy faces intermixed with faces showing signs of distress, anger, discomfort and actual open hostility. As the film went on, violence began to break out. Fist fights started and the local police rushing into the crowd in an attempt to restore peace, and all the while, the band continued to play as if oblivious to the reaction of the audience. Suddenly the camera tilted to one side and the screen went blank.
"That film was among one of our British agent's effects. He was trampled to death by the crowd. Would you care to see it again, Mr. Kuryakin?"
"Yes, please." This time Waverly watched his agent as he studied the film, frowning, sitting forward, then sitting back, his attention never leaving the screen. "The band seems oblivious to the crowd. Do we have any ideas as to what occurred?"
"We sent an agent in for a routine investigation following reports of unprecedented violence."
"I am correct in assuming that this had occurred previously?"
Waverly chose that moment to light his pipe and his attention was wholly devoted to that for a moment or two until he had the pipe smoking properly. "Yes, Mr. Kuryakin. There would seem to be a path of violence following the performances of this band. We have had all the musicians fully checked, along with their instruments, but to no avail. They appear to be exactly as they claim."
"Perhaps the violence is coincidental?"
"Unlikely, but that is what you are going to find out for us, Mr. Kuryakin. You see, this band, so quaintly called 'The Group' is made up entirely of different nationalities and their claim to fame is their renditions of each member's particular form of folk music, music that stresses cooperation and non-violence. They also, from what I understand, have done some remarkable work at taking popular American tunes and converting them into several languages at once. They have a Frenchman, a Greek, a Spaniard, a Scots, an Irishman, Japanese, and so forth, but no Russian."
"I'm beginning to have the feeling that they are about to acquire one."
"They were most impressed with the tapes we sent them."
"Tapes, sir? I did no tapes."
"Last year, at the Section Eight Christmas party."
Kuryakin let out a moan that could have melted the heart of the most dispassionate individual not named Alexander Waverly. For his part, Waverly was unmoved.
"But, sir, I was slightly... intoxicated at the time."
Waverly hid his smile. The Russian had barely been able to stand and yet was still able to play a guitar and sing. "And so you will be again if that is what it takes. You are to infiltrate The Group, Mr. Kuryakin, and find out what is occurring. Find out what you can and report back to me. Do not take any chances or engage in avant garde actions of any sort, do you understand?"
"If it's a choice between that and another two weeks of being isolated down in Medical, I'll start packing."
"It is already being attended to. Report to Section Eight. They will fit you with a removable cast and make other small adjustments. Your plane leaves in five hours." He picked up a folder and passed it to the agent. "This is the music you will need to know from memory before you land."
He watched Kuryakin get slowly to his feet and could practically hear the gears turning in the man's head. He managed to keep his smile hidden at the man's, "One more thing if I may, sir? Have you heard from Napoleon?"
"You are officially off that case, Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly kept his voice from being too gruff. He could well remember what it was like to be separated from his partner for one reason or another. "You know the procedure of discussing open affairs as well as the next agent. You will have to wait until the report has been filed and released."
"Yes, sir." Kuryakin rose and began to hobble towards the door only to turn as Waverly cleared his throat.
"Of course, I do suppose it would not be a total breach of security to tell you that Mr. Solo was successful and is on his way back." He watched the man's face lighten and his mouth play at a smile.
"Thank you, sir." Waverly sat quietly for a long moment after his agent had left, wishing him success in the days ahead. He had a feeling the Russian was going to need it.
Damascus Strovo was what people defined as a classic Greek. His black hair clung to his scalp in tight curls, the open neck of his tunic top displayed a magnificent tan, and his wide open grin flashed at anyone who might cast a glance in his direction. His profile was classic Greek as well, with a pronounced nose and deep piercing eyes. All the while, his hand beat unconsciously against his thigh to some rhythm unheard by anyone else. Beside him stood his friend and fellow band member, Jacques LaRue. His tall frame was clad in a pair of tight black pants, a low cut and equally tight striped shirt, with a black handkerchief tied around his neck. It was stereotypical dress for a Frenchman and he hated it, but it was what their group had come to be known for. A group made up of a global community with all but one of the major countries in the world represented either on or off stage. And now they were about to make their collection complete.
Jacques' eyes caressed a woman as she passed, disregarding her boyfriend as inconsequential, before letting his gaze wander again. "So what does this guy look like?"
"I was told, short, blond and we'd know him when we see him."
"Fantastique mon ami, do we just go up to every blond and ask to see their Communist Party membership card? Do they even have such a thing?"
"No idea." They watched at the plane began to disgorge its passengers.
People moved past them, but no one fit the description.
"Are you sure he was on this flight?" Damascus glanced over at the horn player with a frown.
"Aeroflot Seven Nineteen, that's what it says here." Jacques held up the paper for him to see. "Maybe he jumped the ship, in a manner of speaking."
"Are you looking for me?" The voice made them whirl. The man addressing them was short and slender with a mass of unruly, barely combed, blond hair and an equally unruly mustache. He wore a tight tee shirt that proclaimed that guitarists had their pick and a pair of jeans well past their prime. His left arm was encased in a cast and his right bicep bore a hammer and sickle tattoo.
