One thing that could be said about Las Vegas was that it was hot in the summer. Temperatures often soared up into the 110 degree range.
Chao Maxell wiped his brow as he walked from the air conditioned hallway out into the parking garage structure of his casino. The two attendants, lounging in the shade, abruptly jumped to their feet, all attention.
And why not? With a snap of his fingers, they would be gone, history.
"My car." It was not a request, but a demand.
"Yes, sir," the taller of the pair stammered and dashed for the down ramp of the structure. The remaining attendant looked at the concrete for a long moment before raising his head and smiling hesitantly at Maxell.
"So, has it been hot enough for you?"
"Don't bother." Chao fastened one of his icy looks at the man. He had no time or desire for small talk, especially with one of his lesser minions. The attendant fell silent, startled by his boss's vehemence and returned to his study of the ground.
Maxell stared off into the distance and darted a look at his watch. His colleagues were not patient men and he was border-line late. It didn't really matter though. They'd wait. They always waited.
The sound of a familiar motor drew his attention back to the present and he watched as his BMW appeared, climbing up the ramp with ease. The attendant brought it to a careful stop before him and hurriedly climbed out.
Without a glance, Maxell rounded the car and assumed the driver's space. With a squeal of the tires that he would have shot anyone else for, he headed the vehicle out onto Tropicana Blvd., cutting off a delivery truck and nearly careening into a pair of tourists. Maxell ignored the shouts and angry threats. They couldn't touch him even if they wanted to. No one could.
As he turned the corner on a red, he spared a look over at his casino. Against the hot afternoon sun, the Valhalla stood strong and tall, a beacon to money-losing tourists and easy touches. Life was good to Chao Maxell and he fully intended to keep it that way.
The phone on Napoleon Solo's desk rang and he looked up, startled by the sound. The blotter before him was covered with paper, but his mind wasn't there. Somehow, he couldn't quite get Mindy out of his mind... or was her name Mandy? Things got a little blurry after three a.m.
The phone jangled again and Napoleon snapped it up, lest it get a third chance to tear the top of his head off.
"Solo here," he replied much more briskly than he felt. He raised a hand to smooth his already neat hair into place and left the hand there, just in case his brain tried to escape.
"Mr. Solo, would you and Mr. Kuryakin care to come up to Mr. Waverly's office?" asked the efficient voice of Waverly's secretary. Napoleon's lip curled involuntarily at the request.
"I suppose no is out of the question."
"You got it, mister."
"Thank you, Miss Marshall. Oh... do you have the faintest idea where Mr. Kuryakin is?"
There was a slight hesitation before a less sure Miss Marshall admitted, "No... We were hoping you did."
"Okay, I'll find him." Napoleon cradled the phone and rubbed a temple. Illya wasn't that small, it shouldn't be that hard to find him.
It shouldn't have been, but it was. Napoleon was certain that there wasn't a corner in U.N.C.L.E. HQ he hadn't checked when he ducked into the dispensary for some aspirin. He stopped dead at the sight of Illya stretched out on a table before him.
"Of all the places to be!" Napoleon muttered beneath his breath. "Just exactly what do you think you're doing?" Solo asked, walking up to him and crossing his arms.
Illya looked up from his spot, then glanced down at the needle that was siphoning the required pint of blood from his arm.
"Is this a trick question? What does it look like I'm doing?"
Napoleon took in the scene and mumbled, "Donating blood?"
Illya sighed, dropped his head back down to the flat pillow, and resumed the steady squeezing of the stick he held.
"Ah, Mr. Solo," interrupted a white-clad woman as she approached, "have you also come to donate? It should be just about time for you."
"Actually, I was trying to find Mr. Kuryakin. Mr. Waverly wants to see us a half an hour ago."
"He's just about finished," the nurse assured, bending down to check the filling plastic bag and giving Solo more than ample time to admire her shapely legs.
"Well, I'll just wait over here then," Solo said, walking over to her desk and sitting down beside it in an uncomfortable chair. He glanced up as she joined him, sliding behind the desk with an efficient, no-nonsense movement. "By the way, do you think you might have a couple of aspirin among all these medieval torture devices?"
She smiled at his comment without offering any protest. Obviously, she'd gotten use to the dim view most active agents had of medicine and first aid. Solo had first thought it was only he who hated anything to do with hospitals, doctors and the like, but he soon found many confederates who shared his feelings.
