The Whipping Cream, Ping Pong Balls, and Three Little Kittens Affair
by Charlie Kirby
It had become his great weakness in Paris. He'd been attending the Sorbonne there and his monthly allowance covered food and not much else. One day while hunting for some decent tea, Illya Kuryakin had, instead, found the elixir of the gods.
That day he discovered French hot chocolate. It wasn't like the hot chocolate anywhere else in the world. In France it was made with a handful of spice- cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice—along with vanilla and almond extracts. It was sweet, spicy, and it always came served with a tower of whipped cream adorning it.
It became Illya's special treat, his one true indulgence. He would scrimp and save all week, just so that he could pander to his chocolat addiction on the weekend. When he left the City of Lights, it wasn't the city, the lifestyle, or his classmates that he missed; it was his hot chocolate.
He spent way too much time trying to find something parallel with it while in London and failed. There the hot chocolate was good, but it wasn't his hot chocolate.
From there Illya had gone on to New York and had taken his quest with him. Again, it eluded him, until one day, in the midst of a surprise rain storm he ducked into a little hole in the wall bakery. That's when he smelled it, that special combination of chocolate and spices, and his mind sped back to Paris, the frigid days, and his hands and stomach warmed by a mug of hot chocolate.
After that, he became a frequent visitor. He spent time getting to know the ex-pat owners and always ordered the hot chocolate with extra whipped cream.
That was how this day started, although he had to admit the atmosphere seemed charged with something. Illya took his paper cup of hot chocolate and nodded his thanks. The serving of whipped cream was especially generous today, but for what reason he didn't know. He was forced to lick some of it away just to keep it from cascading down his hand as he watched Napoleon brake to a stop at the curb.
"That stuff will kill you, you know," Napoleon muttered as Illya climbed into the car, carefully balancing the cup. "And if you get any on the upholstery, I'll kill you."
Illya grinned and spooned some of the whipped cream into his mouth. It was silky, it was delicious, it was... not... right. "Napoleon, do you believe that some days are destined for greatness?"
"I do." Napoleon kept his eye on the morning traffic and the crazed drivers to either side of him.
"And that they can frequently start out without warning?"
"Of course." Now he spared a fast look over at his partner, a smile toying with his lips.
"When those days come, we should seize them." Illya's speech was affected by something.
"Illya, what are you going on about?" Napoleon pulled up short for a stop light and now took a real moment to study his partner. Illya had two fingers in his mouth and seemed to be searching for something. Then he pulled something out and held it up to Napoleon for inspection.
"There's a microdot in my whipped cream."
They were only five blocks from the tiny shop when the first fire truck roared past them. Napoleon barely had time to stop before it barreled by, lights and sirens at full blare. They had gotten nearly another block when a second bullied its way through traffic.
"Napoleon, I have a bad feeling about this..." Illya turned and twisted in his seat, trying to see what was going on.
They were waved down a block before their destination. Napoleon rolled down his window as a policeman approached their car. "Trouble, officer?"
"Fire up ahead."
"Where?" Illya asked. When the man hesitated, Illya shouted, "WHERE?!" He didn't wait for an answer, but leapt from the car.
"You can't..." the office started, but Napoleon pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to his ID card.
"If you call your captain, I think you'll find that he can."
Illya ran the block, dodging his way around obstacles, gawkers, fire hoses, all conspiring to slow him down. As he ran he thought of Berg, who always smelled of Mentholatum and whose false teeth clacked when he talked. Of Ebba, who always remembered Illya's fondness for her coconut macaroons and made sure a couple extra always found their way into his paper sack. Of how they loved each other and their adopted country and proudly displayed an American flag on the wall of their shop. Of how their eyes shone with tears as they spoke of their homeland and of the friends and family left there, as they all sat and spoke of better times to come.
Illya always tried to made time to stop and visit with them, but not today. He'd gotten in late, up late, everything was conspiring against him. He'd stopped in just long enough for a bit of conversation and a chance to pander to his addiction, the one bright spot in a day that promised great challenges.
Illya slammed to a stop in front of the smoke-belching ruins that had once been a home away from home for him. Panting, and leaning against a mailbox for support, he watched two sheet-covered stretchers being loaded into the back of an ambulance.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and knew instinctively that it was Napoleon's. Illya reached back and squeezed Napoleon's hand, finding strength in his partner's presence.
"I'm sorry, Illya."
"Something was off this morning. They wanted to talk, but I knew you were waiting for me. If I'd been a little bit faster on the uptake, they might still be alive."
"Or all three of you might be dead." He nodded as Illya looked back at him. "Did they know who you are, Illya? Who you really are?"
"Of course not. They thought I was just a fellow ex-pat, like themselves."
"Any idea as to why they would pass you that information?"
"None. I never gave them any inkling that I was anything other than a business man." Illya pushed off the mail box and sighed. "But I am sure as hell going to find out who did this to them."
"Be careful what you promise, my friend."
"Why's that?" They watched the ambulance drive slowly away, its siren silent.
"You might get it. Come on, it's time for us to go to work."
From a building on the opposite side of the street, a man watched the pair walk slowly away. He recognized the blond as a frequent customer to the now-ruined shop.
Allen Correy had watched him from a corner booth, chatting with the owner and his wife while she made him that crappy excuse for hot chocolate. There was something about the man that Correy didn't like. He'd come in every day for a week, then be gone for two or three weeks or even months. He'd come back and look as if he'd been ill or injured. The first time it happened, Correy had dismissed it. The second time, he'd shaken his head and mused about the guy's hard luck. By the fourth and fifth time, he started to wonder just who this guy was.
So, Correy did what any good spy would do; he started to follow the blond. Most days he would head to the subway or grab a bus and disappear. Sometimes, like this morning, a car would meet him, but that was rare. He always came into the shop alone, always ordered the hot chocolate, and always stopped to chat. Except today... today, he'd run in just long enough to grab his customary cup and then jumped into the waiting car as if there was a devil on his heels. That was... odd.
Correy looked over his shoulder at the wall above his desk. There were shots of some of the regular customers to the shop. All of them had stayed away this morning... everyone except the blond.
The door to his room burst open and his gun was out and aimed before he'd even registered the movement.
"Christ, Allen, you wanna point that thing at someone else?" Dave Rickman had the good common sense to freeze. "You're wound tighter than a clock spring. What the hell is going on with you?"
"Someone blew up our lead. I just wanted to make sure you weren't that someone out to finish the job."
"What?" Rickman had come through the back of the building and had missed all the action. He stormed to the window and began to swear. "Thirteen friggin' months wasted!"
"Not wasted. I think I've figured out who their contact here was." Correy turned back to the wall and ripped down a shot of the blond. "This guy is definitely our man. And I'm gonna bet he set the bomb that blew the place up this morning." He stared down at the photo. "Find him and we'll have our spy."
The technician frowned as he adjusted his viewer. "The chemicals in the film didn't like the dairy of your whipped cream, Illya."
"Not surprising." Illya rubbed the heel of his hand against his forehead in an effort to stave off the rapidly forming headache. He was running about five hours short of sleep and a gallon low on caffeine.
Illya blinked and looked over at the cup Napoleon offered him. It wasn't the best or the freshest coffee, but it was hot and strong. "Thanks."
"Anything?" Napoleon nodded and moved to the tech's side, bending close to read his notes.
"The film was pretty fragile to begin with. They were using Diazo duplicating film—the worst of the worst. It's affected by everything from daylight to heat to, apparently, dairy products. I'm trying to recover the information on it, but there's nothing much so far."
"We have gotten some random words, a couple of coordinates, but nothing we can use." Illya sipped the coffee carefully.
"The words?" Napoleon picked up the scribbled upon sheet and frowned. "..err... inky... along...weird... hmm."
"English, without a doubt. Code words, probably." Illya drained the cup and dropped it into the trash can. "Unless we can get more, there's no way we can establish a pattern."
"How well did you know these people, Mr. Kuryakin?" Waverly asked as he walked in, his secretary close at his heels. Napoleon smiled and studied her appraisingly. Illya kept his comments about that to himself and instead focused upon answering Waverly.
"As well as you really know anyone in the Village. They had emigrated here several years ago. They had no children and their only living relatives were back in a small village in Sweden. They were fiercely patriotic as only immigrants can be. "
"Their names, Mr. Kuryakin?"
Illya frowned... "Berg and Ebba, I believe. I do not know their last names. The shop was called, Ut ur kylan."
"Out of the Cold?" Napoleon frowned at that. "That's an odd name for a bakery."
"Ebba explained to me that they wanted their shop to be a place of warmth and comfort, some place where a stranger could come in and be welcomed." Illya could feel his cheeks warming. "I never thought more about it than that. It never occurred to me that it might have a double meaning."
Waverly patted his hand affectionately. "There was no reason for you to consider such a thing, young man. There are times when a cigar is merely a cigar."
"But this isn't one of those times, is it, sir?"
"I'm afraid not. City records show that their surname was Classen. They came from a small town called Vanersborg. It rests on the edge of the Baltic Sea. Mr. Solo, you are booked on an evening flight."
"And me, sir?" Illya asked, resisting the urge to rub his eyes.
"Until we know why they were so intent upon passing that information to you, Mr. Kuryakin, I think it will be best if your talents remain here."
"If Illya wasn't the intended target, sir," Napoleon said, after a moment. "It's possible that the courier for whom that microdot was meant will come looking for him."
"Exactly my thought, Mr. Solo." Waverly looked over at the blond agent and smiled slightly. "Don't make yourself too hard to find, will you Mr. Kuryakin?"
Allen Correy pulled off his glasses and yawned. Who knew there were so many short, young, blond men in New York?
"Hey, Allen, baby, I got him." Dave Rickman trotted into the room, obviously pleased with himself. He held the file folder aloft and waved it like a banner.
"Who is he?" Correy wasn't quite ready to be celebrating yet.
"His name is Illya Kuryakin... works for an import/export place in Manhattan."
"Kuryakin? What is that?" He looked back at the grainy photo he'd been staring at for the past four hours.
"Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin..." Rickman paused for effect. "USSR."
"Nope, a Soviet citizen in good standing."
"That's an oxymoron, you moron." Correy tried to grab the report folder from his partner, but Rickman moved quickly out of his reach. "What does it say?"
"That's the point, idiot, that's all it says..."
"What?" This time Correy moved faster and snatched the folder. He flipped it open and groaned. "You weren't kidding. This says nothing..."
"Nope, all we know is he's here because his government has let him be here."
"Bottom of the page..."
"Full diplomatic immunity? What the hell is this?"
Rickman held up a fist. "I'd say a good time to kick some red Commie ass. What say we go talk to the Director?"
Correy nodded and dropped the folder beside the photo. "I would say da, tovarisch."
Illya unpinned his badge and handed it back to the receptionist. His head ached and his body was making an eloquent plea for just a few minutes of sleep. Soon, soon you will sleep, he thought as the wall swung open for him and he passed from the pristine UNCLE corridors to the messy outside world again. Stepping out of the dressing room, he made his way through stacks of clothes and the equipment that their storefront employed.
Everything was a mask, everything was hidden. More research had revealed that the Classens had been in the spy business for awhile. It made sense now. The store was nearly always almost empty. There was some foot traffic, like Illya, but rarely did he have to wait in a line. There was a ragged man who frequently camped out in one of the four tiny booths, nursing a cup of coffee that would last him all day. At least that is what Ebba told Illya. The man seemed harmless enough, polite and quiet. Not like the one who would stumble in and pound on the glass counter until Berg passed him a wrapped day old bagel and told him to go on his way.
Had one of those men been their agent? Had they been carrying state secrets from this point to somewhere else? Neither man had been in the shop that morning. Nor had the mother, her carriage just barely able to fit through the door. Illya remembered seeing her first as a blushing bride, then an expectant mother and now with a toddler in tow and another baby on the way.
"Have a good night, Mr. Kuryakin," Del Floria murmured. It was, in reality, a Section Three agent, one of many who portrayed the nonexistent Del Floria. UNCLE was just as guilty about passing off a front to the public as Berg and Ebba were.
"Hopefully making up for a lousy day," Illya muttered and stepped into the late October afternoon. There was a honk and he looked over to see Napoleon sitting in a taxi, waving to him.
"Need a lift, partner?"
"I thought you were headed to the airport." Illya climbed in, rather pleased that he wasn't going to have to ride the often confusing assortment of buses and trains in order to get home this evening.
"Your place is on the way and Mr. Waverly is concerned." Napoleon caught the eye of the taxi driver, another Section Two agent, and nodded.
"About what?" The taxi sprang out into the traffic and immediately slammed to a stop.
"The guys down in the lab were able to finally get enough from the micro dot."
Napoleon pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. "On Halloween, I'd like to be of some weird witches' crew, and get a broomstick then and ride through the inky skies with you. No better fortune could exist, no greater pleasure be, than riding side by side through life, just you alone with me."
"Nice but what does it mean?"
"Ah, that would be step two—not quite as far along." Napoleon passed the note to Illya, who frowned and tucked it away for later study. "I suspect it is referring to some sort of switch, possibly on a plane, on October 31st. Of course, we don't know who or what or even necessarily where. Just possibly when. Or it could be notification of something coming in or going out. It's all pretty vaporous at this point."
"Well, that's better than where we were three hours ago."
"But it only gives us about a week to figure the rest of it out."
"Which is more than we often have. What does Waverly hope you'll find in Vanersborg ?"
"At this point just about anything. I'm hoping by doing some very obvious investigation, someone will think I know more than I do and make a move."
"They could simply shoot you and be done with it."
"We shall hope that they are more of the thinking and less of the reactionary type then."
Illya returned his attention to the passing buildings. The city, so much home to him now, seemed a bit colder and unwelcoming tonight. He was just now admitting to himself that he would never see Berg or Ebba again. It didn't matter to him what they had done; this was the first time in a long time that death wore a familiar face. He was used to losing a colleague; it was the price they paid as agents. Occasionally they lost an innocent, but they were almost always nothing more than familiar strangers. But he knew Berg and Ebba and no matter what lie he told himself, it still hurt. It's possible that they were victims in this, caught between what they had to do and what they needed to do. We both know the lengths that some people will go to when they have their backs to the wall.
"It's okay, you know." Napoleon's hand was on his knee, squeezing it. "It's all right to mourn them."
"How did you...?" Illya stopped and shook his head.
"It's all over your face, Illya, for someone who knows where to look. We'll figure this out."
They pulled up in front of Illya's apartment building and he climbed wearily from the taxi. A quick flash of brake lights and the honk of a horn and the taxi disappeared back into the traffic. He watched it long after he could no longer tell one set of taillights from another and then he started the climb up the steep stairs to his apartment building.
Mrs. Watkins was sitting there, snapping beans in half for her dinner. She was practically blind, but still the woman made some of the best goulash Illya had ever had outside of Hungary. She was a demon in the kitchen and used to frequently invite Illya in as a grateful dinner guest. He would shop, she would cook, and then Illya would clean up as they talked and sipped brandy. Illya missed the evenings he spent in Mrs. Watkins's comfortable parlor, reading to her from some insipid romance novel. When Miss Samuels entered the picture, the invitations evaporated and Illya never pressed.
Miss Samuels was also cleaning beans, but her thoughts seemed elsewhere. How she could get anything accomplished with all that dangly jewelry was a mystery to Illya. Both of Miss Samuels' wrists, her throat, her fingers, even her ankles were festooned with bright costume jewelry. There were a couple of flashes as light caught some diamond chips, but those were few and far between. He didn't much care for her, but it wasn't really his call. She jealously guarded every portal to Mrs. Watkins and Illya respected his friend too much to cause waves.
"Good evening, ladies," he said, politely. These two knew everything there was to know about anything in his building and he was careful to stay on their good side. "How are you this evening?"
"We just saw the latest John Wayne movie this afternoon. He's so handsome," Miss Samuels said with a sigh. There were times when she acted like a teenager in love.
Illya grinned at her. That explains her daydreaming, he decided. One good John Wayne movie and the woman walked on air for a week. I really need to find some of that for myself.
"Oh, Mr. Kuryakin, your friends waited for nearly an hour this afternoon, but they had to leave. The older one wasn't very nice. He almost kicked Mr. Jiggles." The nearly blind poodle heard his name and whined, nuzzling Mrs. Watkins's hand. It had taken Illya quite a while to make friends with the dog and he was still leery of those teeth. "And then he called him a naughty name! Poor Mr. Jiggles, he didn't know anyone was coming down the stairs just then. He didn't mean to trip that nasty man..."
Illya could swear the dog was smiling, but dogs didn't smile... did they? "I will speak harshly to him when we meet next." Illya was more concerned about the fact that someone had come looking for him than he was for the dog's well being.
"And the young one with him, when we wouldn't let him into your apartment, he accused me of being a dried up old hag." She threw the beans down into the bowl and her friend slipped an arm around her shoulders.
"You aren't old, Lorrie Jean." Miss Samuels tried to console her friend, but the tears welled up and trickled down the age-spotted cheeks. "You are the best friend ever."
"Yes, I know I am," she wailed. "But I am also a dried up old hag."
"A mature woman is like a rose in full bloom," Illya murmured, sweeping in to take the wrinkled hand and lightly kissed the back of it before releasing it. "But one must pause to enjoy its beauty and scent."
"Oh..." He offered Mrs. Watkins his handkerchief and Miss Samuels a smile. "About what time did this miscreant bother you, ladies?"
"Just before three, Saga of the World was just finishing up, but I don't think that Nice Dr. Hendle will ever find happiness with that terrible nurse. She's no good for him, really she isn't."
Illya repressed a sigh. The world of the soap operas was very real to these women- women who made sure strangers didn't get into his apartment, who brought him food when he was ill or injured and who guarded the front portal of their kingdom with as much diligence as Del Floria guarded his. One lesson a smart spy learned early on was to surround himself with such people.
"Rest assured he won't bother you again. Good night, ladies." He bowed slightly and offered them another grin.
"What a nice young man." He heard Miss Samuels say with a sigh as he walked away. "Such a nice..."
There were giggles and Mrs. Watkins added, "It's a shame he's quite so young and so innocent."
This time he rolled his eyes and grinned before slipping inside. Not so innocent, he thought as he glanced around, waiting for his eyes to readjust to the dim light. It was all Illya could do to keep from pulling out his communicator, but that would prove unwise down here. There was too much foot traffic and he made it a habit of not calling attention to himself any more than necessary.
Instead, he double timed it up the stairs and paused before his apartment. He studied the outside of his door, checking to see if his various indicators were still in place, a piece of tape haphazardly stuck just so, a bit of paper dropped against the door. Everything was as he left it, but he hazarded a look around him to make sure he was alone before pulled out his communicator.
"Open Channel D please."
"Channel D is open." The female voice sounded familiar, but Illya didn't worry about placing it. Napoleon would, but Napoleon was that sort of guy. Illya wasn't.
"Kuryakin here. Put me through to security."
There was a pause, then, "Security." This voice Illya did recognize.
"Jim, it's Illya. Do me a favor and check the logs today. I had a couple of visitors earlier this afternoon around three and I want to make sure I'm not walking into anything."
"Three? Hold on a just a minute." Illya glanced around again, listening to the daily cacophony of sounds that now meant home to him. One minute bled into two and Illya was about to check to see if their connection had been severed when Jim's voice came back on. "Sorry, there was a glitch here. Looks like someone tried, but never managed to gain entrance. I turned off your alarm remotely so if there's someone inside, they won't hear you come in. You are cleared to enter now."
"Thanks, Jim. Stand by." Even with his co-worker's reassurance, he still kept one hand on his weapon as he eased open the door. Nothing came flying at him or caught his attention and he relaxed just a fraction. He did a quick tour of the rest of the apartment and began to undo his tie. "It's all clear here."
"No problem, it's why we make the big money. Channel D out."
Illya nodded, even though he knew the man couldn't see him. He frowned and then brought the communicator back up to his mouth. "Channel F, Solo please."
