Nsandik's Third Level Man from U.N.C.L.E. Universe

The Broken Man Affair

by Nsandik

Monday, November 16, 1970
11:30 p.m.
Bayonne, France

Thrush had Solo for nine hours. Long enough for Illya Kuryakin to call in their back-up to help him locate his partner. Long enough for Mark Slate and April Dancer to keep the Russian from staging a suicidal one-man rescue. Long enough for the three of them to get him out.

And long enough for Napoleon Solo to emerge a broken man.

When the enemy fired on their exit, Solo didn't even duck. Kuryakin grabbed his elbow and pulled him to the ground.

"Illya!" called Mark over the gunfire. "Take him and go! We'll catch up!"

April expressed her agreement by tossing Illya the car keys.

Kuryakin hesitated for only a second, the time it took to realize that if he did not get Solo out of the way, they would all perish. He nodded a brisk assent at Mark, then muscled his arms under Solo's armpits and half dragged him through the dark to the waiting Citroën.

The little car was a marvel of European engineering, ugly as sin, but it started right up and zipped away as if the horses under the hood were waiting for the race to start.

Solo said nothing during the ride to the hotel. He slumped in his seat and stared dully out the window.

Drugs, thought Illya. They gave him drugs.

Crossing the lobby took an eternity. Expecting Thrush to descend on them at any moment, Kuryakin helped his partner to the elevator. Once inside, away from prying eyes, he pulled out his automatic and prepared for the elevator doors to open. He wedged Solo into the front left corner of the box and covered him as best he could with his own body, then aimed his weapon at the crack in the door.

The elevator stopped on the fifth floor. Their floor.

The pneumatic braking system whined.

The door mechanism clicked and whirred. Kuryakin's blood pounded in his ears.

The doors slid apart.

Nothing. No one. The corridor was empty. The Russian peeked carefully right then left. Then he placed one arm around Solo's waist and steered him down the hall to their room.

Once inside, Illya sat Solo on the edge of the bed nearest the door and pulled out his communicator.

"Open Channel L. Mark? Are you there? Mark?"

Hiss and crackle.

"Illya, this is April. Mark's got both hands on the wheel." Her voice was punctuated by thumps, as if someone were pounding her back while she spoke.

"April! Are you all right?" He should never have left them alone.

"I'm fine." Fi-i-ine. "We borrowed a Thrush Land Rover to get us back to town, and it has no shocks."

The Russian allowed himself a sigh of relief. "Something is wrong with Napoleon," he said. "Where is the hospital in this village?"

Mark's voice was audible but unintelligible over the communicator.

April translated. "Not a good idea, Illya. That Tourneau fellow who worked on Napoleon was also on the staff of the Bayonne Hospital. There may be others there who are earning extra money moonlighting for Thrush."

Kuryakin suppressed a string of Russian expletives. "Well, get here as soon as you can, will you?"

Mark's voice floated through the communicator as if from a great distance. "Tell Illya he'll be fine. He just needs time to realize he's free."

"Illya, Mark says —"

"I heard." But he wasn't convinced. "Hurry anyway."

"We're almost there. Dancer out."

Illya turned to look at his partner. Solo hadn't moved from his position on the bed, but he was breathing fast and couldn't keep his hands still. His pupils were big as nickels and he was white as a sheet.

The room was eerily quiet.

Illya felt a rush of panic and moved to check Solo's vital signs. The American's pulse was pounding out 150 beats a minute. Illya felt his forehead. The skin wasn't clammy, but Solo was shivering. Illya suddenly found a void where his first-aid training was usually stored. If a stranger were in trouble, he would know exactly what to do. But his concern for Napoleon — no, his affection for Napoleon — was getting in the way of his thought process. He forced himself to close his eyes and run down his mental list of emergency first aid. Solo wasn't bleeding, but he had probably been beaten. Thrush could do that and leave amazingly few marks on the body.

Shock. He should take steps to prevent shock.

The Russian moved to the other bed, pulled the covers back and stacked three pillows at the foot of the bed. Then he returned to Napoleon and began removing restrictive clothing. At last, he escorted his underwear-clad partner to the bed, placed his feet on the pillows, and pulled the bed covers up around his neck.

Not enough.

He pulled the blanket and spread off the other bed and added them to the mound that was Solo. Then he found the air conditioner controls and turned it off. At last, he returned to sit beside his partner. He slipped a hand under the heavy covers and laced his fingers with Napoleon's.

