Clean up on Aisle One

by Charlie Kirby

Some folks around headquarters call me the One-Stop Shop, but don't get the idea that I run the kind of place where you come if you need to pick up a quart of milk or a loaf of bread, at least not milk or bread in the conventional sense of the word. My quart of milk can eat through three inches of steel and my loaf of bread can send an enemy fortress sky high. You see I run the supply counter that keeps UNCLE's Section Two and Three agents supplied with all the nifty toys that let them triumph over the bad guys.

This is not a job that anyone really sets out to have. When you join UNCLE, it's to save the world, make a difference. It isn't until about two weeks into Survival School that you start to realize that not everyone is cut out to be an agent. Mentally I was all go, but my body just wasn't quite up to the task. When Cutter called me into his office with the news that I was being sent home, I thought it was over. My career was finished before I started... or so it seemed to me.

The next day, a helicopter took me out and I looked down at my former classmates, crawling through a mind field with live ammo going off all around them and I discovered I was okay with it. As much as I wanted to save the world, I wasn't quite ready to die for it, but UNCLE wasn't as easy to get rid of as I thought. As soon as I landed, there were some nice gentlemen to escort me into headquarters and to the employment office.

The thought of being a desk jockey was about as appealing as crawling over a live mine, but I was willing to do just about anything at that point. And they knew it... and placed me accordingly. I ended up a stock boy for Old Man Fergie in Section Eight.

At first, it seemed like a slap in the face, but after my ego healed, I realized what a great gig it was. Fergie, he didn't want to work any harder than he had to and he was so willing to share his vast knowledge with me. Okay, I wasn't so athletic, but I had a head for numbers and it wasn't long before Fergie was in the back, with his feet up on the desk, and I was running the show.

So, here I was, a high school graduate, no real skills, but I was an intricate part of the success or failure of our agents in the field. If I screwed up and handed someone a PEF-134 instead of a PFE-134, it might mean the difference between life and, well something that wasn't life. I mean it wouldn't kill you as much as make you want to die... no one in his right mind wants to stink of concentrated skunk juice for 24 hours. I mean, we had Kuryakin go through something like that and it wasn't pretty...

The nice part is that I get to see all my old classmates. Granted there's a counter between us, but still I am part of their lives in a very real sense. And I got to know them all from Mr. Solo all the way down to the newbie so fresh from the island that you could still smell the cordite on him. When they started allowing women agents, well, that was all right as well. I was seen as safe dating material and I never lacked for dates—just as long as I knew they might be called away at the last second.

So the pay was good, the hours were decent, benefits, holidays, all the good stuff that I wouldn't have had as an agent were handed to me on a silver platter. And when Old Man Fergie retired, it only seemed right that I take his place. Hell, I'd been doing his job for years anyway. I was careful not to make too many changes, but there were some that just cried out to be made. All agents seem to hate paperwork, so the first thing I did was eliminate the long requisition form that Fergie had adored—I swear he papered his apartment in the thing. I replaced it with a short list, mostly a check list of the top twenty items the agents requested most, plus a couple of lines for special requests.

That alone elevated me to near God- like status in their eyes. The next thing I did was allow some of the agents to pull their own stuff. Guys like Solo and Kuryakin, they knew what they wanted and they didn't need some pencil-neck geek like me getting it for them. Hell, Kuryakin knew the charges by the heft alone. They'd leave me a list of what they took, so I could keep my inventory right, and go about their business. It was a win/win.

It all happened on a Wednesday; I couldn't tell you the date, but I do remember the day because I had gotten my shopping list together the night before. I like shopping on Wednesday night because all the good coupons come out that morning and there are always some bargains. My salary is good, but every little bit helps.

I came in through the employees' entrance, got my badge, made some small talk with a couple of the secretaries and headed for my little hole in the wall. It was tucked down in the lower level of the building, just above Medical. Every once in a while, when the vent blew just right, there was this thick medicinal smell. I don't remember any from that particular morning though. It's funny because I can remember certain things so well and others just leave my head the moment I think of them.

Anyhow, the exterior door slid open and I was not really surprised that there was a handful of agents milling about. There usually were a few determined to get as fast a start to their day as was possible. They all greeted me by name and I let myself into the supply room though a locked interior door.

The heavy duty metal window grid over the desk got stuck about halfway up and I skinned a knuckle getting it realigned. I hated that stupid thing—it was always jamming...

The first few agents were pretty easy and I got my coffee going and turned on the little radio I had on my desk for some background noise. There was some paperwork to shuffle and I had three cases of blasting caps to shelve—a pretty typical Wednesday in fact.

I heard a noise and looked up to see Solo and Kuryakin coming my way. They were having an animated discussion about something or the other. I didn't really pay it any mind. Those two were always yammering about something—most likely Solo was talking about his date or trying to get Kuryakin to float him a loan until payday. Mr. Solo is a great guy and all, but he does enjoy entertaining the ladies.

