I get 'em all here. Short, tall, thin, fat, eventually, they all cross my threshold and look around, at first a little unsure about things. Then, as the evening wears on, they relax. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they talk, but mostly they don't – no skin off my nose either way.
I've been tending this bar for as long as I've been of legal age, sort of, and I worked in the bar before then. I grew up with the smell of stale beer and Jack Daniels. My daddy ran the place before me. He used to tell me about the day when this well dressed middle aged guy came in sucking on a briar pipe, looked around, and made himself at home. He struck up a conversation with Dad, and they became good friends.
Alexander was why we went from being a bar to being a pub, although I couldn't really tell you the difference between the two. I mean we serve mushy peas and fried oysters, along with fish and chips and kidney pies, so I guess we're different than other watering holes. Mostly, Alexander wanted a place for his boys, as he called them, somewhere they could relax and blow off steam, but still feel safe. That was when we became the Bar from UNCLE.
It sounds a little stupid, really, but lots of other places have come and gone and we've never had to worry about income. Our clientele is loyal, usually pretty quiet, and always thirsty. Sure there's a metal detector at the door and armed guards who encourage those without an ID card to try the place next door, but we're still just a hole in the wall bar... with infra red sensors on all the door and widows and a dampening field around us. Now that I think about it, maybe we ain't so much like the others.
Anyhow, after I graduated from high school, Dad gave me four options: I could join the army, but they shot real bullets from those guns. I could join UNCLE, likewise with the real bullets. I could go to college... that made the bullets more appealing. Or I could take over bartending for him. My mama didn't raise no fool, so I grabbed a bar rag and never regretted it for a minute.
I can't say that tending bar for a bunch of hopped-up enforcement agents is all fun and games. The agents get to know you and sort of relax, but it's still like handling dynamite at times. They can go up like a sky rocket – fast and furious. Usually they come back down just as quickly. It's how they are wired and after awhile you get used to it.
There's a definite lack of pecking order among the agents within the bar. Here the titles that exist inside the big old building down the street don't mean as much, but when Solo and Kuryakin walk in together, the Red Sea parts. They show up at the door and Moses has nothing on these two. Conversations stop, lots of the guys start studying their table tops, while others do their best to look... what's the word? Nonchalant? I think that's it. Like they have as much right to be there as anyone else.
It never matters though. When those two come in together, it's rare they pay any of the others much mind. They always seem to kinda be in a world of their own.
There is a small table towards the back – that's their table. It's got full view of the door and it backs up to the wall. You can see the whole place from there and they don't usually settle for another. If there's an agent or two sitting there, immediately they get up and move. I never heard either man ever say anything about it – it's just how it is. It is simply their table – period.
Funny enough, apart, they are very different. Solo, he's a social animal and will go from table to table, greeting people by name, visiting with them, sometimes buying drinks, other times accepting them. He knows the funniest stories and is always willing to joke with the others.
Kuryakin, okay, a word to the wise, don't try to out-drink him and never, ever let him challenge you to darts, especially when you've decided he's drunk. He ain't that drunk – ever! More than one agent watched a chunk of their paycheck walk out the door with him. He's a bit quieter than Solo, but he's liked well enough from what I can tell.
The night started out like others that week, cold and rainy. A front had stalled off the coast and we'd gotten a solid week of rain. That put everyone into a funk. Julie, our comely barmaid, as Solo referred to her, had a cold and her nose was beet red from blowing it. Dad was having trouble with his gout and had taken the night off. Me, I was just annoyed because I'd lost a bundle on the last Packers game. Everyone in the bar seemed angry about something, so what happened next shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, but it was.
Kuryakin came bashing through the door and Eugene nearly shot him. One glare from Kuryakin was enough to send the man back two whole paces. I never saw him back down like that before. Behold the power of the Russian – I'd heard about it, but had never seen it in action. I'd also never seen Kuryakin so mad before. He had a swollen eye, a puffy lip and tape across his nose. Obviously, he'd done more than just lose money on a football game.
"Illya, I'm sorry, I'm trying to apologize here." Solo was right behind him. He looked a bit roughed up as well and even had a couple of fingers taped. "I just forgot what I was doing."