"You will be warm soon," he murmured in Russian. "I will take care of you. Everything will be all right." Alone in the room with Solo, he leaned over and planted a soft kiss on the pale forehead. "You are safe now." He retrieved his gun from the night stand where he'd set it minutes before, pointed his body and the gun barrel at the door, and waited for Mark and April. Under the covers, he squeezed Napoleon's hand. "Just rest, milii moi. Everything will be fine."

A dismal sound blossomed somewhere nearby, like a siren in the night. Illya scanned the room. Nothing new had been added. No sign of a bomb.

The sound grew louder, a haunting pain-filled wail. The Russian snapped his attention back to his partner. The sound was coming from Napoleon.

The wail did not stop. It went on longer than Solo had breath. His face reddened, then darkened. His features contorted. His eyes leaked wetly at the corners.

Illya shook him hard. "Breathe! Breathe!"

Solo complied at last, breaking off the eery sound long enough to pull in a lungful of air, a backward shriek that ended only when the oxygen began to leave him again in another wail of pain.

Napoleon Solo was crying.

It was the scariest sound the Russian had ever heard.

Kuryakin didn't move until Slate and Dancer arrived. Once they were inside and the perimeter alerts were in place and the door secured, Mark asked, "Where's the FADE kit?"

"Top drawer," pointed Illya.

"You haven't tested him yet?" April was preparing her communicator for a status report.

Illya was strung tight as a piano wire. "Other things seemed more important," he snapped.

April didn't take it personally. "Open Channel D, overseas relay, and scramble," she said.

Mark pulled a leather case the size of a cigar box from the drawer and positioned himself on the floor at Illya's feet. He unzipped the Field Agent's Drug Evaluation kit and began sorting tiny tubes, dropper bottles, and glass slides.

"We all agree he has been drugged, correct?" asked Mark, setting a miniature tube rack on the nightstand.

"Correct," chorused April and Illya.

Waverly's voice came from April's pen communicator. "Channel D open." Dancer moved to a far corner and began to report in hushed tones. No point in letting Solo hear the words she needed to use to describe his condition.

Illya released his partner's hand before he lifted the covers. Mark and April were friends, but their presence was a strain on the part of him that wanted to make Solo all better. He jammed his hands under his armpits and hugged himself. It was a poor substitute. He tossed his blond hair out of his eyes and reminded Mark, "He hates needles." It was almost an apology.

"I'll be quick," promised Mark.

Slate jabbed Solo's thumb. Illya winced.

Napoleon seemed oblivious. He was no longer weeping, but neither was he responding to any stimuli.

Illya resisted an absurd urge to kiss the thumb. Not in front of Mark and April.

"How soon before we know?" he asked.

Mark squeezed three drops of blood from Solo's thumb, enough for the preliminary testing. He was guessing about the probable drug that was used. If he was wrong, he would have to try again.

"This stuff works fast," he said. "I'm surprised you haven't had occasion to use it more often."

"We've been lucky."

April Dancer took a deep breath and exhaled noisily. She approached, returning her communicator to its ballpoint alter ego.

"Waverly says our Bordeaux office is already headed south to the Thrush facility. Some of our people are already there, keeping an eye out until the big guns arrive. Let's see...Bordeaux to Bayonne, that's about what? Ninety minutes?"

"Do we wipe it out?" asked Illya.

April looked uncomfortable. "Uh, well, the Bordeaux team is going in. They're going to take over and hold all the occupants until the morning shift change. They're hoping to grab as many birds as they can. Alive."

The Russian said nothing but his jaw worked to and fro like a nut cracker.

"And..." April found it difficult to say. "Waverly says you and Solo are out of it now. He says let the boys from Bordeaux handle it."

Still no comment from Illya, but he lifted Solo's hand to his face and rubbed his lips across the back of it. Mark and April be damned.

The silence weighed them all down. April sagged onto the edge of the other bed. When she could no longer stand the quiet, she asked Mark, "What's the verdict?"

"Just as I feared," said Slate. "See that bright orange reaction on the middle slide? They shot him up with GE-4."

"Shit," said April softly.

Napoleon was trying to lick his lips. His mouth was dry.