There was a pause, just long enough for him to get his tie, jacket and shoulder holster off. "Solo here."
"I wanted to give you a heads up. Two people tried to enter my apartment today. My security squad stopped them."
"Tried to talk them to death more like." Illya grinned. Napoleon put up a good front, yet it was he who brought them flowers for their birthdays, gifts at Christmas, and candy on Valentine's Day. "Everything okay?"
"Yes, but I think they'll be back. I'm going to make it easy for them to get in next time."
"Be careful, Illya, I'm not there to watch your back." A loud announcement drowned him out. "That's my plane. Take care, partner."
"You, as well."
"Hey, hey, Dave, there he is." Allen Correy shook his partner and Rickman came awake with a start.
"There's our Blondie!" Correy pointed as the man they now knew as Illya Kuryakin approached the two old hags blocking the entrance to the apartment building. He exchanged some words with them, then bowed and kissed the hand of that shriveled up old piece of... Correy had to look away. "That's just wrong."
Rickman had brought up his binoculars and was staring through them. "What's wrong, Allen?"
"Coming on to those old women like that. No wonder they guard the door—he's their own private gigolo."
"Now you don't know that."
"Why else would they put up such a fuss about our being there?"
"What's our next move?'
"I think we should go get ourselves something to eat, check in and then go pay a little visit to that little Russkie and see what he has to say about his cover being blown. I wonder what the KGB will have to say about that."
"Nothing, they never have anything to say about anything." Rickman dropped his binoculars. "You feel like Chinese tonight?"
"Yeah, since we're here."
Illya Kuryakin stared through the grime-streaked window out at the street and stretched his arms high above his head. He glanced back at his door and wondered just how long it was going to take for his new friends to try again. As tempting as it would be to open a channel to Napoleon, it would serve no purpose other than to touch base. Outside, it was business as usual for thousands of people. He propped his head up against his arm as it rested against the window frame and sighed. Usually his apartment was an oasis in a hostile world, but tonight, it felt more like a prison—his prison.
He'd eaten, tried to read, worked for a short time on a report, then swapped off to an article he had due before giving up on it all. He had no attention span tonight. So he dimmed the lights and stood watch instead.
A noise brought him to attention and he moved quietly away from his vigil at the window to the hallway. Someone was rattling his door knob.
Finally! If we moved that slow, Waverly would have our asses in slings, he thought as he stood just to the left side of the door, back against the coat stand. The coats moved around him and his dark pants blended into the shadows there. He slid his Walther from its holster and waited. Of course, he didn't know who was working his knob, but Illya was fairly sure it wasn't a friend or co-worker. They'd have had the common sense to knock first.
The door opened cautiously and a long shadow was cast upon the floor.
"Do you see anything?"
"Be quiet! If he's sleeping, we don't want to wake him up."
"It's one in the morning, why wouldn't he be sleeping?"
So, there are only two of them—excellent. Illya thought as he watched them move into the apartment and leave the door ajar behind them.
"You check the bedroom and I'll check... everywhere else." The flashlight played around the room sweeping over Illya. He held his breath, but the beam never lingered. Instead the man moved deeper into the apartment and swung the beam to bear on his bookcase.
"Principles of Advanced Quantum Mechanics, String Theory ... they have books about string?"
"They have books about everything," the shorter guy muttered, coming out of Illya's bedroom. "He's not in there."
"Listen to this, The Application of Modern Quantum Mechanics as it Applies to Fundamental Particles. And the author is I. Kuryakin. It isn't bad enough to read this stuff, he writes it too?"
"Must not pay a lot. Christ, this place is small. I have a dog house bigger than this."
"It suits my needs." Illya flicked on the overhead light and both men jumped in response, freezing at the sight of Illya's Walther.
"Well, we don't need to worry about waking him up," the taller of the two murmured and his partner threw him a devastating look.
"Let's start with something easy." Illya gestured towards the couch. "Who are you?"
"Not likely." The shorter guy was going to be a handful, Illya could tell that all ready. "Who the hell are you?"
"You break into my apartment in the middle of the night and you don't know who I am? You have to be Croatian."
"I'm Presbyterian ,if it's any of your business."
"You are really an idiot, Allen."
"I would agree with your partner, Allen. Now, I would like to see some ID, gentlemen, before my trigger finger grows cramped, and move very slowly please. My temper isn't good tonight. " With infinite care, both men pulled ID cards out of their jacket pockets and Illya nodded to the sofa. "Down on the couch, open so I can read them. Now, move to the window and keep your hands in full view."
"Why are you doing this? We're the good guys."
Illya shook his head at that and brought his communicator to his lips. "Not from where I'm standing. Open Channel D, please. "
"Channel D open, Mr. Kuryakin. What can I do for you?"
"Miss Swankin, would you be so good as to put a trace on a Mr...." Illya turned his head sideways to read the closest ID card. "Allen Correy and Mr. Dave Rickman? According to their ID cards, they work for the CIA."
"Understood. Stand by."
"Who the hell are you?" Correy demanded and Illya smiled tightly at him.
"I am guessing you have no idea."
"Mr. Kuryakin, are you still there?" The voice from the communicator was distorted and made one of his guests wince.
"They're legit and with the CIA; I'm patching Mr. Waverly through to you." Illya made a face and holstered his weapon.
"Thank you, Miss Swankin." He tossed the IDs back to the men and glared. "I thought UNCLE had a hold harmless with the CIA."
"Whose uncle?" Correy caught the wallets and handed Rickman's to him.
"United Network Command for Law and Enforcement," Illya murmured.
"Mr. Kuryakin?" Waverly came on.
"Am I to understand you have two CIA agents at your residence?"
"That is correct, sir."
"Why, man?" Waverly sounded impatient and Illya grinned at that.
"I was rather hoping someone could tell me that." Illya looked over at the pair. "Care to share, gentlemen?"
"You've been passing stolen government documents," Correy blurted and Rickman sighed.
"We've been watching your interaction with the couple from the Ut ur kylan," Rickman said patiently.
"Berg and Ebba, they are... were friends of mine until someone sent their shop sky high."
"That was you!" Correy again.
"No, that wasn't me. I wouldn't have been as sloppy." Illya redirected his attention back to the communicator. "Instructions, sir?"
"As we seem to be chasing the same tail, Mr. Kuryakin, perhaps a sharing of information would be in order."
"Are you sure that's entirely necessary, sir?"
"Pending any word from Mr. Solo, I'm afraid that it is. Full cooperation, Mr. Kuryakin. Out."
"So, we are to be comrades, then," Illya muttered, tucking away the communicator. "This business does make for strange bedfellows."
"We ain't sleeping with anyone," Correy announced and then grinned. "Sorry, I was joking. The stupid act is just that, an act. We use it to trick our opponents into underestimating us."
"I often wondered why Napoleon resorted to such tactics." Illya walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of vodka. "I prefer other means of subterfuge. Drink, gentlemen?"
"On duty." Rickman's tone told Illya just how unhappy he was about everything at the moment.
Illya poured some vodka into a glass and drank before walking to the couch and sitting. "You have been watching Berg and Ebba then? For how long?"
"Over a year." Rickman followed, sitting in an armchair. Correy hovered over his shoulder, as if prepared for an invisible attack.
"We had gotten word that files were being transferred and their place was the starting point."
"They were passing government documents?" Illya tried to imagine the two people as international spies and couldn't. He'd spent his life learning to read people and they just didn't come across as such. They were either very good at being very deceitful or they were misidentified.
"No, they weren't passing the documents. They passed along the rendezvous information."
"That would explain it."
"This morning, there was a microdot in the whipped cream of my hot chocolate."
"Oh?" Correy was all attention.
"It was an odd bit of poem." Illya dug a small bit of paper out for his pants pocket. "On Halloween, I'd like to be of some weird witches' crew, and get a broomstick then and ride through the inky skies with you. No better fortune could exist, no greater pleasure be, than riding side by side through life, just you alone with me."
"Okay, that's just this side of cryptic." Rickman held out a hand and Illya placed the paper in it and watched it exchange hands once again.
"The best we can figure is that the exchange will be made on Halloween." Illya stifled a yawn. He'd grown progressively sleepier in the last minute—an obvious testament to too many late nights.
"That's when, but the where, why, and how?"
"Still open to conjecture. My partner has gone to their home own to see if there is something we can find."
"So, if you aren't their mark, why did they give you the microdot?" Correy didn't quite hide his yawn and Illya smirked. At least he wasn't the only one losing beauty sleep.
"No idea, but Ebba seemed worried, she wanted to talk, but I didn't have time this morning. I wish..."
"So do I." Rickman ran a hand across his neatly trimmed crew cut, then he yawned. "Sorry, it's been a long ass day..." He shrugged his shoulders. "Until ten minutes ago, you were our only lead. Now it's back to the drawing board."
"Well, now we are at the same dead end. We just need to..." The glass slipped from Illya's fingers and he flopped to one side. He watched as Rickman slumped back and Correy crumpled to the floor. The front door to his apartment opened and figures wearing gas masks entered. Oh, Napoleon, I hope your luck is better.
Napoleon Solo watched the two young women walk by his table and smiled slightly to himself. This was the second time they'd passed by his table—obviously they wanted him to notice them. They were both tall and elegantly proportioned. Both were wearing hats that hid much of their upper faces, but that didn't distract from their other ample 'charms.' While Napoleon's spirit was willing, his mind was another matter.
His thoughts kept wandering back to Illya and to his partner's face as he watched the Classens being taken from the ruins of their business. That Illya had been devastated was obvious, that he was in the dark as to the couples' more nefarious purposes was just as apparent. While he hoped this would provide some answers into the mystery, Napoleon wasn't exactly sure which answers he wanted. To think that the Classens were passing government secrets was bad, to think they were innocents caught in the middle of some game, even worse. Neither would sit well with his partner.
Napoleon contemplated his first move. He'd gotten checked in and had gone to the City records office. Posing as an immigration inspector, he'd snapped some shots of their birth and marriage certificates. There were no surprises with either and he'd returned to his hotel a bit dispirited.
