(Special thanks to Agent John J. for technical assistance!)
"We Need You to Help Us."
June 3, 1965: 12:07 am
Stars glittered in the desert night. Napoleon Solo breathed deeply of the dry West Texas air. The scent of ocotillo, he thought, and prickly pear, and sage. Maybe he'd retire here someday. Open spaces. Fresh air, not like New York . . .
Smiling ruefully, he pushed the white button deeper into his ear. Time for that later, he thought. Start mooning about retirement while on a mission, you'll get yourself retired, all right -- from breathing.
The Chief Enforcement Agent lay in sandy soil atop a rocky east-west ridge. He wore dusty jeans, a khaki canvas shirt, and a matching jacket against the night chill. His U.N.C.L.E. Special bulked in its holster against his ribs. On a rock next to his head stood what looked like a Japanese 10-transistor radio, but was actually a powerful receiver/recorder fashioned in the Command's Tech Lab One in West Berlin.
"I've suggested to Mr. Waverly that we patent it," his partner Illya Kuryakin had told him that afternoon in their hotel room in Foster City, south of the New Mexico border. "He's considering the idea. Though what use your American consumer . . ."
"By which you mean capitalist running-dog lackey," Solo said with a grin.
Illya hadn't risen to the bait. ". . . would have for a device that can pick up and record conversations from a bug planted nearly a mile away, is beyond me."
Now, below Solo and shrouded by darkness, sprawled the Huston ranch. Its four thousand acres spread across the valley and, he knew, up into the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains on the New Mexico border. A whiff of cattle came to him on the breeze. Lights glimmered in the outbuildings surrounding the main house, Huston's home. That building was dark except for a light burning in a downstairs window.
Huston's den, Solo thought. Appropriate, for an old fox.
A thin cord led from the receiver to Solo's earphone. Now he heard a door open. Boot heels sounded on a wooden floor.
". . . time for a drink to celebrate." A rough gravelly voice. Huston?
"This is premature." Crisp English with a hint of Mexican accent. "There is nothing to celebrate until we see what effect your little present has in practice."
"By then you'll be out of Guadalajara and back home. No way to have a drink together." Glass clinked against glass.
Guadalajara, Solo thought. Jackpot!
Something moved behind him. Instinctively he began to turn his head. Before he could, a cold hard object -- a gun barrel? -- thrust sharply against his skull, and a cheery voice said, "Well, well! What do we have here?"
Thirty-six hours before:
Foster City, noon. A short dusty West Texas street lined with businesses: a dry-goods shop, a real estate agent ("We Also Sell Insurance!"), a men's clothing store with wide-brimmed Stetsons in the big window. Chevy pickups and Plymouth station wagons drifted like sharks up and down the three-block stretch of Main Street, the drivers hoping to seize one of the angled parking slots at the curb. Groups of men lounged by their parked trucks, smoking and eyeing the occasional young woman strolling by.
"Just like Fifth Avenue at Christmas," Solo said. He stood with Illya under the awning shading the display window of the Woolworth's. "Except, you know, not."
Illya shrugged. "Infinitely preferable to Vladivostok in February."
Instead of crisp suits, the agents wore worn jeans, work boots, faded chambray shirts over white tees. Their hands were artificially work-roughened, their hair rumpled, their nails grimy. They looked like drifters, Solo thought, or part-time mechanics, or oilfield roughnecks -- anything but what they were: agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
"Mr. Solo we can disguise," the agent-in-place, their contact in El Paso, had said when they'd flown in from New York a week ago. "But you, Mr. Kuryakin -- Let's just say the locals wouldn't take kindly to a Russian, or to most Germans, either."
"Den I can be Svedish." Illya's lilt and Stockholm accent were so perfect that Solo was startled. "My name is Sven Holstrom. I love your America, yah?"
The agent grinned. "Okay, Sven. Glad to meet you," and Solo had wisely resisted the urge to say, "Yumpin' yiminy."
Now a rust-red Dodge pickup nosed into a slot that had just opened at the curb in front of the Bluebell Diner next door. A tall man with dark hair climbed out.
Illya stirred. "That, I believe, is our quarry?"