Illya stood abruptly and strode to the bathroom. Sounds of water running. A moment later he reappeared with a hotel glass. He resumed his position and slipped his left hand behind Solo's head to help him drink.

GE-4 was Thrush's latest weapon in the Mind Games arsenal. Gullibility Enhancement. U.N.C.L.E. was aware that Thrush used GE-1 with their own personnel on a routine basis, although Mark doubted that they told their people about it. GE-2, 3, and 4 were successively stronger versions of a drug designed to open the target's mind to any suggestion, to any programming or brainwashing his captors' might deem useful. U.N.C.L.E. had developed an antidote, but it was only effective — and safe — if used within the first two hours after the GE-4 was administered. And the reaction of Solo's blood indicated that only traces of the drug remained in his system.

"Give him the antidote."

"I think it's too late for that," said Slate.

He began cleaning the FADE kit. April opened Channel D and requested medical advice. A disembodied voice replied to her questions with impatience, as if irritated that every field agent did not have a medical degree.

"After this many hours, the antidote will have nothing to work on. It will roll around his system and start attacking his brain cells. Do not give him anything. GE-4 can be messy and exhausting, but it does wear off. Just be glad they didn't give him Minus-X."

Illya moved to April's side in two strides, grabbed the communicator and barked, "What is your name!?"

The invisible medic sputtered, "What? What? Barron. Why?"

The Russian closed the channel abruptly and handed the pen back to April. "Remind me to break his nose when we get back," he muttered. He ran a hand through his hair and paced.

"Did they brainwash him? Or program him to do something? We've got to find out!"

"Either way," said Mark gently, "the only thing we can do now is help him through the night."

Kuryakin made a frustrated sound and settled on the edge of the bed again. He took Solo's hand and rubbed it like a magic lamp. The moment he touched his partner, the anger and frustration vanished. His voice changed, too. "Napoleon, Napoleon, talk to me. Tell me what they did to you." It was almost a prayer.

Solo appeared to react for the first time. He lurched onto his left side.

And threw up over the side of the bed.

Mark managed to get out of the way without appearing to retreat, but he decided it was the perfect moment for putting the FADE kit back in the drawer.

April moaned in sympathy, then fetched the wastepaper basket from under the faux-Queen Anne escritoire. Mark went for towels and a damp cloth.

Illya supported Solo's back with one arm and helped him lean over the basket. He heaved until nothing was left, but his stomach refused to get the message. He gasped for air in between bouts of retching, his mouth and his eyes both overflowing with the usual frenetic glandular activity that accompanied vomiting.

The Russian slipped into his native tongue and murmured softly at his partner, until Solo sagged onto his side and began to moan. When it appeared that his stomach had calmed and his breathing grew easier, Illya used the wet cloth to wash Napoleon's face. Mark took the wastebasket to the bathroom and April began sopping the mess on the carpet with bath towels.

Mark returned with the cleaned basket.

"Better keep this close, just in case," he said.

April nodded. Her expression was grim, white-lipped.

Mark touched her softly on the shoulder, motioned her out of the way with a movement of his head, and took over the clean-up.

April was grateful. She retreated to the bathroom, and leaned over the sink until she was in control again.

Solo lay exhausted while the others cleaned the mess. When he spoke, his voice was weak.

"What did they give me?"

"GE-4," said Illya. He pulled Napoleon gently upright.

"Short fuse or long fuse?" Solo panted with the effort of sitting up.

Illya favored him with a tiny smile. "That is the question, isn't it?"

Mark offered, "Short fuse. They must realize that we know they kept you alive to carry out some programming of theirs. Especially with GE-4 in your blood. So the only thing that makes sense is short fuse. We would have time to prepare, otherwise." By locking Solo away, if nothing else.

Illya pulled Solo's soiled tee shirt off over his partner's head. "Do you remember what they said to you?" He winced at the sight of the bruises that were already appearing on Napoleon's ribcage. "And what they did to you?"

"Oh, the usual," said Solo wearily. "U.N.C.L.E. is evil. Thrush are the good guys. Waverly doesn't give a damn about us. We're just pawns in the game." He paused to breathe.

Illya folded the washcloth to find the warm part and began washing Solo's chest.

Solo continued, "They wanted me to agree. When I kept silent, they hit me."

Illya's temper flared. "The drug wasn't enough?! They had to beat you, too?!"

April brought another washcloth and took the cold one away.

Illya began working on Solo's underarms and sides.