He tucked his sunglasses into a pocket and snapped forward in a quick, short bow. "Illya Nichovetch Kuryakin at your service. You are?"
"Gobsmacked," Damascus muttered running his eyes up and down the man once and then cleared his throat. "Uh, Damascus Strovo and Jacques LaRue, drummer and horn player for The Group. Glad to have you on board, comrade." He shook hands with Illya.
"Pleasure to meet you, mon ami." LaRue also shook hands. "You sure don't look like any Russian I've ever seen. They were all six feet plus, big as a house, with lots of dark hair."
"You've met our women then," Illya said, smiling. "I am going to wager that you have met many Russians without ever realizing it. Most of us prefer to keep a low profile in this time of global unrest." They started to walk towards the baggage are, Illya's gait halting.
"For wanting to keep a low profile, that's a pretty sharp-looking tattoo."
"The miscalculations of an impetuous youth who foresaw no future outside of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, fool that I was." Illya smiled ruefully. "With age comes wisdom, too late for me however."
"So what happened to your arm and leg? A fight over a fair damsel or something better?" Jacques indicated himself and Damascus. "We've both picked up more than our fair share of battle scars that way."
"Regretfully, nothing as colorful. I tripped on my brother's borzoi when I was coming home one night. The lights were off and I was very... tired."
"His what? He wasn't hurt, was he? Something like that could cripple a man for life." Damascus ran a hand through his tightly curled hair.
Illya chuckled and shook his head. "I think I am not clear. A borzoi is a dog, a very big... dog." Illya made a gesture with his hands and then jerked his head. "Ah good, customs. They always seem to find my passport intriguing. Excuse me."
"You certainly know how to pick them." Damascus fingered one of the chains around his neck in reflection.
"The guy I talked with said he's really shy and introverted."
"Then this is just an act?"
"Oui oui, mon ami." LaRue crossed his arms as he watched Illya engage in a very animated discussion with the custom's official. "We'd better go make sure he doesn't get arrested, he's so shy and introverted."
"Alan is going to eat him alive."
"Not to worry - our Scotsman will love him... I hope."
Illya Kuryakin took a deep breath, keeping well away from the other members of The Group. He was obviously coming down with something. His mouth was dry, his stomach ached not to mention his arm, his fingers felt like they had been crushed and his mind was a total blank.
Correction, Illya Nichovetch, he chastised himself. You aren't getting sick. You've got stage fright.
He was so intently watching a sound tech take a microphone reading from the one designated as his that he was startled when he was suddenly jostled and a stab of pain shot down his leg. Illya half stumbled and then whirled about, ready to have do with the person who shoved him, only to come face to face with Adelaide. She was the sister of the man in charge of the band, a right force to be reckoned with, as Illya discovered upon their introduction.
"Och, Illya, was it? I'm sae very sorry. Can ye forgive me fer being a clumsy woman?" Illya was long used to being jostled. This woman had apparently never ridden a crowded new York subway car to work in the morning. He was always amazed when he came out of it with his wallet - and his dignity-intact. The woman's apparent distress was confusing. Then abruptly, Alan's voice cut above the backstage noise.
"Fer God's sake, Addie, will ye watch where yer goin? Ye nae he's hurt! Just because yer a lass, try to act as if ye've got a brain in yer wee head!"
Illya watched the woman actually cringe at this outburst and he turned to the rapidly approaching man. Alan was a Scot and had a fiery head of hair that was only surpassed by the fieriness of his temper.
"It was an accident, Mr. Campbell, and no harm was done." Illya had been an UNCLE agent far too long to be intimidated, even by a man twice his size. Granted, he wasn't at his best, but he still felt fairly certain he could take the man on and win. "She didn't mean any trouble."
"Ye Russian, yer too easy on yer women! We knae hae to handle ours, so don't be givin' advice on somethin' yer canna understand." He raised a hand as if to strike the woman and Illya automatically stepped in front of her.
"I can't let you do that." His eyes snapped a warning to the Scot.
"Ye miserable piece o'..." Alan sputtered and backed away. After a moment, Adelaide hurried after him.
"That's was nice and all, mon ami, but Alan would never hit Addie in front of witnesses. He'll save that for later tonight. You, however, are viande fraîche."
"Fresh meat? I think not."
"Rest assured, mon petite chou, he will pick you apart with his bare hands if you give him the chance. It is not just a coincidence that we have never been able to hold on to a Russian in The Group. Alan, he's not fond of your kind." Jacques played a riff on his horn. "He is not a nice man, Illya, you should be careful."
Illya smirked. He'd been called many things in his time, but never a little cabbage, but he let the grimace become a full frown. "I'm not worried, he doesn't scare me."
"Well, he scares me plenty."
"Why do you keep him around? If he's so vile tempered, what is the attraction?"
"Other way around," Damascus answered. "He keeps us around. It's his band. He's got all the contacts and contracts. He's our mover and shaker and we are but his puppets."
"And he never lets us forget it for a minute," Jacques muttered.
The lights dimmed slightly, as if taking a power hit, and Illya waited for a burst of cursing from the Scots, but he merely donned headphones and sat down behind an on-stage mixing board.
"Here we go," Jacques said, shaking his arms and upper body to relax them. "We just wait for the warning and out we go."
