The Lionheart Affair
The prayer used in this story came from a Jewish site. If Jewish readers see a mistake please let me know.
Illya has been missing for months. What happened?
Napoleon Solo, his clothes soaked through and covered in wet red sand, swiped at the rivulets of rain running down his face. The whitethorn tree gave him the cover he needed to remain unseen from the compound, but its branches offered meager shelter from the desert storm. It was monsoon season in the southwest. Unlike most storms that pass through this time of year, this one had lingered with a steady drizzle for hours. He brought the high powered binoculars to his eyes for the hundredth time, yet the inky darkness still prevented him from seeing the details of the compound.
This was a mission that the UNCLE agent could not… would not fail. Napoleon’s long time partner and friend, Illya Kuryakin, was in there some place. At least that was what the latest intelligence report had indicated. The source of the information was sketchy at best, yet Napoleon couldn’t possibly turn down the opportunity to follow the lead. Kuryakin had disappeared three months ago without a trace. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months with no word regarding the man’s whereabouts. His status had gone from missing in action to presumed dead. Two days ago, the communications team at UNCLE headquarters picked up some chatter over the airways indicating there was a white supremacist group hidden away in a remote area of the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. The report indicated the group had a secure compound where it kept “enemies of the state” in a concentration style camp. Such a scheme would explain the unsettling number of kidnappings of men of notable social and financial status who belonged to various minorities and religious or ethnic backgrounds from all over the nation.
As he glassed the perimeter he observed dark forms hanging from the barbed wire. Napoleon wiped the fogged lenses of the binoculars with his handkerchief and looked again. Dear God in Heaven it can’t be. He looked again. The dark forms on the fence were corpses strung up like slabs of meat.
Napoleon couldn’t see much detail but it did not escape his attention that several coyotes lurked nearby. He saw one approach one corpse and cautiously pull on one of the limbs. The action caused the wires on the fence to move which set off an alarm made from objects that rattled noisily as the wires swayed. Napoleon shuddered as he watched the gruesome scene.
Solo’s attention was drawn back to the compound. A group of men noisily exited the nearest building. Faint light spilled through the open doorway, however even with the binoculars Napoleon couldn’t tell how many came out or what they were doing. He kept watch through the field glasses as he trained a parabolic microphone in the direction of the group.
Three figures were separated from the group. One fell to his knees. “Get up!” The fallen man made no move to comply. “I said get the fuck up!” The voice practically screamed. The prisoner started to move but fell face down in a rain puddle. “Fine! I’ll just shoot your lazy ass.” Napoleon saw the silhouetted figure reach for one of the guards’ rifles and point it at the man’s head.
“No! You can’t shoot him in cold blood. He hasn’t done anything. None of us have done anything. Why are you doing this?” The microphone barely picked up the strained raspy voice of the prisoner who spoke. Napoleon pressed the headphones harder to his ears to better hear the conversation.
“All right, I won’t shoot him.” The man quickly swung the rifle to his right and shot the prisoner who had protested. Napoleon heard the prisoner cry out as he grabbed at his stomach and collapsed to the ground. The rifle then swung in the other direction and discharged. The remaining prisoner fell to the ground with a thud. “Okay, boys, string the three of them up on the fence. They can be a reminder to the rest of the animals what will happen to them if they cross us. Let nature deal with them.”
“Aren’t ya gonna shoot the last one?” a guard asked.
“Nah, he’s so far gone he won’t last through the night. String him up with the others.”
Napoleon gripped the stock on his carbine, his knuckles white, as he resisted shooting the guards. He could do nothing and hated it. If he shot the guards, the resulting alarm would make it impossible for him to infiltrate the compound and find Illya. Even when the time came to make his move he couldn’t tend to the poor bastards who were left hanging on the barbed wire.
As the prisoners were hung on the wire the cacophony of cow bells, rattles, and tin cans hanging on the wire gave evidence to the primitive but effective alarm system making it impossible to infiltrate the compound by going over the fence. No, it was imperative that he first gain entrance, kill the guards, and find Illya.
Napoleon checked his watch. 0100. If the guards stayed consistent with their observed schedule, Napoleon wouldn’t be able to make a move until 0200. Laying low for another hour was Hell. He could hear the anguished moans and wails from at least two of the three men hanging on the barbed wire. He wanted nothing more than to go down and help them and cut them down.