They paused at the interior door and I let them in. Both agents nodded, polite enough, and headed back into the racks. I hear them arguing about some new blasting cap Section Eight had cooked up. Solo wanted to take a handful with him, and Kuryakin argued that they hadn't been tested enough yet. He's big on testing, ever since that little incident with the tracking cologne. It was supposed to make you untrackable but it was a week before any dog, male or female, would leave him, or his leg, alone.

Now, there's a funny thing about my door. It's on a hydraulic arm and it doesn't always shut really well. That's not usually a problem. Folks check in with me before coming in, but then this guy just sort of walks in and within a second alarm bells in my head are going off.

You see, I don't know this guy from Adam and I know most of the local agents. "Can I help you, sir?"

"I'm looking."

"I can see that. What are you looking for? It's usually my job to find what you need so you don't have to be bothered."

"I want to be bothered. This is special. Where are the PCF-1000's?"

"Down that row, about hip level on the right side." I purposefully sent him down the wrong aisle and I took off, trying to make it look more like an efficient brisk walk than a run.

"Illya, I swear it wasn't what it looked like."

"I'm glad because it looked like you were trying to make me angry and you know how well that usually ends up for you. Don't put your paperwork in my inbox." Kuryakin said it in a way that made the hair on my neck curl. I made a mental note to never ever put anything anywhere near his inbox.

"I didn't!" Solo sounded really exasperated.

"Hey, guys?" I said softly and both men spun, Kuryakin even reaching for his weapon. "Sorry, but there's a guy over there and I don't recognize him. Is there someone new in town?"

They exchanged looks and Solo shook his head slowly.

"Why don't you go up front and alert security to stand by and get out of here. We'll have a little talk with him."

Music to my ears. I went up front and moved quickly to my desk. The stranger was watching me and I leaned forward, pressing the security button as I did. Unless this guy could see around corners, he had no idea what I was doing. He did seem to relax when I didn't reach for the phone. "You doing all right down there?" I shouted down to him.

"Yes, I am just looking..."

"Let me know if I can help."

He turned and I dashed for the door and slipped out, locking it behind me. He wouldn't be able to escape now. Just to be sure, I propped myself up against it and slid to the ground, bracing myself with my feet.

I could hear sounds from inside, then shouting and the sound of gunfire. Oh my God, I thought, they are killing each other.

I scrambled to my feet just as the Section Three boys and a few Sections Twos came thundering in the hall door.

"What's going on?"

"Infiltrated. Solo and Kuryakin are in there with him."

"Unlock the door!" Nat and I had been classmates and friends forever, but there was no sign of friendship in his eyes, just cold hard business.

I was fumbling for my keys when there was a blur and Solo dove out my service window. He landed, rolled to his feet and jumped up.

"Run!" he shouted and turned just as Kuryakin came through the window the same way. Both of them were roughed up.

"What's wrong?" I yelled as they pushed people out of the room.

"The whole place is going up!" Kuryakin shouted and there was a mad dash for the door.

Don't ask me why I did it because I don't know. I reached up and grabbed the security grate to yank it down. It was supposed to withstand an atomic bomb, so I guess I figured it would help contain some of the blast. It probably would have too... if it hadn't jammed.

There was a flash and my life became very different from that moment on.

They call me Lefty now and I gotta say that it's amazing what you can do with an artificial limb. Honestly, I think I miss having stereoscopic vision more. It's really hard to get used to no depth perception and I'm kinda glad I can't drive anymore. It keeps me off the sidewalk and from running over pedestrians.

It wasn't all hearts and flowers, mind you. It took me a couple of months... well, more like almost a year... before I came to terms with what had happened to me. You gotta give UNCLE credit though—they took care of everything, from assigning me a driver right down to redesigning my apartment. And of course they took care of all the medical bills.

For a while I raged at UNCLE, the world, and myself. They took care of that, too, making sure I had as much help as I needed. You see, I felt like I'd done something very stupid in that split second. It took me a long time to realize it wasn't as stupid as it was me just doing what I'd been trained to do—I guess I was ready to die for the world and my co-workers after all. Of course, I have no memory of this. It's mostly what I've been told about the day, although as I said before there are some things that are crystal clear to me.

UNCLE also let me stay on. They even let me go back to my old job at the shop once it was reconstructed. There are more security precautions in place and there were some accommodations made for my disabilities—the security grid for my window is motorized now. It's just as well—no matter how hard I try, I just can't make myself reach for it with my left hand. I have a helper, um, a right hand man, if you will. The blast should have been the worst thing to have happened to me, but it wasn't. You see, my physical therapist decided she needed a change of pace and the goofy girl married me. So, I have a great job, a beautiful wife who makes me feel like the most handsome guy in the world and I gotta say, life is pretty damn good now.

One thing has changed though—I never let anyone in any more... well, except for Napoleon and Illya. They saved my life after the blast or so they tell me. They were able to get me down to Medical in time to save my life, if not my arm or eye. It's the least I can do to pay them back is to cut them a little slack. You can't blame a guy for turning a blind eye or lending a helping hand to his friends.

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