"We seem to have the tendency to rile the crowd." Damascus sat down behind his drums and picked up a set of ear protection.
Illya felt a stab of anxiety as he walked up to his microphone, not entirely unlike the one that washed through him the first time he met Alexander Waverly. He closed his eyes and took a deep calming breath. He wasn't a newcomer to the stage and he knew he could do this.
He looked over at the singers' podium where three women backup singers stood. Adelaide caught his eye and smiled shyly at him and Illya grinned back.
Surely if such a shy creature can do this, this would be a piece of cake for an UNCLE agent. He adjusted his guitar strap over the quintessential Russian tunic that he wore and took a deep breath as the curtain opened to thunderous applause.
As one, The Group bowed and waved to the applauding audience, whose clapping and cheering did little to hide the more ominous sounds of approaching sirens. Halfway through the show, violence had, again, apparently broken out. At least Illya now understood why none of the band members reacted. It was nearly impossible to hear anything up on stage and the lights were blinding. They didn't react because they didn't know until the house lights went up and the music stopped playing. Even with ear protection, his head was still ringing.
The rest of his fellow entertainers looked as disheartened as he felt. No, strike that, Alan Campbell looked down right gleeful. During the show, he was transformed into an entirely different person, dancing and spinning to the music as he stood behind his mixing board, directing them as a captain would steer his ship. Now the man looked positive delighted as ambulances began to arrive to take injured concert goers away.
Perhaps he's using the violence as a trademark for the band, or perhaps it is something else. Illya wasn't permitted to continue his line of thought as Jacques walked up to him, obviously exhausted, but still faking it for the audience.
"Illya, you were manifque!" he announced and grabbed Illya's face to plant a kiss on each cheek. There was a roar from the crowd and Jacques yanked Illya's left arm up into air. Illya almost groaned in response. He knew his arm was swollen beneath the cover of his sleeve and he mentally counted the minutes until he could soak it and return it to its plaster cocoon. "See, they love you! You are going to score tonight!" He waved once more to the crowd as the curtain fell.
"Score? Score what? There's more playing to be done?" Illya was bone weary and just wanted to crawl into bed after making his report. He'd forgotten how much energy performing took.
"Only the best kind. With the ladies, my friend. There are luscious and lovely ladies who will kill to climb into bed with us."
Illya smiled and shook his head. "I'm going to have to pass until I'm off the endangered species list. You see, we Russians are perfectionists and you can't properly make love to a woman when you still have a mile and a half of thread holding your most important assets together."
"What?" Damascus glanced over at the two.
"The dog didn't like being tripped upon and bit me." Illya let his hand drift to his belt. "In a rather venerable spot." Both Jacques and Damascus dropped their hands to cup their crotches.
"Holy shit!" Jacques managed to squeak out.
"Yes, among other things." Illya let a small smile escape.
"You did shoot the dog though, right?" Damascus asked.
"No, but I spoke very firmly to him...after he let go."
"So what about you, Dam?" Jacques turned to the curly-haired Greek. "You want to go collect his losses and make them our gain?"
"Sorry, I'm still recovering from that little gift that groupie gave me in Norway," Damascus muttered. "Those penicillin shots hurt like hell."
"Just me?" Jacques looked from one to the other. "A drink, then? Illya, you don't need two hand to drink, do you?" He watched Illya pull up his shirt to ease his arm out of the sleeve of the tunic. He slipped the cast on and began to wrap it with an elastic bandage.
"Only if I'm holding two glasses." Illya's diction was marred as he used his teeth to hold the end of the bandage in place. If either man thought odd of the mish mash of scars running across his torso, neither mentioned it.
"Here, let me help," Damascus caught the end and started to wrap it snugly around the plaster. "Too tight?" he asked as Illya grimaced.
"Probably not tight enough once the swelling goes down."
"I don't understand how you can play at all with a broken arm." Damascus watched him finish and then turn his attention to his guitar.
"It's amazing what one can do when one's doctor is insisting upon payment in full for services rendered or he'll give one a matching set of broken arms. My doctor and I, we have a long and turbulent history together."
"So much for singing for one's supper." Damascus ran a hand through his hair. "I supposed I should go play nice and ask Alan if he wants to come along."
"Maybe you could get him to let the lovely ladies join us." Jacques still had an anxious look in his eyes. Illya recognized it from a similar glint Napoleon got. With his partner, Illya knew that glint indicated just one thing. Napoleon was on the prowl and wouldn't stop until he'd found a companion for the evening.
"Not on your evzones! You want the girls to come, you ask. Not me."
Jacques' smile ran away from his face as Damascus left them to approach the large Scotsman. Alan was carefully packing the mixing board away.
"What on Lenin's grave is that?" Illya split his attention between the horn player and the Scot.
"Some sort of cutting edge mixer. It's his own design and he's waiting for a patent or something on it. Alan insists that it's his board and not we musicians that have made The Group what it is... I mean popular, not the instrument of violence that we seem to have lately become."
"Why do you suppose that is?"
"Just recent, like the last month or so. We've been around and around trying to figure out what has changed. It's not always, just sometimes, and the violence, it has...um... scale... intensity, no? At times, slight or no violence at all; other times, it's like a battle ground and it only seems to be making us more popular. It's like the crowd, they come to see what will happen." Jacques nudged Illya playfully in the ribs. "If only he wasn't so réprimé when it came to the ladies."
