To the casual observer it could easily seem as though Napoleon Solo was quite a lackadaisical man. His relaxed posture, and apparent disinterest in what was being said, belied the sharp senses which were taking in everything.
He wasn’t dressed in his usual natty suit, no he needed to look like a local. Covering his head was a weather worn ushanka, his woolen coat had a fur collar, but it was not very good against the chill in the air.
Russian winters could be harsh, that his partner could attest to himself, and it was many’s the time Kuryakin did, like a broken record.
Napoleon was now glad of those reminders as he wore thermal underwear beneath his clothes...Soviet made, of course. That at least made the weather bearable.
It was no wonder Illya was so tough when it came to the cold; anyone growing up with these frigid temperatures had to be. It was survival of the fittest.
Well, at least it wasn’t snowing…
There was nothing on Napoleon’s person to give away the fact that he was American. Even his cigarettes were Soviet made… Belomorkanal, the largest selling brand in the entire Soviet Union. They were different from the type of cigarettes to which Solo was accustomed. These were without a filter and instead were made of hollow cardboard tubes extended by thin cigarette paper tubes with tobacco. The tube served as a disposable cigarette holder.
Napoleon had smoked a couple, but found them extremely strong...it was no wonder so many people here smoked them, not just because they were cheap but because they were probably highly addictive.
He carefully glanced over the top of the ‘Pravda’ newspaper he was pretending to read. It was the official organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union since 1918.
Though he could read Russian quite easily as well as speak it, he had no interest in the headline or the articles contained in it.
Illya had been working with him to improve his accent, making Napoleon sound more like a Moskvich, though he wasn’t perfect, he was passable.
Kuryakin told him that, but refrained from his usual derogatory comment about his French accent. He supposed his partner didn’t want to get him upset. Napoleon knew he needed to concentrate on his Russian language skills.
Up until this point it had been best he kept his mouth shut just in case, and let his Illya do most of the talking, when necessary.
He was watching his partner from across the street, though Kuryakin was in disguise. To anyone who saw the man, they would think him an older gentleman, perhaps in his mid-sixties, with salt and pepper hair as well a long beard.
He wore an old cloth cap on his head, his dark coat was threadbare, but pinned to its lapel was a five-pointed star hanging from a tattered red ribbon. It was a medal for a Hero of the Soviet Union and the highest honorary title that could be given to both Soviet civilians and soldiers for a heroic act.
It was worn as a small semblance of pride for someone who seemed to be down on his luck.
“So much for serving the Soviet people,” Solo thought to himself as people walked by his partner, seemingly paying no attention to his impoverished condition. Still, better Illya was ignored.
Kuryakin stood there, waiting for a particular man to appear, and he was someone who dearly wanted to escape to the west.
The U.N.C.L.E. rarely involved itself with defections in this country, especially since the Soviet Union was a member nation.
That membership was why Kuryakin was a field agent for the Command. In exchange for their operative, the Kremlin would receive intelligence from UNCLE, just as any other member nation would.
It was a tricky situation, given the Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R. especially since UNCLE as an independent organization operated on U.S. soil, having their primary headquarters located in New York City, there were others in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, as well as quite a few field offices throughout the country, as well as around the world.
There was however, no office in the Soviet Union as the Kremlin would not permit any covert entity, friend or foe, to operate within their borders. There were consulates, but those were under heavy surveillance, and always bugged by the Soviets.
Of course there were many foreign agents who’d secreted themselves into the U.S.S.R. Spies, watching spies, watching spies... but nothing official, of course. Those few ever caught used cyanide pills as they couldn’t risk compromising their country. However, there had been some prisoner exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union, but they were kept low key, except for the Francis Gary Powers incident.
The American spy pilot was released by the Soviets in exchange for Soviet Colonel Rudolf Abel, a senior KGB spy who was caught in the United States five years earlier. Along with Powers, an American Frederic L. Pryor, a graduate student who had been detained in East Berlin and had been denounced as a spy by his captors, but never charged with a crime,
This would be a dangerous mission for both Solo and Kuryakin, but more so for the Russian UNCLE agent.
When first offered the assignment Alexander Waverly questioned as to whether Illya could undertake such a task in what was once his home. He was a Soviet citizen after all.
Kuryakin’s calm reply was, “I go and I do whatever I am told.”
That settled that...
Illya and Napoleon were now waiting on a Moscow street to meet with a Soviet scientist who desperately wanted to escape.
His wish was to defect to the west as his wife and daughter where there, having escaped from East Berlin to West Berlin just as the Wall was closed; from there they managed to get to France and they’d been waiting in Paris for him for a several years.
The scientist, Doctor Arkady Voronin was considered a flight risk and for that reason he was being closely watched by the KGB.
The man, in his sixties, was involved in developing a new kind of biological warfare, though he was of course, doing his work under duress.The project he was involved in was experimenting with some very dangerous radioactive spores that could potentially alter life, and create horrible, irreversible mutations. That’s when he knew he had to get away, but there were threats made, putting the lives of his wife and daughter in danger as well as his own life.
The America President John F. Kennedy had given a speech before the United Nations in which he roughly said that “Every man, woman and child lived under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by a slender thread of horsehair, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.”
The Soviet scientist realized that he was existing under his own personal Sword of Damocles as the threat to kill he and his family was very real. Even though his wife and child were free, he knew that blade would fall if he refused to continue his work.