The dark-haired man was dressed as Solo and Illya were, but his shirt and jeans were even dustier and more sweat-stained. He stripped off a pair of tan leather work gloves as he crossed the sidewalk and stepped into the diner.
"Mr. Ford it is. Take the back," Solo said, and Illya slid to the alley between the five-and-ten and the diner and vanished into it.
Solo strode up to the diner, pulled open the steel-and-glass door, and went in.
An overhead fan churned warm stuffy air redolent of bacon and eggs. A short Formica counter with stools ran along the left wall, but most of the space held wooden tables, at which maybe a dozen men and women sat, eating and talking.
At the back, Ford had a table to himself. Solo weaved through the diners and slid neatly into a seat across from him.
Ford flashed a brief smile: an instant, and it was gone. "Private table, friend."
Despite an air of wary tension, Ford looked younger than his reported age of thirty-eight. His ears stuck out a little, making him resemble a young Clark Gable without the mustache.
Napoleon Solo smiled back. "Bill Ford, right?"
"You work at the Huston ranch, right?"
"I do. But . . ."
Solo leaned forward and pitched his voice low. "Do the words `Gerard' and `Indiana' ring a bell?"
Ford froze. He went suddenly pale beneath his tan. A muscle twitched in his right cheek. "Never heard of him. I mean, I've never been there."
"I know otherwise," Solo said. "Now my partner and I have a proposition for you. If you're interested, and I'm sure you are, meet us in that green Chevy wagon across the street. Five minutes. Got it?"
"I . . . I don't know what you're talking about."
"Five minutes," Solo repeated. He rose and left the diner, crossed the hot dusty street, climbed into the Chevy Biscayne, and started the engine for the air conditioning.
He waited. From time to time he glanced in his rear view mirror. It was angled to show, not the front door of the diner, but the mouth of the alley into which Illya had disappeared.
Six minutes later by Solo's watch, Bill Ford emerged slowly from the alley, Illya close behind him. The Russian herded Ford across the street, opened a rear door of the wagon, hustled Ford in, and climbed in himself.
"As we thought," Illya said. "I caught him coming out of the back door."
"What's this all about?" Ford sounded even less convincing than before.
Solo swiveled to face him over the back of the car seat.
"You're Doctor Richard Kimble," he said. "University of Illinois, 1948; M.D. Johns Hopkins, 1952. Practice: pediatrics. Convicted March 1962 in Indiana of the murder of your wife. Escaped custody April 1962, and still wanted. But we don't care about any of that. We need you to help us."
"Mortality Rate One Hundred Per Cent."
June 1, 1965: 12:35 pm
Ford/Kimble looked as though someone had hit him very hard between the eyes. He glanced at Illya, looked back to Solo. "There's some mistake."
Solo shook his head. "No mistake. My partner Mr. Kuryakin here has a remarkably stubborn memory. Once he saw you here, he recalled seeing your picture a year or so ago at a law enforcement seminar."
"So we inquired." From his jacket Illya pulled out a photo and showed it to Kimble. On the glossy surface of a 5 x 7, Kimble's drawn face, framed with gray hair, stared out from a mug shot. The bold caption read: WANTED INTERSTATE FLIGHT -- MURDER.
Kimble rallied. "This man resembles me, but . . ."
"And I'll bet," Solo said, "if we dust your room at the Huston ranch, your prints'll match those of the man in that photo, won't they?"
Kimble was silent. He sat, shoulders hunched, as Illya took the picture back. Suddenly he looked up. "You said, 'Once he saw me.' That means you weren't looking for me specifically. Something else brought you here." He stared at Illya, frowned at Solo. "You two aren't regular police. And the FBI wouldn't partner a Russian with one of their agents."
Solo thought, This man is smart. From the back of his watch he removed the platinum ID disc with the skeleton-globe logo. He held it up for Kimble to see. "Napoleon Solo, United Network Command for Law and Enforcement."
"Correct," said Illya. "We deal with crimes too big, too international, or too exotic for local or even national police forces to handle."
"In West Texas?"
"Anywhere," Solo said. "Which is where you come in. As we understand it, you've been working as a ranch hand and driver for Caesar Huston for two months now. You sleep at the ranch, don't you? The only one of his staff who does. And you're in and out of the main house all the time."