"Why do you call him repressed?"
"He hates the ladies."
"He prefers the company of men?"
Jacques clamped a hand over Illya's mouth almost before he got the last word out. "Never, ever, let him hear you say that. There's no one more masculine and proud of it as our Alan. And it's not just his sister who isn't really his sister. It's all women, he sees them as the enemy these days."
Illya smiled. "But such delightful foe. Could we dwell, perhaps, for a moment upon the sister who is not a sister?"
"Alan's mom died in childbirth with him and the woman who raised him was his step mother. After his father passed away, she took up with a soldier and had Addie. So, there's no real blood between them."
"I can understand his resentment towards her then."
"That's where it gets so complicated and confusing. Alan was fine until he came back from the war. Something happened in Korea and he came back a changed man."
"War changes all of us, Jacques."
"Oui, this I know. For some, it turned us into pacifists, others into brooders. For Alan, it turned him into a woman hater." Jacque broke off as Damascus returned with Alan in his wake. All his joviality was gone now. "Ah, Alan, mon ami, you are going to join us, oui? The company will be much improved by it."
"Ye dinna worry that ye'll get a drink out of it. I'm goin' to get foo, not t' discuss the time o' day with ye." Alan walked to the stage door, the mixer case in his hand as Illya tried to make head or tails out of his last sentence. He needed no translation when Alan spoke again. "And I'll be choosin' the tavern, one winna hae th' fairer sex."
Illya leaned into his palm, feeling the warm familiar caress of vodka enveloping him. Between the drinks and his pain medication, the one that advised it not be mixed with alcohol, he was very close to chucking it all and 'going for his one hundred,' as they would say back in Moscow. It had been too long since he'd been properly drunk. The last time was with Napoleon back in the Cairo office and had led to a very interesting, if occasionally confusing, jumble of memories of that night. Illya smiled at the memory and the man connected with it and toyed, for the moment, with the idea of calling his partner. He was sure, with enough coercion, he could bully Solo's location out of Communications.
He was still feeling guilty about Napoleon having to go back out into the field without him on this last assignment. Granted, he wasn't in any condition to actually help Napoleon, but that was beside the fact. His place was with his partner. Only rarely were they separated by assignments these days. Waverly liked their success rate together. He slipped his hand into his pants pocket for the communicator and frowned. It was gone. It must have fallen out some place between here and the stage.
He set his glass down reluctantly, not relishing the thought of crawling through every gutter between here and the theater. It would at least get him back to the theater and allow him a chance to do some of his own investigation. Then Alan's voice, thick with drink, cut through his reverie. Illya frowned, trying to unscramble the words, finally surrendering to the inevitability of it. He leaned forward and tapped Damascus on a well-muscled thigh.
"What is he saying?" Illya tried for a whisper, but it came out much louder.
"He's going on about women's stupidity," Damascus answered, staring into Illya's face, although as to what he was looking for, Illya didn't have a clue. "He was using our very own Oedipus's mother as an example."
Illya thought for a moment and then shook his head. "But Jocasta wasn't at fault. It was Oedipus's father who sent him away before he could fulfill the oracle. It stated that the son would kill the father, marry the mother and rule the land. All Jocasta knew was that Oedipus was the man from Corinth who defeated the Sphinx and saved Thebes. It wasn't until years later that Oedipus discovered that he had fulfilled the prophecy, had killed his father, Laius, and married his mother. Jocasta, when she found out, killed herself and Oedipus blinded and then banished himself from Thebes as punishment. He went on to be a great king despite that. " He chuckled. "Such a web of intrigue and that is the short version."
"Are ye callin' me a liar, mannie?" Alan's voice lowered and understandable for the moment told Illya he'd been overheard.
"No, not a liar, just confused by the details." A movement by the door and Illya looked away for a moment.
"Why y' faus whorin' little..."
Illya looked back just in time to see a fist bearing down on him, but not soon enough to evade it. He caught the fist straight on and the chair he was sitting in tipped over backwards. Illya heard his cast make a loud smack as it hit the floor and he watched fireworks go off before his eyes as his head did the same.
The Scot was standing over him, roaring words that barely leaked in to Illya's dazed brain. Another head blow coming this close to his last one made him groggy, just holding on to consciousness. Alan's hands sliced through the air, jerking Illya up to his feet by his tunic, almost righting him. But Illya's knees had definite plans to the contrary. Another fist flew in his direction and Illya brought up a sluggish left to block it, letting his abused cast take the brunt of the blow that had been intended for his recently healed face. Alan howled, cradling his hand. He released Illya, who struggled to keep from collapsing, in the end, sitting down hard on the floor. Alan followed, unleashing blow after blow upon the punch drunk Kuryakin. Jacques and Damascus suddenly came out their stupor as did other patrons, but Illya just let go and surrendered to unconsciousness. He'd just have to go look for his communicator later.
Someone in the apartment above his was playing their stereo way too loudly and try as he might, Illya could not escape the low dull thud. He slowly opened an eye and stared up at Damascus.
Adelaide joined him. "I was beginning t' worry about yer wee head; ye were out sae long."