The hour had come to make his move. Napoleon pointed the microphone towards the perimeter of the fence. No sounds of approaching footsteps could be heard through the headphones. He gathered his carbine and knapsack. He brought the walkie talkie to his mouth. “Team 2, I’m going in. When you see that I’m inside head for the fence and wait for my signal. When you hear the explosion cut those men down from the fence. If any are alive carry them back to the Jeep and do what you can for them. When I bring out Illya we need to be ready to move quickly. There’s no telling what shape he might be in. And April, if this mission goes south I’ll hit the call button twice. That’s your cue to get the hell out of here. Don’t wait for us!” There was no immediate response. “April! I mean it, that’s an order!”
April Dancer thumbed her call button, and whispered, “Alright, Napoleon, good luck!”
She turned to her partner, Mark Slate. “Do you think he’ll find Illya, Mark?”
“I don’t know, luv.”
They watched as Solo dug under the wire to avoid any of the strands on the fence. He was so covered with the wet red sand he blended in well with the surroundings. When he reached the door leading into the building Dancer and Slate moved towards the wire and took cover in a group of mesquite bushes growing about 60 yards from where the men were left hanging. Only ten minutes had passed but to the two agents it felt like hours.
Mark glanced down the wire to where the men were strung up. He hated not being able to help them, but he couldn’t risk setting off the alarm before Napoleon had found Illya and was on the way out.
One of the men cried out and moved ever so slightly causing the crude alarm to sound off. Fortunately, no one came out to investigate the noise. Slate grabbed his binoculars and focused on the men. Again he heard a strangled cry of pain.
“Well at least we know one of the blokes is still alive, barely. The other two are awfully still.”
April grabbed the binoculars and trained them on the men. The heavens chose that time to open up. The resulting deluge prevented her from seeing any details clearly. “Mark, I can’t see a thing. Let’s work our way over to those bushes and get a better look.”
It took several minutes to crawl the fifteen yards that separated them from the mesquite trees that would give them cover. The perimeter fence and hapless prisoners were another ten yards beyond that.
Covered in sand with water dripping down their faces, the two agents belly crawled to the mesquite bushes and hid under the lowest branches silently cussing as the thorns grabbed at and tore their skin and clothing.
Again Mark focussed his binoculars on the three prisoners. He drew in a sharp breath and expelled it explosively. April grabbed the binocs and studied the pathetic men.
“Oh, dear God!” she whispered. “We need to tell, Napoleon!” She grabbed at the walkie talkie, however Mark held it away from her.
“We can’t, luv! If we did, others might hear the transmission and that would put Napoleon in jeopardy.”
Napoleon hid in the shadows of a small alcove, pressed against a wall as two guards ambled by. The two men, unconcerned about intruders, stopped just across the hallway from where he hid to light their cigarettes.
“Do you think those poor bastards will last the night?” the taller of the two asked.
“I think the two guys the commander shot are already dead judging from
the way they were bleeding. Frankly, I say good riddance to the likes of them. The world is a better place without their kind.” The shorter man spat on the ground as if to rid himself of a bad taste in his mouth.
“Yeah, but what about that third piece of shit. He’s a scrappy little bugger.”
“Not for long. He was nearly dead when we strung him up. The commander’s thugs had been working him over for weeks. Between the beatings and starvation I’m surprised he’s lasted this long. Nope, he won’t last the night. The coyotes will be feeding off of those three before the sun rises.
Napoleon had heard enough. He aimed his silencer equipped Walther and shot both men. He wasn’t about to waste mercy bullets on them. After searching each of them and procuring a single key which he hoped was a master key, he dragged the bodies into a storage closet then continued down the hallway. A few turns later, Napoleon entered an area that looked like a detention center. Doors with barred observation windows lined both sides of the hall.
He glanced through the window of the first door on his right. Inside, four men occupied the small cell. Two of them shared the narrow cot that was chained to a cinder block wall. The other two slept on the cold cement floor. None of them had blankets or pillows. All of them were dressed in prison uniforms much like the striped pajamas worn by holocaust prisoners of twenty-seven years ago.
The UNCLE agent tapped on the bars. Only one of the men heard the noise and looked toward the window. Slowly, he rose from the cot and with great effort shuffled to the door. Napoleon couldn’t help staring at the gaunt face with sunken eyes as the man approached. His clothes hung like rags off his shoulders and hips.
“Haven’t you tortured us enough? Can’t you just leave us alone to die?” The raspy voice pleaded.
“Sshhh,” I’m not one of them. I’m here to rescue you and the others. I have a friend whom I believe is also incarcerated here. I’m here to get him out as well.”
