NEW YORK, NEW YORK JUNE 17, 19__ 5:34 p.m. EDT
An auburn-haired secretary smiled as she studied the two men exiting from what appeared to be an ordinary wall in U.N.C.L.E.'s New York Headquarters. The first was of medium height, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes that barely hinted at the calculating mind behind them. He patted his neat tailor-made suit automatically as he grinned and his eyes, twinkling with an endless zest for life, caught the secretary's. Who, she speculated, would believe that this man was the chief enforcement agent for the organization known as U.N.C.L.E.?
She shifted her gaze to the second man, an opposite in every way from the first. Pale gold hair fell across a habitual furrowed brow, which set off a pair of blue eyes in the Slavic face. The well-worn coat draped over one shoulder revealed the shoulder holster and the P-38 that was never far from his reach. His forehead furrowed as he suddenly locked eyes with the woman and his mouth twitched slightly in amusement.
She blushed, embarrassed to be caught staring. "Are you both off again?" she asked, trying to regain her composure.
"Not this boy," the dark-haired Napoleon Solo answered, appraising the woman appreciatively. "Mr. Waverly has given us time off for good behavior. I don't plan to do anything, but relax and enjoy the sun."
"Nothing else, Napoleon?" Illya Kuryakin's voice was incredulous. "Surely you can do better than that."
Both Napoleon and the secretary turned to him. "Now, Illya, you know me—a gentleman to the core." Napoleon chided.
"That's why I asked." Illya shook his head and smoothly changed the subject. "I don't know about you, Mr. Gentleman, but I would recommend that we beat a hasty retreat out of here before the Old Man suddenly remembers a little task for us." He brushed his hair off his forehead. "I don't want to lose this vacation like the one that turned into the Turkey Affair."
The secretary, following the conversation closely, fumbled with a pencil. "How was Istanbul this time of year?"
"Now that we've plucked the feathers from the local THRUSH, Turkey should recover quite well from her near-roasting," Napoleon said, grinning at his own pun.
Illya moaned softly and started back down the hall. "I'll meet you at the car, Napoleon. I want to check on something I left in the lab." The slim blond agent darted into a closing elevator and disappeared from sight, leaving behind a chuckling Napoleon.
"He's like a perpetual motion machine," the secretary commented. "Does he ever sit still?"
"You have no idea." Napoleon unpinned his badge. "Take care of the place for us, Miss Lewis. We'll be back."
Illya drummed his fingers to Bach's Fourth Concerto in f Minor. He raised his head briefly and opened his eyes as Napoleon slid behind the steering wheel beside him before his attention returning to the music. Napoleon started the car and turned the music down to a muted roar. "So tell me, what are you going to do with your glorious freedom?"
"Sleep," mumbled the Russian. "And bury my communicator as far back in the closet as I can. What about you, besides the relaxing and enjoying the sun bit?"
"I think I'll shoot for the three R's."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You know, the three R's: rum, redheads, and rumba. I know this little redhead who does things to a rumba that would make your eyes pop."
"Among other things, I should imagine," Illya slumped back and idly scratched one of the insect bites he collected in Turkey.
Napoleon smiled and flicked a glance into the rear view mirror, ever alert for possible danger and eased the Jag into traffic. "Illya, why not go out on the town with me tonight?"
"I don't know... The last time I went out on the town with you, I was drunk for two days afterwards and have yet to find my trousers."
"All you are going to do is sit in your apartment and brood. I know this restaurant that makes Steak Diane the way your mother used to."
"My mother is Russian, Napoleon. She doesn't make Steak Diane."
"If she had, this would have been the way she'd have done it. We have a great meal, find a couple of like minded ladies and show New York how it's supposed to be done."
Illya cast Napoleon a sidelong look. "All right, I guess it's harmless enough. Can I go back to my apartment and shower first or will that make me too broody?"
"I guess you'll be safe. You might also want to change," Napoleon added. "Did you know there's a bullet hole in your sleeve?"
Illya looked down, frowning, and poked a curious finger through the hole. Deadpan, he replied, "You should see the other guy."
As they entered Illya's apartment, Napoleon braced himself, for while Illya was a good friend and a better agent, he was not, under any circumstance what you would classify as a tidy housekeeper. Therefore, Napoleon was surprised to find the apartment fairly neat, even bordering on clean. The books and papers that usually littered every available surface were tucked into their respective slots; the dishes that always cluttered the coffee table and surrounding floor had been cleared away, washed and replaced in the cupboards. Only an unmade bed marred the small apartment.
"There might be something drinkable in the kitchen," Illya invited as he dropped his suitcase just inside the door and squirmed out of his holster. "You know where the ice is. I doubt there's anything still edible in the refrigerator, but if you're feeling brave, you can check it out. Just don't touch anything that has a label on it. I'm storing some new cultures in there for the lab and I wouldn't want you to come down with some exotic virus."
Napoleon heard the bathroom door close and then the rush of water as he wandered into the small efficiency kitchen. One look inside the refrigerator and he decided against using himself as a guinea pig. Instead he dug around in the cupboards until he found the bottle of Scotch Illya kept on hand for him. He poured a generous amount in a glass, dug some ice out of the tiny icebox.
He wandered back into the small living room of the efficiency apartment and had settled onto the couch when the phone rang. There was no response from the bathroom, so Napoleon let the new fangled answering machine that Section Eight was messing with catch it.
"Illya, darling, lover, my softest of petals," boomed the loudest female voice Napoleon had ever heard. It rattled the walls, echoed and the agent could swear he saw plaster waft down from the ceiling. "Estafan and I were to drive the Fox in the NY to LA tour next week, but I've decided to go to Carnival in Rio instead. Would you be a love and drive for me? Perhaps you can find a charming playmate to help you out. I know you can't refuse me anything, so I've already changed the reservation to your name. Stop by the house tonight and I'll give you all the details. Wear something uncomplicated. Mmmmaww!" The kissing sound was unmistakable.
Clamped a hand over his mouth in a vain attempt to control his laughter, Napoleon raised his head and looked directly into Illya's smoldering blue eyes.
"You're... ah... dripping on the carpet." Napoleon hesitated just briefly, then added, "Softest of petals."
"One more word, Napoleon, I will wipe the floor with you."
"Uh huh, I'll keep that in mind." Napoleon sniffed, wiping a tear from his eye. "So, what was that all about?" he called after the Russian as he disappeared down the short hallway only to reappear a moment later clad in a soft blue terry cloth robe with a towel draped around his neck.
Illya settled in an overstuffed chair and started to towel dry his hair, apparently ignorant of Napoleon's question. "Where am I going to find..." He stopped and broke into an uncharacteristic grin. "Napoleon...old friend..."
"Now, wait just a minute," Napoleon demanded, wary of the change.
"How would you like an absolute week's guaranteed vacation? I can supply the sun, rest and relaxation, but no rumba, I'm afraid."
Napoleon's mind drifted back to all his other 'guaranteed' vacations. "Impossible," he declared.
"No, it's not; I used to do it all the time before I was moved up in Section 2. Have you ever heard of touring?" Illya's voice filtered through the towel.
"I seem to have heard it somewhere," Napoleon responded drily as he picked up his drink. "Isn't that where you go to a foreign country to ask silly questions and take lots of pictures of things you can't remember the names of when you get home?"
Illya emerged from the towel, frowning. "No, Napoleon, touring, not tourists. Cars race from point A to point B, as designated by a tour master. Whoever has the most accurate mileage wins."
"You mean rallying," Napoleon corrected, smiling.
"I guess that's another name for it," Illya admitted.
"It's a rare Jag owner who hasn't heard of rallying, my Slavic friend." Napoleon sank back into a chair and put his feet up onto the coffee table. "I did a lot of it when I was younger, but had to give it up when I joined UNCLE." He regarded his glass and nodded. "I haven't been on a rally in ten years. Why?"
Illya grinned and dialed a number on the phone. "May I speak to Estafan de Puerta please? Illya Kuryakin." Napoleon was suddenly all attention at the name. He knew Estafan de Puerta as a top man in one of the larger New York investment houses; obviously this was just another of Illya's little surprises. After a pause, Illya continued. "Estafan, how are things in the world of high finance? About the same here...yes, my uncle is fine, thank you. I just got Svetlana's message and, as usual, she was woefully sparse on details...okay, let me get a pencil... Go ahead... Eight tomorrow night at your house... yes, I understand, I'll make sure I wear the same color socks this time... Did I understand Svetlana to say I'd be driving the Fox? It's been a long time, but I think I can handle her... no, no trouble at all, his name is Napoleon Solo ... No, not a drop of French in him unless you count temperament... Right, then we'll see you tomorrow." Illya cradled the phone and sank back into his chair.
"Illya, how do you know Estafan de Puerta?" Napoleon asked. "Isn't he president of some big investment firm?"
Illya went to a closet and selected a shirt. "Is he? Ambitious is definitely the word for Phil. Just after I joined UNCLE, I needed something to take up my spare time. One day, I saw an ad in the Times for a mechanic for a Triumph. I've been taking care of the Fox ever since." Illya broke off as he slipped into a pair of pants. "I got into touring when Svetlana asked me to drive for her. Eventually, I graduated to the navigator's position. Svetlana took care of the expenses and I maintained the car as my share. It worked out quite well—they got a mechanic and I got a rest."
"And I'm taking Svetlana's place?"Napoleon asked.
"All you have to do is drive and leave your communicator in your other pants." Illya smoothed his jacket and smiled at his reflection in a mirror. "Now, about that Steak Diane?"
NEW YORK, NEW YORK JUNE 18, 19__ 7:48 p.m. EDT
Together, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin made their way up a flight of stairs to the front door of a mansion ablaze with lights and music. Napoleon quickly inspected his suit as Illya banged the heavy brass knocker. As opposed to his partner, Illya was dressed casually in a polo shirt and slacks. The door was opened by a tall, strikingly handsome man dressed in a loud Hawaiian shirt and shorts.
"Ah, Mr. Kuryakin, how good you could join us this evening." He offered his hand to the Russian. "Mr. de Puerta was expecting you most anxiously. He feared for the health of your uncle."
"He's fine, thank you, Neil. This is my partner, Napoleon Solo." Illya smiled slightly and exchanged an 'after you' glance with Napoleon. They were led though the expansive hall and into a large ballroom filled with people.
Immediately Napoleon picked out several highly recognizable faces and murmured to his partner, "I didn't realize this was such a social event."
"This is an exclusive tour, Napoleon, by invitation only, and I understand that some of these people work very diligently all year at being invited, if you know what I mean." Illya deftly snatched two glasses from a passing waiter's tray, handed one to Napoleon and then allowed his gaze to drift about the room.
Suddenly a voice cracked the buzz of conversation, "Illya!" And the largest woman Napoleon had ever seen swept up to them. She was nearly 6'5" and clad is an assortment of brightly colored robes. Everything was large about the woman, including a very prominent Adam's apple.
As she gathered Illya up in her arms for a resounding kiss, Napoleon abruptly realized that the woman was indeed a man. "It has been ages since I've seen you. Where have you been, you naughty boy? Playing with your uncle? That will make you go blind." She released Kuryakin and turned her attention to Napoleon. "And who have we here?"