"Doesn't anyone speak English anymore?" Illya grumbled and brought heavy hand up to touch his split lip. "To ask the obvious, where am I and how long was I out?" He winced and struggled to get upright.
"Me and Jacques hauled you here about three hours ago. " Damascus helped Illya sit up. "This is one of the few ports in the storm around here where Alan won't come. I room here with Addie."
"Wait, you room with Adelaide and you're a man...doesn't Alan care about that?"
The Greek exchanged a look with the young woman and smiled. "I'm what you might call more of a traditional Greek, if you get my meaning..." Adelaide hid a smile behind her hand, rose, and left the room.
"Damascus, please, no riddles, I'm very tired." So tired that Illya didn't even have time to react when Damascus leaned forward and touched his lips carefully to Illya's. He sat very still until the man retreated. "I understand now." Illya cleared his throat. "Thank you, but I'm sorry."
"I misread the signals, then." Damascus shrugged his shoulders. "That happens sometimes. It's a shame, we could have climbed to such heights , you and I."
"I'm afraid my base camp is pitched elsewhere." Illya took the ice-filled cloth that Adelaide held out to him and held it to his jaw. "A strange one, your brother."
"Ye maun judge him tae strict, Illya. He's gaed man and he's taken care of me. I owe him fer that."
"It's a brother's responsibility to step in if something happens to the father. I'd do that for any one of my sisters."
"I won't argue with ye, y' need t' rest." She patted his shoulder gently. "The ice will tak' the swellin' down."
"Your words have an air of experience around them." Illya glanced over at Damascus. "Alan beats you, doesn't he?"
"What am I ta do? I'm but a woman, often in need of correction," she mumbled into her shoulder.
"What? That's idiotic, that's barbaric... that's... stupid." Illya dropped the cloth. "And you're not much better for letting him." He shifted his glare from Damascus to Adelaide and back. "Either of you."
"You're a newcomer, Illya, and you don't understand. " Damascus stood and walked to a window, as if looking out for someone. "Alan, he is all about control. One way or the other, he has it over all of us."
"You love him, don't you?" Illya asked, his voice softening before returning his attention to Adelaide. "And you seriously believe you are too weak to leave him. Could you sit down, please? The headache I thought I lost two days ago has found me again and this looking up isn't helping." Adelaide sat on the edge of the bed, as if ready to bolt if he touched her. "In my country, it is our women that make us strong. They have pulled my country through wars and famine. We would not have survived without them."
"That's Russia, not Scotland and that's no the wae it's doon here." She patted his hand and smiled. "But I'll think about what ye said. Really I'll think on't. Now, why don't y' lean back and try to rest. The doctor will be here soon t' make sure y' haven't sustained any damage."
"I don't have time for that." Illya slid his legs over the side of the bed and stood, teetering in place for a minute. He tried a step, but his right knee locked and he felt himself dangling in midair as his body tried to decide which way it was going to fall. Then strong arms caught him and guided him back to the bed.
Damascus got him settled back down on the bed and chuckled. "You beat the Scots when it comes to stubborn, son. You need to wait for the doctor."
"What if your brother finds out I've spent the night here? What then?"
"Illya, he'll think ye were here with Dammie, not with me."
"Wonderful, like I need any more gossip following me. That's even more motivation to get back to my own room."
"Illya, ye canna even walk, I don't think either of us have ta worry about our virtue with ye." She exerted backward pressure against his shoulder.
There was undoubted logic in what she was saying, but Illya knew he needed to look around the theater without an escort. With Alan drunk, this was his best chance and possibly his only opportunity. He rallied against the hand.
"Never underestimate a Russian. We have hidden reserves."
"I'm sure ye do, but for th' moment, all yer fit to attack is yer pillow." She bent her head close to his and eased him backwards, down onto the pillow. He thought briefly of seizing the opportunity to kiss her, but the thought waned as he lost the last little bit of grip he had left on consciousness.
The Fannahill Hotel was one of the most prestigious in Glasgow and the job of an assistant manager was an honored post. It was a matter of great pride and distinction that the man comport himself and his hotel with dignity. His hazel eyes studied the rather motley crew that came straggling through the lobby of the hotel. His boss had been adamant - none of the violence that followed the Group would happen here.
His mouth twitched into an easy smile as he studied each member of the band as they unloaded equipment from their rented van. His attention lingered on a slender blond man, who, despite one arm being encased in plaster, struggled to unload road boxes.
"Welcome," he said to him. "It's gaed tew hae ye entertainin' at our bonnie hot'l."
"Great, another non-English speaker," Illya, his back to the man, mumbled as he attempted to balance his load. Then his brain waded through the thick accent and he slowly turned to behold Napoleon Solo's beaming face. Illya wanted to drop the instruments and throw his arms around his partner and shout for joy. Instead, he managed a half-hearted smile and turned back to the equipment. "No offense."
"Och, yer one of th' heathen Russian then." He let the man brush past him. "Room 104," he said behind the mask of his smile.
"Half an hour," Illya responded and carried away his armful.
Illya knocked on Room 104's door, pushing in when he was heard the call that it was open. Napoleon was sitting in a chair, his feet propped up on the small in-room table, a drink in his hand which he offered to his partner.