"I live in an apartment over the garage, yes. But I don't see . . .""
"What's your impression of Huston?"
Kimble shrugged. "I've worked for worse employers. Tough but fair. Expects a day's work for a day's pay."
"Deceptive." From his jacket Illya took a small notebook and a pair of tinted horn-rim glasses. He slid the spectacles on and consulted the book.
"Huston has had several names. Our earliest information on him shows him running guns to both sides in Ethiopia during the Thirties. In World War II he was a collaborateur, selling out members of the French Resistance to the Nazis. For the last twenty years he's lived here as a wealthy rancher -- he calls himself the Squire of West Texas."
"We've been watching the ranch for several days," Solo added. "He also has a tall heavy man in his employ -- dark hair, hook nose."
Kimble nodded. "Cuelga. He's always around Huston. I don't know why." His smile flickered. "He claims to be a Jicarilla Apache."
"He has also been in our files, under that Apache name, for years," Illya said. "He is actually part Cherokee -- what you Americans once called one of the Civilized Tribes. Although I assure you, there is nothing civilized about Cuelga. He is Huston's bodyguard and paid assassin."
"Not all of Huston's wealth comes from cattle and horses," Solo put in. "For almost two decades his ranch has functioned as a conduit and a safe house for money, personnel, and materiel belonging to Thrush."
Kimble shook his head. "A -- a bird?"
"A supra-nation," Illya said flatly. "A consortium of scientists, intellectuals, and economists, tied to no country or ideology. They have only one purpose: to dominate the Earth. We, our organization, are at war with them wherever we find them."
Kimble rubbed his forehead. In the silence the car's under-dash air conditioning unit dripped and roared. "It's too fantastic," he said at last. "Like something out of -- of 'Terry and the Pirates'."
"No," Solo said. "It's not."
"And where do I come in?"
Illya said, "We have information that Thrush will commit an act of terrorism somewhere in Mexico in the next few days. We do not, however, know where. But we do know the means for this terrorist act will pass through the Huston ranch, tomorrow night."
From his shirt pocket Solo extracted a tiny object no bigger than a stud from a man's formal shirt.
"We need you," he said, "to plant this listening device, and two of its cousins, in Caesar Huston's house. In return, my superior agrees to intercede with the governor of Indiana to commute your sentence to life in prison, instead of the gas chamber. What do you say?"
June 1, 1965: 2:44 pm
"True, I am acquainted with Governor Branigin, Mr. Solo," Alexander Waverly said. "Although I fear you overestimate my connections and influence. We were matched as golf partners all of once, three years ago. Nothing more."
Waverly's voice was tinny through the cigarette-pack communicator grille. Solo had heard rumors for months now about a fantastic breakthrough in miniaturization, a full-featured communicator housed in a fountain pen, but so far nothing had emerged from Section Eight's labs.
"Understood, sir. We made it clear to Dr. Kimble that we couldn't guarantee anything. But it's our only route."
"It's impossible for either of us to be hired at Huston's ranch." Illya stepped over from their hotel room window to the bed where Solo sat. "We had no time to work up a cover that would stand up to scrutiny. We must use someone already on the grounds."
"Oh, quite, quite," Waverly said. "You have realized, of course, that this Kimble fellow may make a break for it?"
"Illya planted a tracer on him without his knowledge, sir. If he moves off the ranch, we'll know it. And we've convinced him that a chance at a life sentence, with time for appeals and maybe a new investigation, is better than continuing to run, with the gas chamber certain at the end of it."
"He still maintains his innocence?"
I didn't kill my wife, Kimble had said that afternoon as they sat in the cool bubble of the car. An intruder, a burglar, a man with one arm. I saw him, as clearly as I'm seeing you. The police couldn't find him, or maybe never tried, I don't know. Finding him is my only chance.
And Kimble had looked steadily, frankly, at Solo. I don't expect you to believe it. No one else does. The fast thin smile flashed. Hell, if you'd told me, I probably wouldn't believe it either. But it's true.
"We both know how much that is worth. Good work, gentlemen. Keep me apprised. Miss, uh, Johnson will have updated information for you. Stand by."