"Let's see, I should have some, right beside the bottle of rat poison," she said, distractedly. She rummaged through a drawer and came up with a small brown and white packet. "Here you go. Cyanide capsules, just right for what ails you." She was cut off by the chiming of a bell and she once again rose and checked the plasma bag. "Ok, Mr. Kuryakin, stop squeezing and relax your arm."
Obediently, Illya let his arm go limp and watched as the nurse clipped off the bag and deftly removed the needle from his arm, immediately clamping a wad of gauze over the puncture mark and holding the arm up in the air.
"You know the procedure, lots of liquids, no exercise, no alcohol, and a good meal. And keep your arm elevated for a couple more minutes."
Illya sat up, arm still in the air. "I always feel like I'm standing on a bus. "What is going on?"
"Don't know," Solo responded after he'd downed his aspirin.
"Have you gotten your expense voucher in yet?"
"No, but I don't think he'd require you for that." Solo watched his partner as the nurse removed the old gauze and replaced it with a second piece and taped it into place. "Are you ready?"
"After you." Illya gestured him onward as he scooped up his coat and a handful of cookies. "See you in six weeks, if not before" he said over his shoulder to the woman, but she didn't hear, absorbed in her work.
"Couldn't be anything terribly important or he'd have the Light Brigade after us. Bad head from last night?"
"It would be better if people didn't keep reminding me about it."
Illya took his cue and they made the rest of the trip in relative silence, pausing before Waverly's door, so that Solo could make a quick inspection of his spotless, already immaculate suit. Illya rolled his eyes before pushing through the door.
Waverly was busy on the phone, but he waved towards the round table and both men took their usual seats. Before them, in the center of each blotter, was a file folder marked 'Confidential'. Solo picked his up, easily popping open the sealing wax that held the cover in place, and flipped it open. A black and white photograph of a man in his early forties stared back at him.
Waverly replaced the phone receiver and spoke up, "Chao Maxell, one of THRUSH's best-kept secrets. We got that photograph from his passport last year."
"Maxell?" Illya still hadn't opened his folder. "That name is familiar to me. Didn't he just open a casino in Las Vegas?"
"Exactly, Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly managed not to look impressed at the younger man's knowledge. Napoleon just frowned and wondered if there was anyone Illya didn't know something about.
"I thought that Big Crime was out of the gambling business or is that just a story?" Solo recaptured his boss's attention.
"Back in the 1930's, organized crime ran most of the gambling business in Nevada, but that has been brought under control today."
"Except in cases like Maxell," Illya interrupted. "There's one thing I don't understand, sir. I thought the Nevada Gaming Commission kept a pretty tight rein on things."
"Agreed, Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly depressed a button and a projector screen fell obediently into place. Another button and the room's lights dimmed and the blankness of the screen was filled with a chart. Organization of Gaming Control Agencies and Staff highlighted the chart and Illya leaned forward, studying the structure carefully.
"With all those officials, I'm not surprised that Maxell slipped through their fingers," Napoleon muttered.
"Just the opposite, Napoleon," Illya corrected. "This structure keeps most of the riff-raff out. They do a thorough background search of the person applying for the gaming license, his financial condition, where he got his money, who he knows. It's incredible what the prospective gaming mogul has to go through just to get a restricted license."
"Restricted, Illya?" Solo had given up and decided to milk the Russian for information.
"If I understand it correctly, there are four types of licenses. Restricted means you can have 15 or less slot machines. Nonrestricted is just that, you can have as many and as varied gambling as you want. There's a manufacturers. Distributors license and lastly there's one just for slot machines that are leased or rented."
"You surprise me, Mr. Kuryakin. I was certain that Mr. Solo would be the expert in this field," Waverly said, retrieving his pipe from his desk.
Illya took the rare praise humbly, dropping his gaze to his hands. "Actually, my knowledge is rather limited to just the bases of operation. I know nothing about the actual gaming aspects. I couldn't tell you the difference between craps and roulette."
And he was honest about it, Napoleon gave Illya that. "So what do you want us to do, sir. Go in and bring Maxell out?"
"Under no circumstances, Mr. Solo. We are merely going to point the finger at Mr. Maxell. The Gaming Commission will do the rest."
"If that's the case, why don't we just call them and tell them that THRUSH is running a casino." Napoleon suggested, wincing slightly as his head pounded harder.
