Two men crouched behind a row of garbage pails, barely discernible in the dark created by the night and the tall buildings that flanked the alley.
"Who walks down alleys in the middle of the night?" Illya Kuryakin grumbled. "There could be all sorts of filth and vermin waiting to jump you." At his partner's sharply turned head, he added, "Present company excepted."
Napoleon Solo took his partner's griping in stride. Like Illya, he wasn't terribly pleased with this assignment, but a man of the importance of their present quarry deserved the best UNCLE had to offer, so naturally he and Illya were selected.
"Cheer up, Illya." Napoleon brushed his dark hair unconsciously into place. "At least your mother can't see you."
"I don't know what you're so cheerful about. You couldn't get into any restaurant in town with the way you smell now. Besides, my legs are cramped."
"So, sit down. No one said you couldn't."
"Do you know where this ground might have been?"
Napoleon chuckled, the mood broken at the sound of his communicator, its beeping made louder by the lateness of the hour.
"This is Checkpoint B. We just picked up our target, but he's got a couple of companions with him. Apparently, they met him in the club. One's black, the other's white and smaller. Napoleon, they have that certain look about them."
"Okay, we'll be ready for them. Illya's just itching to spill blood."
"Trouble?" Illya asked, nearly invisible except for his pale blond hair.
"I don't know." Napoleon reached for his holster to check his Walther P-38. "I want to be prepared if there is. Our primary goal is to get this guy out and away."
"I know my job, Napoleon. You watch out for you and leave me to myself."
Napoleon punched his arm and crouched further into the shadows at the sound of approaching footsteps.
"Ah, man, you don't know what you're talking about. Lou Gehrig was replaced by Babe Dahlgen, not Wally Pip."
"How do you know so much about baseball? I thought you were a tennis bum."
Napoleon pointed a finger to the nearest man, then to himself and Illya nodded. As the trio drew even with them, both UNCLE agents scrambled from their hiding place and attacked the men flanking their target.
While they did have the benefit of surprise, the baseball-loving man and his friend were in excellent shape. Napoleon decided this as he flew through the air and into a brick wall, thanks to the tennis bum. He panted and watched as Illya warily circled the black man, who was obviously as familiar with karate as the Russian. This didn't give Illya as much of an edge, especially since the man loomed over the slighter Kuryakin. Still, Illya was fast and Napoleon knew how he hated to lose. He was also fairly certain that winning was not exactly in their grasp this time. This THRUSH pair proved as formidable as any he'd run up against.
Napoleon ducked a fist, twisted and shoved the hand into the wall. He rammed an elbow backward into his attacker's unprotected side. The man moaned and Illya's opponent turned, asking, "Kelly?"
That gave Illya a chance to strike. He opted for one of his usually incapacitating slams to the kidney, which brought the man down to his size and knees.
"Illya, forget him and let's go!"
Kuryakin didn't wait to argue with Napoleon's order. He snatched the still surprised third man and yanked him up the alley in the direction of the nearest UNCLE checkpoint, ready for the crack of rifles at any moment.
Yet there were no guns, not even a noise except for Napoleon racing behind him. As they pushed the man into the protection of an UNCLE car, Napoleon leaned against the hood, searching for his breath.
"That has got to be the strangest pair of THRUSH I've ever run into in this town."
"Agreed, but at least we got what we came for."
Kelly Robinson rested his head against the wall and began to wonder why he kept doing this to himself. Maybe he had a death wish...perhaps he had suicidal tendencies he didn't know about...maybe he was getting too old for all this spy nonsense. Some days working for the CIA was harder than others. Straightening, he rubbed his side and staggered over to where his friend sat.
"I want to thank you for that concern, the wonderfulness of it. It was really considerate of you to want to join me in my suffering by leaving yourself wide open like that."
Alexander Scott glanced up at him with a look of disgust. A Rhodes scholar, a genius at cryptograms and detonation devices, he also knew about eleven languages and was trying not to swear in any of them, lest his partner tell his mother.