"Svetlana, this is my partner, Napoleon. Napoleon, this is Svetlana."
"How do you do?" Napoleon felt like he was a side of beef as Svetlana's eyes gave him a thorough once over. "Your... partner? Now I know what you've been up to, my little Russian love machine and with whom."
"Working partner, Svetlana," Illya corrected, sipping his champagne.
"Yea, yea, so you say." She pinched Illya's cheek and as quickly as she appeared, she was gone.
"I believe we have entered the eye of the storm," Illya murmured.
"Mr. Kuryakin, correct me if I'm wrong, but that wasn't a woman." Napoleon stared after Svetlana as she approached another couple.
"Not initially but she's much more settled now that she's had the operation. Used to be Steve and needless to say, the trips were always rather... interested, especially the hotel stays."
"You didn't tell me."
"You didn't ask."
"Illya," a voice interrupted and a stout, balding gentleman approached them. "I thought I heard Svetlana heralding your arrival. It is so good to see you again, son." He pumped the Russian's hand enthusiastically, and Illya smiled, holding his glass well away from his body. "I'm sorry about the short notice, but you know how Svetlana is once she gets an idea in her head. She immediately suggested you as a replacement and has been trying to locate you ever since. You are certainly a difficult man to get hold of—just like my tax accountant."
"Part of my charm," Illya replied smiling. "I'm just glad to get away from New York for a few days." He chuckled inwardly, remembering that he had spent only four days in the City during the past month. "Estafan, this is Napoleon Solo, a good friend of mine. Napoleon, Estafan de Puerta." Illya placed his empty glass on a passing tray. "Napoleon hasn't done this for awhile, so you might not see us in L.A."
De Puerta interrupted before Napoleon could say a word. "With you navigating, you'll have trouble just finding California. One year," he informed Napoleon, "he ended up in Arizona."
"I was unfamiliar with the country. I was lucky to find the West Coast. Besides I was driving. It wasn't my fault that Steve couldn't read the map properly."
De Puerta chuckled and turned to Napoleon. "You've done this before, Mr. Solo?"
"Been out of it for a while" Napoleon explained. "I used to do it all the time in my younger days. I even belonged to the SCCA at one time."
Illya, sure that Napoleon could handle the conversation himself, snagged another glass of champagne and resumed his study of the room, gradually drifting away from his partner and host.
"Humph," a voice at his elbow interrupted his thoughts. "I thought they had purged the area of your sort." Illya turned to see two men, both the same height, with mousy brown hair and an air of severe ennui.
Illya gave them a reserved look. "Jonathan, with the Gorgeous Gregory in tow. I'd say it was a pleasure to see you both again, but we all know I'd be lying. How goes the dreary existence at Harvard? Or has one of you actually managed to graduate yet?" Illya sipped from his drink, blue eyes sparkling.
"Come along, Gregory, let's find an American to talk to." Jonathan was obviously ready to cry from boredom and Greg turned on Kuryakin with a vengeful glare.
"Blazing comeback, Gregory," Illya assured him as they departed with one final scowl aimed at the Russian.
"What was that all about?" Illya glanced over his shoulder at Napoleon and grinned.
"That was Gregory Bryant IV and Jonathan Crutchly III, Harvard's oldest students. Svetlana probably invited them to give me a little sparring practice. Although I hate matching wits with people so woefully under equipped."
"I seem to remember them from a party somewhere in the Village."
"They major in Socialization with a minor in Partying," Illya murmured. "They drive a souped-up coup that neither can really handle and they've been trying to get Estefan to kick me out of the tour ever since I've been here."
"Obviously overlooking the fact that you're a personal friend of his."
"Grasping the Obvious apparently doesn't come until next semester."
"Anything else you want to tell me about the competition?" Napoleon asked, leaning against a wall. Illya positioned himself to see the whole room.
"Let's see, the loud Texas gentleman and the rather overdeveloped woman beside him are Mr. and Mrs. Farley Forswain, an oil baron from Dallas. Farley's all right, once you get through his accent."
"I remember something similar once being said about you."
"Possibly. He drives a little Alfa Romero and his one big fault is that the GI's fluster him to the point of collapse. Stops him from being a real contender, but he keeps trying."
"GI's?" Napoleon was puzzled for a moment, before understanding lit his hazel eyes. "You mean general instructions?"
Illya, his mouth full of hors d'oeuvre, nodded and swallowed before continuing. "Are you sure you haven't been saving yourself for just such an occasion? You seem pretty sure of yourself."
"My dear Mr. Kuryakin, a Napoleon is always sure of himself," Napoleon retorted. He procured a second glass from a waiter and looked expectantly at Illya.
The Russian indicated two women with his head. "Gloria Shepard and Tina Thompson. They drive a Dino Ferrier and they're good—they used to consistently beat us out for second place. I don't imagine they've gotten anything but better." Illya brushed a strand of hair back into place and sighed at Napoleon's grin. "You can relax, Napoleon. The only man Gloria is interested in is Tina, although that won't stop her from putting the moves on you if she thinks it will improve her standing in the race."
"You mean she..?" Napoleon was interested. "This is a very unusual crowd that you run with, old friend."
"You have no idea. Tina is a better mechanic than I'll ever be. UNCLE could use someone like her."
"Grooming someone, Illya?"
"Ever vigilant, Napoleon, even when I sleep. I thought you knew that. Page 152, paragraph 10, states..."
"Enough, enough, I get your point." Napoleon chuckled. A gong chimed softly and he glanced over at his partner.
"Finally, I was beginning to wonder if they were going to feed us. Stranger things have happened."
"I'm beginning to see that."
Napoleon leaned back in his chair and savored his wine, letting his attention wander from person to person, cataloging them for future reference until he finally reached Illya. The blond agent was engaged in a polite disagreement with someone Napoleon recognized as a leading Broadway star. They were arguing in German and Napoleon gave up trying to follow the conversation since they insisted on using current colloquialisms.
Napoleon felt something rub against his leg and he glanced up into the sultry eyes of his hostess. Unsure of how to proceed, he lifted his glass to her and she turned away, suddenly shy. His attention was abruptly drawn from her by the tinkling of metal against crystal. Estafan de Puerta lowered his spoon and smiled at the people around the table.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the 15th running of the New York to L.A rally. We are unfortunate not to have the entire party here, but they will be joining us tomorrow. The rules, as usual, are: This is a sports car rally, meaning that the cars are limited to those which carry only two people. The model year can be no later than 1967. This is a test of your abilities as drivers and navigators, not as racers. Time is important, but not as important as precision. As usual, the tour is divided into ten teams, each consisting of a driver, a navigator and a car. Remember, the most important part of this rally is that you have fun." He lifted his glass. "So, competitors, here's to creative stupidity."
"From here, it's uphill all the way," Illya murmured and clinked his glass against Napoleon's. "Nostrovia."
As people lowered their glasses, de Puerta continued. "Since the race is due to start at eight tomorrow morning, I shall not detain you any further. Everyone, go to bed and get a good night's sleep. It may be your last one for a while. Drivers, as you are leaving, please take a fortune cookie from the bowl you'll find at the door and save those fortunes. Good night and good luck!"
De Puerta saluted the table guests and exited, after pausing to exchange a few inaudible words with Illya. The Russian listened, nodded gravely, and de Puerta left without another word to anyone.
To Napoleon's questioning look, Kuryakin replied, "Just telling me where to find the Fox. He knew I'd like to take a look at it before the final hour. If you will excuse me, Napoleon? I have some work to do." He rose, scooping up the menu-like folder that contained the general instructions. "I haven't had my hands dirty for a while. I'll pick you up at six and we can grab a bite to eat."
"How should I dress?"Napoleon asked, setting his glass down.
"Casual, the more, the better. Bring along your tux for the celebration dinner in L.A." Illya clapped him fondly on the shoulder and strode from the room with his usual determined step. Napoleon stood to join those already departing when he heard a throaty voice behind him.
"Are you going to rush off without introducing yourself, Handsome?" He turned to discover the redhead. Her lime-green dress barely held its own against the voluptuous curves and Napoleon wondered what would happen if she took a deep breath. Gallantly, he took her hand and touched his lips to the back of it.
"Napoleon, Napoleon Solo."
"My, what a cultured name," the woman purred.
"And you are Gloria Shepard," Napoleon continued smoothly.
"And observant," she murmured, caressing him with her eyes. "Where has Illya been hiding you all these years?"
"In his closet, my dear," Napoleon responded, hoping to put a little space between them.
Confusion misted the pretty face, uncertainty playing across the features, and then her eyes widened and Napoleon belatedly realized what he had said. Oh well, in this crowd, would it really matter? He knew the truth, as did his partner, and that was enough to be contented with. He touched his forehead in a mock salute and turned to leave.
He scooped a fortune cookie from the Steuben crystal bowl, broke it open and carefully studied the slip of paper inside: it bore the number five and nothing else. With a shrug of his shoulders, he tucked it into his pocket and headed out into the night, chewing the cookie.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK JUNE 19, 19__ 5:58 a.m. EDT
Napoleon Solo darted another look at his watch. There was no one but himself on the deserted Manhattan street. An engine's roar and the protesting squeal of brakes caught his attention as a car slammed to a stop beside him and Illya climbed out. The Russian had on worn jeans, a blue work shirt open over a plain tee shirt, and an old pair of sneakers.
"Sorry I'm late, Napoleon, but I had to out-run a cop on the way over. Some little nasty about me doing fifty miles over the posted speed limit, but I wanted to blow out the engine before... " Illya tugged off his sunglasses and frowned at his partner. "Napoleon," he scolded, "I said casual. You look like you're about to meet the Queen."
"I'm not wearing a tie," Napoleon said, plucking a piece of lint from the dark blue jacket over the powder blue sports shirt. His eyes continued downward to the perfectly pressed slacks and his immaculately shined shoes. "Besides, my friend, this is as casual as you'll ever get me."
"All right, Napoleon, as long as you're comfortable." Illya sighed, slipping off a pair of leather racing gloves. "Would you like to take her for a spin? I thought we'd get you familiar with the Fox before grabbing a bite to eat."
Napoleon studied the car before him, a bright red Triumph III, with a convertible black vinyl roof. Its license plate read FFOXX. Early morning sun glinted off the polished surface as Illya ran a fond hand over a fender.
"She's officially listed as a '62-'63 model. When they finished the '62 models, they had a few parts left over, so they combined them with the parts from the '63 and ran a limited edition of a thousand. Estafan brought this one back from Germany," Illya said, chuckling. "Well, actually, he brought her back packed in several boxes—that's why he needed a mechanic: he couldn't remember how to put her back together. She's got a four cylinder engine and a 14.2 gallon tank; gets about thirty-two miles when she's running at her peak. Standard four gears, just like your Jag." Illya opened the door and gestured inside. "Your coach, Signore."
Napoleon eased himself into the low bucket seat, adjusting the seat until he was comfortable, examining the dashboard and its instruments as he did so. He put a hand on the steering wheel and shifted through the gears. Illya had slipped inside, and as Napoleon glanced over at him, he noticed all the instruments that crowded the small passenger space.