"It's not that easy, I'm afraid. He's been granted a license, which means there's nothing criminal in his background or fortune that can be detected, even under an investigation. While our reputation is substantial, it's not that powerful. We have to go in and prove that the casino is making illegal profits, either through skimming or rigging operations. THRUSH is suddenly recording a steady and increased flow of cash from their Western quarter. We have to believe it's coming through the casino."
What had sounded like a piece of cake was gradually becoming more and more impossible to chew. "And if we can't?"
"Then I'm afraid there's nothing we can do about it. It's all up to you two gentlemen." Waverly paused to light his pipe. "Reservations have been made for you on a flight out this evening, Mr. Kuryakin. Mr. Solo, you will follow tomorrow at the same time. We have secured a position for you at the Baccarat tables. Mr. Kuryakin, you will be back in the accounting office. If any skimming is going on, it'll be happening there. That is all, gentlemen. Good luck and be careful. People who cross Maxell have a way of disappearing."
"Yes, sir," Solo acknowledged, rising and tucking his folder beneath his arm. "We'll be careful."
Napoleon Solo stepped off the plane and immediately winced back from the Nevada sun. He'd expected it to be hot, but nothing like this. He repressed an urge to loosen his tie and remove his jacket, and instead, walked into the main terminal of the Las Vegas's McCarran airport.
It had been a couple of years since he'd been here, but the place really hadn't changed much, except to get bigger and more brazen. Of course, considering the number of people that buffeted him on all sides, eager to spend their money, that wasn't unreasonable.
Napoleon stopped to get his bearings, scanning for a 'baggage area' sign. He finally found one partially obstructed by a metal palm tree and assumed a steady, unhurried pace. If this airport was like any other, it would be several minutes before his luggage would be delivered.
A half an hour later, Solo swung his bags past the claim check clerk, doing a slow burn inside as he did. He hated to waste time, especially in an airport. Napoleon followed the signs to the front of the building and stepped back out into the sun. Immediately, he began to wonder about his Russian partner. Illya didn't like the heat, blaming it on a couple of bad sunstrokes he'd suffered back in Survival School. How was the Russian managing in this?
A horn honked and Solo looked up, reflexively. A long silver limo, with 'The Valhalla' stenciled on the side in Nordic fashion, pulled in front of him. The driver had barely gotten the car to a stop, when he climbed out.
"Napoleon Solo?" he asked, ignoring the glares from other limo and taxi drivers.
"I'm afraid so," Napoleon answered, a little dubious of climbing into a vehicle with this man.
"Hop in. Mr. Maxell is waiting to meet you and he doesn't wait well, if you know what I mean."
Napoleon detected something akin to fear in the man's voice and quickly climbed in, depositing his suitcase on the car seat beside him.
"Let me guess, the baggage area, right." The driver glanced over his shoulder and pulled the car smoothly out into the traffic.
"I was beginning to fear the worst," Napoleon said, settling himself more comfortably against the seat and welcoming the blast from the air conditioning.
"We hold the record for the worst baggage handling. It's something of a tradition here now." He pulled to a stop at a red light and reached over the seat. "I'm Brian, by the way. Welcome to Vegas."
Napoleon took the hand in a firm handshake and smiled. "I'm pleased to meet you, Brian, but I have to confess being a little taken away by all of this."
"Beats the hell out of the Riviera, don't it?"
"In many ways," Napoleon murmured, looking out the smoked windows at the distant array of skyscrapers, their metallic finish blinding in the afternoon sun. "But I was trained there and it will always hold a special place in my heart."
"I think you'll enjoy working at the Valhalla. It's not a bad place, and let's face it, baccarat is a gentleman's sport. You'll like the room." A chirping phone interrupted him and he lifted the receiver. "Brian here. Yes, sir, Mr. Maxell, just picked him up, another victim of the baggage claim area. We should be there in another five minutes. Yes, sir, my head on a lance, sir, I understand." Smiling, Brian hung up the phone and looked back at Solo. "Our boss is anxious and he's offering to do me grave bodily harm unless I make it there pronto. You might want to buckle up your seat belt."
Slightly shaken by a ride that was nothing short of a wild amusement park, Napoleon walked into the main entrance to the Valhalla casino. He'd read a little about the casino while still on the plane, but wasn't exactly ready for the sight that greeted him.
The Valhalla, according to Norse mythology, was a great hall for the dead heroes. Valkyries, or battle maidens, would go out daily to bring fallen heroes back to the hall for their just reward. It was said that the hall had 540 doors, each door wide enough to accommodate 800 men side-by-side. The walls were highly polished gold, decorated with armor and coats of mail. The roof was made of shields and huge spears hung from the ceiling.