"What happened, Kel? I thought they said this was an easy assignment. Just escort this guy to his hotel room and stay with him until we turn him over to those UNCLE cats in the morning. Maybe somebody ought to have told those other guys."
"Couldn't do that, man. You see, their side ain't supposed to know what we know they know, doncha see?" Robinson patted his hair back and stared down the now deserted alley. "Some of Moscow's finest?"
"The one I had sure punched like it. Plus the other guy called him, Illya. Sure sounds Russian to me. They must get tough from eating all those beets and cabbage. If that little guy learned to fight anywhere else, I'll eat your sweat socks."
"What's wrong with your socks?"
"And have me catch cold and worry my mom?"
"Right...let's go see what we can find out about those guys."
"But they said they were protecting me!" argued Franklin Munroe. He was a nondescript man, almost to the point of looking like he actually planned it that way. He was average height, weight, looks, nothing that would allow him to stand out in a crowd. This was important to a man of Munroe's standing - that of a Mafia henchman recently turned State witness.
"Trust me." Napoleon Solo spoke from his place at the circular conference table. "They weren't. We know their type and they tend to play by a certain set of rules... the same set you used to play by. What made you decide to come clean?"
"Call it a sudden burst of conscience. The Government has offered me a new face, home and life. All I need to is talk about some of the jerks who screwed me over last time around. Besides, I'm not a boy anymore and sooner or later my bosses would want a younger man running the show. Face it, Mr. Solo, you ain't no spring chicken yourself. Ain't you ever worried about that?" Munroe lit a cigarette and blew smoke in his direction.
Napoleon glanced over at Kuryakin, who peered up over the rim of his glasses. Illya smiled slightly, hunched his shoulders and returned to his report.
"Well, I do and when I go, I'm going in style. With my face on the front page to let everyone in town know about it, too."
"Now that we have him, sir, what do we do with him?" Illya pulled off the glasses and tucked them into a breast pocket. "Secure him here?"
"First, I would suggest a shower and change of clothes for Mr. Solo and yourself. You will then escort Mr. Munroe to this hotel." A slip of paper was handed to Napoleon. "There you will stay with him until the next morning when he will be released to a pair of CIA agents. After that, you'll report back to me for your next assignment." Alexander Waverly puffed deeply on his pipe for a moment before adding, "and try not to muck it up."
Illya Kuryakin shivered in the cold night air. This was definitely not the sort of temperature to run around in after a shower, but he didn't have much say in the matter. To keep his mind off the chilly fingers that caressed his spine, he studied the dark, searching for anything that might strike him as odd, but the street before UNCLE headquarters was empty.
Napoleon paused alongside a car and pulled his communicator out. "All right, Mullock, you're late. What's wrong?"
"Flat tire," came a tinny voice from the pen-like rod. "You just sit tight and I'll be there as soon as possible."
Kelly Robinson slumped back in the seat and thought furiously. He had to come up with a plausible explaination of why they let Munroe be taken from them as easily as they did. He stared out at the night and suddenly sat up straight.
"Scotty, look at that! There's that Munroe dude."
It was to Alexander Scott's credit that he didn't drive off the road when Kelly grabbed his arm, but he was used to Robinson and his sometimes exaggerated way of expressing himself.
"You sure, man?"
"Positive and I'll bet the two guys with him are the ones responsible for bruising our pride, among other things."
"Well, what are they doing?"
"They're just standing there, man, like they're waiting for a streetcar or something."
"Shall we oblige them?"
"Two people in a car might scare them off. You get in back."
"It's your turn to play shot gun - I did it last time."
"Don't argue with me, Scotty, get in the back. Next time, you can be both."
"You promise?" Scotty pulled the car over to the side and climbed into the back seat, hiding himself easily within the shadows it offered. Kelly slid over and engaged the engine.