"What on earth is all that?"
"This is a Halda Twinmaster. It makes interpolation much easier on the little grey cells." Illya tapped his forehead. "It also has a plus-minus knob which comes in very handy when you take a wrong turn. We just subtract mileage until we find out where we went amiss."
Napoleon stared at the black box and the cables that ran to the wheels and then his eyes found a cylindrical device that looked faintly like a coffee grinder. "That I remember, but a lot bulkier. It's called a...Curta and adds time, if my memory serves me."
"You've been practicing," Illya accused. He pulled down a clipboard secured to a moveable desk top and checked the stopwatch attached to it. At the very top of the board sat a contraption like a Roman scroll and Napoleon leaned over the gearshift to get a better look.
"It's a reader board," Illya responded to Napoleon's unasked question, "makes reading the GI's a lot easier to handle. You just tape the ends together and mount them on this. It keeps them from flapping all over the place or you from losing a page. The darkened area keeps the following instructions from view. I have a habit of reading ahead."
"Ah, yes, the overwhelming Kuryakin need to anticipate," Napoleon said, adjusting the mirror.
"You know me too well. Why not fire her up and give her a workout?" Illya passed his gloves to Napoleon. "You'd be wise to wear these. That steering wheel tends to cause blisters."
Napoleon thought better of protesting and took the gloves. Illya opened the glove compartment and removed a pair of sunglasses. "Here, this is the kind Russian pilots wear, far superior to your American brands." He continued to poke through the compartment, ignoring Napoleon's glare. "You wouldn't happen to have your gun along for the ride, would you?"
Napoleon smiled slightly, reached into his shoulder holster for the P-38, and handed it to Illya, who crammed it in with his own.
"There's no specific rule that says we can't be armed, so I keep mine in the car, just in case I meet some old feathered friends."
"You never know when you'll run into a nasty flock," Napoleon agreed as he turned the ignition key. The Triumph came to life, purring quietly. "Oh, Napoleon, one last thing." Illya patted his seat belt. "Estafan is a fanatic on these things. He'll disqualify you in a minute if he catches you in the car without it on." Illya checked his as Napoleon tugged the black strap snug. "And your communicator?"
"Sitting on my nightstand."
"Then let's do it," Illya said, reaching for an eyeglass case of sharpened pencils. He noted the odometer reading and set the Halda to zero, while Napoleon punched in the clutch and set the car in motion.
Napoleon cruised the New York streets aimlessly, concentrating on the handling of the small sports car. He flicked a glance in Illya's direction, but his fellow agent seemed unconscious of anything but the instruments before him. Napoleon smiled and settled back to drive.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK JUNE 19, 19__ 7:15 a.m. EDT 52379.159
Napoleon Solo leaned against the car, brow knitted, studying the instructions Illya had copied for him. He concentrated on the sheets of paper, consciously blocking out the noise of the people and cars. Illya, having procured the 'fortune' from Napoleon, had already disappeared towards registration.
"Well, Mr. Solo, what do you think of this mass hysteria?" The gravelly voice broke Napoleon's train of thought and he looked up at the two men before him.
"Fairly controlled, as far as hysteria goes," Napoleon replied, keeping his features carefully neutral. Both were about his height. The speaker had salt-and-pepper hair, slightly balding; the second man was heavier with bushy brown hair. They were dressed similarly to Napoleon and he noticed a familiar bulge beneath the speaker's left armpit. "I'm afraid you have the advantage, Mr...?" Napoleon carefully extended his hand.
"Max Bently. This is my par...driver, Hymie Randolph."
Napoleon scrutinized their faces until both men were shifting nervously. "Have we met before? You seem familiar to me."
"We were behind Kuryakin when he registered," answered Bently, too quickly for Napoleon's tastes. "Have you known him long?"
"Illya? Longer than I'd like to think about." Napoleon watched Randolph scanning the crowd. "Why?"
"He's usually a loner. Social or business?"
"Suffice it to say that we spend a lot of time in each other's company." Napoleon smiled evenly, wondering if they'd talked to Gloria yet. Naturally cautious, he tossed the GI's onto the driver's seat to free his hands in case he needed to use them professionally.
"Has Kuryakin ever been in trouble with the law?"
Napoleon almost laughed, ever since he'd known Illya, the Russian had carefully walked a tightrope for UNCLE. "Why?"
"It's just that he is a Russian," Randolph's voice cut in. "Violence runs in their blood. Those Commies have it drilled into them from birth."
Napoleon's eyes hardened, although basically he agreed with the man. Illya was one of the most violent men he'd ever known, but also one of the most compassionate. However, this was not the time to discuss it. Instead, he permitted his voice to take on a threatening edge. "Mr. Kuryakin happens to be a very good friend of mine and he is neither a criminal nor a Communist. If either of you would care to take it up with me, I'd be happy to oblige you. If not, I suggest you leave. Illya's touchy about his heritage, thanks to people like you. He'd be very upset if I were to relate our little conversation to him and you know how violent those people tend to be. Illya breaks things when he's upset, things like arms and legs, although I understand that he prefers thumbs. Good day, gentlemen." Napoleon felt his muscles tighten as he saw Randolph's hand travel down his lapel, but just then, Illya materialized from the crowd. Bently motioned to Randolph and the two hurried off.
"Heavens, do I offend?" Illya asked the retreating backs.
"Not at all," Napoleon assured him. "They were the offensive ones."
Napoleon brushed his lapel off. "They had several questions about your patriotism. I assured them that you love apple pie."
"I hate apple pie; it gives me hives. However, your mother's mincemeat..." Illya trailed off as he squatted to attach a large number 5 to the driver's door, and then another to his own door. "But I appreciate the effort. Who are they?"
"Messrs Bently and Randolph. They said they were behind you in registration."
"Not unless Gloria's undergone a sex change recently. I'd recognize her perfume anywhere. What did you say to her last night? I thought she'd given me up as a lost cause."
"I might have mentioned something about a closet."
The Russian pushed his glass back onto his head and shook it sadly. "It is going to take me a year to repair my reputation after this." Illya pulled his work shirt off and tossed it into the back. "By the way, I'm proud of you, Napoleon. I know how a pretty face can affect your judgment. You showed remarkable control last night."
He chuckled at Napoleon's grimace and walked around to the hood of the car, shaking his head as Napoleon straightened his jacket and wandered off to converse with a very pretty girl beside a blue Porsche.
Illya popped the hood and bent down as far as he could into the engine to check for any last- minute problems. His sensitive fingers were tracing a wire when his entire body tensed as he caught a glance of someone approaching him from behind. He murmured, "Working too hard," to himself, chastising, and smiled. Reaching behind him, he asked aloud, "Napoleon, would you hand me that socket wrench?"
His arm was grabbed and yanked up between his shoulder blades, his torso pushed forward and his legs kicked apart, which pinned him down very neatly and professionally. His visitor was using the Triumph's raised hood as a cover along with his own body. Illya relaxed his shoulder muscles as he was addressed.
"Listen to me, you stinking Red dog, we know you're up to something. We've been tipped off, and the Feds aren't as forgiving as the KGB. We're going to nail you and nail you good. You'll be deported back to Russia so fast that your head will spin."
"Good, I could use the vacation. Do I have the displeasure of addressing Mr. Bently or Mr. Randolph, please?" Illya's reply was flat and emotionless.
"Why should that matter to you?" growled the man, carefully keeping out of view.
Illya tensed his muscles and set his feet. He'd launched successful attacks from worse positions. He responded conversationally, "Because, my friend, your government forces me to register my hands as deadly weapons. If you don't release me, I'm going to turn around and scramble your face for you like so many eggs. If I know your name beforehand, it'll save time rather than having to identify you by fingerprints." He let out a cry as a knee was brought forcibly up between his spread legs. Released, he collapsed onto the engine block, in too much pain to be much threat to anyone.
A moment later, he heard Napoleon's voice. "When you get into an engine, you really get into it. I heard you yell. Did you drop something on your foot, like the gear shaft?"
"If you're the Seventh Cavalry, you've just missed Sitting Cow."
"Bull," Napoleon corrected automatically.
Illya flopped over, his blue eyes calmly regarding Napoleon.
"Where were you when I needed you?"
"Talking shop, of course, why?"
"Of course. While you were off, I had a little visit from one of your Commie-haters. He gave me a pep talk, taking special care to illustrate the high point." He straightened, wincing, but restraining himself from cupping his genitals.
"You okay?" Napoleon studied his friend.
"Nothing that an ice pack wouldn't fix." He took a couple of experimental steps and adjusted his jeans. "I should have them thrown out of the race for that, but I think I'm going to take care of it myself. There's already so much bad publicity against my poor country." He returned to the engine as several cars started up and pulled out of the large driveway. Napoleon quickly checked his watch, but it was only 7:45.
"Where's everyone off to, Illya?" he asked the Russian's back.
"If it's quarter of eight or thereabouts, I'd guess a mileage check."
"Shouldn't we check the Fox's true odometer reading?"
"It's the one thing we have in our favor. Estafan uses the Fox to set the mileage for the race." He rubbed a handprint from the car's bright red finish with the tail of his shirt. "If you will excuse me, I'm going to get cleaned up before the final moment of truth." He made his way across the deserted driveway as Napoleon reached into the driver's seat and picked up his instructions again.
He was still deciphering them, line by line, when Illya returned, grease removed and every hair in place. Napoleon studied the slender Russian for a long minute before venturing, "Illya, please bear with me for a moment, but do you mean to tell me that just by following these few instructions, we'll end up in Los Angeles?"
"Only if you're one helluva driver. Those should only get you to Columbus. When we check into the hotel there, we'll be given the GI's for the next day. We'll have to get to Reno before getting the GI's for L.A. That keeps anyone from doing any long term planning with a map."
"Clever on de Puerta's part."
"That's why he's the tour master and we are but his pawns. I remember one race in which he'd drop a sack of flour at each intersection and then we'd figure out which fork to take," Illya reminisced. "That one was a real challenge. I very nearly blew my brains out."
Napoleon paused before climbing into the car. "Would you care to run that one by me again?"
"It's called a 'Fox and Hound' rally. One car, acting as the fox, precedes all the others."
"Exactly. The sacks of flour represented the scent, if you will, and it told the hounds they'd have to figure out which route the 'fox' took." Illya noted the returning cars. "Ah, looks like we'll be ready to go in a minute. This is your last chance to back out, Napoleon."
"A Napoleon, retreat? Perish the thought!" Napoleon drew back, appalled at the very idea. "As I recall," he continued, "our actual starting time is the official start of the race, plus our car number, meaning we go at 8:05."Napoleon pulled on the racing gloves, flexing his fingers.
"That's what I like about you, Napoleon, you're fast."
"And I'm quick too, but let's leave my reputation out of this."
Illya smiled, surrendering. "Just crawl in behind Car 4 and let's give this the old UNCLE one-two." Illya felt his stomach begin to tense with excitement as Napoleon fired up the Triumph's engine, and he scrambled in beside his partner, fastening his seat belt.