"It was all so damn real," said Napoleon sadly.

Mark brought towels. "Don't worry, guv. You're safe now."

A hint of a sardonic smile played across Solo's features. "Yeah, but are you?"

Illya said nothing but his jaw worked furiously. He took a towel and began drying the skin he'd just washed. Then he crawled behind Solo to work on his back.

April fetched a clean tee shirt. "What else did they say?" she asked, knowing they hadn't heard the worst of it yet.

Solo could not hold her gaze. He dropped his eyes and turned his face away. Behind him, Illya leaned to murmur in his ear, "Can you tell us?"

Napoleon didn't speak. The sounds of his breathing were strained. Fighting for control.

Illya kneaded Solo's bare shoulders and whispered something to him in Russian.

After a few moments, Solo cleared his throat.

"I have a question for you," he said raggedly, glancing over his shoulder at his partner.

"Ask," said Illya.

Napoleon's mouth worked, but nothing came out. He chuckled nervously and tried again. "You, uh, you aren't having an affair, are you? With another man?" And the unspoken subtext for Third Level: Are you leaving me? Don't you need me anymore? Am I a dead man?

"Moi Bog." Illya moved to Solo's side again. He took Napoleon's face in his hands and looked him straight in the eye. "Nyet," he said softly. "No affair. No other man. There is only you." I'm just as Third Level as you are, and I'm not suicidal.

Solo's features sagged with relief. "That's good to hear." The last word came out a squeak.

Illya pulled him into a fierce embrace. The Russian's anger pooled in his cheeks like a dark blush. When he could speak without ranting, he asked, "Anything else?"

"Yeah. I'm cold. Am I clean yet?" In control again.

Illya shook out the clean tee shirt and slipped it over Solo's head, then helped his partner find the armholes.

"Lie down. I'll get the rest."

Solo didn't argue. Illya's concern for his cleanliness and his health were the Russian's reaction to Third Level. Solo had the night terrors, and Kuryakin had the health fetish. They shared the other symptoms. Napoleon learned early on that denying Illya the opportunity to do these little things for him created explosive tensions between them. So he gave the Russian free reign.

Illya worked silently, scrubbing the smell of Thrush off his partner's lower half. Slate checked his weapon. Dancer fetched towels.

Napoleon relaxed and closed his eyes. "They showed me pictures," he said.

Mark asked, "Pictures of Illya? And some other man?"

Solo nodded. "Over and over. They looked so real. I thought—" his breath caught. He started again. "That was the only part that really scared me."

Illya helped Solo dress. "The photographs were faked," he said simply.

Napoleon nodded. He wanted to believe his partner. He had to believe.

Illya pulled the bedcovers up to Solo's chin and leaned in close. "They were fakes," he said again. It sounded like I love you. "Relax. I'll make some tea."

For the first time since the rescue, Solo looked at ease. He pulled one hand out from under the covers and scratched his nose. "What about the fuse?" he asked.

"Mark?" prompted Illya. "Any ideas?" The Russian busied himself with the accoutrements of the constant traveler. Hot pot, tea pot, tea bags, sugar cubes. The little things he had learned to take along, to make the constant stream of hotel rooms more comfortable, more convenient.

Slate propped a pillow against the headboard and leaned back. "Well, standard procedure would indicate a complete psych shake-down, constant surveillance, et cetera, until the fuse is snuffed or the target is determined, or both."

"And that could take days," said April.

"Or weeks," added Solo, not pleased by the prospect.

"But maybe," said Slate, "just maybe, we got you out in time. Before they could plant anything."

"Everything you've told us," added April, "sounds like build up. They were trying to rattle you to the point where the program would take."

"That's right," said Slate. "So, maybe they didn't have time to light the fuse."

"We have to find out," said Solo wearily. "Otherwise I'm useless. And a danger." His eyes drifted to the bureau where Illya was pouring water over tea bags. "To all of you."

"There is one thing we could try," said Mark, hesitantly.

April and Solo waited expectantly.

Mark's eyes flicked nervously to Illya's back. Then he suggested, "Truth serum."

"Nyet!" The Russian whirled, waving one index finger back and forth. "Nyet, nyet, nyet! No more drugs! Look at him! He is still not recovered from the GE-4."

But Napoleon thought the idea had merit. "It might work, Illya. We've used it dozens of times, with innocents. They've come through it fine. I think I should be able to handle it."