"We will, sir. Solo out."
As he set the communicator on the night stand, Illya spoke. "Are we to give him no benefit of the doubt, then?"
"Come on, Illya. You know every convict swears he's innocent, that he got framed or railroaded. Hardly a one ever admits his guilt. Kimble had his fair trial, didn't he?"
"I worry about you, my friend. Cynicism is a canker in the soul."
Solo scowled. "Cynical I may be, but I made a couple of calls yesterday. Gerard, the lieutenant who investigated Mrs. Kimble's murder? He has a rep as one of the most honest, and diligent, cops on the planet. He didn't just dismiss Kimble's story. On his own time, he ran down every lead, checked out every possibility of a burglar, one-armed or otherwise. No. There's no miscarriage of justice here."
Illya nodded. He drifted back to the window, his arms folded. When he spoke again, his voice was soft.
"In Stalin's time, I have heard -- and I have seen this myself, during the time of our former First Secretary -- a man would vanish, whether to a Siberian labor camp or to a hidden grave no one ever knew. Of course his family and friends did not dare protest or ask questions. But the odd thing, the truly amazing thing, was that those who survived him came actually to believe that he had indeed been guilty. They no longer questioned it, even to themselves. The State was always right. If the State had condemned him, he must therefore have been guilty. Q.E.D."
Illya glanced back at Solo. "Has your society begun to share this dark delusion? A man is found guilty, yes; very well. But are we never to question it?"
Solo became aware that his jaw was sagging. The communicator's whistle saved him from answering. He grabbed the box. "Solo here."
"Guadalupe Affair," said Sarah Johnson's crisp voice in New York. "New intelligence re: Operation Piñata."
"The package your target is due to receive tomorrow night is now thought to be from the biological warfare lab Section Three smashed in Pakistan this spring. Some Thrushes managed to take wing with certain samples of Anthrax Blue."
"Blue?" Illya's face was suddenly pale.
"Understood. Thank you, Sarah. Solo out."
"Anthrax Blue." Illya looked grim.
"Anthrax -- that's a disease of livestock, isn't it? And humans can be infected and killed by it."
"Yes," Illya said quietly. "But this, as you would say, is a whole new ball game. Anthrax Blue is a mutation, rumored to have a mortality rate of one hundred percent. . . ."
"What Do You Mean It's Active?"
June 3, 1965: 12:17 am
"Why don't you get up," Cuelga said. "Nice and slow. Hands on your head. Make a move I don't like, you get a bullet."
Solo did as instructed. Mentally he cursed himself. He'd failed to pay attention to what was going on around him; and the sounds from the ranch house had drowned out Cuelga's approach. Some days, he thought, it doesn't pay to get out of bed.
Cuelga stood ten feet away, a tall broad figure. Starlight gleamed on the barrel of his gun. "Fish that pistol of yours out. Left hand only. Drop it. Now back up." He eased forward, bent swiftly, and scooped up the Special. "U.N.C.L.E., hey? You boys never learn. Where's your partner?"
"We go by the Texas Ranger rule," Solo said. "'One riot, one Ranger.' Oh, and careful with the gun. Every one of those I lose comes out of my pay."
Cuelga laughed. "We know you've got a partner. Mr. H. has eyes in town. When they reported, he had us search his house, and we found the bugs that sad sack Ford planted for you. All I had to do was figure out where you'd probably stake yourself out to listen."
Solo said nothing. Fools, he thought. Such overconfident fools we are -- and we dragged Kimble into this.
"Never mind," Cuelga said. "We'll find him. Let's take your car, shall we?"
Silently Solo led the way down into the ravine where he had hidden the wagon. He had the brief hope that Cuelga would leave him an opening . . . but the gunman was too careful. He slid into the back seat as Solo climbed behind the wheel.
Solo keyed the engine into life. As if nervous, he fumbled at the headlight switch, turning on the parking lights, dousing them, then switching on the headlights.
"Quit stalling." Cuelga sounded bored.
Solo shifted into Drive. As he steered the wagon toward the rutted road that led to the ranch house, he sent up a little prayer that Illya, wherever he was prowling out in the night, had seen the signal. . . .