Illya's attention was taken from the paper in front of him by the rumbling of a small foreign machine bearing the number 6 and a license plate that read KAR120C. "Aha," Illya proclaimed. "The infamous KAR is joining us! I've been trying to meet that man for years and get a look at that car. It's a hand-built Lotus, all his own work. He's had a record number of wins with it, but he always disappears at the most inopportune times."
"Anti-social?" Napoleon asked, easing the car forward into place behind a Maserati.
"Apparently. He never shows up until the last minute and he's always drawn the number 6. He's also the only one Phil allows to drive without a partner."
"Maybe he's got a crowd phobia," Napoleon suggested, as he craned to get a better look at the car. "Why haven't you shadowed him? I'd hate to think that UNCLE has wasted all that money on training you for nothing."
"Believe me, Napoleon, I have tried. He's too slippery, even for me. Makes me wonder if he's in a similar line of work. Anyhow, he never stays or eats with the rest of us. You won't see him at all for days then BAM there he is, in front of you." Illya mumbled through the pencil in his mouth.
"Look sharp, we're next," Napoleon cautioned, and waited for the start signal.
Illya punched the bottom of the stopwatch, and shouted, over the swelling roar of the Triumph's engine, "Turn left at the gate and be on the lookout for a row boat."
COLUMBUS, OHIO June 19__ 6:24p.m. EDT 52827.879
Napoleon Solo expertly guided the Triumph into the Columbus Hilton's underground parking lot and parked in a pre-designated space. He arched his aching back. "I must have been out of my mind to think this was fun," he groaned, and carefully felt the tip of his sun burnt nose. "I think tomorrow we should leave the top up."
Illya looked at his bright pink arms and nodded as he pulled off his sunglasses. Napoleon chuckled as they climbed from the car.
"What's so funny?" Illya demanded.
"You. You look like a raccoon."
Illya didn't need a mirror to know what Napoleon meant. He merely flashed a grin. "I'm not the only one." He fell into step beside Napoleon and stretched his back in midstride, knowing that, to a casual observer they looked like nothing more than two friends out for a good time rather than the dangerous and efficient agents they really were.
"You have a really sharp eye, Napoleon." Illya tugged open the lobby door and allowed Napoleon to precede him.
"All those years as an agent."
"I think I'll put your name down for next year's tour," Illya teased.
"Don't count your caviar, my friend." Napoleon shook a warning finger at him as they walked through the lobby. Illya tossed his shirt over a shoulder and walked to the front desk while Napoleon wandered about the lobby, loosening his tight muscles. The swimming pool caught his eye and he smiled past the curtains at the bikini-clad young women gathered in the sun until he felt a tap on his shoulder. He waited for the Russian's soft chiding comment; instead he was startled to hear a cold hard tone.
"We've got our eyes on you too, Solo. If you're partners in this thing, we'll get you both. You can't break the law and get away with it. By the way, how's your Russian, Comrade?"
For the sheer delight, Napoleon turned and smiled at Maxwell Bently's chill grey eyes. "Мой русский язык прекрасен. Как—ваш английский язык?" My Russian's fine . How's your English? He nearly broke into laughter at the shocked expression. "By the way, Bently, old man, did you know harassing innocent people is also breaking the law? What would your mother say?"
"Who's your friend, Napoleon?" Bently spun and glared at the small Russian who had come up behind him.
Napoleon gestured. "Please to meet Mr. Max Bently."
Illya jerked his head towards the frowning man. "No doubt the man with the golden knee. Napoleon, are you ready to go up or would you like to play for a while longer? I'm going for the suitcases."
"I'd like to search them first," Bently said.
"Yes, I bet you would," Illya agreed, with a savage smirk, and turned back towards the parking facility.
"I think you insulted him." Napoleon crossed his arms and shook his head sadly. "If you will excuse me, my good man—and I use the term lightly." Napoleon followed after Illya, watching the other man out of the eye as Bently stood there for a moment, hands clenching and unclenching before he made his way to the elevator.
Napoleon found Kuryakin leaning into the Triumph's trunk, but as he approached, Illya spun to face him, hands up and feet braced, then relaxed. "Napoleon, you shouldn't sneak around like that. People will think you're a spy or something. By the way, your Russian's getting better. I nearly understood what you were trying to say."
Illya pulled out one suitcase, set it on the concrete and tugged at the second one, grunting as he hefted it. "Good God, Napoleon, what did you pack, rocks?"
"Lots of clean shirts." Napoleon took the suitcase and started for a nearby elevator. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll take a swim before dinner. I'll see you around seven."
Illya shook his head. "Don't you ever give up, Napoleon?"
"Practice makes perfect, Mr. Kuryakin, and I intend to be as perfect as possible."
Napoleon studied the crowd in the restaurant and finally spied his partner, as usual, engrossed in his reading. As Napoleon reached him, Illya looked up from his newspaper and nodded.
"Strike out?" he ventured with a smile as his partner seated himself.
"Don't judge me so harshly, old boy," Napoleon scolded as he lifted the menu. "How do you know that was my sole purpose?"
"Because, as it was remarked before, I know you, Napoleon. What happened?"
"Her husband looked like a Mack truck, with a strangely possessive streak besides that." Napoleon switched his attention to the long-legged cocktail waitress approaching them.
Napoleon ran his gaze up and down her nearly negligible costume. "A martini gin, onion, please. Illya, vodka?" Kuryakin nodded, turning back to his paper. "And a double vodka straight up, thank you." She started away.
"Ah, Miss," Napoleon interrupted and Illya sank in his chair, certain a pick-up line would follow. The woman turned back, expectantly. "One more thing, two Shirley Temples for those gentlemen over there." He slid a bill into her hand as he indicated Bently and Randolph's table with his eyes. "Tell them it's from secret admirers." The woman nodded and hurried off.
"You are very nasty, Napoleon." Illya didn't bother to hide his grin. "Ten to one, they don't touch them."
"Okay, you're on. If they don't touch the drinks, I'll pay for dinner tonight. If they do, you pay, and I think it's only fair to warn you I'm starved." Napoleon unfolded his napkin and picked up the wine list as their waiter approached.
The drinks arrived a few minutes later, and Napoleon watched the women carefully deliver the Shirley Temples as requested. Bently and Randolph's gaze immediately came to bear on the two men from UNCLE, who saluted them with their glasses and drank. Bently tasted his and quickly replaced the glass, shaking his head at Randolph.
"Does a sip count as drinking?"Napoleon asked, hazel eyes twinkling with amusement.
"It does in my book." Illya downed the vodka in a quick gulp and frowned. "Domestic. They don't make it like they used to."
"They never did," Napoleon countered. "Okay, so we Dutch." The waitress reappeared and they quickly placed their order.
"I'd like to do a little checking on those two," Illya murmured, returning to his paper to cover up his conversation. "They are coming on a little too strong."
"We're on vacation," Napoleon reminded him gently, "and it's not necessary to impress me with your diligence. Still, it's a shame to waste you since you're such a good listener. Lend me an ear and I'll speculate."
Illya folded up the paper and then leaned forward, fingers steepled, anticipation on his face.
"We have two gentlemen relatively new to the circuit."
"How so?" Illya sat back as their salads arrived.
Napoleon waited until the waiter left. "Easy, my friend, I took a look at their car. There's nothing in it except a stopwatch and a pad of paper—none of the accouterments of the serious rallyist. They aren't here for the race. They are here for something else."
"On vacation, huh?"
"Anyway, there's also been a series of interesting comments made regarding your lineage and supposed violent nature. The line about the Feds would seem to indicate that you have somehow excited the interest of the FBI, although why is beyond me. Have you been up to anything lately that I should know about?"
"I don't care if they are FBI, CIA, KGB or even THRUSH, I don't like being pushed around and they are coming awfully close to oppressing my freedom of punching. If they keep it up, I'll show them a few dance steps my uncle taught me."
"Mr. Waverly might not like it," Napoleon warned.
"What is he going to do? Administrative leave? Send me back to Russia? Enough is enough." Illya stabbed a tomato wedge with a vengeance.
"I wonder..."Napoleon trailed off, still fiddling with his salad.
"If they really know who we are. They'd have to push pretty hard to get our files and I don't think even the FBI has access to those. How much do you want to bet that they think we are ordinary people?" Napoleon paused to let his dish be cleared away and his dinner be served. "Perhaps they have us confused with someone who is using the rally as a front for something else."
"I think I'll have some fun with them," Illya murmured, cutting into his steak.
"Nothing that involves bleeding, Illya, especially on your part. You seem to be inclined in that direction."
"There you go again, qualifying your suggestion. Have you ever shorted out an elevator?"
"Must be your revolutionary blood coming out," Napoleon joked and then became serious.
"We're on vacation, remember? They," Illya nodded, "are not."
"But think of the excitement, the adventure, the thrill of the chase." Napoleon gave an exaggerated sigh. "Any ideas as to a guilty party?"
"I'd have to do some nosing around first. It's hard for me to believe that anyone in this group would stoop so low."
"We have UNCLE to keep us busy. Think how boring it would be without it? Besides," Napoleon countered, "how well do you really know these people? How well do they know you?"
"Why do you have to be right so often?" Illya conceded.
"Because I'm CEA. It's my job."
Illya shook his head and let his attention roam about the room as he continued to eat. To anyone else, he was admiring the decor, but Napoleon knew the man was effortlessly and meticulously cataloging every person in the room.
Illya let his eyes linger on Tina and Gloria where they sat with Jonathan and Greg before coming back to rest on Bently and Randolph.
"I don't know, Napoleon, but I'll keep my ears and eyes open." He noticed the FBI men departing and pushed away his empty plate. "Order me some coffee and the chocolate mousse, would you? I think Destiny is calling me." Illya rose and tossed down his napkin, and Napoleon smiled at the mischief he knew the Russian was concocting as he smoothly left the room.
Napoleon looked up at Illya's return a few minutes later. "Glorious, Napoleon, simply glorious. You should have been there. I do hope you're feeling athletic this evening." Napoleon's eyes questioned him as he passed the cream and sugar. "By the time I got to the elevators, they were already gone, so I shorted the entire bank out. I knew all that time I spent with the KGB wasn't a waste."
"What would Mr. Waverly say?"
"He would congratulate me on my show of restraint. I really wanted to flatten their collective faces."
"You're just spoiling for a fight, Illya. Violence runs in your blood. Randolph says so."
"I don't care how violently it runs, just as long as it stays in my body." Illya dipped his spoon into the mousse and began the slow pleasurable savoring of it.
An hour later both Napoleon and Illya were panting their way up to their sixteenth-floor room. "You're just brilliant, you know that?" Napoleon wheezed. "Next time, leave the thinking to me."
"So I forgot we were on the sixteenth floor. Besides, after that meal you put away, you need the exercise, Chubby." Illya slapped Napoleon playfully in the stomach before digging into his pants pocket for the room key.
The door fell open as he touched it, crashing to the floor to reveal a nearly devastated room.
"Bently and company are really starting to get on my nerves, Napoleon. Can I kill them now?"
"We don't know they did this."
"I'm sure Gloria didn't," Illya contested as he bent to examine small burnt areas with a practiced eye. "Who else do you think would blow a door with plastic explosives?"
"Good thing we left our guns in the car. They might have been a bit suspicious at the make and lack of registration," Napoleon said, regarding the damage with dismay. "I think I'll call room service."