Voronin came from around the corner, there Illya spotted him immediately and approached him with his arms open wide.
“Arkady Ivanovich!” Illya called out. ” Eto ya, Gregori, moy staryy drug .” (It is me Gregory, my old friend)
“Gregori Mikhailovich Dmitriyev!” That was the password given to Voronin to use when he heard his name called by a man named Gregori.
Both men embraced like long lost brothers though neither had ever met before.
“ Come Arkady, let us have tea and talk of old times!” Illya said.
“Da, da! Tea would be good Grisha.”
Together they walked along the sidewalk, moving towards a nearby café, Napoleon moved as well but remained on the other side of the street.
He immediately spotted the tail following Voronin as the man was none too subtle in the way he looked. He had a fedora on his head that members of the KGB seemed to favor, and he was wearing a black trenchcoat, looking very threatening, which was the whole idea. Sow the seeds of fear among the people in order to help control them.
Napoleon quickly crossed the street, cutting the agent off in order to give Illya enough time to get to where he and the doctor were going without being seen.
“U vas yest' tovarishch matcha?” He held out a cigarette to the agent, being mindful of his accent as he slurred his speech.
“Nyet, out of my way.”
“Well maybe you could direct me to where I could get some matches. I really need a smoke.” Napoleon was relieved as his Russian had passed the test.
It was obvious that he reeked of alcohol; Solo wasn’t drunk at all, instead he’d splattered generous amounts of liquor on his coat, though he did take a couple of swigs before getting rid of the bottle.
“Get out of my way you drunken fool before I have you arrested for public intoxication and interfering with government business!” He flashed an enamelled KGB badge.
“Beg pardon tovarisch, please forgive my mistake. My apologies.” Napoleon changed the tone of his voice, making it sound more timid as he groveled. He backed off, practically bowing to the man.
The agent pushed past Solo, but the delay was just long enough for him to have lost Voronin and his friend. He ran, looking every which way, trying to spot them, but they were gone.
And so was Napoleon as he ducked into the café, seating himself and burying his face behind the opened newspaper.
Illya and Arkady dashed into a doorway down the street, as Kuryakin led the man to a basement, then through another door which took them to a dimly lit chilled passage.
They followed it, hearing only the sounds of their footsteps until they came to another basement, then more stairs. They hastily climbed those, went through another door and that put them inside the back room of clothier, located on the next block.
There he finally introduced himself, while catching his breath, “ Ya Agent Illya Kuryakin... of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.”
“I was unaware that the U.N.C.L.E. had a Russian in its ranks,” Voronin said as the two spoke in their native language.
Kuryakin snickered,” I was the sacrificial lamb, a gift from the Kremlin to the Command. I was not expected to survive my first year.”
“ And so you have. I take it you are no longer loyal to U.S.S.R.”
“Not really, though I will always be a true son of Mother Russia. I am afraid Soviet government has beaten her down.”
“I agree with that tovarisch, ” Voronin smiled.
They were quickly ushered into another room after Illya flashed his UNCLE identification. There several individuals were waiting for them. It was an underground waystation of sorts, helping those who wished to defect.
Illya knew what he was getting into with this assignment, knowing it was quite illegal; if caught, he would be executed as a traitor and most likely Voronin as well.
He felt somewhat guilty at first, thinking he was truly betraying his country, yet at the same time he knew the Soviet Union, in essence, betrayed him when they gave him up to the U.N.C.L.E. like he was nothing more than yesterday's trash. To them, he wasn't worth keeping.
Kuryakin was a good agent with GRU, though definitely green, and though he did nothing wrong, they used him as sort of a scapegoat. His superiors at the GRU thought he’d never survive with the Command. They were quite wrong in their presumption and in the end it was to Illya's benefit that he became an agent of the U.N.C.L.E.
After a time he was then approached by the KGB, asking him to spy for them. When he refused, he became a marked man to them as they felt he was indeed a traitor.
That was what made this assignment all the more dangerous for him, yet he still accepted it. He’d given his loyalty to the Command and he was no longer beholding to the Kremlin. That was how he felt.
Yet if they recalled him in the event of war, which nearly happened during the Cuban Missile crisis, he knew he’d have to go. That was something he’d worry about if and when the time came.
He still loved Russia, but not what it had become. He could see that now that he was detached from it, on the outside looking in and he didn’t like what he saw.
Removing his disguise, Illya and the others set about changing the look of Voronin. A different style for his hair, darkening it as well until it looked more black. The finishing touches were a false moustache, a set of false teeth that make him look a little buck toothed, and lastly a pair of dark rimmed glasses.
He was dressed in a good quality double breasted grey suit and photographed for a diplomatic passport.
Voronin, the once grey haired man, looked years younger as he became Sir Robert Fitzwalter, a member of the British aristocracy visiting Moscow.
"Now you look more like a raven," Illya nodded, referring to the man's last name that meant 'raven' in Russian.
Illya was now looking very much like himself, though a blond moustache and goatee were added. His identification papers indicated he was Iain McCallum, assistant to Sir Robert. His role was that of an underling at the man’s beck and call; it was a part to which Illya was accustomed, though for once he wasn’t acting as a manservant to Napoleon.
Voronin could speak English but it was heavily accented, and to counter that problem, he was given a fake scar on his throat to look like he’d been injured. A bandage was wrapped around it.