He pulled a photo of Illya out of his pocket and shoved it through the bars to show the prisoner. “Have you seen him?”
Dirty gnarled fingers took the photo from Napoleon. The prisoner studied it for nearly a minute before answering his voice barely louder than a whisper. “Ah, yes, the Russian,” he wheezed. “He was here, but I haven’t seen him in weeks. The commandant seemed to take a special interest in the young man. The Russian would not yield to the commandant’s commands so nearly every day, for many weeks, he was dragged down the hallways for us to see, then made to stand outside - naked in the hot sun and cold nights…sometimes for two straight days. Yet, your friend refused to capitulate. That bastard would then make us all stand and watch as your friend was tied to a post and tortured.”
Napoleon’s stomach clenched and his chest tightened as he listened. “You said you haven’t seen him in weeks.” He swallowed to keep his voice from cracking as he asked the next question. “Do you think he’s still alive?”
The prisoner looked into Solo’s face and saw the desperation in his eyes. He shook his head sadly. “I honestly don’t know. Rumors fly through this prison. Some say he died from his injuries. Some say he was put in the hole to rot, in which case he is as good as dead.”
Napoleon paled. Damn that bastard! “Where is the hole located?”
“In the courtyard. It’s a concrete lined pit with a barred grate exposed to the weather. The pit is not high enough to stand in nor wide enough to sit.”
The turmoil of emotions he was feeling threatened to breakdown his resolve to remain professional and impersonal, however Napoleon kept his face expressionless.
He pulled the procured key from his pocket and fitted it into the cell’s lock praying that it was a master key. Holding his breath he turned the key counter clockwise and was rewarded with a soft click. As he pulled the door outwards, the hinges protested with a loud squeak. He stopped the motion, afraid that the noise would alert the guards. He chose to open the door quickly to try to minimize sound.
“What is your name, sir?” He asked.
“The same Ishmael Rubinstein who is the senior partner of the Rubinstein Brokerage House on Wall Street?” Napoleon already knew the answer. He’d seen photos of this man in the New York Times’ financial pages many times especially after he was kidnapped. But the man in the photos was portly with a commanding countenance. This man standing before him was thin as a rail and stooped.
Rubinstein merely nodded. Napoleon handed the key to the man. “Mr. Rubinstein, I want you and your friends to stay here. I’m going to make my way to the control room. Give me two minutes then I want you to let yourselves out. Use this key to unlock the other cells and get everyone out. Cause as much confusion as you can but don’t hang around. You will probably hear gunfire and maybe an explosion but don’t let that delay you, do you understand?”
Rubinstein nodded. “Good luck with finding your friend.”
Napoleon couldn’t meet the man’s gaze, “Thanks, but from what you’ve told me I’m afraid I’m too late.” He spun on his heel and beat a hasty retreat. As he moved down the next hall he pressed the call button on the walkie talkie. “April, Mark, come in. Come in please.”
April couldn’t wait any longer. “Listen, Mark, we’ve got to call Napoleon. He needs to know. Knowing might just keep him from compromising the rest of the mission in his desperation for finding Illya.” When Mark didn’t argue she picked up the walkie talkie. Just as she was about to press the call button Napoleon’s transmission came through.
April, Mark, come in. Come in please.
“Napoleon? Napoleon listen to me.”
Illya’s gone, April. We’re too late.
“No, Napoleon. Listen to me. Illya’s up here! He’s one of the men hung up on the fence! We need to cut him down…and soon.”
I hate to do this, but we can’t cut him down, yet and risk setting off the alarms. Give me a few more minutes. I’m setting the charges now. There’ll be a lot of men coming out the doors. They are prisoners that have been set free. Is… Illya still alive?
Mark spoke into the walkie talkie. “Barely. Napoleon…I…I think you better get here as soon as possible.”
Thirty seconds later a muffled thump from deep within the complex could be heard. Smoke poured out of the roof vents. Almost immediately close to sixty men poured out the doors running in different directions. April and Mark wasted no time getting to the fence and checking out the three prisoners. As feared, two of the men were quite dead. The two agents crawled over to where Illya hung suspended from the wires.
Napoleon was the last to emerge from the building before another larger explosion occurred. The concussion threw him to the ground. He rose quickly and ran over to the perimeter fence where Mark and April were kneeling. They had begun to carefully, methodically cut the wires surrounding and winding around Illya.