"Thanks." Illya took it gratefully and tipped it back in one swallow, ignoring the protest of his split lip. "I see that you made it back okay without my help."
"There are a few things that I can still manage on my own. You are looking even more.... colorful than when I saw you last." Napoleon reached for his own drink and offered Illya the bottle. "Who worked you over?"
"The Group's manager. He took exception to something I said a couple of days ago." Illya poured himself another measure of vodka and drank it down, sighing as the alcohol hit his stomach and heat unfurled from it into his limbs.
"He has very definite opinions when it comes to the fairer sex."
"As do I."
"His usually entails beating them. We had a brief discussion." He poured more alcohol into the glass, just a swallow now.
"Looks more like a concussion." Napoleon leaned forward to gently tilt Illya's face first this way and then that. "He beat the hell out of you, old friend." Napoleon gestured to Illya's stomach. "Now let me see the worst of it."
"The doctor gave me a clean bill of health... more or less." Illya set the glass aside and carefully eased his shirt tail free from his jeans. Napoleon whistled at the explosion of purple and yellow bruises that decorated Illya's torso.
"Waverly was concerned when you didn't check in the last couple of days. He did some fast checking and found out this was your next venue and installed me in here. I'm glad he did. It looks like you could use help"
"I've been very closely watched the last forty eight hours. Adelaide, the manager's sister wouldn't let me out of her sight. There just wasn't an opportunity to report in without raising seven kinds of hell." He leaned back into the chair and sighed. "However, I will not be able to go out on stage looking like this, so I am hoping to use the time to poke around backstage tonight. The manager has a very interesting piece of equipment that warrants closer inspection."
"That still doesn't explain why you couldn't lock yourself in the toilet and report in."
"My communicator turned up missing in the middle of it all. Stolen, lost, or appropirated, I'm not sure which. I know I had it just before going on stage because I was toying with the idea of turning it on and letting Section Five have at the music. Somehow between the stage and the bar, where I picked up these colorful decorations, it got 'lost'."
Napoleon took a long swallow from his drink. "And you couldn't exactly draw attention to yourself by asking if someone had happened to find a missing communicator."
"I was about to go looking for it when Alan grabbed me and voila. Instant sleeping pill. I figured if I didn't check in after the prescribed time, Waverly would send someone. I was just lucky it was you."
"Well, I can't say I agree with your methods, but I'm glad too." Napoleon studied him for a long moment. "Honestly, how do you feel?"
"Between us, my face and my stomach hurt, I have a headache that seems standard procedure these days and my arm got re-fractured when I hit the floor, so it's not happy with anything. " Illya smirked. "Between me and Medical, I'm the picture of health."
"I think your picture needs a bit of fine tuning." Napoleon leaned back and grabbed his suit jacket, pulled out a communicator and tossed it to his partner, who caught it right handed. "Pretty sharp tattoo and the mustache. Since when?"
"Since the Section Eight folks painted one and glue the other on me. Guaranteed for four thousand showers or a couple doses of isopropyl alcohol, whichever comes first." He rubbed at the mustache. "The itching is driving me crazy." Illya stood carefully. "I'd better get back before I'm missed." He patted his pants pocket. "Thanks for the pick me up."
He opened the door and stopped. Damascus was standing there, his hand raised in mid knock.
"Illya?" The Greek looked from him to the man, still leaning back, looking very relaxed. "Mountain climbing?"
Illya shrugged and tucked his until now forgotten shirttail in, adjusted his belt. "Problem?"
"No, I was just coming here to see Mr. Solo about the arrangements for tonight," Damascus said, his eyes still flicking from one to the other of them.
"I'll leave you to it then."
Even backstage the music was thunderously loud and Illya used the cover of the noise and confusion to poke around. Alan, however, hadn't strayed far from the mixing console from the moment he unpacked it. Illya picked up a sheet of music and began to study it. His one chance to get close to it would be during Alan's sole bagpipe number. It was a rollicking adaptation of Scotland the Brave that was sure to have to crowd on its feet here in Glasgow.
In the meantime, Illya concentrated upon the music, knotting his brow at random notes. Some caught his attention and even though the music wasn't exactly hummable, Illya was picking up a definite melody. Glancing around, he slipped from the backstage area and out into the alley behind the theater.
The silence was almost deafening. "Open Channel D please. Napoleon, are you there?"
"I'm here, what's wrong?"
"How are you at reading code?"
"Good as the next agent, although I haven't had much time lately with the newest version. Why?"
"I've got something here that warrants your attention."
"THRUSH?" The communicator was snatched from Illya's hand, dropped to the ground and smashed.
"I hope Napoleon didn't have that close to his ear," Illya mumbled and met Alan's glare straight on.
Alan's eyes narrowed. "I should've guessed by the way ye moved in the bar that it was ye. Something'in yer very nature told me you weren't what you claim ta be."
"What? A Russian musician? But I am. You heard me play and sing."
"Who do you work for?"
"Who do you work for?"
"I've got the gun, laddie, I'll be asking the questions." He aimed the gun at Illya's midsection.
"You shoot me and I won't be talking. You must be THRUSH, you reek of their subtlety."
"Aye, then ye must be a wee lad from UNCLE. Soon they will be lackin' a Russian."