The casino certainly didn't have 540 doors, but cleverly designed mirrors made the interior seem much larger than it was. Nordic shields, broadswords, lances, along with a variety of other weapons decorated the walls, placed well above the reach of a normal man. Napoleon certainly had never seen anything quite like this before.
"Mr. Solo?" asked a soft, almost timid voice behind him. When he turned, Napoleon's face immediately broke into a smile. The woman before him was dressed in practically nothing besides a chain-mail bikini.
"Yes, I'm Napoleon Solo." He held out a hand, but it was ignored.
"Mr. Maxell...he's waiting for you, sir." The woman seemed to have trouble concentrating and she started away before Napoleon could response further. Solo followed her, keeping close behind lest he lose her in the crowd of people that choked the gambling floor.
They walked past by a small room recessed in the wall, its entrance block by a velvet rope. Beyond that, Solo could see a room was done in heavy crimson-and-wine velvet and in the center sat a similarly-trimmed baccarat table.
Home, sweet home, Napoleon thought to himself. He was a little nervous about running a baccarat table. Certainly, he'd played the game enough to know the general rules, how it operated, the history behind it, but he'd never been the man in charge before. He only hoped his luck held on the other side of the table.
They came to a bank of elevators and the woman pulled out a key from some hidden pocket of her costume. She moved to one of the elevators on the end and inserted the key into a small, nearly invisible keyhole. The doors opened and they stepped inside.
Even the elevators continued the Nordic theme of the hotel, its brass walls etched with stories from Bragi, Odin and others. Napoleon studied them, which seemed more polite than studying his guide. All the while, he wondered where his partner was. Safe, he hoped. The elevator stopped on the 25th floor and he stepped out, looking back at the woman as he did.
"Mr. Maxell's office is at the end of the hall," she murmured and the elevator's doors slid softly shut.
Huge oak double doors swung open upon Napoleon Solo's approach and his hands did a rapid check of his suit even as he walked. He paused on the threshold, looking beyond it to the highly-lavish office.
"You're late," was Maxell's first comment and he watched Napoleon's head turn in his direction. The man he saw was of average height and build, his clothes were well-cut and his manner clean.
Yes, I am, but it couldn't be helped." Maxell watched as his new employee gave him the once over before offering his hand. "Napoleon Solo. I was hired as..."
"I know what you were hired for. I hired you." Maxell didn't move from his desk, his eyes studying the man, just as they had since Napoleon stepped onto his private elevator. There was something about this man, something he didn't like. It had been the same with that blond accountant he'd met the day previously. Still, he hadn't let his suspicions surface then, he wasn't about to now. "I have no intention of playing games with you, Mr. Solo. You work for me, not I for you. Do we understand one another?"
"Yes, sir." The tone was complacent, but the hazel eyes were anything but. Maxell had gotten this man's dander up, he could tell and that was just the way he liked it. He leaned over and depressed a button on his phone.
"You can have him now," Maxell said drily, then released the button. "Personnel will orient you with the casino and the baccarat room." He leaned back in the leather chair and regarded Solo with a hard eye. "Keep your nose in line and don't get in my way and we'll do just fine."
The oak doors opened again, this time to emit a slender, dark-haired man.
"Take him away, Wayne, and make him a Valhalla employee."
"Gotcha, Mr. M. One righteous, loyal, hard-working employee coming up. This way, flunkie."
Obediently, Solo followed the man from the room and Maxell waited until the doors had closed before laughing. Whoever this clown was or thought he was, he was about to have his head realigned.
The rest of the day was a blur for Solo and it wasn't until he had gotten checked into his hotel room at the nearby Tropicana Hotel/casino and was safely locked behind the door that he even attempted to catch his breath. He'd known that casinos were little worlds unto themselves, but he hadn't been quite ready for what he'd seen.
A slight noise from within his room alerted him and Napoleon straightened and reflexively reached inside his jacket for his P-38. Of course, the gun wasn't there, it was in his suitcase, which already stood propped up against the edge of the bed, deposited there by a well-meaning bell man.
Napoleon loosened his tie and flexed his shoulder muscles, preparing to do battle. He slid against the wall until he reached the corner and took a deep breath. Physically and mentally ready, he stepped around the corner, fists raised.
Illya Kuryakin waggled his fingers at him from his position on the bed.