Stretching out on his bed, he was staring at the ceiling when his communicator went off.
"Ah, Mr. Solo, I take it you are finding the lodging we arranged for you adequate?" Waverly's voice practically resonated within the small cubbyhole that passed as a hotel room.
"Yes, sir, it's very... cozy." Napoleon didn't even want to consider how Waverly knew Napoleon was in his room.
"Well, don't get too comfortable. We just received a message from Mr. Kuryakin. Apparently he was confronted in his own apartment by two CIA agents."
"They got past the posse by the front door—that's... formidable of them." Napoleon smiled kindly, thinking of Mrs. Watkins and Miss Samuels. Those two controlled the world from that apartment stoop.
"Yes, Mr. Kuryakin reported earlier that someone had attempted entry and he set a trap."
"And came up with two very odd ducks."
"Rather. Since then, I have been in contact with the Agency. They have had "Out of the Cold' staked out for over a year."
"Then the Classens...?"
"I'm afraid so, Mr. Solo, but it did appear that they were attempting to break the grip of whomever was controlling them."
"The microdot in Illya's whipped cream?"
"It wasn't a mistake, but rather, we presume, a cry for help, something to bring him back to the shop. They must have somehow deduced that Mr. Kuryakin was more than he appeared."
"He quite often is. Have you told Illya?"
"Not yet, we are waiting to see how things play out on his end." A blast of static interrupted the old man. "What is your next move, Mr. Solo?"
"I am still getting the lay of the land. Tomorrow I plan to visit with their cousins and see if they can offer any clarity on our situation."
"Very well, just try not to break the bank, Mr. Solo. And do remember where you are. No unnecessary shooting."
Napoleon sighed and nodded. "Yes, sir, I shall be careful. Solo out."
He turned to set the communicator on the nightstand and when he turned back, he saw the paper. It had been pushed under his door, but when he wasn't sure.
Napoleon sat up and shut his eyes, concentrating upon sound alone. He could hear a dog barking in the distance, the sound carried on the breeze coming through his open window. He could hear the odd sound car tires made on cobblestone roads, he could even hear a bit of music, muted.
After a moment, Napoleon moved closer to the door, taking care to stand to one side of it, in case. Looking around, he spotted a wooden clothes hanger dangling from the closet door. Using one leg of the hanger, he dragged the note closer to him.
Still there was no movement in the hallway, at least none that he could detect either by sound or shadow play, and he gingerly picked up the sheet of paper.
Written with block letters was the message -Meet me at the corner of Kronogatan and Kyrkogatan. There is a small café. Order the Enbärsdricka and come alone.
So here Napoleon sat, sipping the juniper berry beverage and wishing instead for a stiff belt of some adult beverage. It seemed a shame to be in the middle of the vodka belt and be drinking a soft drink.
The two young women walked past him again and this time one made a 'you should follow us' motion with her fingers. Napoleon glanced around at the other patrons of the small café, but none of them were paying him any mind at all.
He dropped his newspaper on the table, stood, and followed the two at a discrete distance. It could be that they were just interested in a threesome or they might have a different plan. Either way, he'd be ready.
They walked down the busy Kronogatan, then turned into a smaller side street, one that conveniently was missing its street sign. One woman, a luscious redhead Napoleon discovered as she pulled off her hat and the tresses came tumbling down, glanced around and stepped quickly into a shop. After a moment, the second one followed. She was a brunette and Napoleon was intrigued.
He paused and glanced around, then retreated to a small alcove in an alley.
"Open Channel D, International priority."
"Channel D is open, Mr. Solo."
"I'm about to go into a spider's web, I think. Lock on my signal."
"Understood. Your signal is... locked in."
"Fingers crossed too, I hope. Solo out."
That accomplished, Napoleon squared his shoulders, tucked the still open communicator into his breast pocket, and patted his hair.
"Welcome to my parlor," he murmured and opened the front door of the shop. He stepped over the threshold and cast a curious look left and right. The dress shop, for that's what it was, appeared empty, just a few mannequins and artfully arranged displays.
He walked purposefully to the small front counter and cleared his throat. There was a whisper of sound behind him and he quickly turned. Nothing, just him and the mannequins.
"Excuse me," he called. He wasn't going to use his Swedish if he could avoid it. Another muted sound and he looked again. Then he frowned. The mannequins seemed different... closer... or their pose altered... he wasn't sure.
Napoleon took a step towards the closest one, then his hand flew to his neck as something nipped him. The drug hit him so fast that he didn't even have time to pull the dart from his skin. He crumpled to the floor and watched as feet started to approach him, then everything got very dark.
"Hey, Kuryakin, wake up!"
Illya blinked, trying to recognize the voice. "Napoleon?" he managed to mumble around the sensation of marbles in his mouth.
Illya sighed and got his head up, blinking away the blurriness in his eyes. He knew almost instantly that he was tied up... when was he not tied up? At least he was still fully dressed. That was always a benefit. He looked around and his gaze fell upon the two CIA agents. They were also bound, although they were side by side on the floor. He was upright in a chair and beside him was an assortment of surgical tools. That didn't bode well.
"Thank God." Allen Correy squirmed around and grunted with the effort of getting his head up off the floor. "Or should we say that to you? Don't want to offend you."
"At this moment in time, it is the least of my many concerns." Illya moved against his bonds and frowned slightly. They seemed... sloppy—if such a thing could be applied to ropes and knots. He twisted, working his wrists around. That's when he realized his feet weren't tied. Now that was just carelessness on the part of whoever captured them.
"Don't worry, just give me a minute and I'll..." The door opened just then and Illya let his head fall forward.
"Still out, is he? I thought they made Soviets out of sterner stuff than this." The voice sounded oddly familiar, but he couldn't quite pinpoint it. "Doctor, wake him up and call me when you are finished."
A capsule of ammonia was waved under his nose and Illya yanked his head as far away from it as possible, gasping. The man was wearing green surgical scrubs and the gray eyes studying him didn't look to be in good spirits.
"Velcome back, Mr. Kur-r-ryakin."
Illya looked around the room, but it was just the doctor, the two CIA agents and himself.
"I'd say I'm glad to be here, but it would be a gross overstatement."
"Talk brave, little man, soon I vill have you screaming."
"Leave him alone!" Correy shouted.
"Or vaht? You will bite my ankle? You vill vait your turn."
Correy struggled against his bonds and Illya rolled his eyes. Just once he'd like to be captured by some nice normal villain.
Rickman, likewise, was working to free himself, and the doctor picked up a scalpel. "Vaht shall ve do first Mr. Kur-r-ryan, blind you? Or perhaps slit your nostrils?
"Or, and this might be a crazy thought, you might just ask me what you want to know."
"Who is your mule?"
"My what? I don't even have a pet cat, much less a mule."
The scalpel pressed against Illya's cheek, its blade so sharp it didn't even hurt as it broke his skin.
"Stop it!" Correy screamed and the doctor spun.
"You do not need vocal cords. I vill fix you now!" The doctor took one step and that was all Illya needed.
Bracing himself on his forearms, Illya swung his legs up and caught the doctor's neck in a vise-like grip. Thankfully the doctor dropped the scalpel and began to tear at Illya's legs. Illya merely interlocked his ankles and applied pressure until the man collapsed to the ground.
"Is he dead?" Rickman managed to get a hold of the scalpel and was cutting through his partner's bonds.
"Do I care?" Illya managed to wiggle free of the ropes holding him. He knelt and felt for a pulse in the doctor's neck, then shrugged his shoulders. Frowning, he touched a finger to the blood decorating his cheek and smiled slightly as the two CIA agents stood. "Oh vell, you vin some, you lose some." Illya looked over at the tray and held up a hypo. He emptied its contents into the cushion of the chair.
"So what do we do now?" Correy brushed off his suit and looked around. "Make a break for it?"
"We could... but then we could very well be right back where we started from." Illya looked from one man to the other, then down at the fallen man and smiled. "How are you two at role playing?"
Napoleon brought a hand up to his neck or tried to. Although his brain was sending the right messages, his limbs didn't seem to be getting them.
He got one eye open, blinking rapidly in an attempt to clear it of the gummy residue blurring his vision. That's when he saw her, lying there so helpless, so naked, so... limbless.
The thought was all he needed to make him sit upright and pulled back at the same time. Then his vision cleared and he realized it was a mannequin. Napoleon took a deep breath and used the moment to regroup. He could hear traffic outside and he appeared to still be in the dress shop judging from the racks of dresses and stacks of hats, purses and the like... accessories April called them. The angle of the sun through a partially blocked window told him it was late afternoon. He hadn't been out all that long then, although he felt stiff limbed.
He looked and winced. So it wasn't just the mannequins that were going around naked back here. So much for locking onto his signal. His clothes were probably in the Baltic Sea by now. He could hear women talking low and occasionally laughing. He hoped they weren't watching a closed circuit TV or something else equally insidious. He reached for a hat and settled it upon his lap, if only for his own peace of mind. It wasn't that he minded being naked, he just preferred to pick his own opportunities.
He stood and moved to a barred window, keeping the hat in front of him as he moved. He could see foot traffic going by, but the window was thick. Any attempt to shout for help would alert his captors.
There was a noise at the door and Napoleon hastily returned to his original spot, remembering at the last second to toss the hat aside.
"He's still out?" The speaker was female. Napoleon let the eye closest to the floor drift open the tiniest bit. Red high heels, closed toes, fishnet stockings... this would be a great help. There wasn't a woman alive he couldn't sweet talk into helping him, he thought to himself as a second set of feet joined the first. These were stuffed into tennis shoes, scruffy and well worn, white socks and an ankle bracelet. It had a tiny heart and a tinier diamond twinkling back at him.
"They did say they didn't know how long the drug would last. They'd only tested it on rats before this... guess we should be happy he's still alive." Not a woman, Napoleon realized. That's interesting.
"What should we do? We have to close up in another twenty minutes." The woman's voice again.
"If he's still out, I say we shoot him up and dump him in an alley. It's not like he can find anything out. God knows the Classens have been more trouble than they were worth."