"Ha! They came through it because they had not been drugged, and beaten black and blue, and had their world turned upside down around them!"

Solo was calm. "How else can we find out if they lit a fuse inside me? The truth serum works for everything but specialized, long-term conditioning, and we know that nine hours wasn't long enough for that."

"No," said Illya. His tone was final.

Solo didn't argue. But a few moments later, he asked, "You have a better idea?"

"Da, da, a better idea."

"What is it?" asked Solo.

Illya took his time. He filled a hotel mug halfway with strong tea, then added hot water to thin it a bit. He dropped two lumps of sugar into it and stirred it with a plastic spoon. He blew on it several times, then carried it to Solo's bedside.

"Are you strong enough to drink some of this?"

Napoleon eyed his partner curiously. He rolled over on his left side, propped himself on one elbow. It wore him out. But he let Illya hold the cup to his mouth, and he sipped at the tea.

Mark and April exchanged puzzled glances.

"What's your plan, Illya?" asked April.

The Russian took a breath. "We go back," he said, "and ask the people who gave him the GE-4."

Mark started to laugh, but it died on his lips. "You're serious."


April looked uncomfortable. "Um, well, uh, Illya, there's the little matter of..." She looked to Mark for help.

Napoleon understood. "Waverly ordered us to stand down," he said quietly.

"So I heard," said Illya, unimpressed.

"Oh," said April.

"I see," said Mark. He gestured with his head, and screwed his features into his "say something" look.

April said something. "Well, if we're going to Bordeaux to torture prisoners, I think matching black turtlenecks are in order, don't you?"

Convincing Waverly was the hard part. Illya lay his plan out as simply as he could, with Dancer and Slate looking on. Napoleon had drifted off to sleep.

The Old Man's voice was hard to read over the satellite relay.

"You realize, of course, that Mr. Solo may already be programmed to kill you? All of you? Taking him along could be a danger."

Kuryakin's blue eyes softened as he gazed at his sleeping partner. "We have decided to take the risk," he said efficiently. None of the feeling in his eyes was evident in his voice. "There is a possibility that no fuse was lit. There is also the possibility that they have created a new, quicker method for planting a long-term suggestion. If so, as you know, the two of us might as well retire to a heavily guarded island somewhere in the Pacific." He forced a lightness into his tone. "Actually, that alternative is beginning to appeal to me, so I will be satisfied with your decision, either way."


Then a somber Waverly. "So, Mr. Kuryakin, what you are saying is either you try it your way or I lose two of my most experienced agents. This sounds like blackmail."

The Russian blinked at the communicator. He spoke evenly, with no trace of sarcasm. "Blackmail is illegal, sir. U.N.C.L.E. agents are sworn to uphold the law."

Waverly snorted. It might have been a laugh. "Very well, Mr. Kuryakin. But—"

"Yes, sir?"

Waverly chose his words carefully. "Your report on this matter must contain no indication that you have exceeded the bounds of U.N.C.L.E.'s charter." He paused. "Do I make myself clear, Mr. Kuryakin?"

One corner of Illya's mouth turned upward, and he exchanged knowing smiles with his colleagues.

"I assure you, sir, my report will contain nothing of the sort."

"Very well. Good luck." Then, almost as an afterthought, "You're going to need it."

Tuesday, November 17, 8:49 a.m.

The boys from Bordeaux were all over the Thrush facility, and Mark Slate was glad to see it. It looked like the decision to lie in wait for the morning shift had been a good one. One by one the arriving workers were corralled and handcuffed and escorted to a makeshift detention center in the main building where they joined the detainees from the night before.

The trip from the hotel to the satrap had almost been too much for Solo. He emerged from the Citroen with difficulty, pasty-faced and in need of a helping hand. He looked like a man who wanted desperately to lie down. But neither Slate nor Dancer suggested leaving him behind, unguarded. Besides, without Illya nearby, sleep was Solo's enemy.

Kuryakin was next to him every step of the way. April and Mark went before them, clearing the way, holding their U.N.C.L.E. identification aloft. Solo and Kuryakin didn't really need identifying. Their faces were as familiar to the U.N.C.L.E. agents on site as they were to the Thrush they were guarding.