"That's reassuring, Napoleon! You just happened to forget you were pounding me into the gym mat. I'm so relieved now."
"Illya, listen to me, it was a one-time thing." Solo sounded like he was pleading now.
Kuryakin said something really low and scary, but I didn't recognize the language. The agents always seem to have a few different languages under their belt, but Kuryakin and Solo – those two took first prize.
"What? I don't understand." Solo brushed some hair off his forehead and I realized it was the first time I'd seen his hair all messed up like that. His jacket was all wrinkled and buttoned funny. This whole thing was getting weirder by the minute.
"That is obvious! I said I am through. This partnership is dissolved. I'll turn the paperwork in to Waverly in the morning. Perhaps my next partner won't have as much problem remembering who I am."
"Illya." Solo's voice got really soft and he reached out. Kuryakin evaded Solo's hand like he had the clap or something.
"Touch me and lose the hand. This time I won't stop."
"I just need to explain..."
"Leave me alone."
Okay, I was willing to leave him alone, but me he stalked up to, a look of pure fury on his face. I just handed him a bottle of vodka and a water glass and took a step back. Whether it was spite or something else, he chose a table as far away from their usual spot as he could and sat, just daring anyone to be stupid enough to approach him.
You could hear a pin drop in the bar – even the rain seemed to forget how to make a noise. Then all at once, life jumpstarted again and conversation started buzzing. I'll give you two guesses what everyone was talking about, but I don't think either man really cared.
I watched Solo rub his forehead and could only imagine the headache he must be sporting. Instead of following his partner, he walked up to the bar and settled on a stool.
"What will you have, Mr. Solo?" I wiped the bar down in front of him and pushed a bowl of peanuts closer. I wanted to keep those hands busy at all cost.
"A scotch, a double."
"Yes, sir." I served it to him and watched him do a slow burn. "Long day at the office?"
"You have no idea." He took a long swallow of the alcohol – his taped fingers stuck out at a weird angle as he held the glass.
I didn't say anything else. My job was to serve alcohol. Sometimes the agents talked, more often they didn't. In any event, I didn't ask.
I went about my business and when Kuryakin's bottle dropped to the halfway point, Julie screwed up enough courage to approach the table with a bowl of pretzels. She left pretty damn fast too.
"You okay?" I caught her down by the cash register.
"Frost bite," she murmured. "What's going on, Luke?"
"No idea and it's better that way. Listen, do me a favor?"
"Go into the stock room and get a couple more bottles of vodka."
"You don't seriously think he's going to finish that one?"
"Stranger things have happened – and take your time. I can watch this mob out here."
She nodded and I watched her leave. I didn't know it then, but it was the smartest thing I'd ever done in my short time on this planet.
I went back to Solo. "Anything else I can do for you, Mr. Solo?"
"Take time back, not far, just to this afternoon."
"That I could." I winced then. There was this high-pitched whistle that drilled into my brain and felt like it was trying to skim the top of my head off.
Then the street level reinforced glass window buckled and shattered into a million pieces. There was a rat-tat-tat of sound, which I thought was gunfire, but it was all the bottles behind me exploding, showering me with liquor and glass.
"What the hell?" One of the Section Three boys started to turn, his gun already drawn, and suddenly my shirt front was sprayed with red.
"Mike!" Solo shouted as the Section Three guy dropped and then Solo convulsed, dropping to the bar.
Okay, this was a first. I mean we'd had trouble with THRUSH in the past, but for them to launch a frontal attack like this was serious business. I went for the panic button and hoped for the best.
All at once, I was being dragged to the floor, along with a semi-conscious Solo. The arm around my waist felt like steel and that's when I realized it was Kuryakin. God, for a little guy, he's strong. How the hell he got from across the room to here in ten seconds flat was beyond me, but it was all I could do to keep from kissing him in gratitude.
He got us over to one side, away from most of the glass and shoved a gun into my hand. "Cover me," he snapped as he ripped through Solo's jacket to assess his wound, or so I guessed. I was doing my best just to keep the gun steady and return fire without hitting one of our guys.
Glass crunched under my feet and I could smell this strong coppery stink of blood through the spilled alcohol. I was just glad Dad had stayed home tonight.