Illya would speak for him, using a Scottish accent of course, saying Sir Robert was unable to talk because of his injury.
A short while later Napoleon arrived, and he immediately introduced himself, shaking Voronin’s hand.
“Solo, Napoleon Solo. Mister Kuryakin is my partner in crime and we’ll both be getting you safely out of Russia and to Paris where your wife and daughter are waiting for you. Once there, you can discuss your next move with them. The United States is willing to give you and your family refugee status, as is Great Britain.”
“ Spasibo, Mister Solo .” Voronin’s accent was quite thick. “I am lookink forward to rrrejoining my familee..”
Sergei, the leader of the group brought out another suit for Napoleon and he too was photographed for a new identity.
It would be safer than repeating the identity he used to get in, that of an East German low-level functionary.
He was now Tristan Charbonnier, a French-Canadian raconteur, ladies man and bon vivant travelling with Sir Robert. It was a cover that suited Napoleon Solo perfectly, especially since Illya always complained about his French accent.
Given Napoleon grew up speaking Quebecois, taught to him by his mother as she was French-Canadian with roots in Quebec; that finally settled the issue of his French accent.
Most French-speaking North Americans are able to switch from their more informal speech and slang to a more formal, standard, or international French without a problem when speaking to European-French people, though the accent was a giveaway. It took a visit to Quebec for Illya to finally understand that, and at last the accent comments ceased.
To cement their identities, they’d pay a visit to the new British consulate in Moscow, knowing it was bugged. Illya and Napoleon would discuss Sir Robert’s injury, stating that he needed to return home for further medical treatment.
Voronin would have to remain completely silent for the duration, until they made it out of the Soviet Union.
Wearing high end overcoats from Harrods in London, they left their location, getting into a Pobeda parked in front of the waystation; Illya climbed into the cramped driver’s seat and drove them to the consulate.
The car was stopped at the gate as their identities were verified by the guards, after which they were granted entry.
Voronin was greeted by the Ambassador himself, again as if they knew each other and were old friends. The British had been briefed on the operation and knew what to do.
“Sir Robert, how are you feeling? I heard about your little accident.”
“Yes sir,” Illya interjected.” We cannae be tew careful when travelling, but still it was a freak accident in the hotel. Sir Robert tripped, breaking a glass vase, when he fell, he landed right ona shard that pierced his threwt. Och, it was a bloody mess.”
“Mais oui, it was ‘orrible,” Napoleon interjected.
They each stuck to their cover identities, knowing full well the consulate was bugged.
“Well we’ll jolly well have you on your way back to England. You’ll be joining them, Monsieur Charbonnier ?”
“Mais bien sûr ...but of course.”Napoleon switched to English
“In the meantime, we have a meal waiting for you before you leave. My chef has prepared Beef Wellington. Are you familiar with it Monsieur Charbonnier ?”
Napoleon was, though he doubted Voronin had ever eaten it, so he pretended not to have heard of it.
“No I am not, Monsieur l'ambassadeur.”
“That is surprising...well, Beef Wellington is fillet steak coated with pâté de foie gras and duxelles, which is then wrapped in parma ham, puff pastry and baked.”
“Oh, then it is similar to the French filet de bœuf en croûte which is a fillet of beef in pastry. Mon Dieu , it is quite delicious; I am growing hungry just speaking of it.”
They segued to the dining room, where an elegant table was set for the four of them.
The first course was soup, followed by the main course of Beef Wellington served with Brussel sprouts, baby carrots and dauphinoise potatoes. They all ate heartily, especially Illya.
It had been a while since he’d had Beef Wellington and it was one of his favorite meals while he was stationed in London as a Section III agent. Harry Beldon was known for setting quite a table when it came to dining, and Illya being his protegé joined him for his meals on many’s the occasion.
Cherries Jubilee was the final course, for pudding, as the British would say; it was prepared with cherries and Kirschwasser liqueur which was subsequently flambéed and served as a sauce over vanilla ice cream.
Illya of course had several helpings, much to the Ambassador’s amusement.
“You have quite a healthy appetite Mister McCallum, yet you are obviously quite a fit person.”
“It runs in the family, och mah brother David is the same. Cannae keep a McCallum down when it comes tew food.” He winked, looking at Napoleon who was trying to hide his smile.
After dinner, coffee and tea were served with Scottish shortbread to nibble on. This was followed by drinks in the study, where the ambassador offered them cigars as well. Napoleon and Illya declined both, though Voronin welcomed a brandy to calm his nerves.
They made small talk, mostly about the weather. Napoleon made a point of saying that Moscow was an interesting city.
“Saint Basil’s Cathedral was magnifique, as was Red Square. I was saddened to not visit Lenin’s tomb, to pay the homage.”
“Are you a Communist, Monsieur Charbonnier?”
“Let me say that I have an interest in it Monsieur l'ambassadeur,” Napoleon smiled. That would make the eavesdroppers happy.
Illya, upon hearing it, scowled at his partner. Using the hand signals he and Solo had developed, he chastised Napoleon.
“Too much information. They might check security tapes, looking for you in Red Square.”
Napoleon signalled back,”Sorry, didn’t think of that.”
It was finally time to leave, and a diplomatic car was waiting to take them to the airport.
The airport, that would be the most dangerous part, as surely the secret police were on the alert, searching for Voronin.
The black Mercedes displayed small British flags, each held to the front fenders by a magnetic base.