April Dancer recognized half a dozen of the younger faces. She had attended Survival School with them. As U.N.C.L.E.'s first female field agent, she had been hurriedly promoted, but they were still working their way up through the ranks. Even so, she had earned her position, and paid dearly for it in ways that became evident to her now as she realized she no longer felt like a member of that class. She felt herself bound by a greater loyalty to the three men she was working with. Her former classmates seemed infinitely younger and less experienced than she. They hadn't seen the things she'd seen, and they hadn't done the things she'd done, including cleaning up after a very sick Chief Enforcement Agent.

She strode past a mirrored alcove, following her mental map to the makeshift detention center, and glimpsed her reflection as she passed. The expression on her face, her carriage, her bearing, all echoed that of Mark and Illya and Napoleon. But the real difference between her and her former classmates became evident to her when she realized she couldn't even be proud of rising above them. They yearned for the day when their status would approach that of Solo and Kuryakin, and yet they didn't realize that when it did, they would have no room in them for thoughts of status at all. Just for staying alive long enough to complete the mission.

She also glimpsed Solo in the mirror and understood why the agents they approached were falling silent. Napoleon was gray. His beard was twenty-four hours old, and that meant stubby bristles. His red-rimmed eyes slid in and out of focus, the sockets ringed by dark circles. Kuryakin was practically carrying him.

And as soon as he could, he deposited the ailing Solo on a chair against one wall of the huge room where the Thrush employees were collected. The intelligence that Mark and April had gathered about the place prior to Solo's rescue had come in handy. The U.N.C.L.E. team was using Thrush's own detention facilities against them. Progress was being made in sorting out the responsible Thrush from the hapless employees. In the far right pen, some very frightened men and women were in various states of alarm. In the far left pen, another group of men and women were wearing handcuffs which were in turn chained to the heavy mesh of their cage. U.N.C.L.E. guards stood nearby, automatic rifles trained on the occupants.

In the center pen, a much more menacing group was collecting. They wore shackles on hands and feet. A few were chained to the mesh. A few more were face down on the floor.

Andre Du Bellay, head of the Bordeaux section office, greeted Mark and April quietly.

Bonjours, mess amis. Welcome. We are glad for your assistance, although Waverly's call was a surprise." He turned troubled brown eyes on the chair where Napoleon Solo leaned heavily against his Russian partner and tried to catch his breath. "He should be in bed," said Du Bellay, with sincere concern.

"There'll be time for that later," said April.

Du Bellay nodded. He was an old hand. He knew what had happened to Solo, and he knew the reputation of Solo's partner. Waverly told him they were coming, but he did not know exactly what they had in mind. He dropped his voice to a murmur. "Can I assume the Crazy Russian has a plan?" He spoke the words with respect. April took no offense.

"We have to determine if there was time to light a fuse," she said softly. "They're Third Level. If one of them goes into psych observation, they both go in. And Thrush is rid of them. This way, there's a chance that won't be necessary."

Du Bellay nodded his understanding. Mark Slate rocked to and fro on his heels, scanning the faces of the U.N.C.L.E. personnel in the chamber. "I would suggest, monsieur, that we find your junior agents something else to do."

Du Bellay's eyes widened. "Indeed?" He glanced in Kuryakin's direction. The Russian was kneeling by Solo, absorbed in quiet conversation.

April cleared her throat. "Everything that happens here will be classified," she said briskly. "Only one report will be filed, and Mr. Kuryakin will file it."

Du Bellay spread his hands. "This is most unusual. What will I tell my superiors on this side of the ocean?"

Mark allowed himself a tiny smile. "Our Section One is talking to your Section One as we speak."

"Ah." The Frenchman's eyebrows reached for the sky. "I see. Bon, bon, bon. As you wish. The less paperwork, the better, I always say. Excuse me."

Mark nudged April. She looked in the direction he indicated. Kuryakin was pumping up. He paced to and fro along the wall beside Solo. Every few moments he dropped to one knee in front of his partner and spoke intensely to him. Solo would nod, or shake his head, or murmur something in return. His color was improving a bit, but he still looked bad.

Du Bellay spread the word among his people, carefully, quietly. The junior agents began leaving the room in groups of twos and threes. A few senior agents went with them. Those who remained were heavily armed. When Du Bellay was ready, he gave April a nod. Then he walked up to Solo and Kuryakin, his hand extended.

"Mr. Solo? It is an honor to see you again."