"Hello, Napoleon, how was your first day at work?"
Solo let his breath out and shook his head. "What are you trying to do to me, Illya? Scare me out of ten year's growth?"
"A little late for that." Illya sat up and rolled his shoulders, grimacing just a little as he did. "I don't think I'm suited for being an accountant. My back is killing me."
"And my feet." Napoleon sunk down onto a corner of the bed and then flopped back. "Did you find anything out?"
"That's the worst part," Illya admitted as he stood and went to look out the window at the Valhalla. "I went through the books, the lock boxes, everything. There was nothing out of order. Unless, Mr. Maxell has a new angle on the scamming business...I don't know."
Napoleon swore beneath his breath. "Waverly was right. Maxell is a well-kept secret. There has to be something to bring him down with, Illya."
"Well, besides one of us being killed and him arrested for the murder, I can't think of what." Illya lifted his arm to look at his watch. "I think I'll go get some shut eye before going back tonight."
"You know what they say about all work and no play," Solo admonished.
"Yes, and Jack won't die a rich man either." Illya stood and walked towards the door. "I'm in room 2005, if you need me."
"Okay, thanks." Napoleon didn't move from his stretched-out position. After what he'd done through that day, he earned a little rest.
"It is said that back in Etruscan Rome, a golden-haired virgin would cast a novem dare or nine-sided dice at the feet of the Nine Gods. If her roll was an 8 or 9, she was crowned a priestess. If she threw a 6 or 7, she was led off to the tumbles of enchantment at the first-breeding grounds. However, if her throw was a five or less, she walked into the sea until her death." Napoleon Solo shuffled a deck of cards effortlessly, studying the faces that sat at his baccarat table. Since they were all new players, he felt as though he should give them the whole nine yards.
"However, the game we now know as baccarat was invented by a gambler called Felix Falguiere. Originally, the house banked all play, but a few years later, he developed chemin de fer, which allows the bank to travel around the table. Since that time, few changes have been made to the game, although every house has slightly different rules.
"We play baccarat with eight decks, and after they have been thoroughly shuffled, they are placed into the shoe. The object of the game is to see who comes the closest to the number nine. Ten and face cards or any total equaling ten or more doesn't count." From the corner of his eye, Solo noticed that the red light from the surveillance camera was on. Obviously, no one's privacy was sacred, even at the baccarat table.
"Players may act as the bank or against the banker at anytime. Two cards are dealt from the shoe to the player having the largest wager against the bank and two to the banker. The player acts first. If the banker makes a pass and wins, he retains the bank. If not, then the shoe moves to the person on the right. Minimum bid on a pass is $20, maximum is $1000. Shall we play?"
And so it went all night. By the end of the shift, Napoleon felt as if he's been dragged through a refresher course at Survival School. His throat hurt from talking, his face ached from smiling and his feet were threatening to split thought the hand-tooled leather of his shoes. Yet, it had been a good night too. His luck had held and the house had done well. He felt slightly guilty taking people's money, but could well remember what it was like on the other side of the table.
A tuxedoed man entered the room and walked up to Solo's side.
"You're a free man, Solo." It was music to Napoleon's ears, yet he glanced at his watch.
"You're half an hour early."
"Yeah, I know. Mr. Maxell wants to see you. He's in Thor's lounge, towards the back. Good luck." There was an encouraging slap to his shoulder and Napoleon nodded. Absently-mindedly, he weaved his way through the crowded gambling floor, dodging between people and slot machines. There was no reason for Maxell to want him, unless it was to criticize something.
There was a funny feeling that he was being watched and Napoleon looked up to find himself practically nose-to- nose with his partner.
"Hello, Napoleon," Illya said causally, depositing his empty highball glass onto the corner of a vacant 21 table. "Aren't you off a little early?"
Napoleon didn't even wonder how Illya managed to find him in the casino. It was as though the man had built in radar when it came to Solo.
"Have to go and see the Big Man himself. What about you?"
"Shift doesn't start until midnight, so I thought I'd come down and mouse around."
"Good idea. Find anything?"
"Not a thing." Illya glanced around and sighed. "It's starting to bother me a little. This much cash, this much temptation and I find everyone here totally loyal to Maxell. And I don't know why - the man certainly doesn't deserve it."
"Perhaps it's the fact that the man could completely destroy them that makes the difference." Napoleon glanced at his watch. "Speaking of which, if I don't get moving, I may be his next target." He slapped Kuryakin on the shoulder and started away. "Happy accounting," he said over his shoulder and Illya smirked.
