Illya Kuryakin bolted upright, waking with a start that made his head ache and his teeth rattle. The sunlight streaming in from a nearby window was at the wrong angle and he frantically grabbed his alarm clock.
"Ten o'clock? How is that possible?" he murmured to himself. He felt like he'd been asleep just a few minutes. He shook the alarm clock, whose ticking had kept him awake for hours the previous evening and blessed it with a blasting curse in his native language. Addressing the clock directly, he said, "This is absolutely the last time Napoleon talks me into buying American goods. Next time, I'll stick with something that works."
Hurriedly, he scrambled from the bed, nearly tumbling to the floor as uncooperative sheets wound themselves about his ankles like thick white snakes. He gritted his teeth against a stab of pain that shot through one leg, a none-too-gentle reminder that he was still on light duty. That made him being late all that much worse. He couldn't use an uncooperative witness, a stray THRUSH or even the discovery of some evil, world-threatening plot as an excuse.
Struggling free of the bedclothes, he stumbled his way across the obstacle course left by his clothes, suitcase, books and other belongings. He nearly stepped on a day-old sandwich. It sported a beard of mold. If I had more pride, I'd clean this place. If I had time, I'd clean this place. However, since I've long since abandoned my pride and UNCLE lays claim to all my time, I am saved from such an ugly task. Besides, I'd just have to do it again in a year or so, he thought to himself as he stayed his foot at the last second.
Illya eventually reached the sanctuary of the bathroom, started the shower and reached for his razor. He made a face and a pinched, sleep-drugged reflection made a face back at him. One drag across a cheek made him wince, but he knew that to hunt for a substitute blade would be fruitless. That's right; you were supposed to buy razor blades when you went to the store last night.
Gritting his teeth, an act which made shaving even harder, Illya scraped his way through, only nicking himself a couple of times, and turned back to the shower. The mirror hadn't steamed up, so he was only slightly surprised by the lack of hot water. In fact, he knew that cold showers were supposed to be invigorating, but at the moment, he had another word for it. Still, if his relatives were able to brave Siberian winters, who was he to quibble about a cold shower?
After a fast dash in and out of the frigid stream of water, Illya wrapped a towel around his waist and dripped his way back into the main room of the studio apartment.
"Now to find some clothes," he said, aloud as he surveyed the jumble of pants, shirts, and underwear that struggled to escape from his dresser and into the wilds of his living room.
The first pair of pants he selected had a jammed zipper. Obviously he needed to talk to Del about that. The second pair had a rather inconvenient tear and a third pair was much too dirty to wear. Eventually, he found some pants that could pass casual, if not close, inspection and turned to repeat the process for a shirt. Illya finally settled on a pullover and sat to tie his shoes. One lace broke off in his hands and he sat back as he sighed, long and hard. At the moment, he happened to glance up at the calendar and nodded.
"Friday the 13th. No wonder I'm having all this trouble. Probably a full moon tonight as well," he said as he reached for his boots. True, they were scuffed and worn, but he didn't have to worry about tying them. With his current streak of luck, it would have taken the better part of the day to locate laces.
One hour later, he marched wearily into Del Floria's, barely pausing to acknowledge the man's greeting. Illya was broken and dejected, long past the 'have a nice day' condition. In fact, he was well along his way to having a seriously crappy day. Never had he suffered through such a bad start and then to have the subway break down was simply icing on the cookie...or was that cake? Idioms were still a mystery to him.
Illya walked into the usual fitting booth and grabbed the third hook. He yanked down upon it, turned and promptly smacked into the wall when it didn't move. His head cracked against unyielding wood and for a moment he saw stars.
He was starting to get this tiny nagging feeling that this whole thing was Napoleon's doing, revenge for something or other.
He poked a head out and looked exasperatedly over at Del Floria, who merely shrugged his shoulders.
"Sorry, Illya. I forgot to tell you they changed booths again. Some of the neighborhood kids found out about it. I guess they raised havoc through the reception area before security cleared them out."
"No problem, Del, with the way my morning's been going, this is the best thing that's happened to me."
"Ah, a Friday the 13th co-sufferer."
"That's not the reassurance I needed to hear, Del," Illya said, walking into the indicated booth.
Things aren't going to get any better in here either, Illya decided as he climbed out of the elevator. After having to wait for an insane number of people to board or depart, he headed for his office, hoping to find a small measure of peace there.
"Hey, Illya!" The voice of his partner stopped him and Kuryakin waited for Solo to join him. "I thought you were taking today off." Napoleon Solo said, shifting an armful of files. "I distinctly remembering you saying something about shoveling out that apartment of yours."
"That certainly would explain why my Made in America alarm clock failed to operate this morning. This has definitely been the day for it. I haven't been able to get one thing right so far today."
"So I can tell." Napoleon was critically eyeing Illya's appearance. "I've never known you to cut yourself shaving before. And who dumped coffee on you?"
"Some lady in the subway. Then she yelled at me because it was her first cup and how dare I be in her way. This was a difficult task since she was sitting and I was standing, but I felt that pointing that out to her would only escalate the situation."
"The balance of world peace thanks you. Since you're here, you can solve a mystery for us."
"A large crate came for you this morning marked, 'personal and extremely confidential'. Of course the bomb squad crawled all over it, but they didn't detect anything unusual. I'm sure they'd appreciate it if you'd open it up so they could scan whatever's inside. Plus there's a pool going on it. I'm in for $20."