Caesar Huston's ranch house was long and low. A massive timbered door led into a timbered hall. Light from electric wall sconces gleamed on the glass eyes of the boar and mountain lion heads that adorned the walls. The house was silent, with barely a whisper of air conditioning.
"In there," Cuelga said. "On the left."
In the room beyond, a serene-looking antelope head sprouted above a dark fireplace. Fish darted, flickers of red and blue, in a large aquarium. Bookcases, one with a built-in liquor cabinet, framed a wide picture window. The air smelled faintly of cigars.
Two leather armchairs flanked a heavy desk. In one of them Richard Kimble slumped. The right side of his face was red and puffy, and a trickle of dried blood showed at his lip.
"How are you, Bill?" Solo asked. The cover was blown; no point in trying to maintain it.
Kimble smiled faintly. It seemed to hurt him, because he stopped. "I've been better."
Solo nodded. "Sorry. I wish I'd foreseen this."
"You should have," said Caesar Huston. "Would of saved your buddy a beating."
Huston was a big man, several inches over six feet, and his legs were long, making his barrel torso look odd. He wore white linen trousers and a white linen shirt buttoned to the neck, no tie. Under silver hair, his jowly wind-burned face was clean- shaven. A creamy hat, the Western style favored by President Johnson, rested on the desk.
Next to it lay a briefcase: a modern high-impact plastic and metal case, slim and rectangular, the kind lugged by hundreds of young executives all over Manhattan.
But this one had been customized. A tiny round crystal had been inserted next to one of the catches. As Solo watched, it glowed amber for an instant, then went dim again.
"Won't that give your little toy away?" he remarked.
The small dark man standing next to the case of Anthrax Blue smiled. "A piece of electrician's tape will hide it."
His was the Mexican-accented voice Solo had heard earlier. His black suit was perfectly cut, setting off his lavender shirt and violet tie. Solo caught a whiff of perfume as the little man bowed. "Señor Ybarra, at your service."
"Don't tell him your name, you fool," Huston growled. "These damn U.N.C.L.E. boys are too smart by half." To Cuelga: "Search him, then tie him to that chair."
Solo tensed, sensing an opening. But Huston was leveling a big-muzzled Colt revolver at him. "Don't get any ideas, son."
Solo sighed and obeyed. In moments, Cuelga had his wrists and ankles roped tightly to the wooden chair. Behind him he heard the aerator of the aquarium burbling.
"Now we're gonna have ourselves a little talk." Huston parked one haunch on the desk and directed a cold smile at Solo. "For example, about what you Command boys know and what you don't."
"It is time I left." Ybarra put one manicured hand out toward the case.
"Not so fast," Huston snapped, and Ybarra stopped.
Huston turned back to Solo. "I'm sure you know what we have in that case, and you overheard where we plan to use it. Now suppose you show me what a smart Waverly's boy you are, and tell me what I'm going to ask next."
Solo felt a tingle race up his spine. Something, the faintest shadow of motion, had shifted out in the darkness beyond the big window.
"That's easy enough," he said. He looked slowly around the room: from a staring Richard Kimble on his left; to an impatient Ybarra; to Huston on his desk; to Cuelga, wide brown face alert, against the right wall, gun centered on Solo's heart. Pause, let the tension build, make sure their eyes are on you and away from --
"It's simple," he said calmly. "You need to know if we passed the Guadalajara information on to headquarters. Because if we didn't, you can still deploy your little surprise package as planned. However, if we did . . ."
"If?" Huston frowned.
"If so," Solo went on, "then you need to decide if you should change the venue. Or if you should run a double bluff, let us think you've changed the venue . . . and go ahead with your original plan while we look elsewhere."
Huston cackled. "Whang in the gold! You're sharper than I thought. So. Has Waverly been informed?"
"Sorry, Squire. Can't tell you that."
Huston shrugged. He put down his gun, slid off the desk, went behind it, opened a drawer, and drew out a coiled blacksnake whip, oiled and obviously well-used. He bared strong white teeth. "Time for a good old-fashioned horsewhipping. I'm good with this thing. I've taken a man's ears off at ten paces."