As he knelt down next to them they backed off so he could move closer to Illya. His friend was covered in large contusions and a variety of cuts, some very deep. Even in the murky light it was evident that several of those injuries were infected. Napoleon sucked in his breath as he looked his friend over. The inflicted injuries were bad, but what bothered Napoleon the most was the look of hopelessness in Illya’s eyes. They had a far off non-seeing stare. Not quite the sightless stare of the dead, but haunted.
“Illya, can you hear me? It’s okay, we’re going to get you out of here.”
There was no reaction. Not even a flicker in those eyes. “Give me those wire cutters!” In his desperation to get his partner off the wire as quickly as possible, he grabbed one of the wire strands and started hacking at it. The resulting roughness caused Illya to cry out as several of the barbs dug deeper into his skin.
“Easy, mate!” Mark warned placing his hand on Napoleon’s arm. “We need to do this carefully.”
Napoleon stopped. “We need to get him off of this damn fence, NOW!”
“Of course, mate, but we need to minimize the damage. April, will you hand me the other wire cutters? We need you to hold him up and still as best you can so his weight won’t pull on the wires causing more damage. Napoleon, you take the wires on his left side and behind his head. I’ll work on the right side and those wires in front.”
The two agents nodded. Napoleon was relieved that Mark was taking the lead in extracting Illya from the entangled mess. Both men began to clip the wires as gently as possible. Even then, Illya would whimper in pain. April tried her best at holding Illya’s weight, but found herself losing strength causing him to sag against the wires.
“April, you’ve got to hold him up!”
“I’m trying, Napoleon, but he’s too heavy!”
Suddenly, she felt Illya’s body lighten and raise just a bit. She and the two other agents looked to her right to see two men helping support his weight. Ishmael Rubinstein and another prisoner nodded to her. “This man saved many of our lives,” Ishmael answered the unspoken question. “He purposely put himself in harm’s way to draw the commandant’s attention away from the rest of us. The least we can do is help him now.”
Napoleon clipped the last wire and pulled six inches of it off his back. The embedded barbs pulled at his friend’s skin, but Illya had passed out and didn’t react.
He shook hands with Ishmael and the other prisoner. “Thank you. Ishmael, I’m sorry but we’re going to have to leave you men here until we can bring in a team to clean up this mess and bring you transportation. I know you’d like nothing better to get out of here. Do you and the others think you can hang on just until dawn?”
“Of course. We’ve held on this long, what difference would a few more hours make? Go! Get your friend to a hospital.”
“Napoleon, I’ve called for a medical helicopter. It should be here in a half hour.” April tucked the communicator in her pocket. “Let’s see if we can get those wet clothes off of Illya and wrapped in some blankets.”
Within minutes, Napoleon and Mark had Illya’s tattered clothes off and several of the inmates brought what blankets they could find and covered him.
As promised the helicopter arrived within a half hour. The medical team worked on Illya to get him stabilized. They had a hell of a time finding a vein to start intravenous fluids of lactated ringers as he was extremely dehydrated.
The crew made ready to load Illya onto the helicopter. The head of the medical team turned to the three agents. “We’re taking him to the Medical Center in Tucson. You can catch up with him there.” He turned to help load the stretcher.
“Wait! I’m coming with you,” Napoleon demanded.
“I’m sorry, Agent Solo, we don’t have room.”
Napoleon pulled out his special. “You don’t understand. I didn’t ask permission. I’m going with you.” His voice lowered and threatening. His expression reinforcing that he wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer.
“Threatening me with that gun wasn’t necessary, Agent Solo. Alright, get on board. I’ll have one of my crew stay behind and drive in with your friends.”
“Thank you, and…I apologize,” replied Napoleon.
Again attention was turned to the stretcher to get it loaded and once more a request to wait was voiced. This time by Ismael.
“This will take just a second.” Ishmael, closing his eyes, laid his hand on Illya’s left shoulder and began his prayer.
“Mi Shebeirach avoteinu v’imoteinu,
Avraham, Yitzchak v’Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah,
Rachel v’Lei-ah, hu y’vareich et hacholim.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu yimalei
rachamim aleihem, l’hachalimam ul’rapotam
ul’hachazikam, v’yishlach lahem m’heirah
r’fuah, r’fuah shleimah min hashamayim,
r’fuat hanefesh ur’fuat haguf, hashta
baagala uviz’man kariv. V’nomar: Amen.
May the one who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless and heal those who are ill . May the Blessed Holy One be filled with compassion for their health to be restored and their strength to be revived. May God swiftly send them a complete renewal of body and spirit, and let us say, Amen.
When finished he stepped back. Whispers of “amen” could be heard from both the medical crew but also from those who had gathered around the agents.