"A fool and his money, Napoleon. Where is this aforementioned crate? I wouldn't mind knowing what's in it myself," Illya said. "I'm not in the habit of receiving personal shipments here." Then he paused and smiled slight. "Or anywhere else for that matter. Who would be sending me something?"
"Let's go find out. If nothing else, at least it gets me away from my desk for a while. How are you feeling, by the way?"
Illya shrugged his shoulders. "Bored and still a little tired."
"Which is why you should go home after this and get some rest. The world can function without you for a few days."
"I'm not arguing, Napoleon, I just forgot." He rubbed his head sheepishly. "Maybe I got hit harder than I thought."
Illya followed Napoleon down into the bowels of UNCLE headquarters, an area seldom travelled by either man. They could infiltrate the most secure THRUSH hideout, but neither man had much idea of the daily inner bowels of UNCLE. Because of that, they took a couple of false turns, once dead ended into an empty loading dock and another time at a padlocked door. As tempting as it was to pick the lock open, they left it alone. Eventually they found the mailroom and paused in front of the counter. The room was large, but seemed dimly lit. There were several desks to one side and rows of metal shelves stretched back into the dimness.
There was a large open area just on the other side of the counter, or at least there would have been had not a large wooden crate wasn't parked there.
"Is the mailroom supervisor in," Napoleon asked a nearby woman, turning on the charm as she looked up. Illya rolled his eyes and narrow missed planting his elbow down in the middle of a purple stamp pad. "Careful, partner, that's a bad color for you."
She looked up from her task, smiled and held out a hand. "You're looking at him. I'm Toni. And you?"
"Napoleon Solo and this is Illya Kuryakin."
"Ah, we've been waiting for you, Mr. Kuryakin. I'm pleased to meet you." She shook hands with both of them. "That package of yours is taking up some prime real estate in my mailroom." That was certainly true. The crate was nearly six feet tall, barely clearing the fluorescent lights, and nearly as wide. "It was dropped off last night and we've been running into it ever since."
"So I see."
"It's been cleared, so all I need if you to sign it and take it away." She handed Illya a clipboard
"I think we might be a little hard pressed for that," Napoleon said, watching Illya scratch his signature across the bottom of the form. "Couldn't you open it up here? At least then we wouldn't have to struggle with trying to get the box through the corridors," he said to Illya.
"That's fine with me." Illya pushed the clipboard and form back to Toni. "So how do you suggest going about this?" Illya asked, eyeing the box. Napoleon looked at him and Illya shrugged his shoulders. "Considering the day I've been having so far, I am not about to even guess at the simplest of tasks anymore."
"We can do it for you." Toni reached under the counter and pulled out a tool. "With wire cutters and hammers, I should imagine. Hey, Shelly, Jean, give us a hand up here!" Two women materialized from the stacks and approached her. "Shelly, grab a crowbar, will you?"
"What's going on?" Shelly arrived with a crowbar hitched over one shoulder. She was a perky redhead that Illya had seen in the canteen many times before. The other woman, Jean, he assumed, was pulling on a pair of work gloves.
"I don't remember there being quite so many women down here," Napoleon murmured to his partner. "I must get down here more."
"These are modern times, Napoleon. I imagine women can open envelopes and pull forms as well as men." Illya watched as Toni, with a few precise moves, dropped one side of the crate and she looked in, only to immediately start grinning.
She stepped back and gave Illya a head-to-scuffed boot appraisal "Yee haw, the things you see when you don't have a gun."
Shelly gasped and her hand flew to her mouth. "Holy Mother of..." She crossed herself quickly even as she looked away, saw Illya and immediately exploded in a blush as she looked over at Illya. Her eyes immediately dropped to his crotch. Illya resisted the urge of check his fly.
"Viva la art. I think this will look especially nice in the reception area," Jean's eyes half closed as she purred. "Mr. Kuryakin, I didn't know you had it in you."
Illya was now too puzzled and moved around the counter to peer into the crate himself. He sighed, long and deep. "The last straw," he whispered. "They have broken my back. I surrender. Napoleon, I am going home—quite probably for the rest of my life."
An even more perplexed Napoleon joined them. A life-size bronze statue of his partner, completely nude, stared back at him and he whistled softly. His eye caught a slip of white on the bottom of the crate and he scooped the paper up to read it. "Hmmm, it would seem that Flavia Whateley kept her promise about immortalizing you in bronze, partner." Napoleon turned his head sideways. "When did you pose for her?"
"Napoleon!" Illya was affronted, embarrassed by the overtones of the question. "I would never consider such a thing. She must have done it from memory."
"I can tell," Napoleon said, his eyes sweeping up and down the nude. "It looks like she got one thing wrong, though. One big thing wrong..."
"You don't mean...? Not that!" Toni's eyes, as well as the eyes of her coworkers were all focused upon one area of the statue.
"Yup, See?" Napoleon pointed and smiled at her. "She parted his hair on the wrong side." Shoving his hands into his pockets, Napoleon strolled away as all three women turned the attention to the blushing blond.
"Napoleon, don't leave me! Napoleon!" Illya's voice grew desperate. "Ladies... now, remember the UNCLE handbook about work place decorum... NAPOLEON!"