"Look, that must be Mullock and about time too." Kuryakin grumbled. "He must have taken the low road."
"You lookin' for a ride, buddy?" The car stopped and the passenger door swung open.
Napoleon leaned down, realized his mistake and shook his head. "No, thanks."
The driver drew a pistol from his pocket. "But we insist."
From the backseat, a second man sat up, his gun on Illya. "Didn't your mother tell you not to take things that didn't belong to you?"
"Hi, Mr. Munroe!" The driver waved with a free hand. "Remember us?"
"Oh, yes, the good guys who are bad guys."
"And you tell lies to this nice man, too? What would your mother say?" The black man scolded the Russian.
"My mother is dead."
"That's no excuse, man. Now, why don't you come in and join us, Mr. Munroe? I'm sure we can be just a entertaining as these fellows have been."
"But can I sleep? That's all I want to do right now."
"Anything you desire. If you please, sir?" The driver gesture and the other man climbed from the back seat and held the seat forward for Munroe. Illya, desperation forcing his hand, pushed the older man hard and he tumbled into the black man, knocking him off balance. Kuryakin yanked Munroe, tossing him aside and fell upon his quarry.
Napoleon, never one to be left out, attempted to move, but the gun held firm. "Tut, tut, my friend, we wouldn't want me to put a hole in that nice white shirt of yours, would we?"
While the two rolled on the ground with the blond, the driver climbed slowly from the car and approached Napoleon. With a practiced eye, he found the tell-tale bulge of a shoulder holster and reached in to remove the P-38.
Napoleon was torn. It was obvious that Illya was getting beaten rather badly this time and he was powerless to help either his partner or the man he was supposed to be guarding.
Illya kicked backwards, intent on catching his foe in the midriff, but the black man was ready. He grabbed the leg and pulled, bringing Kuryakin down to the ground with an abruptness that took his breath from him.
Illya came up to his hands and knees and caught a vicious chop to his neck, sending the blond back to the ground. Illya tried again, with the same results. After a third attempt, the Russian lay still, probably unconscious, Napoleon decided, waiting for his gunman's view to stray to the black man. However, the driver's attention remained firmly affixed to him.
"Now, old bean, since your friend is obviously in need of your help, why don't you step aside and allow us to proceed?"
Kelly dropped Napoleon's gun into his pocket and climbed back into the car as Scotty took over standing guard.
Napoleon kept waiting for Illya to jump up, ready to do tackle the big man, but if Illya was truly feigning his unconsciousness, he was doing an admirable job.
The car started up and roared off. Napoleon ran to the still form of his partner and pushed aside a limp arm to reach for the P-38 UNCLE Special. By the time he'd gotten the weapon clear from the holster, all that remained of the car was its taillights.
Napoleon sighed and knelt down, hauling Illya's head up onto his lap and gently tapping the pale cheeks.
"Oh brother, are you going to hurt when you wake up." Napoleon advised, bracing the shoulders up.
The man stirred, coming to with a start.
"Ow." He massaged a knot in his neck. "I take it that you handled the situation with your usual aplomb and they got away."
"Sort of." Napoleon was forced to admit.
"Good thing I put that bug on Munroe." Illya struggled to his feet and sighed.
"So did I."
"Well, between the two of us, we might measure up to one fairly competent agent. Why didn't you ask Mullock what sort of car he was driving?"
"I wasn't expecting these guys to come swinging out of the woodwork." Napoleon withdrew a cigarette case from an inner pocket and flipped it open, activating the signaling function hidden within.
They must really be travelling." Napoleon glanced about for some possible means of transportation. "How are you at hot wiring cars?"
Kelly Robinson drew upon his vast experience of car handling and maneuvered the vehicle swiftly through the city street until several blocks of steel and concrete separated them and their antagonists.
"You certainly were merciless with that little guy, Scotty." Kelly slowed to a more reasonable speed.