"I know it's your turn, but can I do it? Shoot him, I mean. I just adore the smell of gunpowder. Please?" The woman's voice took on a note of pleading now.
"Well, seeing as you did such a good job with the coffee shop, I'm sure your mother was have my head if I kept it for myself."
The tennis shoes gave a little leap and then Napoleon realized the man was wearing the high heels, not the woman.
Oh Lord, Napoleon thought to himself as the feet left him. This has 'long assignment' written all over it.
Dave Rickman lay on the floor, trying to ignore the dead man propped up against him. It was a bit disquieting, almost as much as watching his partner screaming obscenities at the UNCLE agent. It was also hard to believe that the babbling agent was under no other influence than his own play acting ability.
There was a noise and he watched Allen spin. His partner was completely camouflaged in the now deceased doctor's surgical greens. He had been waving a blood-stained surgical utensil around and raging.
"Doctor, what have you found out?"
"Nothink, he knows nothink!" Correy's German accent was muffled by the mask.
"Surely he's holding out on you." The woman came closer.
Rickman couldn't see much. She was wearing a hat low over her face and he wondered if Kuryakin recognized her. The way he was thrashing and moaning, it was hard to tell.
Correy gestured to the assortment of blood-stained instruments. "He could not defy both drugs and pain. He is worthless to us."
"Then why did the woman pass him the information about our drop?"
Correy shook his head and reached for something that looked frighteningly like pliers. "Perhaps I vill pull off his penis now and feed it to him or maybe I vill crush his bulls instead. Maybe then he vill tell us."
Dave shuddered, just at the thought. "Leave him alone, you sick bastard!"
"Perhaps you would prefer I do you instead? Never fear, my friend, your turn is comink."
The woman sighed and waved a hand back towards Kuryakin. "Do what you must to obtain what we need, then kill him. I must meet the plane. We have a shipment due in today. I will lock you in, Doctor, just to make sure you are not disturbed."
"Danke," Correy muttered. When he was sure they were again alone, he pulled the mask down and took a breath. "How are you holding up?" He asked Kuryakin.
"Throat's a little sore," the agent muttered, rubbing his neck and swallowing.
"So we know she's off to rendezvous with someone, but we are no better off than we were before." Rickman sat up and scooted away from the dead doctor. "We're still locked in with no way out."
"Then we will make a way out." Illya climbed out of the chair and rolled his shoulders. He looked from one to the other. "Well?"
"I've... never been captured before," Correy murmured, glancing over at his partner. "With the exception of stake outs, I've never even been out of the office."
Illya shook his head and began to dig around in his mouth. After a moment, he pulled out a lock pick and wiped his lips with his sleeve.
"I can't believe you just did that." Rickman got to his feet and brushed off the seat of his trousers.
"Just don't ask me where I carry my spare C-4." Illya bent to his task of working the lock. After a moment, he smiled and stepped back. "We can leave when you gentlemen are ready."
"What about the guards? Assuming there are guards."
"There are always guards and we will cross that river when we come to it." Illya walked back to the instruments tray and pocketed several of the utensils. "UNCLE agents are nothing if not resourceful. This way."
Illya crept out into the hall and waited for the CIA agents to join him. They had only moved a few steps down the hall when voices forced them through a door and into what turned out to be a janitor's closet.
"Well, this is cozy," Rickman muttered as Correy pressed up against him. It was either that or the mildew smelling mops. Illya had wedged himself into the opposite corner.
"Shh." Illya brought a finger to his mouth, then something caught his eye. He picked up a container and read the label.
"What is that?"
"A drain cleaner." Illya froze as the voices grew louder, then faded as the people outside passed.
As they crept from the closet, Correy glanced back at their UNCLE counterpart. "You can put the drain cleaner down now."
"I might have cause to use it later," Illya said, then motioned with his hand. "Let's try this way."
This way led them to an empty rec room. There was a TV, a stereo system, a ping pong table and several shelves of books in it, along with a hot plate and coffee pot.
"We don't have anything like that back home," Correy said, making a face. "I wonder if they are taking recruits."
"Funny guy." Rickman watched Illya pick up a package of ping pong balls and drop them into his jacket pocket. "What are you playing at, Kuryakin?"
"Not on your life."
Illya merely smiled. "Then perhaps you will trust me with yours. Let's go."
Napoleon grimaced at his reflection in the mirror and tilted the hat a bit more to the left. "This hat just isn't me," he said to the mannequin. He'd donned one of the many dresses that hung on racks. Gloves hid his hands and a large floppy hat his face. An oversize pair of dark glasses, lots of colorful and chunky jewelry to camouflage his wrists and throat.
Napoleon took a step in the shoes and winced. Why women did this to themselves was beyond him, but it was nice being four inches taller. He tiptoed to the door and glanced out. There were several women milling about, some of them more garishly dressed than he was.
Taking a deep breath, Napoleon crept from the room, then spun to make it appear he was checking out a rack of dresses and about to slip into the store room.
"Take care, Madame, var försiktig(be careful)." The salesperson hurried forward, his hand raised in a warning. "Not a place for a fine delicate blossom such as Madame."
"Surely this is not all your stock?" Napoleon pitched his voice up and lisped slightly. He winced. He sounded a bit like his Aunt Amy. .. or Uncle Brian, he wasn't quite sure which.
"This is all we currently have for sale, Madame."
Napoleon recognized the shoes of the speaker and had to admit that if he didn't know it was a man addressing him, he'd have not guessed... then he realized that all the women had shoes very much the same. He glanced over at the register and suppressed a sigh. De Röda Skorna —the Red Shoes , now it made sense.
"I think perhaps another day then." Napoleon walked to the door, concentrating upon not turning an ankle.
"Madame, wait." The voice called out and Napoleon winced. He'd been so close.
"Yes?" He turned back to smile at the salesman. Napoleon patted his hair a bit self consciously, as he'd seen his mother do when she was a bit flustered. If she could see her son now... Napoleon inwardly sighed. The things he did for UNCLE.
"I thought perhaps, if you didn't think it too forward, a coffee?"
Napoleon reached out and caressed the man's cheek. "Perhaps later, after my husband nods off..."
"Alas, the lovely ones are always..." He bent to kiss Napoleon's hand and then paused at the gap between the glove and the sleeve of the dress. There was no way to hide the black hair, the obviously masculine hair on Napoleon's arm. "...that way," he finished.
Napoleon nodded and hurriedly walked out the door. The moment he was out of the shop, he pulled off the shoes and ran like a wild man.
"You realize that was our captive leaving?" A salesgirl said to him and Ralston Suede turned back to her, still watching after the fleeing man.
"I did, pity. I should have liked to talk to him a bit more."
"He's gone..." she repeated as if he was too dense to understand.
He smiled at her and patted her shoulder. "I'm sad as well. He was handsome and smelled nice. Worse, I never found out when he wanted to get coffee. Americans are always in such a hurry."
"Probably just as well." She took a step away from him, moving out of touching range. "He looks like the sort that sticks you with the tab. Should we tell her?"
"No, she wanted him gone, although Merced will be sad that she didn't get to shoot him." Ralston returned to the counter and began to cover it with a cloth. "She will be fine as long as she doesn't have to dispose of the body."
"She will soon see a traffic accident and it will make her happy again." The sales girl closed the blinds and sighed. "That one, she bothers me very much."
"It's just as well that she is leaving for America. I think her brand of violence will be better nurtured there than here. We are too peace loving for her type." He offered her his elbow. "Enbärsdricka, my sweet?"
Allen Correy peeked around the corner and then gestured to his partner. Alan Rickman joined him and glanced around them. "Have you seen the Russian?"
"No, but I'm not too worried about him. He seems to be someone who is able to take care of himself."
"You have that right in one," Kuryakin said, slipping out of the shadows. Correy started and aimed the pistol he procured from a guard in that direction. Illya reached out and pushed it aside. "Never aim a weapon at me unless you intend to use it. There is a jeep just around the corner."
There was an abrupt blast of an alarm and search lights sprang to life.
"Oops, I think we have been missed." Rickman checked the clip on his own weapon. "Which way is the jeep?"
"This way." Kuryakin gestured and led the way to a bank of vehicles. Correy went for the closest one, but Illya caught his arm. "Not that one, this one over here."
"What? An escape vehicle is an escape vehicle."
"Not in my book."
Rickman pushed Correy in Kuryakin's direction. "Follow him and shut the hell up."
A bullet cut a groove in the ground beside them and they sprinted to the jeep. The UNCLE agent ducked beneath the dash board and hotwired the vehicle as Rickman slipped behind the steering wheel.
"Go!" Illya ordered the second the engine caught.
"Where?" Rickman frantically looked at him.
"Anywhere but here and fast."
The wheels left a hail storm of gravel behind as they sped away. They had barely reached the highway when the night was rocked with an explosion, followed by another and a third.
"What the hell?" Correy watched the fireworks from the back of the vehicle as it bounced along the pot-holed road.
"Remember the ping pong balls?" Kuryakin shouted over the engine.
"Yeah! What about them?"
"If you fill them with drain cleaner and drop them down someone's gas tank, they make a suitable Fourth of July display."
"How did you get drain cleaner into the ping pong balls?" Rickman shot him a brief look before returning his attention to the road.
"I used a hypo. I wasn't sure what good it would be, but they always come in handy for something." Illya patted his jacket and smiled, pulling out his communicator. "I love working with amateurs."
"Wait? We're not amateurs!" Correy protested, but Kuryakin waved him off.
"I was speaking about our captors. The ones who usually grab me know better than to leave me fully equipped."
"So that means those aren't the bad guys you are used to dealing with."
"Correct. If they were, we wouldn't have escaped so easily and you two would probably have been killed immediately as unnecessary. THRUSH is usually pretty single minded when it comes to prisoners." Kuryakin got his communicator out and twisted it on. "Open Channel F please, overseas relay. Napoleon, are you there?"
Napoleon lifted his head from the pillow and looked over at the hall door. He desperately wanted to get up and go soak his feet in the tub, but he just didn't have the energy. Whatever drug he'd been fed didn't seem to want to let go of him.