The car drove past the Consulate gates, this time Illya wasn’t at the wheel as it was one of the Brit’s security people doing the driving.
Napoleon turned, seeing a dark sedan pull out behind them. “I think we have a tail. Looks like a GAZ-23 Volga. It has to be the KGB.
That vehicle was designed specially for the KGB and the secret services. It was was no surprise they had the tail as the secret police monitored the comings and goings of any consulate in Moscow.
"There is a dark urban legend about the Black Volga," Illya said," circulated in Poland and Hungary. Supposedly bloody KGB, priests, monks, satanists, vampires and the devil himself drove this car, kidnapped small children and sold their organs to rich Westerners and Arabs."
"Thanks for that bit of cheerfulness,"Napoleon said. He instructed the chauffeur to just drive normally.
They made it to the airport without incident and seemingly traded off one tail for another. Two agents in black trench coats stood nearby, their presence was quite obvious.
Sir Robert and his assistant stepped up to the counter to present their documentation.
“Your papers,” the clerk held out his hand.
Illya handed him their passports and diplomatic credentials.
Kuryakin immediately spoke up, telling the man that Sir Robert couldn’t speak…
“Wait your turn sir.”
“Beg pardon, but I am Ian McCallum assistant tew Sir Robert Fitzwalter. He suffered an accident which has left him unable tew speak so I must speak for him.”
He pointed to Voronin’s bandaged throat.
“Uncover wound.” The man was direct and to the point.
After some protest Kuryakin unwrapped the bandage around Voronin’s throat and watched as the security agent leaned forward, taking a closer look at it.
Illya held his breath until the agent instructed him to cover the injury.
He was quite proud of the makeup job, thinking it was one of the best he’d ever done.
Next the agent looked over Illya’s documents before finally stamping both passports.
“ Udachnoy poyezdki.”
“Och, I dinnae ken what yew said laddie. I dinnae speak your language.” Illya knew the agent was trying to trip him up.
“I say haf a good trip.”
“Thank yew,” Illya nodded as he gathered up their papers. He and Voronin walked to the gate.
Napoleon was the next to step up to the counter, and he immediately handed over his travel documents.
“Monsieur Charbonnier, ” the agent spoke French,” Did you enjoy your visit to Moscow?”
“Oui, very much so.”
His papers were quickly processed and just when Napoleon thought he was home free, two security agents dressed in black trench coats and fedoras stepped up on either side of him.
“If you would please accompany us sir. We have some questions.”
Illya glanced back, seeing his partner’s predicament, but there was nothing he could do. Voronin’s safety had to take priority.
He instructed the man to board the plane but waited by the gate, hoping against hope that Solo would be coming soon.
Luckily flights from Moscow were notorious for not departing on time, as for some reason booked passengers always seemed to be running late, whether they were Soviets or not.
A reasonable about of time would pass, waiting for them to arrive, and once they were definitely a no show, the flight would finally take off.
Napoleon was brought to a featureless room with no windows. There was only a buzzing fluorescent light that flickered intermittently.
It was furnished with only a grey metal table and two chairs. There was a desk lamp on the table, no doubt to shine into his eyes, and prevent him from looking at the interrogator. It was very old school.
He was handcuffed to the chair then left sitting alone with his back to the door.
Napoleon was familiar enough with interrogation techniques and was sure leaving him alone was to give him time to develop a sense of nervousness, making him sweat in anticipation, wondering what was to come.
He was however, not nervous at all. Napoleon was cool, calm and collected and remained focused on his cover identity.
The door finally opened as one of the agents entered, sitting in the chair opposite him, without saying a word he turned on the light, shining it in Solo’s eyes.
“ Monsieur Charbonnier ...if that is your real name?”
“It certainly is. My full name is Tristan François Dejardins-Charbonnier ."
"Your accent is not right. I think you are not French."
Napoleon switched to English, "I was born and raised in the city of Quebec in Canada. I speak quebecois, which is slightly different from the language of France but is still understandable to a Frenchman.
"Your parents are Marcel and Lily?”
“Oui, but sadly they are dead.”
“And your sister?”
“I have no sister as I am an only child.”
“What was your business here in Moscow?”
“I was merely travelling with my friend and ‘is assistant, nothing more. We weren’t ‘ere long enough to see any sights, since Sir Robert suffered 'is unfortunate injury."
“You recently claimed to have visited Red Square as well as St. Basil’s Cathedral.”
“Bingo,” Napoleon thought. He mentally chastised himself for slipping up. He'd broken a basic rule, never give out too much information; it was a rookie mistake.
“Ow would you know that Monsieur?”
“You in fact did not. Where did you go?”
Napoleon forced himself to blush.”Tsk. No I was not there, I was ‘ow you say, at an ‘ouse of ill repute.”
“You were at whore house?”
“I was trying to be a bit more delicate Monsieur.”
“What was woman’s name?”
“Oh Monsieur one does not exchange such pleasantries when doing the … tsk, dance of love. The body communicates what the voice cannot speak since I do not know your language. When one has the itch, it must be scratched... n’est ce-pas? Do you not ‘ave a girlfriend or a wife for such needs?”
“I am asking questions, not you. Describe woman you were with.”
“She was blonde, and very well built. Alors , that is all I can tell you. Could you possibly close the light Monsieur , it is ‘urting my eyes.”