"That would be a little inconvenient, to be honest. It's very difficult to find dedicated agents willing to work on this side of the Volga."
"My heart weeps fer ye. Walk." The Lugar jabbed in his direction and Illya started to move and then half turned, as if to say something. Instead he brought his karate expertise into play. The first kick disarmed the man; his second brought Alan down to his knees. Those were the only two opportunities he had for success. Alan's fist swung up and Illya danced backward to avoid the blow, stumbling against a road box. Alan's hand lashed out and caught the cast, his fingers easily crushing the already compromised plaster. Illya winced in anticipation, but the man stopped there.
"Ye try that ag'in, lad, and ye will be missing yer left arm." Alan bent, yanking Illya down in the process, and retrieved his pistol. "Fer now, be thankful that I'm a patient man."
Illya knelt on the grid above the stage deck, the steel cutting painfully through the denim of his jeans, watching as Alan finished tying a knot into the rope tethering him by the neck to a batten.
"Make yerself as comfortable as you can, lad. When the curtain goes down, so will ye. If yer lucky, it'll snap before yer yanked down and hanged in front of the crowd, one more meaningless bit o' violence attributed to The Group."
"Cradle and all. Either way I get the short end of the stick." Illya struggled against his bonds, but his hands were firmly tied behind his back.
"Aye, lad, that ye do. Let this be a lesson to ye for stickin' yer nose where it doesn't belong."
"It's a rather permanent lesson. Couldn't I just be kept after school instead?"
"No, lad, I'm afrreid not. Enjoy the rest of the show. You've about half an hour to enjoy the best seat in the house."
"Alan, wait, can't you at last let me know what I'm dying for?"
"Och, no, lad, I knew how yer UNCLE agents tend to wiggle. Let's suffice it ta say, yer dyin' fer a principle." Alan chuckled and rapidly crossed through the mish mash of steel cables that led from each steel pipe to the heavy weights that counterbalanced the fly system.
Illya got to his feet and shook his head slowly. "Wonderful, all the THRUSH in the world and I get one who won't ramble on for hours. Usually you can't get them to shut up." He struggled at the ropes holding him. If he could get his hands free, he could get the noose off his neck. After a few minutes, he sighed.
"I leave you alone for five minutes and look at the trouble you get into."
Illya spun at the sound of his partner's voice and nearly lost his footing. Immediately, Napoleon was out of his hiding place and there to stabilize him and pull the noose from his head.
"The next time you decide to sneak up on me, Napoleon, give me some warning..." Illya grumbled as Napoleon cut through the ropes binding his hands.
"Sorry, didn't realize you'd be so high strung." Napoleon joked, patting a shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"I am now." Illya said, listening as the band started in on their closing number. "That was a little close."
"We've had closer."
"You weren't standing here with a noose around your neck. This was close enough, thank you." Illya started picking his way back across the cables. "Did you get a look at that console?"
"I did, thanks to you keeping our THRUSH busy." They reached the catwalk and Napoleon bent to pick up one of the lighting designs that littered the area. He started to sketch rapidly.
"I don't think he's THRUSH, at least not yet. He didn't seem... I don't know... vested? He just didn't have the sense of being one of them to me. He's probably waiting to demo that little device of his to them." Illya squinted at the drawing in the dim light.
"At least we got to him before they got their hands on this." Napoleon turned the drawing so that it was towards his partner. "It looks like an amplification device, until you remove the top. It's all pretty much bogus. Inside there is a much smaller control panel that can be operated through an opening on the side here." He pointed to the drawing. "There are switches, here, here and here. Up further there is a directional locator and several dials." Napoleon's hand pointed as he talked, his brain meticulously recalling details. "I'm sure this is the cause of the violence, but I couldn't tell you why."
"Thankfully, we don't need to understand, just grab it and high tail it home. I don't understand why they would use it on the crowd though." Illya started to walk towards an exit door from the catwalk.
"Easy," Napoleon said, following. "Imagine what a machine twice that size would do, say at the appearance of a world figure like the Pope? You could incite a large destructive riot. And there's countrywide violence to consider as well." The creak of wires being pulled made them both look in the direction of the main curtain. "Since you are, in all probability dead now, why don't you take a look for yourself and decide on a course of action. I'll distract the opposition and make a few phones calls at the same time. Take it out if you can."
"Men can't multi-task, Napoleon."
"I'm always one to break the mold, partner mine." He patted Illya on the shoulder again and started to walk away.
"Napoleon, the others, I think they are just pawns in this. Go easy on them."
"I'll do what I have to, Illya, you know that."
Illya stood in the shadows, half hidden by the heavy black backstage curtains, biding his time until the milling crew left the stage for good. He hadn't seen Alan since his attempted necktie party with the man and that was fine with him. He just wanted to get close enough to snap some film of that console.
"Dammie, have ye seen Illya?" Adelaide's voice filtered through to him. "I was supposed to meet him after the show and I canna find him. Or Alan either... ye don't think they're at each other ag'in do ye?"
"Perhaps he defected back to the East after his run in with Alan," Jacques joked as he packed his horn. Adelaide half smiled at the remark and moved off to another bunch of crew people.
"Not funny, Jacques," Damascus snapped over his shoulder. "As a Frenchman, you are very blind to the signs of infatuation. She's smitten with him."