He'd stripped the second he hit the room and just now stretched out on the bed, his back up communicator on the nightstand beside him. His head ached and the sound of it going off made it feel as if the top of his skull was coming off.
Napoleon snatched it up and immediately opened it.
"Napoleon?" Even with the distortion, Napoleon could tell Illya sensed his distress.
"Hey, partner; good hunting?"
"Not really. We were captured and almost tortured by a doctor with a B movie German accent for someone whose face I never saw."
"I was nearly shot, I think by the same person who killed your friends."
"Any names, any anything?"
"Merced is the one who seems to be the one to carry out the dirty work and she does it with much glee."
"Not so reassuring. Anything to connect them to the Classens?"
"There were named, but their affiliation was not mentioned, just that they had out-lived their usefulness. That tells me they were about to come clean, perhaps by way of slipping that microdot into your whipped cream."
"Agreed. Anything else?"
"No, just that they were on their way to the airport to meet a flight that was going on to the U.S. No idea where the flight was originating or which airport they were headed to."
"We're headed back to New York. What about you?"
"The same in a few hours I hope. Good hunting." Napoleon glanced at his watch. He really did need to get dressed and head back out to the airport—only five hours in one spot, a new record for him.
"You as well. Out."
Napoleon let his hand drop back to his chest for a moment and then raised it. "Open Channel D, please."
"Channel D is open."
"Ah, Susan, my dream, what news do you have for me?"
"We ran a check on that shop, Napoleon, and it seems legit enough. It's owned by a Merced Samuels."
"Why does that name seem familiar to me?"
"No idea." "Is there anything odd about her or her business, aside from the name?"
"She travels regularly to the U.S. on buying sprees. She will stay in New York just a couple of nights and then fly home. Coincidentally, according to the list the CIA gave us, her visits coincide with the disappearance of state secrets."
"Hmm, what does she look like?"
"No one really knows. She works through an assistant while she's here."
"Convenient." Napoleon ran a hand through his hair and yawned. "Would you have Travel book me on the first available flight back to New York? I think I've gotten as much here as I'm likely to get."
"Understood. Stand by." A few moments passed and Susan's voice came back on. "Napoleon, hate to tell you this, but the first thing I can get you isn't until tomorrow morning. Looks like you are stuck for tonight."
"Susan, that is music to my travel-weary body." Napoleon felt a sense of relaxation pulsing through his limbs. To be able to sleep properly in a real bed, his wants and needs were few at the moment.
"You want me to charter something private."
"You should take that up with Mr. Waverly. I doubt he'll want to shoulder the expense." For once, Napoleon was banking on Waverly's frugality.
"I'll find out and let you know. Channel D out."
"Kuryakin, we may be in trouble." Illya's head bounced up at Rickman's words. It was just as well. Another minute and his nose would have been in his coffee. They'd pulled off the main highway and into a truck stop after it was determined none of them were really awake enough to drive. Correy had already passed out, propped up by the cracked vinyl bench seat and the wall.
"Keep your voice and your head down." Rickman slurped his coffee loudly. "You know that crazy old lady friend of yours?"
"The one who lives in your building, with the dog and the jewelry."
"Two different women, but yes?"
"The jewelry one is here... don't look. You're too easy to spot."
"What? Miss Samuels? What is she doing here?"
"Kuryakin, she's the woman from that building... the one with the doctor. I know it's her."
"I don't believe it! I've known her for..." Illya had to stop. How long had he known her? One day Mrs. Watkins was alone and the next, Miss Samuels was with her, neither woman seemed out of the sight of the other... or was it only that Mrs. Watkins was the one being... attended to.
"You are starting to put the pieces together, aren't you?" Rickman wiggled around in his seat to block Illya more completely from view. "She's been watching you, just like we were watching the Classens. She must have seen you going in and out of the shop and decided to make sure you were not part of the problem."
"That's speculation..." Illya slumped to the surface of the table, wincing as his elbow caught upon something sticky.
"It's the same woman, Kuryakin. I know it is. From where I was on the floor, I could see her face." A pause. "What do we do now? We can't go back to your apartment. She'll know in an instant that we are on to her."
Illya sighed. "Then we go home. I think it's just about time you two met the family."
"Great, but what about right now?"
"I'll go to the restroom and go out the window, if possible. Leave some money on the table and I'll meet you. I think a change of wheels might best suit us as well. Be by the main highway in twenty minutes."
Napoleon squirmed and tried to find a spot that was comfortable. Riding in a cargo plane was not his idea of a good time and he wondered about Waverly's sense of humor at times. When the commercial jet route turned up nothing, Napoleon suddenly found himself booked on a plane flying freight to the US. A routine investigation revealed the crates to be full of stuffed toys—lots and lots of stuffed toys.
"You holding up okay back there?" The voice was tinny and Napoleon nodded even while knowing the man couldn't see him.
"I'm fine, thanks. How much longer?"
"For us, about six hours. For you about six minutes..." The voice was no longer distorted and Napoleon glanced up sharply at the weapon pointed at him. "I have to admit, though, I liked you better in the dress."
Napoleon recognized the man from the dress shop. "I don't believe this. Out of all the... "
"I was going to say charters, but that as well." Napoleon slowly raised his hands. The man smiled.
"Oh, I do love a man who knows when to cry uncle."
Napoleon could tell in that instant that the man really had no idea who he was and he decided to run with it.
"Listen, you need to help me. I wasn't lying when I said I was trying to get away from my husband. You don't know what it's like—he never lets me out of his sight. Why do you think I'm here?"
"When we captured you the first time, you had a gun and an ID card."
"It isn't mine; it's a protection group. They were going to help me get away. You caught me before I had the chance." Napoleon lied so smoothly, he almost believed it himself. In fact, he had to believe it to make it ring true. He dropped his arms and clutched them to his chest. "If he finds me, he'll kill me. You don't know what he's like."
The gun had lowered, but the man's eyes were still unconvinced. "Tell me."
Napoleon stroked his own cheek, remembering it was something his aunt used to do when she was upset. "He's insatiable, always at me." He shook his head slowly. "He was cold... most of the time. He just wanted a trophy, not an equal."
"I can understand why. You are a good looking man."
Napoleon dropped his gaze, doing his best to appear modest, and decided right then and there that he was changing this to a raging fist fight in his report. "Thank you..."
"I... ah... that offer for coffee is still good you know."
"Is it? I'd like that very much... to be honest, I just ran out of the house when I left."
The man reached out and squeezed Napoleon's knee gently. "My name is Ralston... Ralston Suede."
"You are kidding..."
"My mother told me I would lead many good men to their downfall." Napoleon opened his eyes wide and searched the man's... no, Ralston's face beseechingly.
"She's right." Ralston rose and walked away. Napoleon let out the breath he was holding and watched Ralston look back over his shoulder. Belatedly, Napoleon realized it sounded more like a sigh of desire than relief. It was going to be a very long flight back... but at least Illya would never know...
"We screen everyone who is permitted to live in an UNCLE-owned building," Waverly protested and Illya nodded. "This is unforgivable."
"Agreed, but would that include sudden guests who decide to... linger?" Illya looked from the slide of Miss Samuels to his superior and back. "My thought is that she was visiting and just never left."
"Talk about the house guest from hell," Rickman said, his attention on Kuryakin as if determined to follow his lead.
"It is still intolerable to think of a foreign spy in one of our own buildings." It was obvious that Waverly wasn't relishing UNCLE's brief oversight.
"It happens in the best of families," Rickman muttered and Illya permitted a corner of his mouth to curl up.
A bell chimed softly and Waverly toggled on a switch. "Yes?"
"We have that information for you, sir." The man's voice was distorted but understandable. " Abigail Samuels, born Agneta Eklof of Visby, Sweden, came to the US just before the end of WWI."
"What of her family?" Illya leaned forward to speak into the intercom.
"All perished in a series of what were deemed unfortunate accidents, leaving her with the bulk of the family fortune and the title to the family business. For one reason or another, all of her living relatives signed over everything they had to her. She met and married Victor Samuels in 1921 and they had one child, a daughter, Merced. Shortly after the birth, Victor died of food poisoning."
"Food poisoning?" Correy had managed to finally stop ogling Waverly's office and refocus upon their conversation.
"Killed by a tainted potato according to our records."
"That's slightly awkward."
"Not as awkward as it was for her third and fifth husband."
"She's a black widow as well?" Illya couldn't believe it. He wondered if her friendship with it was all some plot to get closer to him and UNCLE or something even more insidious. "What happened to the second and fourth?"
"Merced, a precocious child of five, accidentally shot No. Two with a cross bow. No. Four took a tumble off a cliff while hiking with her."
"Apparently it runs in the family. Merced has had no better luck." Illya could tell the research clerk was really starting to get into the discussion.
"What keeps them coming back?" Waverly asked as he held a match to his pipe and puffed. Rickman coughed and discreetly moved out of the smoke's path.
"A net worth of fourteen billion between the two of them."
"The last time I saw her, she was wearing five and dime costume jewelry and a torn house coat," Illya protested. "Why would she be masquerading like that?"
"If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Kuryakin, you walked right by her." Waverly's tone had taken on an edge of annoyance. "Without a concern or even a thought as to her true identity."
"Yes, sir, I did." He didn't try to protest otherwise.
"Hiding in plain sight." Waverly puffed for a moment. "I suspect we are all entitled to one of those, but what are we going to do about it?"
"We have one ace in the hole. She thinks Kuryakin is dead," Correy blurted out and then fell silent as the others looked at him. "I mean, she told me to kill him after I got what I needed out of him. She wanted to know why Mrs. Classen had passed the info on to him."
"I don't know, perhaps a cry for help, although I don't believe Ebba had any idea who I really am, no more than Miss Samuels knows who I really am."
"And that may be, gentlemen, our bird in the hand or rather our Kuryakin in the hand."