"Good idea, we can use a new room." Illya's face became intent. "I'll be right back." He snatched up his leather jacket.
"Where are you going?"
"To get our guns. They might try the car next." Illya disappeared through the doorway as Napoleon began to hunt through their clothes for the telephone.
Illya Kuryakin bounced down the stairs and hurried out into the enclosed parking lot. He saw two figures near the rally cars as his eyes adjusted to the dark, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets to stride nonchalantly towards them.
A feeling twitched through him and he dropped to the pavement instinctively, just as he heard the faint 'pop' of a silenced gun. The bullet whizzed past him to bury itself in the concrete a few inches from his head. He looked towards the marksman, noting that he and his partner had taken refuge behind a parked car. A second soft cough followed and Illya pushed himself to one side as the bullet sped by to lodge in a nearby sedan. Pinned down without cover, Illya knew he'd have to make a run for it.
He pulled himself up for a sprint, drew a deep breath and ran, concentrating on reaching the small red Triumph. At the fender, he faltered briefly and then vaulted over the hood; there was a 'blat' and then an all-too-familiar pain in his right arm as the limb collapsed beneath his weight.
Shoving the pain aside, he banged down against the car and slid to a grinding halt on his knees to grapple with the passenger door. Inside, he fumbled through the glove compartment until a familiar shape fell into his hand. Its weight was wrong so he shoved that one in his pocket and searched for the second, grasping it and dropping to the pavement as he checked its clip. A round of silenced shots sent up little clouds of dust around the Triumph and Illya unloaded two shots in the direction of the gunfire. It was promptly answered. Now certain of the gunman's location, Illya eased around the front of the Triumph and dove for cover beside a Porsche, rolled, and came up, slamming off two shots at the Cobra that sheltered the gunman. A loud bang and hiss told him he'd hit a tire. The Porsche shuddered as a bullet hit it and he bounced up for another shot and then had to duck to avoid glass from the shattered car windows.
He leaned back against the car, clutching his arm to stem the bleeding. "Well, Kuryakin," he muttered, "this is another fine mess you've gotten me into." He took a deep breath and rose to let off a quick succession of shots that resulted in a second bang-hiss, but nothing more substantial. The two figures suddenly darted from their hiding place and Illya steadied his trembling right hand with his left and emptied the rest of the clip after them before they disappeared into the dark of an exit ramp.
Illya frowned, disappointed with his performance, and felt something warm trickling down his hand. As the adrenaline left his bloodstream he groaned softly with pain and rose to his feet to make his way to the elevators. He waited for a long moment before realizing that they still weren't working.
"I knew I wasted too much time at Cambridge," he said aloud as he threw open the door to the stairwell and began to the slow climb to the sixteenth floor.
The night manager wrung his hands as Napoleon gathered up the last of his and Illya's belongings. "I just don't understand why this always happens on my shift. Not that we've ever had any trouble before this," he added to Napoleon's quick head pivot.
"Of course," Napoleon murmured. "We're not holding the hotel responsible for someone else's idea of a joke. Nothing was damaged or stolen, so we'd be content just to forget the whole thing." Despite his calm outward appearance, Napoleon was worried; Illya had been gone too long for something not to have happened. He continued, "I think that I'd better wait here for my partner or he'll never find me."
Illya appeared just then at the door, breathless and white-faced. His clothes were streaked with blood and dirt and he was panting. Napoleon moved quickly to his partner, concern clouding his features.
"The bathroom, Napoleon, I think I'm going to be sick." Illya tried to clear his vision as Napoleon helped him into the bathroom and down onto the toilet.
"Is it bad?" Napoleon knew the symptoms of being shot all too well.
"Just a scratch." Illya dropped his head back against the tank, panting deeply to try and catch his elusive breath. "It was the climb up the stairs that nearly did me in."
"Hang on a bit longer—I'll get rid of the manager and scrounge up a first aid kit." Napoleon straightened, frowning at his swaying friend. "And, Illya?"
"Uh huh?" The glazed eyes focused on him.
"If you pass out, don't do it on the toilet. I don't need to worry about a concussion too."
"Aye aye, Cap'n." Illya gave him a lopsided smile and started to struggle out of his jacket.
"The good thing... ow... in this whole affair... Will you watch it?... was that I shot out two tires of the Cobra." Illya still sat on the toilet, watching none too dispassionately as Napoleon applied first aid.
"You were just lucky it wasn't worse." Napoleon dabbed at Illya's swelling, discolored left knee; the right one waited, wrapped in a washcloth.
"I don't know, Napoleon, maybe I'm in the wrong business. I don't mind getting shot at on the job, but now even my personal time is in jeopardy. And I ruined a perfectly good pair of pants." Illya winced. "A little more care, please, Mr. Solo. That's my knee, not a side of beef."
"Do you want to do this?" Napoleon didn't wait for an answer, but dried the knee off and fixed a gauze pad onto it with adhesive tape before he turned to the other skinned joint.
The Russian dropped his head back against the towel he used for a temporary pillow and tried to recall any small detail that he might have overlooked.
"Next time you take a header, old friend," continued Napoleon, unwrapping the washcloth, "try to do it on a lawn. Grass stains are so much easier to get out than concrete stains."
"I'll try to remember that, should the situation arise again. I wish I knew who was on the other end of that gun."
"No ideas at all?" Napoleon drizzled peroxide on the skinned knee.
"None, I didn't even get a good look at them."
"Are you thinking Bently and Randolph?"
"I don't think so. Even an amateur agent doesn't shoot at people without provocation. Besides, they'd probably want to catch me in the act...whatever that might be. Could have been THRUSH, but they aren't in the habit of leaving UNCLE agents alive. I just don't know." Illya trailed off.
"Whoever it was wanted to frighten you off, not kill you. I'll wager that bullet wound is pure luck." Napoleon dried off the area before resting gauze over it.
"I don't feel very lucky," Illya objected, as Napoleon tore off two more strips of tape, "more like a walking ad for some doctor's outpatient service."
"There!" Napoleon slapped on the last bit of tape. "A finer job you'll never see, and all guaranteed by the Solo School for Hasty Wound Repairs." He stood to examine the fellow agent's arm. "And the bleeding has finally stopped. I think we've got this licked. Can you get up under your own power or would you like to rest a bit more?"
"If you get me some clothes, I'll be willing to give it my best shot. Until then, I have every intention of staying right here. I'm not parading through the halls here in my underwear." He crossed his arms defiantly and then winced.
"The temptation is almost too great, but you need some sleep. I'll be right back."
Illya stirred in his sleep, then cracked open an eye, careful not to move any muscle he didn't have to. Napoleon sat at a small table with a breakfast tray in front of him, sipping coffee and reading the morning paper. Illya dropped back onto the pillow and let out an audible groan.
He heard his partner chuckle and looked up to see Napoleon regarding him over the top of his newspaper as he watched Illya struggle to disentangle his stiffened body from the sheets. "Damn it, Napoleon, have you no pity for a dying man?"
"Sorry, you can't die, at least not yet. Have some coffee and a shower instead. We've got a whole day's worth of driving ahead of us." He paused for Illya's loud moan, then continued. "I've gotten us checked out and most of the stuff loaded. You should see the parking lot. It looks like the aftermath of a guerrilla attack. You sure bled on that Porsche, not to mention our car and the pavement. Most of the complaints came from our FBI friends. They really wanted to nose around and seemed quite concerned about your absence, but then they had to leave to fix their tires." He helped Illya to his feet and gave him a push towards the bathroom. "Be careful when you take those bandages off." Illya heard his call. "I don't want you to start bleeding again. I've already had too much trouble pawning off those towels on the night maid."
"Thanks, Napoleon, I always knew you cared," Illya grumbled as he turned on the shower, his mood disintegrating from bad to just plain foul as he started to peel off the tape and with it, most of his leg hair.
ST. LOUIS, MO JUNE 20, 19__ 6:20 p.m. CDT 53297.191
Illya stiffly made his way to the St. Louis Hilton's elevator, closely followed by his fellow agent, who watched the lobby with a worried eye. Bently and Randolph were approaching, looking both determined and hurried. Napoleon couldn't help but wonder how the UNCLE agent hobbling at his side would fare in the confrontation he felt sure was coming. Instead, the FBI men brushed past, Randolph plowing into Kuryakin's wounded arm. Illya, unaware of their presence until then, let out a half-choked cry and clutched at his arm and struggled to stay on his feet.
"Stay out of my way, you Commie," Randolph growled. Napoleon caught his partner by the arm as Illya reacted, wrapping his hand gently but firmly around the bandage. Illya stifled another outburst and subsided.
"Mr. Kuryakin, the elevator." Napoleon held him fast as they waited several long moments for the car to arrive and its passengers to get out. Once empty, Napoleon guided the Russian inside and let the door shut before releasing his hold on the agent.
"That hurt, Napoleon!" Illya accused as he savagely punched the floor selector. He began to massage his arm.
"I didn't want you to kill them in front of witnesses, me for one. Wait until you're strong enough to have a chance—rest tonight, revenge tomorrow," Napoleon said sympathetically, before the elevator halted at the mezzanine level and the two FBI agents stepped in. Illya dropped his hand and his face froze into the determined frown Napoleon had only seen before when the Russian was going up against THRUSH henchmen.
"Good day again, gentlemen," Napoleon said, conversationally. "Did you have a pleasant drive today?" The men apparently weren't interested in talking.
"Never try to have a conversation with Neanderthals, Napoleon. They only understand grunts and clubs." A small red stain was beginning to show through on the sleeve of his white tee shirt and he swore to himself as it grew.
Both Bently and Randolph noticed immediately and the latter asked, "What's the matter, Russkie? One of your customers not interested in what you were trying to sell?" He dropped his gaze to Illya's fly and the Russian's face flushed.
"I'm going to kill them, Napoleon. Close your eyes if you don't want to watch." Illya, fist clenched, took a step towards the pair, but Napoleon circled the trim waist with an arm and held him back.
"Illya, I'm surprised at you. Where are your manners?"
"In a ransacked room in Columbus."
"You just be careful, Kuryakin," Bently threatened.
"Anytime and anywhere," Illya challenged, struggling against Napoleon. "Napoleon, let me go. Don't make me fight you too."
"How about here and now!" Bently swung a fist at the Russian who abruptly ducked, taking Napoleon with him. The knuckles sped by to bury themselves in the elaborate lighting panel behind Illya's head. The doors slid open and Illya stepped out, taking the suitcases, while Bently tried to free his hand from the shards of plastic without slicing himself to ribbons.
"Hymie, stop them!" Bently roared, his face crimson.
Napoleon easily blocked Randolph's punches as Illya calmly held the door open with a foot and fiddled with the wall control. Napoleon slammed a series of blows to Randolph's midsection, then leaned back to let the man crumple to the floor, punched the 'close' button and stepped out into the hall.
"Sharp, boss?" he asked a smirking Kuryakin.
"Sharp, Napoleon, really sharp. I'm glad you're on our side."
"Thanks, but we'd better get out of here. They'll be after us in a minute."