Of course the light remained on..
“I am unsure as to why I am ‘ere, but would it ‘elp knowing that I am one of you... un communiste.”
"That remains to be seen Monsieur Charbonnier."
He gave them the address of a whore house he knew of in Moscow; Napoleon was sure that half the women there would probably fit the description of the one he said he was with. It was one of those places that seemed to be overlooked by the state security, as it was probably frequented by their own people.
Napoleon was left alone for what seemed like a long time. He couldn’t look at his watch as that was the wrist handcuffed to the chair. He was convinced that he’d missed his flight at this point.
No apologies or explanations, free to go just like that. Napoleon was sure it was the Solo luck again, but it made him wonder when the day would come when that luck would run out.
He was returned to the terminal and there he saw Illya waiting at the gate; the flight still hadn’t left.
Giving a slight whistle, he cocked his eyebrows as he approached his partner.
“Thank God for Soviet inefficiency, “he thought to himself.
He joined Illya in boarding the plane but said nothing. Other than a little chit chat about the weather in London, Solo and Kuryakin were pretty quiet. Unfortunately Voronin was forced to remain silent for the duration of the four hour flight as they couldn’t be sure there wasn’t a KGB agent or two on board.
They landed at Heathrow Airport and went through customs without any trouble, and as they exited the gate they spotted a man holding a sign that read Fitzwalter/McCallum; it was none other than Mark Slate.
They quickly followed him to the limo and as Mark sat in the driver’s seat, they headed out for headquarters.
“Doctor Voronin, this is Mark Slate, another agent,”
“I must say,” Voronin spoke at last, with his heavy accent.”You gentlemen haf’ done vonderful job gettink me out of Soviet Union. I vill be forever gretful. I am lookink forward to seeink my family in Paris.”
“About that,” Mark said.”Change of plans. Your family is being brought here from Paris.”
“Why wasn’t I told?” Napoleon asked.
“Haven’t a clue mate: Old Man’s orders.”
Napoleon opened his communicator, setting it up with a practiced hand.
“Open Channel D- overseas relay.”
“Yes Mister Solo, I take it you have arrived with the package?”
“Yes sir, now about the change in plans?”
“Yes quite. Madame Voronina and Roksana are being brought to London as a precaution. Since the KGB are aware their Paris location, I thought it advisable to get them out of France immediately. Of course they’re in disguise and are traveling under false papers. I want you and Mister Kuryakin to remain with the doctor until he is reunited with his family. Help them acclimate as it were. Give him about a week to make his decision as to where they will emigrate. Both MI6 and the CIA will need to be notified, regardless of his decision. Once he’s made up his mind, he and his family will be out of our hands and they’ll be handed over to the security of the host country.”
“Yes sir,” Napoleon looked to his partner who was listening in.
“Everything you need to know is awaiting you at London headquarters. Waverly out.”
Once arriving at the location of headquarters, the entrance to which was hidden in the back room of a used book store; a special book shelf slowly swung open, just the way the wall in the dressing room in New York headquarters did.
There the reception area was revealed where they received their security badges and proceeded down the grey corridors, much the same as in other UNCLE locations.
It was a relief to both Illya and Napoleon to no longer deal with Harry Beldon as he’d transferred to the station in West Berlin.They’d had their fill of Harry, his agenda, his hedonistic ways, and womanizing.
Even Napoleon knew where to draw the line when it came to women, but apparently Beldon did not, or he just didn’t care. He had liaisons with them in his office, and blatantly travelled with a woman on each of his arms, some of whom were married.
It still amazed Illya how the man maintained being a successful agent in spite of personal habits.
As they entered the office of Arthur Kent, the new man in charge, Napoleon and Illya were starkly aware of the change. Gone was the old European decor, gaudy Greco-Roman statues as well as the large palm and fern plants. The velvet divan was gone as well, though the steam room still seemed to be there.
The decor was back to the norm, stark and functional and grey.
After meeting with Kent, Voronin was settled into guest quarters. He was to remain there, with his meals brought up to him.
The less exposure he had to headquarters, the better it would be. One never knew if he were really some sort of double or triple agent.
THRUSH could have gotten their claws into him before the U.N.C.L.E. was called in to expedite his escape from Moscow. He could still be a Russian agent as well, but that would be up to the CIA or MI6 to discern. It was merely UNCLE’s job to deliver him to one or the other.
After discussing that possibility once alone with Napoleon, Illya regretted the comments he made about no longer being loyal the the U.S.S.R. as well as his feelings about the government. That was a big mistake, and he berated himself for being so foolish. He would make sure he did not do that again, especially since he had another week dealing with Voronin and his family. The man could indeed be an agent, and now he knew of Illya’s lack of loyalty to his Soviet masters.
Napoleon brought up his rookie mistake about saying he'd been at Red Square as well as the fact that he lucked out on getting away with his lie to the Russian security back at the airport.
“We cannot rely on luck my friend,”Illya said,”one day it will run out.”
“I was just thinking the same thing,” Solo nodded.
Napoleon and Illya were finally back to wearing their own familiar style clothing, at least no disguises were needed now.
They decided to take a break and head out for a meal at what better place than the Star Tavern just off of Belgrave Square, as the food was decent and the beer selection good.
The pub was surrounded by cottages that were originally stables belonging to nearby houses whose staff and servants the pub served. The exterior of the building with its stained glass star windows was very picturesque.