The whine of the engines told Napoleon they were getting ready to land. He had been complimented, praised, and wooed for the last four hours, but he didn't believe a word of it. He could read Ralston's eyes. He knew that the minute they landed, Napoleon would have to have a plan and a good one if he hoped to survive.
"We're almost there?" Napoleon let his voice convey his sadness and relief. Let Ralston think Napoleon believed Ralston was saving him from a fate worse than death, anything to buy a few seconds more.
Ralston had one of his hands buried in his jacket pocket and appeared to be fumbling with something. He looked at Napoleon and nodded.
"Back to the United States. You don't know how much this is going to pain me." Perhaps the wisp of sadness in the man's voice was just his imagination. Napoleon would never know; he snapped Ralston's neck before asking.
"Not half as much as it hurts me," he murmured. He pulled the man to him, just as the pilot looked out of the cockpit.
"You need to get strapped in, the landing could be bumpy... or at least re-entry could..." The pilot sniggered as Napoleon, his hand hidden, used Ralston's arm to gesture the pilot away. From the way they were seated, it looked as if...
Napoleon actually allowed himself a momentary blush before pushing Ralston's body aside. Patting down the man's pockets, he found a knife. He'd apparently been preparing to stick it between Napoleon's ribs. Now, Napoleon used it to cut though the cargo netting that held the large crates in place. A shifting load could kill them. He'd just have to count on his luck to keep him alive.
That accomplished, he moved back to his seat and huddled into the far corner, pulling Ralston's body to him. At least if he was hit, there would be some cushioning.
Allen Correy sat in the unmarked car and watched the apartment house as his partner drew near. Out on the stoop, two helpless old women sat, shelling peas, their faces raised to the waning sun. Well, one helpless, or so he reckoned, the other, a five-time killer to the best of their knowledge. He had a feeling that Miss Samuels had just become more adept at hiding the bodies.
"Can you hear me, Allen?" Dave's voice came through loud and clear. While Correy would have preferred using their own equipment, UNCLE's was there and easy to get to. He wasn't even sure if his boss knew where he or his partner was at the moment.
"I can and will you stop whistling or at least finish that damn song and pick something new." He hated it when Rickman whistled. "Kuryakin?"
"In place." Wherever the hell that was. Correy scanned the immediate area and saw nothing and no one who stood out. There was a street cleaner, who might be the Russian, if he was wearing a fat suit. A trim brunette walking her dog came by and Correy decided there was no way Kuryakin was in that skin tight dress. A bum was staggering down the street, pausing to look inside garbage pails and that was Correy's guess. The height and body type was about right, but two guys carrying briefcase suddenly appeared. So much foot traffic and it was then that Correy realized all of them were probably UNCLE agents and Kuryakin wasn't even visible.
Dave Rickman whistled the same three bars of the same song over and over again as he walked, partially out of nerves, but also because he knew it annoyed the crap out of his partner.
He stopped at the foot of the stairs and glanced upwards, as if trying to see inside the windows.
"He's not here, go away!" Miss Samuels snapped.
"Who, ma'am?" Rickman kept his voice very even and nonthreatening.
"Whoever you're looking for isn't here, nobody is." She shot a look at her companion, but Mrs. Watkins only looked confused.
"I was just wondering if there was a place to rent here. The location is good and it's close to my work and to my uncle's place."
"There's nothing available," Miss Samuels said quickly, but, just as quickly, Mrs. Watkins answered.
"Of course there is, dear." She blinked at her friend and smiled. "Remember that nice Mr. Huston passed away, Abby. Mr. Stoner, he's the super, was just telling us today that he needed to find a new tenant and here one is."
"I thought we were going to recommend that young girl... Merced, remember her? She brought you flowers?"
"I don't know... there's something odd about her; the way she called you mother and me Granny. I didn't like her and Mr. Jiggles didn't either."
"He doesn't like anyone, Lorrie Jean."
"He likes you... and Illya." Mrs. Watson was firm in her proclamation.
"Well, Illya doesn't like him."
"He does so... he brings him treats."
"How is Illya?" Dave interrupted as he threw a fast look over his shoulder to make sure no one else was approaching him from behind. He had a weird feeling that he was being watched.
"I remember you now." Mrs. Watkins pointed an arthritic finger at him. "You were with that other awful man."
"Yup, he's pretty awful all right." Dave grinned, knowing that Allen would be cursing up a storm at that.
"Illya's not here and we don't know when he'll be back."
"If ever," Miss Samuels muttered.
"Why would you say that, Abby?"
"You've seen him drag himself in here at times, Lorrie Jean. You can't tell me he's an insurance agent. He's something else... something dangerous, I think, and you never know when he might not return."
"Abigail, that's a terrible thing to think and even worse to say it out loud. Of course, Illya will be back. Maybe he'll even bring that nice Mr. Solo with him."
"Illya? Nonsense!" Dave laughed out loud, knowing that in all probability he was in Illya's crosshairs. "He just likes to play a little too hard! I know, I've played with him before."
"Have you now...?" Miss Samuels's voice suddenly brightened as she set her bowl aside. "All right, well, let me show you the empty apartment. Perhaps you can get into a bidding war for it and make Mr. Stoner very happy."
"I'll come along too." Mrs. Watkins started to stand, but her friend patted her arm.
"No, Lorrie Jean, all those stairs and your gout acting up? You rest, we'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
"You are such a good friend!" Mrs. Watkins returned to shelling her peas. "I'll just finish these up then."
Dave followed the woman inside and waited for her to retrieve a key ring from inside her apartment. He watched her mount the stairs. There was something odd about the way the woman moved... it was almost too easily for someone her age.
"So this new place, how much do you think the super is going to want?"
"It will depend upon how much work you want to do on it, I suppose. Mr. Stoner don't do much more than pick up the monthly checks here."
"Why do you stay?"
"My friend lives here and needs someone to look after her. This is her home, after all."
Dave let his attention seemingly wander, even while he was studying her. The hair on the back of his neck was tingling. "How about the neighborhood? Is it safe?"
"For a big strapping man like you? Absolutely. Here it is. Be careful, the floor is a bit funny just inside."
He took one step in and stumbled as he was roughly shoved. He flailed his arms to keep from toppling over and then gasped as something sharp hit him in the kidney. Dave fell now, then rolled and came up to his feet.
"Where is he?" Miss Samuels snarled. For a woman in her eighties, she was mighty spry.
"You know who—Kuryakin. I know the three of you escaped. I lost several good men in that blast. I'm going to make all of you pay for that."
"Too late. He's dead."
"I don't believe you. The man's like a cat, he's got nine lives."
"And a very soft step as well."
Miss Samuels had just enough time to register that it was indeed Illya Kuryakin pointing a gun at her before he fired. She cried and fell back against the wall.
Dave instinctively reacted, going to her and gathering her up in his arms. "You didn't have to kill her. She's just an old woman."
"I didn't. It's a fast acting sleeping dart. A few hours and she'll be as good as new." Illya holstered his Walther and knelt as well. "And I think if you check more closely, you will discover this is the daughter made to look like the mother, not the mother herself..." Illya swept the wig off and Dave shook his head.
"How did you know?"
"Most sane seventy year olds don't sucker punch a fully grown healthy man in the kidney. She meant business."
Dave rubbed his aching back. "She did at that. Now what?"
"We take her back and talk to her."
"And if she doesn't want to talk."
Illya gave the man a ghost of a smile. "She'll talk, if only because the alternative to that is so much more unpleasant."
"You don't torture people?" Dave wasn't sure anymore.
"Well, only when necessary to extract the desired information." Illya reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his communicator. "Open Channel D, please. Any word from Napoleon?"
"Not yet, but his plane is due in any minute."
"Good, let me know when you hear from him. I'm coming in with a bundle. Mr. Rickman?"
"Allen, I know you can hear me and know what's going on. It's time for your big solo number now. Get her out of the way and keep her safe."
Correy sighed and dropped his head back to the seat, just happy to know his partner was okay. With a grin, he answered back, able to form words for the first time.
"Got it and I'm moving."
He climbed from the car and glanced around at the street cleaner, the dog walker, and the bum, knowing now that Kuryakin wasn't one of them. He got to within five feet of the stairs and the damn yappy little dog started to growl.
"Mr. Jiggles," the old bat reprimanded and then she finally saw Correy and patted the dog's head. "You go right ahead, dear, growl all you want. You nasty man, what do you want?"
"You.... you and me, we're going to take a little trip into your apartment. Word on the street has it that you are hoarding a king's ransom in jewels in there."
"I beg your pardon? Are you quite out of your mind, young man?" Mrs. Watkins looked at him as if he was a man possessed.
"I'm dead serious, so how about I shoot your dog and prove it?"
"What?" She scooped the mangy dog to her sagging chest and gasped. "Never! You'll have to shoot me first."
"Then you know what you have to do!" He gestured expansively so she would be sure to see his gun and she looked around frantically at the people on the street. They suddenly were all too busy to pay her any mind. "Leave me alone, I'll scream."
"And then I'll be forced to hurt you... and they still won't care. MOVE!"
Once he got her inside her apartment and tucked into her bedroom, he made a great show of moving things around and making lots of noise without really causing any damage.
"Hey, Allen, boy, we're clear. You can come out any time."
"Tell Kuryakin that's a cute picture of him that she has on her coffee table... except someone drew horns and a beard on him."
Dave looked over at the scowling Russian. "I'll tell him later. Right now we are en route to UNCLE HQ. Join us when you can."
Illya pulled the sedan out of the shadows and headed for the airport. He wove in and out of traffic, causing Dave to catch his breath every now and again.
"Do you have an issue with my driving?" Kuryakin's voice was tight, as if he was fighting an invisible clock.
"Not as long as we keep from smashing into anyone or the cops don't see you."
"The cops know me. I have a glove compartment full of their tokens of esteem."
"Hmm, then I must be doing it all wrong cause all I ever get are tickets. Why are we in such a hurry?"
Illya jerked the wheel to the left to avoid a bicyclist. "First, that shot only lasts so long and I have no desire to deal with her and rush hour traffic simultaneously. Second, she has information that I desperately want, and third, I have a feeling there's something wrong with Napoleon."