"And you too, I think, oui? He's out of your league, Damascus. He prefers the ladies."
"What he prefers is up to him." The drummer gathered up his cymbals, tucking them away in protective cloth.
Illya held his breath until the two walked away. Abruptly the stage plunged into darkness and Illya felt the string of tension in his shoulders relax. Now he was truly in his element.
After another few minutes, he crept from behind the curtain and closed his eyes, bringing the stage up in his mind's eye. He moved slowly, ready to stop should he sensed anything. His groping right hand struck something cold and he smiled grimly, feeling his way around the edge of the console.
His hand caught something cylindrical and he smiled. A flashlight, what a crazy thing to have lying around in the dark. He aimed it toward the floor and turned it on. It glowed blue due to a piece of colored plastic over the lens, but it gave him enough light to see. He lifted the lid to reveal the actual control panel and dug out a cigarette case from his back pocket.
He snapped photos from about every angle, not bothering to try and decipher the lettering. That would be for the boys in the lab. He was far more intent on getting all the shots he could.
That accomplished, he now had to decide upon Napoleon's request for taking it out. He could blow it and half the stage up, but that might draw a bit of attention and it really was coals to Newcastle. He flipped the cigarette case over and shook a metal-dissolving capsule into his hand. Once this was broken open, it would eat through all but the strongest metal. Toss this into the guts of the machine and it would slowly consume everything it came in contact with.
He knelt to try to decide where it would do the most good and nearly yelled. Alan was sitting on the floor, staring at him, the blank wide eyed stare of a man who no longer lived.
"What the hell?" Illya muttered, probing the man's neck for a pulse. Surely Napoleon would have given him a heads up if he'd killed the man. This made no sense. He felt no sorrow for the man, more for his sister. He opened the front of the console, cracked the capsule open and tucked it into a mass of wires.
He was just about to walk away from the machine when the stage lights flashed on and Illya was blinded painfully.
Adelaide came walking in from the wings and Illya smiled at her momentarily until he saw the pistol in her hand.
"Adelaide?" He took a step from the machine. "Is there a problem?"
"There is always a problem when I have UNCLE agents sniffing around my hole." She gestured him aside. Her accent had disappeared and Illya shook his head.
"When am I going to learn that the female is always the most deadly of the species?"
"You talk a big story, Kuryakin, but you're as much of a pig as they are. Oh, poor sweet Addie, too stupid to know that having her brother beat on her is a bad thing, " she scoffed. "God, you make me sick. Move away from my machine, please."
"Do you think Alan had to brains to build that? He was lucky to have any brains left when he came back from the war. It was started as a noble project, I'll have you know. It was built to give Alan some peace. I thought if I could just siphon some of the anger out of his head, he'd be so happy. Still, all that anger needed some place to go. Dispersing it out into the crowd at first seemed innocent enough, there were enough folks to suck it up and not cause much more than a bit of a rumble. Until Alan got into one of his funks, then we had a near riot on our hands." She walked up to Illya. "That was when I realized I had a marketable commodity on my hands with both the machine and Alan."
"But he's dead."
"He became a liability... I knew if he was smart enough to kill you, I had to take him out of the picture before I became his next target."
"Why not? He was nothing to me."
"He was your brother."
"Not even..." She raised the gun and pointed it to Illya's temple. "I am going to have far more regrets shooting you. You're so pretty and I would have loved to have taken you through your paces in bed. "
"I'm a man, not a race horse."
"In a minute, you won't be anything but a memory."
"Oh I might have something to say about that." Napoleon's gun coughed twice. "I hate breaking in new partners."
"And this old partner thanks you for that." Illya dropped his hands. "You keep popping up out of nowhere; what are you doing here?"
"Besides saving your fat from the fire, I just came to locate you and report on what I'd found. " He gestured to the woman. "Besides her..."
"Is she dead?"
"Just sleeping, but she's going to be hating life when she wakes up. I made a few inquiries. She's wanted by Interpol, the CIA and a few others that will be wanting to chat with her. Once we are through with her, of course."
"I dated Angelique, remember?" He tapped the side of his nose. "I have a nose for this sort of thing."
"Nemo me impunec la assit." Illya murmured, kneeling by Adelaide.
"No one attacks me with impunity?" Napoleon translated.
"Scotland's motto. She should have taken it more to heart. I still can't believe I fell for her little girl lost act."
"That's okay." Napoleon draped his arm around his partner's shoulders. "Your secret is safe with me."
"Somehow, I'm not reassured." A crackling from the machine drew their attention. "I think we need to exit stage left now." Illya pointed off stage. "There are going to be far too many questions to answer tomorrow."
He started to walk off, but stopped at his partner's throat clearing and turned back.
"A little help here?" Napoleon looked down at the drugged Adelaide and back up at Illya.
"What? You're the one who is always telling me that you're an expert at picking up girls. Well, pick her up."
"And where are you going?"
"I'm going to go report in and then try to find Damascus and Jacques and break the bad news to them that they are out of a job."
"The manager of their band is dead and I think that is going to qualify for at least a couple of rounds of drinks. We may even discuss mountain climbing."
"I'll explain it to you later tonight...at our base camp." And Illya winked and was gone.