"Happy trembling," he shot back.
Chao Maxell sipped delicately at his vodka and tonic, then fished the lime out with a practiced move. He actually preferred something much stronger than his own watered-down bar drinks, but refused to imbibe while still in the casino. His employees would love the chance to catch their boss with his guard down. Maxell had too many enemies for that to ever happen. There was always someone anxious to give an obliging corpse a ride out into the desert - he wasn't going to be one of those bodies.
No, not before he dealt with the matter at hand. He didn't like one of his new hires - what was the man's name? He thought for a long moment. Solo, yes, that was it. He had watched Solo this evening and twice noticed the man look directly into the camera, as if taunting him. Worse than that, the man was incredibly lucky and the baccarat players had wandered away, one by one, obviously looking for another game in which they might have a chance.
Maxell chuckled to himself as he re-ran the last thought in his mind. Here he was, about to dress down an employee for making too much money. Still, if enough gamblers lost money at the baccarat table, they might stay away, choosing another game with less of a profit margin. Or worse, they might complain to the Gaming Commission and that was something Chao wanted to stay as far from as possible. It was bad enough that the agents could show up whenever they wanted, could go wherever in his operation that they wanted. Made it tough for an honest crook to make a living.
Maxell grinned again, glanced at his watch, and finished off his drink. At a soft cough, he looked up at the doorway. Solo stood there, still in his tuxedo and looking very calm.
"I was watching you tonight, Solo," Maxell began without preamble. "You're good with the customers." Maxell refrained from calling them 'marks'. "You handle the cards well, too well. You barely lost tonight. Was that chance or did you manage to infiltrate our cards with marked decks?"
He'd caught Solo unaware, that was obvious, but the man fielded the question calmly, neither sputtering denials nor acting insulted.
"I'm lucky, sir, I always have been on either side of the table. If you'd prefer me to step down, I will."
Now Maxell was caught off-guard. He wasn't expecting that response. This was a whole new ball of wax. He stood and walked over to Solo, studying the man thoroughly up and down.
"What's your game, Solo?"
"Sir?" Solo's face was the picture of innocence. "I don't understand."
Maxell shook his head and gestured towards the door. "Get out of here, Solo. Looking at you depresses me. I'll let you know whether or not I'm going to keep you on the staff." One way or the other, he was going to break this joker, and he knew just how to do it. A quick call home would be just the thing. He turned on his heel and walked from the room, a vicious smirk on his lips.
Napoleon waited for a long moment, then released the breath he'd been unconsciously holding.
"You're a brave man, Solo. Stupid, but brave." The voice came from behind the bar and Napoleon looked over his shoulder, grinning as he recognized his previous escort.
"Why do you say that, Wayne?" Solo walked over to him and hoisted himself up onto a stool at the near-empty bar.
"Valhalla rule No. 1: Never put Mr. M on the defensive. Last time, I saw him grin like that, an employee decided to try and fly out a 20th story window. Guy'd been shooting up, so it was considered just a coincidence." A sigh. "He's dangerous."
"I can believe that." Napoleon reached for a bowl of cocktail mix, slowly chewing on a few pieces as he thought.
"You want a drink to wash that stuff down with?" Wayne asked, polishing a glass.
"You make a good martini?"
"I make a good everything. That's why I'm here."
Solo chuckled as he watched the man's hands work deftly, seemingly without direction. "Why are you here, Wayne? It couldn't be the pay and Mr. Maxell doesn't exactly make this a working picnic."
"People, I guess. I really like the staff here. Knew a couple of them from when the Brown Derby closed on the Strip. It's good to be able to work with friends and the Valhalla is certainly not the worst place in Vegas to work. You should hear some of the horror stories coming out of Circus, Circus." He dropped a couple of olives in a glass and poured the liquid from the shaker into it. Then he passed it over to Solo and grinned. "Is that a great martini or what?"
Napoleon had to agree, it was good, very good. Another paradox. The man could obviously work anywhere, but he was hidden in one of the casinos smaller bars. Maxell didn't make sense and suddenly Napoleon wanted very much to talk to his partner.
"Excuse me, Wayne, but how do I get to the accounting offices from here."
"They're closed this time of night. Only open during the day."
"There's somebody there I need to see."