"Pour moi aussi," replied Solo in his Canadian French. His voice was weary. "You know my partner, Illya Kuryakin?"

Du Bellay shook hands with the Crazy Russian. "In reputation only, monsieur." But his voice and demeanor expressed his high regard for Kuryakin.

Illya replied in French also, his Russian accent evident in his lack of nasal vowels. "I hope I do not disappoint you, monsieur Du Bellay."

Andre suppressed a grin. "I will be taking notes," he winked. "Where would you like to begin?"

Illya pointed at a white-coated middle-aged man standing handcuffed to the center pen. "Tourneau." The man who gave Solo the GE-4.

Du Bellay nodded to a senior agent and Tourneau was escorted to stand before the Russian. The Thrush operative was a doctor. He dressed like one, and he wore white hospital shoes. A stethoscope still hung about his neck. But there was something in his eyes and in the set of his jaw that belied his medical calling. His mouth was twisted in a sneer.

"I will tell you nothing," he spat.

The Russian's hooded eyes moved up and down Tourneau's form. He stepped aside to give Solo a good look at the man.

"Is this the one?" he asked through clenched teeth. A muscle spasmed in his jaw.

Napoleon nodded, a scant movement that took all his strength.


Kuryakin began to pace slowly, to and fro. Tourneau's eyes watched his every move.

The Russian flexed his fingers and began cracking his knuckles, one at a time.

"What do you want?!" blustered Tourneau.

Kuryakin paced. His silence was taking its toll on the doctor.

"I refuse to answer any questions until I see legal counsel!" The Thrush's voice was shrill.

Kuryakin stopped in front of the man and pinned him with a glare. Illya's face was flushed, and a blue vein pulsed at his temple. A light reflected off the doctor's stethoscope, and it caught his eye. Somewhere inside a warning bell sounded. He lifted his hands to Tourneau's neck. The Thrush braced himself for an assault, but instead the Russian closed his fingers on the stethoscope. When Tourneau realized what Kuryakin was doing, his eyes darkened with distress.

Illya saw the change and bared his teeth in a triumphant snarl. He held the instrument at arm's length off to one side.

"Check this," he barked.

Du Bellay took it.

Kuryakin added quickly, under his breath, "Carefully."

Tourneau tried to laugh. "You don't frighten me. You are U.N.C.L.E.. You are not allowed to suppress my rights, nor are you allowed to use excessive force during interrogation. We have read all your training manuals, you see." Kuryakin's apparent calm boosted his courage. He sneered, "If something happened to your partner, well, as you say in America, those are the breaks, n'est-ce pas?"

Kuryakin exploded. He roared with rage and hammered Tourneau's face with his fists. A second later, he leaped in the air like a demented ballerina and delivered mule-like kicks to the man's knees and groin. He twisted in mid-air and landed on his hands, dropped into a forward roll and was on his feet again, sucking air, his eyes wild with adrenaline.

Tourneau writhed on the floor, clutching his balls and one knee. Blood spurted from his nose, and he spat part of a tooth onto the cement floor. The pain was just beginning to reach his brain, and when the signal traveled back down to his throat, a sick and ugly sound emerged.

Kuryakin backed away, breathing hard. Spittle dotted his lips. It danced about with every lungful of air and gave him a rabid look. He was vaguely aware of the shrieks from the other prisoners. Some of the women began to cry.


He waved a hand in the fallen man's direction. "Get rid of this pig."

Then he returned to Solo. He stood facing his partner, hands on his hips, until he calmed his breathing. His eyes moved from Mark Slate on the left to April Dancer on the right. They flanked Solo, one behind either shoulder. Slate's features were impassive, his arms crossed over his chest. The Brit's jaw twitched, a sympathetic reaction to the Russian's rage. Dancer's features were grim, her lips a thin line. She did not return Illya's gaze.

The Russian understood. His fury disturbed agents with a lot more experience than April had. Suddenly aware that his mouth was wet, he wiped his lips on the back of his sleeve. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he touched two fingers to his partner's stubbled chin and lifted Solo's face to look into the weary brown eyes. He asked his question in a voice that everyone could hear.

"Who assisted Tourneau?"

Napoleon moved his eyes from one holding cell to the next. But before he could spot the man he was looking for, Dumas gave himself away.

"Non! Non! Do not let him near me! Are you mad? He is a demon!"