"Not unless the mechanic here is smarter than the one in Columbus. I estimate they have at least two hours in there. I hope they ate early."
DENVER, CO JUNE 22, 19__ 11:43 p.m. MDT 54450.052
Illya Kuryakin pushed himself further into the motor of the Triumph and absent-mindedly scratched his nose. He immediately regretted it as he smeared it with grease; he sighed and dragged the sleeve of his shirt over his face. He darted a look at his watch and returned to the engine, ignoring the rumbling protest of his stomach.
"Having some trouble?" A soft voice behind him drew his attention and he glanced over a shoulder to see a woman in a loose blouse and cut-off jeans that flattered her well-proportioned build. Her long brunette hair was pinned back and she regarded the Russian warmly.
"Hi, Tina," he mumbled, returning to the car. "We had some distributor trouble today and it threw the timing all off. I wanted to correct it, since the gas mileage is bad enough without having it run rich." Tina leaned over the fender, careful not to block the flashlight's beam, and Illya caught a hint of her perfume through the odors of gas and oil.
"This is probably against one of Phil's rules, but could you use a hand? I've pulled a few all-nighters myself and know how you feel." Illya continued to fumble in the engine, not bothering to look up. "Still upset because we beat you out for second place last time? You have a long memory." She moved closer to him.
"No, it's not that," Illya corrected her. "It's been a bad day for me. First thing this morning, we get stuck behind a herd of cows, then we took a wrong turn and wound up in some strange religious commune. They kept yelling something about sacrificing the virgin." Illya leaned against the fender. "I'm pretty sure they weren't referring to Napoleon."
"And are you?"
"A virgin?" Tina smiled coyly.
"Not for nigh these many years and certainly not after I started hanging around with Napoleon. Then we nearly fell for that idiotic pylon trap."
"We must have missed that one."
"The GIs said, 'Exit by the green pylon at the east entrance', so we head for the great big beautiful green pylon, and suddenly Napoleon pipes up with, 'Gee, this is the first time I've seen the sun set in the east'. Finally, this thing decides to get temperamental on me. And Bently..." Illya caught himself before reaching into his back pocket for a rag to wipe his hands on. "And I are not seeing eye to eye on things."
"Sounds like you've had a good one," Tina said sympathetically, then nodded towards the engine. "Mind if I take a look? Sometimes a fresh eye can spot something." Illya cast a sidelong glance and felt himself grow warm at seeing the cleavage her blouse revealed. He was glad to have the engine to concentrate on for the next half an hour.
Eventually, Illya straightened, feeling cramped back muscles protest. "I think we can call it quits. If that doesn't fix it, I'll pull the whole thing out and pack it away in the trunk."You're very good at this by the way. Have you ever considered being a mechanic?"
"Sometimes, in a weak moment. The pay's good, but it's not really a field open to women." She reached for the rag hanging from his rear pocket, coming in contact with his jeans. Pleased by the soft intake of breath and edging-away motion that resulted, Tina continued, "I love rallies because it gives me an excuse to get my hands dirty. It also seems to bring out all the old cars. Hey, look! There's an old Chevy like my dad used to have."
Illya scanned the darkened parking lot until he found the off-white Impala the woman referred to, sitting between a Jaguar and a Porsche.
"I haven't seen one of those in ages," she exclaimed. "Let's go take a look." She bounced across the lot, seemingly unaware of Illya's waning self-control, and ran a loving hand over the Impala's fender, eyes sparkling. "It's unlocked—let's sit in it."
"What for?" spoke up Illya's practical nature, but as Tina bent over to push the front seat forward, her shorts hitched up and Illya didn't look away. "It's a shame I was raised a gentleman," he mumbled, scooping up his jacket as he followed her.
"Were you talking to me?" Illya could barely see her in the unlit interior. "Aren't you going to join me? There's enough room for two back here." Her voice seemed to have taken on a husky edge to it, but Illya dismissed it as imagination.
"I suppose you're too small to attack me," Illya murmured, and put out a hand to brace himself on the back of the seat as he started inside. Tina grabbed his outstretched hand and yanked. With a startled cry, Illya toppled forward and landed, with a grunt, on top of the reclining woman, who immediately wrapped her arms around his waist to pull him down.
With a disgusted look, Illya removed the woman's arms. "You picked the wrong one for this, Tina. You'd have had more luck with Napoleon."
"Gloria's been saying some pretty unflattering things about you, Illya, and I wanted to prove her wrong. Besides those jeans don't leave much to the imagination, so I know you're interested." She arched her hips a little and firmly anchored her arms about his neck. "And I have a confession to make. My father never owned a Chevy. Haven't you ever wondered what it is like to be with a woman?"
"Are you even listening to me? I don't have time for this," Illya protested, again removing her hands.
"Everybody has time for this, Illya, and don't worry. I'm not asking for favors." She squirmed against him. "So, tell me, Mr. Kuryakin, how do you say 'Let's screw' in Russian?"
Illya wondered, for a moment, what would happen if Napoleon ever found out, then he grinned and readjusted his position to take more weight off his injured arm. " Давайте вворачивать. Allow me to demonstrate how we keep warm during those long cold Siberian nights... "
Illya woke and jerked his head up as he tried to place the noise. He eased a numb hand from beneath Tina and peered over the edge of the car window, to see two men kneeling beside the Jaguar, changing a tire. Illya darted a look at his watch, musing, who changes a tire at two in the morning?
"Will you be quiet?" chastised a voice that Illya recognized as belonging to Gregory Bryant. "You'll wake everyone up."
Illya frowned as a second voice responded, "For God's sake, Greg, who's awake at this time of the morning?"
"Guess I'm still antsy. I wasn't expecting that little bastard to shoot back!"
"At least he didn't recognize you. I have a feeling Kuryakin could make a lot of trouble if he wanted to. It would figure that he'd be packing. I never trusted him."
"Me too. This trip has already been more than I bargained for. First, Heckle and Jeckle from the FBI and then that shoot-out. I'll be glad to get rid of this stuff. Next time, we dump it early, before we hit the Rockies."
"The guys in Reno offered us the best price. They don't have as much access to this pure of heroin as we do. Just think of the favor we're doing them."
"Favor, hell! There's nearly a million bucks in this tire alone, not to mention the others. I don't know about you, but I'm not doing it as a favor, but for the sheer cash. Where do we dump this?"
"Our contact said one of the theatres at the MGM Grand."
"Isn't that just a bit obvious?"
"Exactly, too obvious for anyone to notice. Besides, Bently and his partner are much too busy with Kuryakin and that playmate of his to follow us."
"We should really thank Kuryakin for that. After all, he's been a great help to us this time around. I think I'll drop off a little gift for him where Randolph can find it. They'll zoom in on him so fast his head will spin."
With a shock, Illya, too engrossed in their conversation to even breathe, realized that Tina had moved. She opened her eyes and Illya clamped a firm hand over her mouth, shushing her. At the confusion in her eyes, he placed a finger to his lips and slowly shook his head.
Tina removed his hand and whispered, tensely, "I wish I had my top on. I'm cold."
"I wish you had your top on too, and your bottoms as well. Just sit tight." Illya ran a hand up and down her arm.
He heard the scrape of feet nearby and flattened down against the woman as a flashlight briefly lit the car's interior, just inches above their heads. He held his breath until the footsteps were too faint to hear, then quickly sat up and reached for his tee shirt. Tina struggled into a sitting position and watched as he dressed.
"Tina, I want you to wait ten minutes after I'm gone." He pointed at a hotel window. "There's my room, number 341—if there's a light on by that time, go back to your own room. If not, then go directly to 341 and wake up Napoleon. Tell him that I've found our pigeons and am following them. He'll know what to do. Have you got that?"
Illya worked a stiffened leg into his pants as Tina repeated the instructions. "What will he do then?"
"Beats me, but Napoleon's a pretty creative guy." Illya pulled on his tennis shoes and leaned over to kiss the woman. "Thanks for a great evening. It was very enlightening." Illya checked for the P-38 in the pocket of his jacket and slid silently from the car.
"Illya," Tina whispered, "you forgot something!" But the UNCLE agent had already melted into the surrounding darkness.
Napoleon frowned and pulled a pillow over his head to block out the light. A rough hand jostled him and he pushed the pillow back to glare up at Illya with one eye, then wave the disheveled agent away.
"Leave me alone."
"I have to talk to you."
"Later and why do you smell like Chanel No. 5?""
"Now, Napoleon. I found out who Bently and Randolph are supposed to be after. It's Greg and Jonathan. I overheard them talking. They're drug smugglers and they've got a drop planned in Reno."
Napoleon was instantly awake. "Are you sure about this?"
"They left this in the car for me...well, for one of our FBI friends to find." Kuryakin dropped a small packet onto the bed. "The sweet irony in all of this is that Greg and Jonathan know who they are, but don't have the faintest idea who we are. If we tell Bently now, we may blow any cover that we have."
"That and the fact that they probably wouldn't believe us anyhow. If they haven't picked up on the Harvard twins by tomorrow, we'll drop them a little hint." Napoleon stifled a yawn, "Even if we have to use a sledge hammer to do it. Where are they keeping it?"
"Best as I could figure out, the hub caps or immediate vicinity. I couldn't really tell."
"And who would suspect two such All-American boys?" Napoleon stopped, noticing Illya's tee shirt was inside out.
Illya walked to the bathroom, then looked over his shoulder. "By the way, it was Greg who shot me." He retreated to the sanctuary of the small room before Napoleon could comment upon his appearance.
At a soft knock at their door, Napoleon tugged on his robe and went to open it a cautious crack. "Yes?"
"Illya forgot these."
Napoleon recognized Tina and caught what she tossed to him. "Thanks, I'll let him know." Napoleon shut the door and glanced down at what he held. "You better believe I'll let him know," he said, a grin splitting his face. He went to the bathroom door, twirling the article on one finger.
"Illya, old man?"
"You wouldn't happen to be missing anything in there, would you?" Napoleon waited a long minute before Illya stuck out his head and extended a demanding hand.
"May I have them please?"
"Would you care to share with me the position you were in when you to overheard our drug-running friends?"
"No!" Illya snapped as he snatched his shorts from Napoleon.
"I never knew you had it in you... Well, her, actually." Illya appeared a moment later, dressed in his pajamas, glaring. Napoleon merely laughed. "Don't worry, your Russian virtue is safe with me. I'm just glad one of us is having some luck. Sure you don't want to let me know the sordid details?"
"As sure as Brezhnev is Russian," Illya affirmed, and winced at the pull in his back as he climbed into his bed.
"The backseats of cars will do it every time," Napoleon ventured, being all too familiar with the pains of in-car lovemaking and he knew he guessed right at Illya's shocked look. "Good night, you devil," Napoleon turned off the lights.
SALT LAKE CITY, UT JUNE 23, 19__ 6:45 p.m. PDT 55070.075
"You know, all things considered, we didn't make bad time," Napoleon said jovially, as he swung their suitcases out of the small trunk. The slender Russian, knees still stiff and sore, got slowly out of the car.
"There's a saying on the touring circuit, Napoleon, that the only way to make up for being lost is to make record time while lost. I think that can be applied to fog as well." He dropped down to the pavement and pushed himself beneath the vehicle. "That was the lowest fog I've ever seen."