“Now get out of here. Get this man to the hospital. And go with God.”
Five hours later, April and Mark walked into the waiting room located across the hall from the surgery suite. Napoleon had just nodded off and didn’t hear them come in. On the table next to him at least a dozen crushed coffee cups lay haphazardly.
April knelt down next to the senior agent. “Napoleon? Napoleon.” She dared not shake him awake although she imagined his reflexes might not be as quick as usual. Or he might be so strung out by worry and caffeine he might be totally on edge and strike out.
He opened his eyes, stretched, and sat up straighter.
“Have you heard anything yet?” Mark asked.
Napoleon shook his head and looked at his watch. “No. His been in there along time, too.”
The double doors to the surgery suite opened. Two orderlies pushed Illya’s gurney toward the recovery room. The head surgeon walked over to Napoleon.
“Your friend is a very lucky man, Mr. Solo. If you had found him a day later he would have been dead, and he is not out of the woods, yet,” he cautioned.
“What are his chances, doctor?” April spoke before the other two did.
“We found the obvious contusions and infected wounds, of course, but he has several broken ribs, both legs are broken, and he has sepsis. We believe that it has been caught in time but we won’t be sure for a couple of days. He’s on a regimen of powerful antibiotics and we will continue to monitor him closely. He is also about fifty pounds underweight, dehydrated, and malnourished which will not help with fighting the sepsis.”
“What are his odds?” asked Napoleon. The worry in his voice spoke for all three of them.
“Right now I would say about fifty fifty. I can tell he’s a fighter and that should work in his favor.”
“Can we see him?”
“Not until he gets out of recovery. He will be assigned to ICU and once the nurses have him settled you can visit one at a time for a few minutes. He needs uninterrupted rest.”
“I’d like to be able to stay with him full time,” Napoleon requested. “ I promise I won’t bother him.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t allow that right now.”
Napoleon retreated before his temper got the best of him. How could they not let him stay with Illya?
Mark grasped the doctor’s elbow and gently pulled him aside. “There’s something you need to know, doctor…”
Napoleon was aware that Mark had conferred with the surgeon, but he couldn’t hear what was said. The doctor came over to him and spoke.
“Your friend explained the situation to me, Mr. Solo. I’ll have a reclining chair brought in, and you can stay as long as you need.
Casting a grateful look in Mark’s direction, Napoleon spoke. “Thank you, doctor.”
“Why don’t the three of you head on up to the fourth floor where you’ll find the ICU waiting room. A nurse will call you in when they have your friend settled in.”
Five days. Five days with no visible signs that Illya was any closer to regaining consciousness. He had only one IV drip which pumped nutrients into his system. He had beat the sepsis, however he just didn’t respond to any external stimuli. Napoleon looked up from the crossword puzzle he was studying. He looked over towards the still pale form lying in bed. “Hey, Illya,” he spoke just to hear the sound of a voice even if it was his own, “what is an eleven letter word for intrepid. It starts with an “L”. He looked back down at the puzzle for a few more minutes.
“Lionhearted,” came a whisper from the bed. “Try ‘lionhearted’, ”Illya repeated though his voice was raspy and barely audible.
“Just like you are, Tovarisch,” Napoleon responded automatically. Then he realized Illya had spoken. Startled, Napoleon looked up to see two slitted blue eyes looking in his direction. “Illya! You’re awake!” he shouted. He pressed the call button.
“So it would seem, Napoleon. Please, must you shout so loudly?”
Nurses and doctors rushed into the room pushing Napoleon out. They hovered over Illya for twenty minutes before declaring him on the mend. One of the nurses called to Napoleon. “You can come back in, Mr. Solo.”
Ten days later, Napoleon wheeled one very impatient agent out of the University of Arizona medical center. His fully casted legs stuck straight out. In his hurry, Napoleon nearly ran Illya into a door.
“Napoleon, slow down, or my legs may end up turned into battering rams and I do not wish to stay in the hospital for one more minute!”
“Sorry, Tovarisch. I just wanted to get you to the airport and on the UNCLE jet quickly so we can get you home.” He did slow down, however, and carefully loaded Illya into the waiting ambulance.
When the ambulance arrived at the hanger for private planes the two agents headed for the Lear Jet. Illya insisted on propelling himself across the concrete floor. He stopped at the Jet’s nose looking up to the UNCLE logo. It felt good to finally be going home.
“Okay, partner, let’s get you loaded onto the jet. The sooner we get on the sooner we can take off.”