A brief flash of satisfaction passed between the blue eyes and the brown ones. Then Kuryakin set his jaw, narrowed his eyes, and turned toward the voice.

Du Bellay himself helped pull the man from the right-hand pen.

"Non, non, please, I beg of you! I am nobody, a nothing! I do only what I am told to do!" He struggled in the grip of the U.N.C.L.E. agents, but they dragged him toward Kuryakin.

The Russian smiled a wicked little smile and laughed from the chest. The sound of a man partaking in dark pleasures. He stepped aside to allow Solo a clear view of the terrified Dumas.

"Is this the one?"

Like before, Solo nodded.

"Good." Kuryakin inhaled deeply and exhaled, then turned and began to pace. As he paced, he cracked his knuckles, one by one.

Dumas fell to his knees. His eyes were wild. He lifted his shackled hands to implore the agents looking on.

"I beg you! Can't you see? I am only an assistant, a— a— how do you say? A nurse's aide!" Beads of perspiration rolled off the tip of his Gallic nose. His thinning hair was soaked with it and plastered to his head. His pupils were pinpricks.

Women were weeping in the pen behind him. Their only crime was taking an offer of employment for better wages than they could find elsewhere in Bayonne.

Illya hoped the same was true for Dumas. The man was either a brilliant actor or an innocent dupe. Either way, if he didn't offer his information quickly, the Russian would have to hurt him.

Suddenly, a woman called out from the pen. "Sharl! Sharl!" Charles. His name was Charles Dumas. "Tell them whatever they want to know! Don't let him hurt you!"

Kuryakin stopped pacing. He turned and stood before Dumas. The man was trembling, but the woman's voice straightened his spine. He was trying to be brave for her.

"Who is she?" snapped the Russian.

Without thinking, the poor man replied, "My wife." He swallowed hard. "Please, they told us we were not under arrest. They said—"

Kuryakin cut him off. "Bring the woman!"

"Non!!!" Dumas clasped his hands in prayer and begged for his wife's safety. "She has done nothing! She was not there. I was the one who helped Tourneau. I did not understand what was happening at first. He drugged your friend! He tormented him! I heard everything!"

Once Dumas began, he couldn't stop. It all tumbled out of him in a rush. Du Bellay checked frantically to make sure his people were recording the man's confession. He might not repeat himself later, once away from Kuryakin's menace.

Mark's hunch was right. Everything Tourneau did to Solo was preparation. He didn't have enough time to actually light a fuse. They didn't have to take Dumas' word for it, either. His wife worked in Archives, and she supplied them with the filmed record of Tourneau's session with Solo.

Illya couldn't bear to watch it. At 10:05 a.m. he took his partner back to the hotel and put him to bed. At 10:38 a.m. Slate called on Channel F to let him know the stethoscope contained explosive capsules and an ampoule of cyanide. At 11:02 a.m. Dancer called to tell him they were going to view the film of Solo's treatment at the hands of Tourneau.

While Mark, April, and Du Bellay screened pertinent parts of the film in the bowels of the Thrush complex, Illya Kuryakin sat cross-legged on the pale blue blanket under which his partner slept. The Russian's gun was in his hand, ready for action. There was no sound in the room except Solo's breathing. Illya sat facing the door and watched Napoleon's chest rise and fall with every breath.

At 12:27 p.m. it began to rain. No mistaking the sound of November rain in southern France. Everything in the room was shades of gray, colored by the poignant autumn light that filtered through the lace curtains. The rhythm of the rain reminded Illya of that French love song with the tragic lyrics. "Ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas." Don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me.

He remembered that scene from Almodovar's "Law of Desire", the little girl lip-synching to the song while the rain poured outside the window. He went with Napoleon to see the film in the Village. The audience was full of gay men. Everyone wept at the ending. Everyone but them. Tears would blur their vision. Napoleon folded his raincoat on his lap, and they held hands beneath it, their dry eyes looking everywhere but at each other. Even among their own kind, they hid their affection for each other beneath the raincoat. Thrush had been known to follow them into public toilets, so they wouldn't hesitate to follow them into a theater.

At 12:33 p.m. Napoleon coughed and rolled over in his sleep. Kuryakin tucked the blanket around his partner's shoulders. Then he double-checked the magazine of his M-1911 and continued his vigil, as the love song played on his head.

"Ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas."


Back to nsandik's fiction Feedback is always appreciated.