"Owed him for the bruised kidney he gave me." Alexander Scott shifted uncomfortably to illustrate his statement. "Kelly, I'm beginning to have serious misgivings about those guys."
"Whacha mean, man?"
"Let's see that gun you took off the head dude." Kelly reached into a pocket and pulled the pistol out, passing it over to the black man.
"I've never known a Russian to use a P-38 before. In fact, the only people I know of who do is UNCLE."
"UNCLE? You mean, the U.N.C....?"
"Yeah." He returned the weapon.
"You don't honestly think those guys were...?"
"Nah, of course not..I don't think..I hope not. Why wouldn't we be told?"
"Yeah!" Kelly said firmly. "You think they were UNCLE?"
"Would explain one Russian and how they nabbed Munroe from us so efficiently."
"Oh, come on, we did pretty good ourselves. Speaking of such, how is our passenger?"
Scotty looked over a shoulder. "Sleeping like a baby."
"Probably all old hat to him, the criminal that he is." Kelly grinned widely at the man, but then the smile vanished. "What's that ahead?"
"Looks like a roadblock. If it's those two guys again..."
"Then you can do all the explaining with the wonderfulness of your brain."
Kelly braked the car to an easy stop. "What's goin' on, man?"
"Out of the car, Solo, or I air condition the Boy Wonder over there!"
Scott and Kelly exchanged uncomfortable glances. "Excuse me, but I'm not who you think I am and he's definitely not Robin. Show him your legs, Scotty. He looks terrible in tights."
"Can it or you wind up like him." The speaker pointed to the crumpled form of a man by the roadside. "We want Munroe."
"One of your more excitable types." Kelly murmured as he climbed from the car. Immediately they were surrounded by guns.
The head man pulled the UNCLE Special from Kelly's pocket. "If you're not Napoleon, Napoleon, then why the hell pack his gun? You see? 'S' for Solo or stupid, take your pick. THRUSH isn't that dumb."
"THRUSH?" Scotty asked, as Kelly shook his head and shrugged his shoulders at the question.
"Maybe they're into birds, man."
"And you'll be in coffins if your lips don't take a break." The THRUSH pointed to the now awake Munroe. "Take him."
Munroe pushed aside his jacket and climbed from the backseat. "And who do you chaps work for?"
Kelly would have very much liked to have heard the answer, but he was grabbed and dragged to the back of the car while the trunk was being popped up.
"Okay, smart man, inside! You too, Kuryakin!"
"I protest! I'm not Russian." Scotty argued, holding out a hand. "Look, man, I'm the wrong color."
"Right, and where do they get black Russians from?" The lid was dropped, pressing the men tightly into the small space.
"Get your knee out of my stomach, Kel."
"If I could move, don't you think I would?"
"And we should be right on top of them...now." Illya Kuryakin pushed at a loose strand of blond hair and glanced up as Napoleon stopped the car.
"Thar she blows." Napoleon pointed to a parked sedan, its doors flung open and obviously abandoned.
"This doesn't look good. Are you still getting a signal?"
"Yes, but this thing will work even when the principle object doesn't."
"That's what I'm afraid of. Look." Napoleon pointed to a dark form.
The taller agent clamored from the car and hurried to the man. "It's Mullock. Now we know why he didn't show up."
Kuryakin scratched his head and sighed, climbing out after him. He was even with the backseat of the sedan when a loud thump nearly sent him to the ground.
"Hey, do you hear that? Maybe Munroe's in the trunk."
"But how do we get in?" Napoleon trailed off as Illya reached into the ignition and removed a set of keys. "You'd make a great car thief."
Napoleon smiled as he sprung the lock and eased the lid up.
"Hello," the black man said, nonchalantly waggling his fingers at the agent.
"Close the lid, Napoleon. They've been a bother all night. If we leave them here, at least we'll know where they are. Besides, it'll be an easy way to deliver them to headquarters."