"If I'm screaming," Solo said, "I'm not talking, am I?" Another flicker of motion out in the night. He carefully did not look at it.
"Oh, I didn't mean you." Huston swiveled his gaze to Kimble. "I meant your friend over there."
Kimble's hands went out to grip the chair arms.
"No need for that, Squire," Solo said quickly. "He's an innocent in this, not an agent. We played on his sense of ethics to get him to help us. You can let him go. Concentrate on me."
"Oh, I know he's not one of your boys." Huston chuckled. "He's an escaped convict. Aren't you, Doctor Kimble?"
Kimble stared at him.
"Don't you think Mr. H. had us check you out when you first came to work here?" Cuelga asked. He never took his eyes off Solo as he spoke. "You talked too good to be a ranch hand or a drifter. Then I spotted your Wanted poster in the post office in El Paso."
Huston nodded. "It amused me, to have an escaped murderer working for me without knowing that I knew." He began to uncoil the whip. "Danny," he said to Cuelga, "I'll cover our U.N.C.L.E. boy. You tie Doctor Kimble to that other chair, the heavy one. It'll keep him from jumping around."
Richard Kimble rose from the chair to his full height. His hands were clenched, but when he spoke his voice didn't quaver. "You can do what you want -- but I've got to know." To Ybarra: "Why?"
"Why? Whatever you have in that case will kill uncountable numbers of people in your own country. Why?"
"We must destroy the existing society before we can rebuild it. With enough death, enough destruction, the country will collapse. They will accept any help that is offered, including that of Thrush. Once Mexico is ours, your porous joke of a border will be unable to stop us. We will be able to proceed against the United States as we please." Another shrug. "It is but a means to an end."
"My God," Kimble said in horror. "My God in h—-"
The big window shattered.
With a deafening crash, a white-painted wrought iron patio chair hurtled through the glass. Shards of glass exploded into the room. The chair slammed into the desk and rebounded to land on its side.
Illya Kuryakin stood framed in the gaping window, dressed in black jeans and turtleneck, shaggy blond hair askew. His U.N.C.L.E. Special spat -- blap! Cuelga flung himself sideways, and Solo saw a bullet hole in the mantel where the gunman had been standing.
Ybarra grabbed the suitcase and lunged for the door. A second blap! from Illya's gun sent the Mexican crashing down. At the same instant Cuelga wheeled effortlessly, and his gun barked.
Illya staggered back with a cry and fell from sight outside the shattered window.
Huston pushed himself up from the floor, where he had dived when the window broke, and laughed. "Good shootin', Danny." To Solo: "So much for a rescue from your partner."
Solo ground his teeth as he heaved against his bonds. No use; the knots held.
Huston turned. "Ybarra? You okay, boy?"
Ybarra was curled up on the floor. Blood stained his hands from a wound in his side; but he was not looking at that. "Dios mio," he whispered.
The briefcase lay on the floor next to him. As they watched, the amber light blinked faster. After a moment it went on and stayed on.
"Dios mio," Ybarra said again. "Se activa!"
"What do you mean it's active?"
"The . . . mechanism. The fall has jarred it." Ybarra coughed. His face was sickly green under his natural swarthiness. "The charge inside will detonate and spread the culture!"
Lousy Thrush engineering, thought Solo, and fought the urge to laugh hysterically.
"How long?" Cuelga's voice was suddenly hoarse.
"I was told . . . fifteen minutes. Now, less."
"Stop it!" Huston roared. "Shut it off, deactivate it!"
Ybarra's eyes were wide with terror.
"My job is . . . was, delivery. I do not know how."
"Christ on a sidecar," Huston said.
He raised his Colt and shot Ybarra. The Mexican Thrush's body jumped and was still.
Huston swung around and aimed his gun at Solo. For what seemed an eternity the U.N.C.L.E. agent stared down the muzzle.
"Mr. H.!" Cuelga's face shone with sweat. "Come on!"
Huston muttered something under his breath and lowered the pistol. He went around the desk again, reached down, and pulled something that went crack!
A soft ticking began.
"Thermite explosive," Huston told Solo. "Five minutes and this house and everything around it will be gone. Won't matter to you, but it'll kill the Blue, keep it from spreading." To Cuelga: "Go!"