Little did people know this quaint tavern was a spot frequented by both criminal and spy alike, mainly because it was considered neutral territory by all.
They scanned the room, taking note there was no one present who they recognized. Although they were surprised not to see John Drake as this was one of his regular haunts.
They ordered a couple of beers and meat pies, as well as a large order of chips. Illya was hungrier than usual as the meal on the four hour flight from Moscow was a bit spartan for a man with his appetite.
A second round of stout was ordered after their food arrived, and just as Illya dug into the meat pie, a familiar voice greeted Napoleon.
“Darling, what in heaven’s name are you doing here? I thought you and your little friend were playing in Moscow?”
“Angelique,” Napoleon nodded as she pulled over a chair beside him.
“And what makes you think we were in Russia?” Illya asked.
“I wasn’t speaking to you. Go on, continue stuffing food in your face like the pig that you are.”
Kuryakin’s nostrils flared as he pushed his food aside.
“I think I have lost my appetite, there is an odd stench in the air. Smells like a dirty wet dog to me.”
The insult wasn’t lost on Angelique, but she ignored him. Illya stood, relocating with his beer to another table where he could keep an eye on her.
“So darling, before I was so rudely interrupted…”
“Angelique, I really don’t have time for your games, though I would love to, but you see my partner and I are on our way back to New York. Now if you’re there anytime in the near future, maybe we can get together.”
“I understand dearest, I’m guess I’m just no longer high on your list of priorities, is that it?” Angelique pouted as she leaned in as if she were going to give him a peck on the cheek.
Instead she whispered in his ear. “I really need to see you, it’s about Voronin.”
Napoleon smiled as he nibbled on her earlobe. “Hmm, sounds enticing.”
“Meet me in an hour at my hotel. I’m staying at the Imperial,”she whispered, pressing a key into his hand.
“Abiento, darling.” She left with a rustling of fur as she gathered her mink coat around herself.
As soon as she was gone Illya returned to the table.
“Please do not tell me you are going to see her Napoleon?”
“She knew about Moscow and Voronin, and has something else to tell me about him. I’m meeting her at the Imperial in an hour.”
“Oh goody, a THRUSH seductress wants to help us, how innocent an offer is that?”
“Illya, it's not what you assume.”
“Oh really? You think you can keep it in your pants once you are alone with her?”
“I can and will. You can come with me to the hotel and wait right outside her door and listen if you want.”
“And I will as you need backup, just in case."
Illya appetite suddenly returned and he dug into the rest of the meat pie. “Twenty dollars you do not succeed in keeping your word.”
“You’re on,” Napoleon smiled.
They arrived at the International hotel and Napoleon along with Illya took the elevator to the penthouse suite. Apparently Angelique had the best accommodations.
“UNCLE would never flit the bill for this,”Napoleon said.
“Does not matter that we end up in fleabags while THRUSH basks in bourgeois comfort,”Illya whispered,”We are the good guys and the bad guys will pay for their decadence and their misdeeds...eventually.”
“Thank you Professor Kuryakin for that brilliant summation,”Napoleon said.
“That is Doctor Kuryakin; must I remind you that I do hold a Phd.”
Napoleon rolled his eyes as he knocked on Angelique’s door. Illya, as a precaution, took a few steps back to remain out of view.
Solo turned the key, opening the door slightly to announce his presence just in case she thought it was someone else that she might be ready to shoot.
“Come in darling,” Angelique purred.
She was standing there wearing nothing but a sheer negligee and holding two martini glasses in her hands.
He couldn’t help but stare at her gorgeous body, but he took a deep breath and stepped towards her.
Accepting the drink from her, they raised their glasses in a toast, then at the last second he switched glasses with her.
“I’m disappointed you don’t trust me dearest.”
“That is a discussion for another time, now what do you need to tell me about Voronin?”
“Not even a kiss hello?” She pouted.
Napoleon took their glasses and set them aside, and turned to her, taking her in his arms he kissed her, long and hard.
His hands drifted along her body, but then he stopped himself and took a step back from her.
“Tell me about Voronin?” He repeated himself.
“Oh fine, have it your way. Arkady Voronin is who you think he is, but his wife and child are not, that's the ones coming from Paris. The Stasi are holding his real family back in East Berlin. Voronin has been ordered to spy on the United States, as that is the country he has been told to choose.”
“And you know this how? Solo’s brow furrowed with interest.
“One of my little birdies told me. I can anticipate your next question, but the answer comes with a price…”
She removed her negligee and stood there naked in front of him.
“Angelique, would that I had time to make love to you but…”
“No buts, otherwise you do not get …”
Napoleon took her in his arms, kissing her as he lifted her up and carried her to her spacious bed. Of course one thing led to another, and he lost his bet with Illya, but it was worth it on so many levels.
Their love making finished; she gave him the rest of the intelligence.
“The wife in Paris is his handler, she and the daughter are both KGB. Voronin is to give her any top secret information he can glean from the Americans. If he does not cooperate, then his real wife and daughter will be executed, as will he.”
Napoleon gave her one last kiss and thanked her. Though he asked her another question, “Why?”
“Oh darling, let’s just say it’s a tiny favor from one friend to another but one you will owe me sometime in the future.”
“Do I have a choice in the matter?” He asked as he dressed himself.
“Then I guess I’ll have to take a chance it won’t be too much of a favor.”