"Best you're gonna do is get a message to him...her... whatever. That place is like a fortress." Obviously, the determination in Solo's face argued with him and he nodded. "Okay, you go down two doors and you'll see this Viking chick with really big gazoombahs..."
After Wayne's rather ribald, but accurate directions, Napoleon was surprised he managed to find the place at all, but he did. And had to acknowledge that Wayne had been right. The place was locked up tighter than U.N.C.L.E. HQ on intruder alert.
Still, he flirted with a security guard until he talked her into going inside with a message. Ten minutes later, she returned, a crumpled paper in her hand.
I break at 3', Solo managed to decipher his partner's handwriting. A quick glance at his watch told him he still had nearly two hours to wait. Sighing, Napoleon sat down to wait in the now-deserted hallway.
There was a slight noise behind him and he started to turn, only to feel the cold metal of a gun muzzle pressed beneath one ear.
"Hello, Mr. U.N.C.L.E.," came a soft, chilling voice. "Shall we dance?"
Napoleon Solo took a deep breath and tried to think, something not necessarily easy when your arms were tied behind your back and your eyes were blindfolded. He was sure he was still somewhere inside the Valhalla, but that was of little comfort. As big as the place was, an entire army division could have been hidden in it. He shifted in the straight back chair he was bound to and listened to the ramblings of his captor.
"So, what shall I do with you, Mr. Solo?" Napoleon could hear Maxell's voice just to one side of him. "I trust you aren't down here alone, so I can't just sail you over the edge of the building and a ride out into the desert wouldn't work either. What put you onto us? What mistake did they make?"
"It's rather egotistical of you to think it was someone else's mistake and not your own." Napoleon's reward for the remark was a backhand across his face that rocked his chair.
"I'm not going to play with you, Solo. I told you that when we met and I plan to stick to it. Who is your partner? How much does he know?" At Solo's silence, Maxell continued. "You know, I could just leave you here. No one would even know you were gone."
"Except for that pesky partner of mine. He's probably called home and gotten a rescue party together already and they are ready to storm the place."
"I somehow doubt that he even knows anything is amiss. He probably doesn't even know you're gone." Maxell's tone was confident.
Oh yes, he does, Solo thought to himself as he strained against his bonds. He'd dropped Illya's note, and providing some well-meaning janitor hadn't picked it up, Illya would know something was very much wrong. Of course, executing any sort of a rescue was out of the question.
"Well, Mr. Solo, since you're so uncooperative, I think I'll let you sit here for awhile and think about your predicament. In the meantime, I think I'll go talk to Personnel about finding a new baccarat dealer."
There was a rapid click of heels against a tile floor and the slamming of a door and Maxell was gone. Still, Solo sat unmoving for a long moment, listening for any sign, any hint that he might not be alone. Convinced that his host had truly departed, Napoleon yanked at his hands, muscles protesting, flesh rubbed raw. Obviously, Maxell knew as much about tying knots as he did about running a casino.
Still that didn't keep him from trying. He pulled and twisted until sweat ran down his face and his breath came in short gasps. He rocked the chair, hoping to make it give way. He fought until he had nothing left to fight with, and exhausted, he feel into an uneasy slumber, hoping that perhaps he could find the escape in sleep that had eluded his wakeful attempts.
A noise, a soft click, brought him awake and he frowned against the pain that came with it.
"Hey, man, didn't I tell you that you were playing with fire?" Napoleon couldn't place the voice, although it was familiar. The blindfold was removed and Solo's blinked in the light and then at Wayne's grinning face.
"How did you find me?"
"Trade secret," Wayne muttered as he worked the ropes loose. "Damn, these things are tight. Would have made it a lot easier if you'd just sat still and waited for me."
"Sorry, I wasn't really expecting you." The ropes fell away and Napoleon eased his arms into a new position for the first time in what seemed like hours. Wayne gathered up the rope, looping it into a coil.
"Might need this. If you think you can travel, I would suggest it. Mr. M is going to be back sooner or later and I'd prefer to not be here."
Napoleon stood, moving slowly until the protesting muscles loosened. "Wayne, how did you find me?"
"Easy. Maxell has cameras all over the place. I went down to security and scanned all the rooms until I found you. Since he tapes everything, I just rewound the tape and put it in the play mode. He's watching re-runs right now. With any luck, he can't tell."
"I'm not feeling terribly lucky at the moment. Can we leave?"
"What about your partner. I'll bet he's the guy in the accounting department you were trying to get hold of."