"I hear our lab boys have a whole new batch of truth serum they're just dying to try out. There won't be a satrap spared."
"Wait a second!" One man yelled and the other covered an ear for protection. "Sorry, man. Look in my pocket. "My partner and I aren't what you think we are."
"You got that right, man," the other man agreed.
"Napoleon, why don't you humor the man now? I'm sure we'll find them rather amusing when we start asking where Munroe is."
Napoleon snorted and reached into a breast pocket of the man's coat and withdrew the wallet he found there. In the light of the trunk, he flipped it open and read the card.
"Oh, Illya, you are not going to believe this." He passed the wallet over to the slender agent.
"First, the FBI and now this. Don't you people ever contact one another about things like this?"
Napoleon brought out his communicator and lifted it to his lips. "Open Channel D."
"Yes, Mr. Solo?" Waverly answered, his voice gravelly.
"Mr. Waverly, I've got a slight problem here. Were the CIA contacted about our safe guarding Mr. Munroe."
"Why do you ask?"
"We've been running into the same set of CIA agents all night and swapping our guest back and forth. Their names are Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott. They're the same men we 'removed' Munroe from earlier this evening. I think we're hip deep in a SNAFU, sir."
"SNAFU?" Illya looked puzzled.
The dark-haired agent gestured the Russian into silence as he tried to listen to Waverly. After a moment, he snapped the pen shut and stowed it away into his pocket.
"Listen, do you mind if we sit up? The spare tire is killing my back." Kelly was undemanding, especially in light of the uncertainty of the trunk lid remaining upright.
"Sure." Napoleon even offered him a hand. "Now, how do we find Munroe? I mean, if you don't have him and we don't have him, then a third party's gotten involved."
"Oh, you mean the bird people?"
"Bird people?" Napoleon's brow knotted in confusion.
"THRUSH, Napoleon." Illya spoke from the backseat of the sedan and held out Munroe's jacket. "Our friend seems to have left this behind."
"How did you find him this time?" Scotty eased himself out of the trunk carefully to avoid further annoying his cramped muscles.
"Bug in his jacket, but that avenue seems to be out now."
"Not to fear." Illya interrupted. "When I bug, I prefer a much more permanent base." He pulled out his communicator and twisted it on.
"I tried that once. Got ink all over my shirt." Kelly muttered to no one in particular.
Illya grimaced and swung the instrument around until a faint beep registered. "Bingo!"
"Smart Russian," Napoleon grumbled as he climbed into the passenger's seat of the vehicle. "Since we're all supposed to be on the same side, would you care to join us? It would be a pleasure to know where you are for a change."
"Hear, hear!" Kelly was quick to get into the backseat with Scott close behind. Follow that beep, Jeeves!"
"That reminds me." Napoleon reached over his shoulder. "Napoleon Solo and this is my partner, Illya Kuryakin."
Robinson shook the hand firmly as Scotty offered his to Illya. "Could you be careful with the car? I've got to get this one back safe and sound. Otherwise, the chief will have my hide, not to mention my driver's license." Scott was nervous about the way the Russian gunned the motor.
"Oh, not to worry." Napoleon comforted the pair. "He hardly rolls them anymore, do you, Illya? Trust me."
"Isn't that what the snake said to Cleopatra?"
The bug finally led them to a warehouse on the poorer section of New York Harbor. The building wasn't hard to find. It was the one with several heavily armed guards around it.
"Terrific, it looks like THRUSH brought some local muscle in."
"We're not going to be able to handle this ourselves, Napoleon. I'll call home and see if Mr. Waverly can send some help."
"Sounds like a reasonable request, but what do we do until then? They may be making life rather difficult for Munroe, if not physically impossible." Scott shifted, anxious to get out.
"Well," Napoleon said, considering his options. "We could kick up a little dust, I suppose, at least until the cavalry comes over the hill."