"Give it to me," Kuryakin demanded and pried the gun from my hands. I noticed his fingers were all caked with blood and I nearly started upchucking right then and there. Kuryakin seemed to sense this. "Help Napoleon." He bobbed up to return fire. A half bottle of vodka in this guy and his hand and aim were a hundred times more accurate than mine had been stone cold sober.
"Hey, Mr. Solo." I squatted down beside him, trying to avoid the glass shards. There was a bar towel nearby and I shook it out, then held it over the bloodstain that was spreading across his shirt. "Couldn't find the time machine; I hope this will do." He grunted and tried to sit up. "Don't move. The place is covered in glass. You could hurt yourself."
He gave a funny little half laugh, half cough. "Too late for that, my friend; I fear the damage is already done."
It was scary how much damage a little chunk of metal could make, but all around me, I could see the evidence, great splinters of wood and glass littered the floor and, worse, I could feel it, warm and sticky as Solo's blood oozed through my fingers.
I picked up his pistol and was about to hand it to him when I looked up as a guy, his face all distorted, popped up over the bar. He stared down at me and there was no doubt what he intended to do. The gun in my hand fired before I even registered that I'd aimed it at him. I'd never killed anyone before and I know that killing is wrong, but I don't think God would fault me this one time.
"Good shooting," Solo whispered and he closed his eyes. His brow furrowed, like he was trying to find the strength to stay conscious. "Illya?" he asked.
"I'm here," Kuryakin shouted, but how he heard him was beyond me. My ears were echoing with gun retorts. There was return gunfire now, a lot of it, and I cringed. I could hear the bullets chunking into the solid oak of the bar and thanked God that Daddy hadn't skimped when he put it in.
"I need to help him," Solo said.
"You need to stay put." Like he was going to listen to me. How he managed to get to his feet was anyone's guess. I've heard it said that agents are super humans. From what I was seeing, I had to agree. He half stumbled and groped his way to Kuryakin's position, suddenly spinning to shoot a bad guy – or so I hoped. Otherwise my insurance rates were going to go sky high. If Solo hadn't taken the gunman out, Kuryakin would have gotten a .45 caliber lobotomy and he never would have known what hit him.
Kuryakin glanced, figured everything out with just that one look and shook his head. Solo's knees buckled and Kuryakin caught him. Solo's weight dropped them both to the floor and Kuryakin grunted as he landed, thankfully not on a pile of glass, but it still had to hurt.
"You really are a blockhead, you know." He had his arms around Solo, supporting him. I tossed a clean bar rag to him and he pressed it against Solo's shoulder.
"That's why you love me." Then his head lolled and Kuryakin sighed, pulling him even tighter.
"Yes, Napoleon, that's why I love you."
Before I could even register the remark, I realized how very quiet it had become. People were starting to move cautiously around and that's when I realized it was all over. THRUSH had discovered and taken out the panic button but Julie, bless her heart for not trusting technology, had taken the underground tunnel into HQ and rallied the forces.
I moved out from behind the bar and winced. I wasn't hurt, not really, but the place... well, it looked like a battleground. There was broken glass, destroyed tables and chairs, blood, alcohol, and, I shuddered, bodies everywhere. In the distance I could hear a siren, but then it got really faint...
When I came to, I was in Medical with a dozen or more agents, including Solo and Kuryakin. It felt a little weird to be treated like one of them, but I was – at least for an hour, at any rate. They got patched up and sent God knows where, both looking like hell, but leaning on each other for support. Me, I got sent on an all-expense paid vacation while they patched up my bar.
I thought about what it must be like to be an agent – all that excitement, the glory, and the call to duty. Then I remembered all that blood and the look of pure hate on that guy's face when he came at me. I remembered the brief look of panic in Solo's eyes when he wasn't sure he'd got that gunman. How Kuryakin's anger instantly became concern when his partner was hurt and how tired they both looked as they wearily left Medical together that night. They seemed to have gotten past whatever problem they'd been having earlier. I guess water under the bridge for guys like that.
So I went back to polishing my bar and dispensing advice with my drinks. I mean, it's a tough job too, but someone has to do it.