Solo looked over at the man with a dumbfounded expression on his face, finally muttering, "Is there anything going on in this place that you don't know about?"
Wayne grinned again and then reached into a jacket pocket, pulling out a thin billfold. He flipped it open and held it up for Solo to see the ID badge. "I'm with the Nevada Gaming Commission. We've had our eye on Mr. Maxell for quite some time. Everyone has something in their past that rears its ugly head from time to time. Everyone except Chao Maxell. He was perfect, too perfect. We all want to believe in the total goodness of a man, but he's not the man. You know what I mean?"
"Absolutely," answered a third voice. Wayne spun around, fist raised at the blond man, But Napoleon caught his arms.
"It's okay, Wayne, this is my partner, a little late, as usual. Illya, this is Wayne, a fellow agent."
Illya shook the man's hand, studying him intently for a moment, then shook his head. "Sorry, I thought I knew all the Nevada agents or are you out of L.A.?"
Now it was Wayne's turn to look confused and Napoleon smiled as he tested out his legs.
"You'll have to take our word for this, Wayne. Illya and I are agents from U.N.C.L.E.."
"THE U.N.C.L.E., United Network, etc...?" Wayne asked. "What are you doing here?"
"Same as you. There was a lot of money coming out of this area and going directly into THRUSH's bank account. We were looking for a connection with them and Maxell." Solo turned from him to Illya. "Would you mind telling me how you found me? How you keep finding me?"
"No problem, especially after I planted a bug in your tuxedo." Illya held up a tiny receiver. "Would have been here sooner, but it doesn't pinpoint really well. I'll have to talk to the labs about that."
"I'm afraid that you won't have the chance, Mr. Kuryakin." The trio turned to see Chao Maxell standing in the doorway, a .45 aimed in their direction. "I should have known you were Solo's partner, but no matter." The gun moved in Wayne's direction as he stepped inside the door. "You are the surprise, Wayne. I made the mistake of trusting you, it won't happen again."
"Trusting or just trusting me?" Wayne inched slowly away from the men from U.N.C.L.E., taking Maxell's attention with him. "You know, you made two mistakes really. If you'd left Solo alone, I'd still be in the dark. By grabbing Solo, you've given the Commission all it needs to shut this place down."
"I don't think so. You see, you are about to become one of those nameless, faceless corpses that so frequent the Vegas desert."
"And what makes you so sure I haven't already made a report?"
"Solo tried that one too. He lied."
"Did he? His partner's here. What makes you so certain the rest aren't just outside?"
Maxell frowned, then darted a glance toward the hallway.
"Grab him, Illya," Solo yelled and Illya obligingly launched himself in Maxell's direction. The man jumped, aimed the gun at the Russian just as Wayne charged. He kicked the weapon from Maxell's hand, sending the weapon across the room in a mad spin.
Napoleon grabbed the weapon and held it up, resolutely aimed at the dark-haired Maxell. Illya grappled with an arm, finally encircling the man's shoulders from behind and then locking his own hands behind Maxell's head.
"Now, you move and I dislocate both your shoulders. The next move is up to you."
"It's over, Maxell." Napoleon smiled at the man, then at his partners. "Time to pay the piper."
Napoleon Solo leaned back in his seat and secretly wished he could undo his belt. Instead, he focused his attention on the opulent decor of Ceasar's Bacchanlia Room. A Roman style feast in 12 courses, Napoleon was more impressed with the help than the food, especially the scantily-clad masseuses that wandered about the room, giving neck rubs to any man who permitted them. His partner had not, to the obvious disappointment of the masseuse.
Instead, Kuryakin concentrated on the food and his discussion with Wayne about the Lakers chance of getting into the play-offs this year.
Plates were cleared, interrupting the conversation and Napoleon took the moment to raise his wine glass to Wayne. "My compliments to your agency. This has been quite a thank you."
Wayne lifted his glass in return. "It was worth it to see Maxell's place shut down and that slime put behind bars. I know he'll be out in a year, but I'll have a new face and identity long before that. You won't even know me the next time we met."
"I find that hard to believe," Napoleon said, sipping his wine.
"I find this hard to believe," Illya countered as a heaping bowl of chocolate-covered fruits was placed before them. "Maybe the Valhalla wasn't Viking heaven, but this is certainly not Kuryakin hell."
"Wait until you see the last course." Wayne paused for effect. "Rolaids ala brochette." At the dumbfounded looks, he laughed. "Just kidding."