"What should we do in the meantime?"
"How about some controlled mayhem?" Kuryakin reached into a pocket and withdrew a wad of plastic explosive.
"No, I'm not real good at that." Kelly disagreed. "How does mass hysteria sound?"
"Too unpredictable." Napoleon shook his head, attempting to establish himself as group leader. "Why don't you two do what comes naturally to you and Illya and I will do what we're best at."
Illya smiled slyly at Napoleon. "Do you think that's wise, Napoleon? I mean, there's not a.."
"Enough, Smart Russian." Napoleon gestured onward.
Napoleon Solo settled back against a crate and reached for his shoe.
"If we plant the explosives there, there and there, we could take that section of the roof down without much damage to the rest of the building - I think." Illya pointed to three different locations and ignored Napoleon's grimace.
"What do you mean, you think?"
"Just that. We'll take that section down, but the rest of the structure looks strong enough to handle the shock without collapsing."
"If we kill this guy, the old man will have our retirement fund."
"Napoleon, if the building comes down, there won't be much of us left to retire. They'll just scrape us into an envelope and mail us to Florida or wherever they send defunct agents."
"And thank you for that vote of confidence, Mr. Kuryakin."
"Not at all. Shall we go for it?"
Napoleon removed a detonator from the heel of his shoe. "Why not? I've ..ah..always wanted to go out with a bang."
Kelly Robinson flattened himself against the weather roughened surface of the roof, feeling the presence of Alexander Scott close at hand.
"What do you suggest, man?"
"Well, we're supposed to create a scene. Do we knock on the door and claim to be girl scouts selling cookies?" He trailed off at Scott's scowl. "It was just an idea. What would the wonderfulness of your brain suggest?"
"Why not try something with a bit more pep?" Scott reached into his jacket pocket and hauled out a small, but powerful explosive. "Had these in the glove compartment."
Kelly slapped his hands together in pleasure. "What say we make this dump come alive?"
Napoleon watched Illya plant the last bit of plastic explosive and run for the protection of a nearby crate.
Kelly Robinson pulled out the arming pin and lobbed the explosive through an open skylight.
Twin explosions lit the night.
Illya Kuryakin stuck his head into the hospital room and entered when it became apparent that Napoleon was awake.
The older agent frowned at Illya who hobbled awkwardly in on crutches. He hadn't gotten off as fortunately as the Russian, finding himself with various bruises, fractures and scrapes.
"The doctors say you'll be up in a week or so, Napoleon," Illya comforted, aware of Napoleon's displeasure at being bedridden. "They say you were extremely lucky and there won't be any permanent scars."
"Terrific, what about the CIA guys?"
"Down, but seldom for the full count," answered a voice from beyond the door. Alexander Scott, his face and arms swathed with bandages, entered. "Looks like we really had a communication problem this last time." He walked slowly to the bed. "I'm just glad those reinforcements showed up when they did. I don't think we were worrying the bad guys too much by bleeding on them."
"What about your partner?" Napoleon asked.
"Well, Napoleon." Illya rested on the foot of the bed, tired from his exertions with the crutches. "We know how boring it gets in the hospital, so we arranged a little something to make the time go faster."
"That's really decent of you, Illya." Napoleon began as the curtain separating him from the rest of the room was drawn back. Lying there, in the bed beside his, lay Kelly Robinson, still unconscious and a profusion of plaster and gauze.
"I 'spect you and Kel will have tons of things to talk about once he wakes up. Illya here tells me you're fond of the ladies, too. Should be a match made in heaven."
"I'll remember this, Illya."
"Least I could do for a poor wounded comrade." Illya got to his feet painfully. "Later, Napoleon."
Illya took to his crutches before Napoleon could lob his tissue box at him.
"Hey, Illya," Napoleon could hear Scott's voice from beyond the door. "You wanna come home with me and meet my mom? She just loves to feed skinny guys like you."