Huston thrust his gun through his belt and scooped up his creamy hat. At the door, he paused and glanced back at his den. A sad smile played across his features. "I loved this house," he murmured. "I really did."
He nodded at Solo and then at Kimble. "Goodbye, boys. When you see the Devil, tell him I'll be along directly."
He lumbered out.
"A Firestorm of Questions."
June 3, 1:37 am
Napoleon Solo took a deep breath. Fear howled in a walled-off compartment of his mind. He paid no attention.
"Kimble!" he said sharply.
Kimble stood, gaping at Ybarra's body and at the blinking suitcase. For a horrible instant Solo expected him to flee.
"Richard!" This time Kimble's gaze came to him. "I swear to you, we're not dead yet! Find a knife and cut me loose!"
Kimble's eyes cleared. He dug into his jeans pocket and came out with a jackknife. Swiftly he bent and began to saw at Solo's bonds. "I can't believe it," he muttered. "Huston just shot his own partner!"
"Ybarra was no longer any use to him."
"And that's the kind of world you live in?"
"Unfortunately, yes." Solo's right hand came free. "Once again, Dr. Kimble, I'm sorry we had to drag you into this."
Kimble let out a snort, but said nothing.
Abruptly Solo's left hand was free and he brought it up to rub his right. "Okay. I'll handle the rest. Check on Illya."
Kimble nodded, handed him the knife, and dived for the window.
Solo slashed at the ropes on his ankles. In moments he stood, shaking out his legs to get the blood back. Then he began to move.
First order of business: Ybarra. Solo checked the Mexican Thrush, found no pulse, forgot him. As for trying to open or disarm the blinking suitcase, Solo would sooner have put his hand into a crocodile's mouth. He ignored it.
He sprang around to the far side of the desk. Their only hope, he knew, was if Huston had the kind of resettable timer that smooth Continental Thrush, Darius Two, had employed in the Alps last August. If it wasn't --
It was. Below the locked activating lever, a dial face showed the hands with less than two minutes to the red line. Shift it back to ten -- you want it to go off before the anthrax does.
Solo marked the time on his watch. Then he whirled and leaped after Kimble.
Illya Kuryakin lay unconscious on the patio. Blood pooled under his torso on the flagstones. In the light from the den, his face held a blue tinge.
Kimble glanced up at Solo. "Cuelga's bullet missed his heart," he said, and Solo knew a giddy flash of relief. "Hemo-thorax."
"Blood in his lungs?"
"No, in his chest cavity. Got to drain it."
Solo eyed his watch. Nine minutes.
"We've got to get out of here, Doctor. A hospital --"
"He'll never make it. He's drowning in his own blood." Kimble's voice was crisp. "Give me the knife. I need disinfectant, a length of tubing, and a bucket or a jar. Now!"
Back through the window. Liquor cabinet? Ah, there. Everclear grain alcohol, yes, and an ice bucket. Tubing --?
Ha. Solo jumped to the aquarium. The aerator's plastic tube looked fresh and new. He yanked it free and dashed back out to the patio.
Kimble had turned Illya onto his left, the injured side, and slashed his turtleneck so that the Russian agent's well-muscled torso lay bare. Now, kneeling over his patient, Kimble pressed his wadded-up shirt against Illya's wound. "Disinfectant?"
Solo spun the cap off the Everclear, splashed it over Illya's chest, Kimble's jackknife, and the tubing. "Here --"
"You'd make someone a fine nurse."
"An honor to assist you, Doctor."
Knife in hand, Kimble leaned over. Solo couldn't see, but suddenly Illya gave a faint moan and coughed. Kimble seized the tubing; his fingers probed, then he deftly pushed the plastic into the welter of blood from his incision.
Illya coughed again.
Dark fluid filled the tubing. Solo flipped the end into the ice bucket. Blood flowed into it and kept coming. In moments Illya's breathing eased.
Solo checked his watch. "Less than five minutes, Doctor."
Kimble nodded. "You didn't see any adhesive tape in there, did you? Never mind. Hold the tubing in place -- don't let it pop out." He bent and his shoulder muscles swelled as he stood up, Illya in his arms.
