The long drive from the Portland International Airport to Mt Hood was a scenic one, but the majestic mountain vistas rolling past their windows made no impression on the two agents and their dæmons, lost, as they were, in somber thoughts. The signs dictating the necessity of tire chains did, eventually register, and when they pulled off the road to attend to it, Napoleon took a moment to appreciate the snow laden surroundings.
"I suppose this is avalanche country," he commented as Illya got the chains out of the trunk.
"Don't tell me you think it was just an unfortunate coincidence," Illya said, closing the trunk and then pausing to watch his arctic fox dæmon, Pasha, in his element, romping in a snow drift. Napoleon could not help smiling at the sight, especially when his black panther dæmon, Saphina, joined him, absurdly visible in the pristine whiteness.
"Of course not," Napoleon answered. "But I'm at a loss to know how it was done."
"Hence our current mission," Illya said, laying the chains down behind the rear tires. "If Thrush has the means to invisibly trigger avalanches at will, no world leaders would ever feel safe attending a summit at some remote mountain resort ever again."
"It would be more conclusive if we knew for sure whether their cover had been blown," Napoleon said, getting into the driver's seat to roll the car onto the chains at Illya's cue. April and Mark's cover had been as ski instructors at the nearby Mt Hood ski resort, and they'd gotten as far as reporting suspicious activity at a privately owned lodge nearby before they'd disappeared. It would also be more conclusive if any bodies had been found, but the Oregon Ski Patrol had made their search and declared that it would be unlikely for anything to be found till the snows melted in the spring.
Napoleon did not speak of this, however. They would drink to their friends' memory when the mission was concluded and their murderers brought to justice. It would not be true to say that neither he nor Illya harboured thoughts of retribution. They were only human, after all, but they were also professionals.
"Smith and Carruthers are investigating their rooms at Mt Hood," Illya said, signalling Napoleon to ease the car back. "We're to stay well away, just in case they were suspected."
"April and Mark accomplished quite a lot, finding out what they did in such short time," Saphina said, coming up alongside the open driver's door to shake snow from her fur.
"And made this follow up mission possible," said Illya's Pasha, helping him lay out the chains for the front wheels, "providing us an 'in' with the housekeeper at the private lodge they were watching."
It had been April Dancer's keen eye that had spotted the Staff Wanted flyer for the very private lodge they had begun to suspect, and it had been Mark Slate's affable nature that had won over the head housekeeper there and convinced her to hire his two 'cousins', just before he and April had gone off the radar. UNCLE research had since done a thorough vetting of Mrs Alice Wong and found her to be nothing more than a well regarded cook and housekeeper with a resume full of very satisfied clients. If the lodge was being used by Thrush, the staff didn't appear to be part of the operation.
"How much farther to where we're meeting Mrs Wong?" Pasha asked once the chains were on and they were pulling onto the road again.
"It's actually her nephew George who will be meeting us," Illya explained. "Mrs Wong can drive the snowmobile, but she prefers not to. The car park is another six miles or so."
This time of year, the Cold Water Spring Lodge was only accessible by snowmobile. Guests and staff parked their cars on a small lot near the base of the mile-long private drive and either brought their own snowmobile or made arrangements to be picked up by the staff in theirs. As both their cover personas were down-on-their-luck types, Napoleon and Illya would be dependent on the lodge's transportation.
"I'm still a little worried about George," Saphna said. "Just because his aunt is on the up-and-up, doesn't mean that he couldn't have been brought under Thrush's sway. The UNCLE researchers could hardly find a thing about him."
"Well, he is only 22," Pasha replied. "All he has is high school transcripts."
"How about school clubs or activities?" Napoleon mused. "No membership in 'Future World Conquering Villains of America'?"
"Apparently not," said Illya drily, slowing the car as their journey's end came into sight.
"Still…" said Pasha seriously. "Young men of that age are perhaps the most easily swayed to join some extremist cause. Who knows what Thrush might offer him."
"Whatever he desires," Saphina replied darkly. "Regardless of whether they can actually deliver. It doesn't matter. If he has been suborned by Thrush then he is our enemy, and as much responsible for Mark and April's deaths as any of them."
"Easy there, girl," Napoleon said, stroking the ebony fur between his dæmon's ears. "We're here to finish what our fellow agents started, not to wreak vengeance. That's not how we work."
"Indeed," Illya agreed. "That is not our due. There can be no vengeance for spies, only the certainty that the mission will be completed, one way or another."
"And so we shall," said Pasha. "Or die trying."