“Oh and tell that wearisome partner of yours that I don’t like being eavesdropped upon when I’m making love.”
“I think he heard you.” Napoleon gave her a little wave goodbye before exiting her room.
There was his partner leaning against the wall with his arms crossed in front of himself. Without saying a word, he held out a hand.
“You owe me twenty dollars.”
Napoleon grimaced. I really thought I could do it, but Illya...she's is irresistible. She had on this sheer negligee...
“Enough said! "Illya held up a hand in protest. "I would not touch her if she were Queen of all the Russias, now pay up.”
Solo cringed, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”
“What exactly is that rubbish? One of your ridiculous Americanisms?"
Napoleon sighed .”It means that I don’t have the money and will have to owe you.”
“Why did you not just say so?”
“I did, but you obviously didn’t get it.”
“Tsk, what I said about gladly paying you Tuesday…”
Illya cocked his head as they entered the elevator.“And what exactly is the source of this saying.”
“It’s from a Popeye cartoon.”
“I like cartoons. Is that the one with the strange creature that says nothing but the word ‘jeep’?”
Illya shrugged, as he always did, putting an end the the conversation.
They returned to headquarters and after speaking with Voronin, they got the truth out of him. He said the women in Paris were not his family and would be his handlers. He was unsure where his real family was being held, but they had been indeed threatened if he didn't go through with the KGB's plan. That confirmed Angelique was telling the truth.
Napoleon immediately reported the information to both Kent and Waverly via a video conference call.
Though when asked about the source of the information, Solo declined to reveal it but said it was reliable and had been verified once Voronin had been pressed for the truth.
The Old Man huffed. “Very well Mister Solo. You are to stay with Voronin. The women from Paris are en route to London as we speak; it will be your task to interrogate them and verify they are indeed Russian agents. Mister Kuryakin, you are to head to West Berlin where you will receive your instructions from Harry Beldin. I will be your job to extricate the real Madame Voronina and her daughter Roksana.”
“Yes sir,” the partners responded at the same time.
As they left the conference room together Napoleon noted an immediate change in his partner’s demeanor.
“I am not thrilled to have to deal with Harry again.”
“I get you tovarisch. Just let it slide, he’s not your boss anymore.”
Illya Kuryakin entered West Berlin headquarters and as he walked through its cold grey halls, he still admired the efficient appearance no matter how many times he saw it; he supposed that was due to his Soviet upbringing where minimalism was a way of life for him.
In stark contrast, the office of his former mentor, Harry Beldon, was filled yet again with nothing but gauche and bourgeois trappings just the way his office had been in London.
Not that his one-time superior in the Soviet Union didn’t have a few decadent belongings of his own in his office; it seemed that with power came the desire for valuable and expensive possessions, things that working masses back home were barred from having.
That double standard never sat well with Kuryakin, not that he desired any of those ridiculous trappings but still, wasn’t everything supposed to available to the people, and not just to those in charge?
In Moskva alone there were food shortages, a lack of basic needs for the general population and so much more, while the children of privilege enjoyed shopping for expensive and unique toys in the store, Detsky Mir.
Harry’s office here in West Berlin was filled with more than a few decadent belongings, perhaps more antiques, Grecian statues, oil paintings. Oversized ferns, dracena and umbrella trees surrounded the ostentatious furnishings than had been brought in from London. In front of the windows hung heavy curtains that resembled tapestries, pulled back to let the light shine inside.
Beldon never hesitated to state that he liked what he called the ‘better things in life,’ and flaunted them. Even his clothing was ostentatious.
As soon as Illya entered the office he was yet again subjected to the sight of Beldon stepping from his personal steam room that adjoined it; he’d basically replicated his office in London all over again but perhaps moreso.
Kuryakin knew things of an inappropriate nature went on in there with Beldon’s lady friends, while Illya and the rest of the staff had no choice but to turn a blind eye to it all back then, and from the look of things he presumed the same nonsense was taking place. An old leopard like Harry could never change his spots.
“Would you care for a steam?” Harry asked “I could use a bit more as last evening ...well it was very social.”
As usual Illya declined with a shake of his head
Harry tightened the belt of his fur lined burgundy robe, and draped himself across the golden silk divan, as aways after exiting the steam room, but not before grabbing his cut glass decanter as well as a glass and poured himself a brandy.
He offered the decanter to the blond agent and Kuryakin refused. Even if it had been vodka Illya would still have turned it down.
“You really must learn to relax. How many times did I remind you of that in London, yet you never listened. Illya, Illya, you are not in the Soviet Union anymore,” Harry droned.
It was a ritual of which the Russian transplant to UNCLE was finding still most tiresome.
“Harry we have a mission to discuss.” Illya deadpanned.
“As usual, right down to business,” Harry laughed.“I see Waverly has not improved your disposition. Where is that American partner of yours, off whoring I suppose?”
“Please keep such comments to yourself.” Though Illya instantly thought of the saying about a ‘pot calling the kettle black’.
“My my, a bit touchy aren’t we? Very well, Comrade Kuryakin, will you at least be seated while we discuss the intelligence I’ve gotten for you.”
Illya pulled up a chair, ignoring the fact that Harry was wearing nothing but his birthday suit beneath that robe.
“We have managed to discern that Madam Voronina and her daughter Roksana are definitely in East Berlin. Though their exact location is still unclear at the moment.