"This is the third or fourth time you've mentioned him and I have the feeling we aren't talking about the French Emperor."
"He's my partner." This time, it was an abrupt jerk to the right. "And often more trouble than he's worth, but..." Illya shrugged his shoulders. "He's a habit."
"I know exactly what you mean. I have one of those myself."
Napoleon sighed as he felt the wheels touch down on the tarmac. At least he would again be in familiar territory. Now he just had to get off the plane...
As the plane bounced, one of the crates pulled free from its protective webbing and came precariously close to toppling. Napoleon shoved the body in his arms off and away from him, towards the path of the crate.
Another bounce and the crate fell, landing with a sickening thud onto Ralston's lifeless corpse. Closing his eyes and counseling himself that Illya would never, ever know, he screamed... well, shrieked.
Instantly, the copilot was out of the cockpit and racing down the plane towards him. Napoleon gestured helplessly to the crate and to Ralston's feet as they protruded from beneath it. It was only then that Napoleon realized the man was wearing red and white striped socks... just like the Wicked Witch of the East...
"What the hell happened?" The copilot looked from Napoleon to Ralston and back. The plane came to an abrupt stop and he just barely managed to avoid being crushed himself as another crate fell free of the webbing.
"That." Napoleon ran his hands over his face. "We were just talking and it fell and..." Napoleon looked away, apparently overcome with emotion. The copilot shook his head, obviously not overwhelmed with grief.
He reached for his weapon and Napoleon cringed. "What are you doing?"
"Sorry—orders. Madame told us to kill you once we landed. If Ralston can't do it, then I'll..." He aimed and then looked down at the knife in his stomach and then back up to Napoleon. His mouth worked for a moment and then he crumpled to the floor of the cargo hold.
"Sorry," Napoleon said, shrugging his shoulders. "Abrupt change in plans." He retrieved the knife, wiped it clean on the man's shirt and move to the nose of the craft. A second later, he heard the engines cut and the plane quieted.
"Bill, are you fin..." The pilot caught Napoleon's fist square in the mouth. It looked for a moment as if he was going to put up a fight, but then he went down. Napoleon took a deep breath and reached into his pocket. The slender shape of the communicator in his hand was like a glass of water to a man dying of thirst.
"Open Channel D, please. Solo here."
"Napoleon!" The woman's voice was unfamiliar, but that didn't matter. "Boy, are we glad to hear from you."
"I'm glad to hear your voice as well," he lied smoothly. "Is there any particular reason we should be so joyous at an exchange?"
Napoleon grinned at the familiarity of Illya's voice. "Hey, partner, what's going on?"
"Where are you?"
"On the ground at the airport, where should I be?"
"Which airport, Napoleon?"
"Le Guardia, I think. Let me check. There aren't any windows back here." He pushed the unconscious pilot aside and moved into the cockpit. "Yup, that's what it looks like to me, out at the cargo facilities."
"Don't move, we will have a team dispatched to you."
"What? Illya, what's happening?"
Illya glanced over his shoulder at the barely conscious woman. Merced Samuels was struggling to get her head up , but gravity was proving a harsh mistress at the moment.
"You are on a charter plane from Sweden, correct?"
"It's full of crates, also correct?"
"If our prisoner is speaking the truth, there is a king's ransom in those crates, but they have been rigged to blow if anyone touches them."
"Um..." Napoleon's voice had an uneasy edge to it.
"Napoleon, what did you do?"
"Came perilously close to death, now that you mention it... One of the crates fell."
"You are indeed fortunate. In a few minutes, you will have someone attempt to board the plane. Are you in a position to barricade yourself in?" There was a moan in the background and Illya frowned, shaking the instrument. "Napoleon?"
"One of the members of the unfriendly skies is back with me. Excuse me for a moment." There was the sound of a scuffle and then Napoleon came back on. "Okay, he's taking a little nap now."
"Just sit tight... and don't open the hatch for anyone, except me. Do you copy?" He waited for a moment, then repeated, "Napoleon, do you copy?"
"I'm sorry, sweetie, but your friend is incommunicado right now." It sounded so peculiar to hear Miss Samuels' voice on the communicator.
"If you've hurt him..." Illya started.
"Oh, dear, what will you do, speak harshly to me?"
Illya glanced over at the woman. "I have your daughter... you will not hurt Napoleon."
"That's where you are wrong, sweetheart. In this game, there's no room for sentiment."
"Napoleon, do you copy?"
Napoleon blinked, vainly trying to fight his way back from the brink of unconsciousness. He hadn't even realized the hatch had been jimmied open until he felt the slap of a blackjack against his head. Thankfully, his survival instincts had sent him left instead of right and the damage was minimal. It didn't sound as if his attacker knew that. What bothered him more was why she sounded familiar.
"If you've hurt him..." Illya's tone made Napoleon smile. His partner was now playing for keeps.
"Oh, dear, what will you do, speak harshly to me?" She didn't seem to realize Napoleon was not as unconscious as she thought he was.
"I have your daughter... you will not hurt Napoleon."
"That's where you are wrong, sweetheart. In this game, there's no room for sentiment."
Nice lady, Napoleon thought to himself. He considered his options. His dealings with Angelique and Serena made him well aware of the dangers the female of the species represented.
He caught her profile and, in a flash, he realized who she was. He'd seen her many times of late, sitting on the stoop of Illya's apartment building. She was old and he didn't want to hurt her, nor was he in a hurry to die. A gun in the hand of an older man or woman killed just as readily as one in the hand of someone younger.
She started to walk by him, and he reached out and grabbed an ankle, yanking sharply. Miss Samuels, taken off guard, cried as she fell. Napoleon didn't waste time worrying if he'd hurt her. He had a lump on his head that was throbbing with his heart.
"You bastard!" Miss Samuels spit out as she tried to move. "You've broken my hip."
Napoleon got to his feet and retrieved the gun he'd dropped when she'd slugged him. "Good."
"I'm an old woman."
"Who doesn't seem to give a tinker's darn about anyone, not even her daughter." She started to move and Napoleon pointed the gun. "I would advise against that. I don't like to shoot anyone, but that doesn't mean I won't."
"Don't discharge the gun in here, you fool!" Her eyes grew wide. "You don't know what you have in here!"
"Au contraire, I know exactly what I have."
It seemed as if a life time had passed before he heard a familiar voice calling to him from outside the plane. He'd tied Miss Samuels very snugly, along with the pilot, and now moved closer to the hatch.
"Illya?" He shouted back, still not willing to open the door.
"Finally! Do you know what traffic is like this time of day? Next time you decide to fly in on a plane full of explosives, could you do it at a more convenient hour?"
Napoleon grinned and unjammed the locking mechanism. "Good to see you too, partner."
He stopped at the sight of a stranger and started to raise the weapon. "It's okay, Napoleon, they are with me." Illya appeared over the stranger's shoulder. "This is Mr. Rickman and Mr. Correy."
"The CIA agents?"
"One and the same." Illya looked past him and Napoleon turned to follow his gaze. "You seemed to manage all right without me."
"I always manage all right without you, it's just more convenient when you are here."
"Thanks, I missed you as well."
"Kuryakin, what are we going to do with all these crates." One of the CIA men asked and Napoleon watched Illya slowly shake his head.
"No idea, but I'm sure Napoleon will come up with something. After all, he is the brains."
Illya Kuryakin sighed long and hard, blinking his eyes to clear them. Black thread against black fake fur was nearly impossible to see. Carefully, he guided the knife through the thread, trying to avoid cutting his fingers... again. After making an incision about five inches long, he reached in and pulled out a pellet of explosive. He set the explosive carefully aside and then tossed the mutilated stuffed cat over his shoulder onto the growing pile.
Napoleon walked in the door and stopped, his mouth open. Illya was surrounded by stuffed toys, hundreds of them, cats, teddies, rabbits and various other animals. Illya blew a puff of air up, making his bangs dance.
"Don't partner me, Judas..." Illya muttered, picking up another stuffed toy. This one was a series of three kittens joined together. These were the worst of the bunch.
"It's not my fault you're the explosives expert. Waverly assigned you to this, not me."
Illya snorted. "How is Miss Samuels?"
"She came out of surgery with flying colors and is currently under twenty four hour surveillance, pending her extradition back to Sweden."
"They are getting first crack at her?"
"With a long line right behind them. There are many countries that want to have a word with her and her daughter."
"I still can't believe the Classens were taken in by her."
Illya sighed and winced as he cut his finger. He shook it and wiped the blood on his pants. "Don't remind me. How is Mrs. Watkins doing?"
"Fine, now that Allen and Dave are her new best friends."
"The CIA agents..."
"Well, I'll leave you to it then. " Napoleon turned to go and Illya's eye caught a package.
"Napoleon, wait! I have something for you."
"What is it?"
"Ah, some surveillance footage they took from the shop. Sweden has the originals for their upcoming trial, but the Old Man figured we needed copies for our files as well." He held the package out to Napoleon with bandaged fingers.
"Have you thought about a seam ripper?"
"It's something you use to cut seams... Del Floria's should have one."
"Thanks for telling me now..." Illya returned to his task of removing the heads from the kittens.
"Not a problem." Napoleon opened the envelope. There was a spool of tape and several photos. Suddenly his eyes widened and he swallowed convulsively... "Has anyone seen these?"
Illya shrugged. "I do think the hat is particularly becoming... the cherries really bring out the color of your eyes."
"Kuryakin..." Napoleon took a step towards him, fist raised.
"Not so wise when I am sitting with several hundred pounds of explosives around me, Napoleon."
"You have to eat and sleep sometime..."
"I'm not so sure anymore." Illya carefully pulled out a capsule and set it with the rest. "You should probably head down to Research for the originals, though, before too many other folks see them."
"I'll kill you."
"Get in line..." Illya bit his lip and dug out another capsule. Napoleon glared and headed for the door. "You did surprise me, though."
Napoleon paused at one step past the jam. "What do you mean?"
"They had audio tapes, too. I never took you for a tenor... and , Napoleon, you scream like a girl."
And the door slid shut.