Together Kimble and Solo went around the corner of the house toward the front yard. Kimble bore the unconscious Illya; Solo walked crabwise, keeping the tubing and bucket in place.
Out in the darkness cattle lowed and stamped. As if, Solo thought, they know what's coming. He wished fiercely he could run back, let them out of their corral to escape the holocaust . . . but there was no time.
"Where's your car?" Kimble panted.
They manhandled Illya into the rear cargo area. Kimble scrambled in and crouched over his patient while Solo slammed the tailgate, ran around, and threw himself behind the wheel.
Thank God Huston or Cuelga hadn't taken the keys. The V-8 sprang to life and Solo jerked the transmission into gear, sent the wagon roaring up the road and through the gate, swung the wheel to take the first curve --
The ranch house blew up behind them.
Glaring white light blasted his eyes in the mirrors. Then the thunder reached them, loud even over the howl of the engine, and a fast hot wind like a desert sirocco blew grit through the windows.
"Nearest hospital?" Solo yelled.
"Carlsbad!" Kimble shouted back. "Twenty miles! Highway 62!"
"Is he going to make it?"
"With a little luck!"
"We'll make our own luck," Solo muttered.
He heeled the accelerator and sent the Biscayne screaming toward the highway. Behind them, Caesar Huston's ranch house lit up the West Texas night.
June 5, 1965: 10:47 a.m.
"We called the New Mexico state patrol with your communicator," Napoleon Solo said from his chair by the hospital bed. "An ambulance met us part way, and got you stabilized. Then came a firestorm of questions -- from the sheriff's offices and state police of both states. And since we crossed a state line getting you here, two FBI boys got involved and held me in a cell for three hours, until they could verify my ID."
Illya Kuryakin nodded. "I trust you were properly annoyed."
His voice was barely more than a whisper. He lay enmeshed in a forest of tubing in his bed, looking wan and smaller than usual. Solo was relieved to see his color was healthier than it had been two nights ago.
"Oh, I was, and I'd love to be there when Waverly reads Hoover the riot act. . . . Anyway, Huston and Cuelga have gone to ground somewhere."
"A bolthole. With cash, gold, new identities."
"They could be in Mexico, or Reykjavik, or Vermont, for all we know. We'll keep looking. In the meantime a joint CDC and U.N.C.L.E. decontam team has cordoned off Huston's ranch. It'll be years before the ownership is settled. Who knows, the Feds may make a national park out of it."
"And our friend? The . . . former doctor?"
"Funny thing," Solo said. "He helped me lug you into the emergency room here, and the doctors grabbed you and hustled you to surgery. And do you know, I turned around, and he was gone."
"How odd," said Illya. "Of course you had the police issue an APB?"
"Ah, well, no."
"Odder still. He is a convicted criminal who has been on the run from the law for three years . . ."
"Yes, but . . ."
"'No miscarriage of justice here,' I believe you said. Yet you have not told the police about him?"
"It's not our job to do the cops' work for them."
"You are very American, my friend. Whenever possible, you -- what is the phrase? 'Root for the underdog'?"
"I'm going to tell the nurse you need another pain pill. Maybe two."
"I would prefer vodka." The effort of talking had clearly tired him; he lay back and shut his eyes.
Solo rose. He bumped a fist lightly against Illya's shoulder, at which the Russian, eyes still closed, smiled.
In the hall, Solo stopped to speak to the nurse. Then he strode out into the parking lot, where he had left the Biscayne against the hospital's west wall, shaded from the broiling sun. He slid behind the wheel.
Illya, you mad Russian, he thought. You're right. There are times we should question authority. The law found Kimble guilty. But laws are made and carried out by men; and men are imperfect.
I didn't kill my wife, Richard Kimble had said.
Napoleon Solo shrugged. It didn't matter. When Huston and Cuelga had run for it, Kimble could have run too . . . but he had stayed and risked his neck for theirs. He and Illya owed him whatever they could give.
He extracted his communicator and thumbed it into life.
"Open Channel D. . . . Good morning, Sarah. Preliminary report for Section One, Number One, re: Guadalupe Affair. . . ."
(We wish to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, without whose assistance this narrative would not be possible.)