"At least we didn't sustain any damage." Napoleon slammed the trunk down. "That pile-up was horrendous."
"That was carelessness on their part—they should have adjusted their speed for the weather conditions. I don't feel sorry for them. " Illya's voice was muffled. He squirmed out and wiped his hands
together. "There's nothing that a wash and shine won't cure, but I may tinker later."
"With the Fox or with Tina?" Napoleon teased, hefting the luggage.
"Why, Napoleon, jealousy is extremely unflattering." Illya snatched up his suitcase. "Why don't you leave things like romancing to me?"
"A rank amateur? Ha! Seducing a girl in the back seat of a car does not an expert make. Besides, if I know you, and I do, I'll wager that she had to make the first move." Napoleon led the way into the Hotel Newhouse.
Illya twisted his mouth into a lopsided smile. "Touché, Napoleon." He looked down at his grimy clothes and continued, on a different thought. "Perhaps you'd better register for us. After the way I was crawling around in the mud on the Pass, the only thing they'll be likely to show me is the laundry room. You're not much better, of course, but you do have a suit on."
Napoleon thrust his suitcase at him and approached the front desk while Illya examined the old hotel's interior. He started, spotting Bently and Randolph on the mezzanine above him, and debated going after them for a bit of provocation, but discarded the idea—it wouldn't be fair to leave Napoleon out.
As if aware of Illya's thought, Napoleon reappeared at his elbow. "Are you ready?" he asked, disturbing Illya's reverie.
"More than. I can't wait to hit the shower." Illya fell into step and handed Napoleon's suitcase over, transferring his own to his left hand.
"How's the arm?"
"Better, I guess," Illya admitted as they waited for the elevator. The door slid open and two men barreled full into Napoleon, knocking both feet and wind from him.
"Napoleon!" Illya shot a glance after the retreating forms of the FBI men and dropped to a knee beside his dazed friend. "Are you all right?"
"Did you get the license plate for that herd of cows?"Napoleon accepted Illya's hand-up, dusting off his pants.
"Two bigger bulls I've never seen," Illya concurred, pushing the elevator button again.
"Mr. Kuryakin, as Chief Enforcement Agent and your superior, I give you full permission to flatten those two the next time they get within punching range. Drug runners or not, I have had enough."
"That's one order I will delight in carrying out," Illya accepted, stepping into the elevator car.
The two UNCLE agents were leaning on the mezzanine railing, watching the people below in the lobby. "There they are," Illya remarked casually.
Napoleon shifted his gaze from a pretty concierge to the restaurant as Greg and Jonathan exited from the restaurant. "They certainly don't look the type," he muttered.
"Who better to smuggle the king's gold than the king's son? I'm surprised our friends haven't picked them up yet. We've dropped enough clues their way." Illya stiffened. "Speaking of which, we have company coming, Napoleon."
"Let's move," Napoleon advised. "We can't risk a confrontation in the open." They began a nonchalant walk, quickening their steps to keep pace with the FBI men. Napoleon indicated a doorway. "When you get to that door, duck in and we'll give these clowns something to think about." He followed Illya through the short zig-zag passage; deeper inside, pink furnishing and a row of illuminated mirrors confused him.
"Oh, Napoleon," Illya groaned, "at least you could have picked the men's room." He fell silent as Bently and Randolph entered.
"Looking for us?" Napoleon leaned indifferently against a simulated marble countertop, arms crossed.
"I think our friends want to dance, Mr. Solo. Let's show them how we lead." Illya flexed his hands, shrugging off his jacket to reveal his shoulder holster.
"I do believe you're right, Mr. Kuryakin. UNCLE has invested a lot of money in our training and Mr. Waverly would hate for it to go to waste."
The change in the FBI men was abrupt and immediate. "UNCLE?" gasped Randolph.
"United Network Command for Law and Enforcement," Illya smiled, dropping the holster beside the discarded jacket, "our employer." He lashed out with a karate chop as Napoleon began to circle with Bently.
"You picked the wrong men to accuse, my friend, and you should have listened to me the first time I said so." Napoleon's fist made a solid, satisfying 'plop' in Bently's stomach. The FBI man buckled, but caught Napoleon with a blow to the groin on the way down. Napoleon dropped to his knees as Bently approached, then launched himself upwards, fists clenched together to catch Bently beneath the chin and raise him several inches off the floor. Bently collapsed and Napoleon used the opportunity to check on his partner.
The Russian was spinning gracefully on one foot, to plant the other into Randolph's midsection and send him flying back into one of the pink booths. Illya charged after him, only to catch a solid kick to the chest that cracked his head back against the rosy pink-tiled wall, where he slumped, moaning.
Napoleon winced and half-collapsed at the sharp pain in his kidneys; during the brief respite, Bently had regained his footing. The UNCLE agent turned as Bently made a dash for the door, only to watch, amazed, as a fist slammed into Bently's face, knocking him back into Napoleon's arms. Napoleon glimpsed a man with brown hair, in a black suit with white piping, who casually said in a light British clip, "I believe this is yours. Be seeing you."
Illya, meanwhile, had pushed up from the wall to attack Randolph again, who slammed the toilet stall shut and locked its metal door. He grabbed beneath the partition for Illya's feet, but the UNCLE agent executed a quick jump-and -kick, heels first. "Never go for a Russian's feet, my friend," he commented to Randolph's roar of pain.
The door was ripped off its hinges and Illya faced 200 pounds of angry FBI agent. The earlier crack to Kuryakin's head had slowed his reflexes enough that he couldn't block the next blow, which sent him reeling back against the wall. His hand hit the soap dispenser; he gave it several fast jerks and tossed the handful of powdered soap into Randolph's face. The man bellowed and grabbed his eyes. Illya, up now and charging after him, felt his sneakered feet skid on the soap-covered tile. He landed flat on his back, wind knocked from him, and lay gasping for breath as Randolph tried to clear his eyes.
Napoleon placed a hand on either side of Bently's groggy head and held it steady as he brought his knee up. The FBI man collapsed to the floor and Napoleon, with a grunt, hauled him up and looked around for a hiding place. At the sight of an oversized trash can, Napoleon grinned wickedly and stuffed the man headfirst into it. He noted that the feet stuck out, so he bent the knees and tucked them in, using several paper towels to cover what little showed. Napoleon paused to check his appearance in a shattered mirror; aside from a bloody nose he seemed to have escaped obvious injury. He tucked in his shirt, wincing, and scooped up his jacket and then wandered into the inner room to see how Illya was faring.
Randolph was holding Illya by the hair, keeping his face under the waterline of a toilet and managing to avoid the flailing hands by straddling the slender man to weigh him down. Napoleon grabbed Randolph's jacket and yanked. The FBI agent let out a startled cry and toppled over backwards, still clutching Kuryakin, and the three collapsed onto the floor. Napoleon crawled out from beneath them and calmly brushed off his lapels before occupying Randolph's attention while Illya gasped and hiccupped.
With a final cough, Illya struggled to his feet and waved his partner away. "Thanks, Napoleon," he acknowledged his partner with a nod, and slammed a flattened hand into Randolph's larynx. One more throat chop and a final elbow to the stomach and the FBI man fell.
"That one was tough," Illya wheezed. "He wouldn't stay down. How come I always get the big guy?"
"Luck, Mr. Kuryakin. Maybe we underestimated the Feds." Napoleon had picked up a towel to stanch his nosebleed. "What are you going to do with him?"
"Leave that to Russian ingenuity." Illya wrestled the unconscious man into one of the stalls and locked himself in, then stuck a knuckle-skinned hand beneath the door.
"Napoleon," ....hic... "give me your belt."
"Trust me, okay?"
Napoleon unbuckled his belt and slid it to Kuryakin. A few minutes later, Illya squirmed out beneath the still-locked door, brushing off his hands.
"Go ahead, take a look."
Napoleon hesitated and then knelt to peer underneath the stall door. Randolph's feet were tied to the purse hook on the door with Napoleon's belt; Illya's belt anchored his arms securely to the pipe leading away from the toilet. Illya had stuffed a roll of toilet paper into the FBI man's mouth, winding strips of it around his head to keep it in place.
"You are wicked, Kuryakin. Did you learn that working for the KGB?"
"Cambridge again." Illya rubbed the back of his neck, staggering and nearly falling on the soap-slippery floor. "Someone ought to be more careful. A guy could get hurt on that stuff," he mumbled, hiccupping. "Let's get out of here—" a woman's laugh interrupted him, "—before some unsuspecting lady shows up," he finished, somewhat panicky.
"Go with the flow, my friend, and sing if you feel like it." Napoleon draped a supportive arm around Illya, who started in on an old Russian drinking song, stumbling over his feet as he did so. Two matrons rounded the corner at that point and stared, taken aback at the sight of men in women's territory.
"Pardon us, ladies." Napoleon clutched Illya, who hiccupped and cheerfully waved. "My friend took a wrong turn. Come on, old man, heads up."
Illya mumbled something and fell against Napoleon, who helped him past the glaring women.
Outside, they headed for the elevator and darted into it. Illya leaned against the wall as Napoleon breathed, "Too close for comfort."
"So much for furthering UNCLE-FBI relations," Illya muttered, still trying to control his hiccups.
Napoleon's face grew solemn. "Illya?"
"Yes, Napoleon?" responded the Russian as he raked back the hair from his eyes.
"We're in trouble."
"How? Those women can't identify us and our two friends would never report that they'd been worked over by two UNCLE agents. Oh, the irony of it all." Illya carefully explored his bruised ribs.
"Illya, we're in big trouble."
"You've already said that." Illya adjusted his damp collar. "Why are we in trouble?"
"We just put two FBI agents seriously out of commission." Napoleon gestured back towards the Ladies Room. "It's our responsibility to pick up where they left off. We've just been assigned to their case, whether we like it or not." He paused to consider the situation and the initial shock began to wear off. "Wait a minute; we're way ahead of them anyhow. I mean, we know what we're looking for, we even know who we're looking for. All we have to do is pick them up and turn them over to the Reno police."
"It should only be that easy." Illya was unconvinced,
"It'll be okay, trust me." Napoleon turned to regard him and adjusted his jacket as the elevator ground to a halt.
RENO, NEVADA JUNE 24, 19__ 8:24 p.m. PDT 55663.198
Napoleon Solo felt a thrill run down his spine as he watched Jonathan Crutchly and Gregory Bryant enter the movie theater. His hand crept closer to his shoulder holster and the P-38 UNCLE Special. Beside him, Illya Kuryakin also examined the two men who sat, a few rows up, on the opposite side of the spacious MGM theater and exchanged a glance with Napoleon.
Napoleon scrutinized the theater's interior, giving the red velvet curtains and heavy gilt fixtures all a good look as he considered alternatives to his planned course of actions. The back five rows of seats, much to Napoleon's delight, had been replaced by overstuffed settees. Now he and Illya shared one on the aisle in the back row.
"How do you think they'll pass it?" Illya murmured, rubbing a sore neck muscle.
"Don't know, but I'll wager they'll wait until the movie is in full swing. Who watches the audience during a movie?" Napoleon studied the entering patrons, but nobody approached the two they were watching. Finally, as the lights dimmed and the opening credits to the 1935 version of "Mutiny on the Bounty" rolled across the screen, the lobby door opened and two figures entered, sending a shaft of light through the theater.
"Neat," Illya whispered. "With the light behind them like that, it's impossible to see their faces." The latecomers sat down behind the Harvard boys, one row back. "And they look like our penguins."
"Pigeons, Illya," Napoleon corrected as he inspecting the foursome by the light of the flickering black and white film.
Abruptly, the four rose to leave and the two UNCLE agents positioned themselves at the door to intercept the group.
"Are you gentlemen going somewhere?" Napoleon asked politely.
"We'd love to join you," Illya added softly as he felt for the gun in his waistband. "Why don't you come with us and we can discuss all sorts of things, like your rights under the law. Or lack thereof."
He did not see the door open behind him to strike him in the back. The foursome broke for the crowded shopping arcade outside the theater, shoving aside Napoleon and the surprised entering patron. The UNCLE agents burst from the theater as a gunshot sounded above the noise. A bullet ripped through a window near Napoleon and his reflexes took over, sending him to the floor to snap off a shot at his assailant.
Illya pressed himself against the wall for a moment and then darted after the fleeing men without waiting for Napoleon. He dodged past startled shoppers, ignoring the screams and curses, until he found himself separated from his quarry by a crystal-filled shop window and, at the sound of shattering glass, dropped to his knees, feeling shards graze the back of his neck. He bobbed up and fired back, concentration furrowing his brow as a bullet claimed several pieces of delicate artwork.
Encouraged by a scream of pain, Illya jumped up and started around the shop and was at the doorway when a powerful fist caught him in the side of the mouth to knock him off balance. He threw a protective arm over his face and fell, landing with a solid crash on "Cinderella's Coach", a dainty, hand-sculpted piece—with a $10,000 price tag which Illya saw as he rose with a groan to shake off the glass. After a deep breath, he took off to rejoin Napoleon as the foursome headed for the casino.
"Illya, if they get to the casino floor, we'll lose them for sure," Napoleon yelled, following the escaping men up a mirrored staircase, pushing past frightened, angry people. Illya caught sight of the escalator and desperately charged up the less-populated side, callously shoving descending patrons out of the way.
The fleeing men emerged from the stairwell and skidded to a stop at the sight of Illya Kuryakin, face set, balanced on the balls of his feet with his Walther pointed straight at their stomachs.
"Freeze, gentlemen," he advised them. Napoleon waited on the stairs behind, keeping his own P-38 trained on them, only slowly becoming aware of the noisy clamor of alarms. Within seconds, the tableau was surrounded by huffing, overweight security officers, and Napoleon and Illya obligingly lowered their guns.
"What are you going to try to do, bribe us?" asked the security chief, as Napoleon dug out his wallet, but his voice choked off at the sight of the gold and black card that declared that he was from UNCLE.
FRESNO, CALIF JUNE 25, 19__ 1:38 p.m. PDT 55902.128
"We were just lucky that the shop decided not to hold us liable for damages incurred," Illya announced as the Fox roared down Interstate 5. "That glass coach would have put a serious crimp in my record buying. Watch your speed, Napoleon, we should be coming up on a check point soon. I wouldn't want to be disqualified now."
Napoleon scanned the road ahead for the familiar red check mark indicating the stop, and finally commented, "Illya, I don't see anything that even faintly resembles a check point."
The sun-streaked blond head bobbed up and nodded towards a flash of light that suddenly caught Napoleon's eye. "Your checkpoint, Mr. Solo. They're called closed check points. Estafan always throws a few of those at us. Just keep to the assigned speed limit and wave when I tell you to. It drives Estafan crazy." Illya leaned back, sighing.
Napoleon stared at the straight ribbon of asphalt in front of him, puzzled by Illya's activity and the Russian picked up on it. "This is the endurance test, to see how well your car has held up cross-country." Napoleon soon understood as he saw the engine temperature needle raise a hair. A small Lotus bearing the tour number 6 sped past them with a roar, the driver waving and yelling, "Dubrey dyehn, Tovarish!" and Napoleon recognized the man as the one who had given him a helping fist in Salt Lake City.
"Dubrey dyehn!" Illya shouted back as the distance between them widened.
"Our mystery car again." Napoleon readjusted his sunglasses. "I haven't seen him at all during the race."
"Like I said, he's always ahead of you. The only time someone else wins is when he doesn't enter the race."
The KAR120C license plate disappeared ahead, but Napoleon, despite the strong temptation to play tag with the other car, held the Triumph faithfully at 55 mph. He glanced over at his partner, slumped in the passenger seat, staring aimlessly out at the scenery. Napoleon pushed up his glasses again and flexed his hands in the black leather gloves. "First question, is he living or dead?"
Illya regarded him curiously for a moment, and smiled. "Both."
LOS ANGELES, CALIF JUNE 25, 19__ 5:24 p.m. PDT 56101.645
"All right, Napoleon, left here on Figueroa." Illya pointed to a group of palm trees as they negotiated the rush hour traffic.
"Reminds me of home," Napoleon muttered as he clamped his foot on the brake pedal to avoid ramming the car in front of him.
"Ah, yes, rush hour in Manhattan. The overwhelming bouquet of gas fumes, the cheerful tone of friendly, helpful drivers telling you where to go." Illya trailed off wistfully. "Or perhaps that is rush hour in Moscow, I don't remember." He pointed. "There she is, Mr. Solo, the Hotel Bonaventure. We made it."
"It sure is a beautiful sight." Napoleon spared a glance from the traffic ahead to admire the five glass cylinders nested between two towering office buildings. "When do we find out how we did?" he asked Illya, who had come back to life, swiftly punching figures into the calculator.
"Tonight, at the victory dinner."
"What if you're not feeling particularly victorious?"
"Everyone wins, Napoleon, even if it's only the satisfaction of knowing you have successfully made your way across this wide country of yours."
Napoleon grimaced at him and rolled the dirty red Triumph up to the check-in point, then smiled at the beautiful woman there. She dropped her eyes to gaze down at her clipboard. "Mr. Solo?"
"One and the same," Napoleon replied with a glint in his hazel brown eyes. Illya leaned forward and waved wearily.
"Hi, Illya, glad to see you found L.A. this year." She rounded the car to his side to accept his clipboard. "You fellows made really good time," she nodded, satisfied with Illya's figures. "You may even have a shot at first this time. No. 6 hasn't even come in yet." She batted her eyes at the Russian. "Will you be at the party tonight?"
Napoleon sat forward, his handsome features becoming the picture of male subtlety. "If you'll be there," he answered seductively, as Illya shook his head and sunk lower in the seat.
"Your friend's quite the come-on artist, Illya—I didn't know you hung around with such a wild crowd. I'd watch him if I were you." She handed Illya back his clipboard and gestured them on.
Napoleon started forward and then asked, "But your name? Her name, Illya?"
"Mrs. Estafan de Puerta, Napoleon. Drive, please."
Estafan de Puerta rose to his feet and regarded the rallyists sitting around the table. "First, let me offer you my congratulations, for this was not a good year for us. There was a severe accident just outside of Denver, involving six cars, but, thankfully, no serious injuries. There was also that mysterious shooting in Columbus and the unfortunate, but possibly warranted, attack on Mr. Bently and Mr. Randolph. The Salt Lake City General Hospital reports that the men were released after a night's observation. Once again, if anyone has any information about the identity of the attackers, we should be very grateful if you'd come forward. Finally, there was the arrest of Mr. Bryant and Mr. Crutchly on drug-related charges. All in all, not the most pleasant tour we've had.
"However, the real survivors are in the room and I congratulate you for that. You have overcome all odds, as well as clever devices meant to slow, if not stop you, and you have all achieved the one true victory—getting here. We shall now find out who finished before whom."
Napoleon shot a glance at Illya, who had leaned forward, the epitome of attention. Napoleon put a hand out to touch his arm and Illya flashed him a half-smile before returning to de Puerta.
"It gives me great pleasure to announce that first place goes, again, to Mr. John Drake, in car number 6. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, Mr. Drake was called away and is not able to join us tonight."
"Did I lie?" Illya asked Napoleon, who stopped toying with his water glass to chuckle.
"Second place, and a near tie for first, goes to Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin. Good show, gentlemen. Mr. Solo, you must bring out the best in Illya."
Napoleon and Illya congratulated each other, seconded by the other rallyists around them; de Puerta continued down his list and Napoleon gradually became aware of being watched. He casually darted a look over the shoulder of the woman he'd been flirting with, but the two men who'd been watching him slipped from view a brief second after his eye caught them.
Beneath the cover of the table, Napoleon tapped Illya's knee. Kuryakin obligingly moved over, his focus never leaving de Puerta's face. Napoleon tried again, with more force. Illya jumped, and glared at him. Napoleon motioned with his eyes towards their again-visible shadows, and Illya's frown grew more noticeable as he, too, studied the men.
De Puerta finished his announcements and sat, setting off a smattering of applause, and people rose and began to mingle, talking. Napoleon quickly took the opportunity to start for the main door, with Illya on his heels, but two more men appeared there before they could reach it. With only the briefest of hesitations, Napoleon headed for another exit.
"And me without my gun on me," Illya grumbled as he noticed suspicious lumps in the intruders' suits. Napoleon slid through the side door, only to find himself in an empty access corridor, face to face with the first pair of men. He stopped abruptly, and Illya, following, plowed into him.
"Whose side are you on, Napoleon?" Illya rubbed his nose. The second unknown pair had joined the first, and the foursome advanced upon the UNCLE agents. Napoleon braced his feet and Illya dropped into a defensive position as one man reached inside his suit jacket and drew out a slender silver instrument. Instinctively, Illya knew the man was holding a hypodermic and tensed, waiting for Napoleon's signal.
The stranger, however, merely raised the tube to chin level and spoke. "Open Channel L, please."Napoleon and Illya stared, wordless, at one another.
"McDonalds, sir, out of the Los Angeles branch. We've located Solo and Kuryakin as per your instructions. You didn't tell us that they were prepared to fight for their vacation though."
"UNCLE agents." Illya relaxed, dropping his hands. "I should have known he'd do something like this."
"Very good, McDonalds," Waverly commended. "Please be good enough to put Mr. Solo on the 9:00 flight to New York. I have urgent business with him here."
"Note," Napoleon muttered, "he always has to do it in person."
"And Kuryakin, Sir?"
"He may continue his vacation, but he's to carry a communicator on his person from now on. I'll have no more of this cloak-and-dagger searching. Besides, I'm confident that Mr. Solo will find some excuse to get him back here long before his second week is up."
"You're damned right I will," Napoleon growled at the grinning Kuryakin. "Don't smile so much, Illya, you'll ruin your reputation for being a pessimist." Napoleon tossed the room key to the Russian.
"Who knows, maybe my luck is finally changing. I'll give your regards to the ladies." Illya chuckled as he straightened his jacket. "Oh, and Napoleon," Illya saluted him jauntily. "Have a nice flight." Shoving his hands into his pockets, Illya Kuryakin strolled back to the party, whistling.