Illya gave no reaction to the information and his face remained unreadable.
Harry took note of that. “May I remind you that during our first meeting in London, you told me that the KGB was incensed at the deal the GRU made with UNCLE, and that you were now a marked man with them. Going to East Berlin is going to be quite dangerous for you as it’s crawling with KGB, and lest we not forget the Stasi.”
“May I also remind you my dear Harry that as a member of the covert world, risk is implied. Though my task is now to help maintain world peace and safety through the UNCLE; I am no longer a pawn of the Kremlin.”
Harry cocked his eyebrows at that remark. His one time protegé seemed to finally grow a pair and they were seemingly made of brass.
“I am accustomed to dealing with internal military intelligence issues as a GRU agent, that will give me an advantage on this assignment and as you know, I am very familiar with East Berlin.”
“Still you are no longer with the GRU,” Harry practically sneered at him as if he wanted him to fail.
Illya ignored the condescending manner in which Beldon spoke to him.
“I am still a member of GRU though I am technically inactive, but only my former superiors know that, and KGB. As far as anyone else knows, I am still a functioning agent for the Soviet Union.”
Illya finally sat down in the highback red velvet chair in front of Harry’s desk.
“I should be able to move relatively at ease in extracting Madam Voronina and her daughter. I foresee no problems as long as I can get in and get out quickly."
“That’s much better.” Beldon rose from the divan and went to his desk where he picked up a folder and tossed it to Illya. “Just in case, I’ve decided you will be working with another agent, since two heads are better than one.”
“Waverly has cleared this?”
“Of course.” Beldon handed Illya a black and white photo of a young man, looking like he was in his early thirties. He was clean shaven, with dark hair, but his features were plain and unremarkable. Wearing a pair of heavy dark rimmed eyeglasses, he looked like a bit of a bookworm.
They were the same as Kuryakin’s glasses and for a moment he wondered if they made him look rather bookish as well. Harry wore a similar style, though they did not make him look scholarly at all. With his bald pate and his garish attire, he resembled a character out of Hollywood.
“His name is John Rankin and he’s an MI6’s agent embedded in East Berlin for the last two years. He goes by the cover name Wulf Ullrich.”
“So I am to infiltrate East Berlin, avoiding the Stasi, KGB and anyone else while being weighed down by an MI6 operative? I will work better alone.”
“You’ll need to learn to cooperate Illya as Rankin has a good handle on East Berlin.”
“As do I.” Illya’s tone was rather insistent.
“Nevertheless, you will be working with him. This is a bit of interagency cooperation, and I do emphasize cooperation, understood?”
“Yes, if that is what Mister Waverly wishes,” Illya huffed his deliberate slight to Beldon. He wasn’t happy but an assignment was an assignment.
Kuryakin’s crossing at the American checkpoint Charlie was easy. There he flashed his UNCLE identification. All he did was show his Soviet credentials once at the East German side along with his GRU badge and he was waved along without incident.
They were genuine credentials and it wasn’t like he was on any watch list at the moment. He was in good standing with GRU, and it was just KGB who held his position with the UNCLE against him, that and his not being willing to spy for them.
Luckily for Illya no phone call to a superior had been made at the checkpoint. If it had been, they could have contacted GRU or KGB who would have informed them that he was no longer an active agent and worked with a foreign entity called the U.N.C.L.E. Such a discovery would have had him end up in prison, or worse.
Still to be on the safe side he made sure he wasn’t followed, and dallying a bit while wandering the streets of the city helped.
Finally he was able to duck into a butcher’s shop, and showing his GRU credentials, of course the employees blanched, most likely thinking they were in trouble.
Illya assured them he was looking for someone else. He went behind the counter, making a mental note how little meat there actually was available for sale. He went through the kitchen, out the back door to an alley leading to the next street where he was able to disappear again.
He was confident he hadn’t been followed, but it was better to be on the safe side. Illya made it to the rendezvous point on time, but after waiting well after the time he and Rankin were supposed to meet, Kuryakiin became incensed; the man never showed.
He doubled back, heading to his hotel as the arrangement for it had been done ahead of time. Again he watched that he wasn’t followed.
With a weary hand Kuryakin opened the door to his seedy room located not far from the Berlin wall.
Once inside he immediately locked the door and grabbing a wooden chair, he wedged the back beneath the knob. Not that it would do much good; if someone really wanted to break in, they could.
The wallpaper was yellowed and bits of it were peeling from the walls, the wood trim and windowsill, along with the inside of the door seemed to have layer upon layer of brown paint that was cracked with age. The curtains hanging across the window were as yellowed with age as the wallpaper.
The bathroom was in much better shape than the rest of the place. The white tile was fairly clean, though the grout could have used a good scrubbing.
Thankfully the toilet and bathtub were clean.
Illya walked back and removing his coat, he tossed it on the small bed that was against one of the walls. There was little else in the way of furniture except for a wooden table with two chairs, that was about it.
He suddenly cocked his head as he heard it, a creaking floorboard outside his room.
Kuryakin immediately moved to the side of the door, his Tokarev drawn.
There was no way to be one hundred percent sure he hadn’t been followed, he was after all in East Berlin where anyone you bumped into on the streets could be an informant who called in their report of an unfamiliar man in the vicinity.
Illya supposed his wearing all black, including his trench coat might have made him look a bit obvious. He would have to change to more street worthy, nondescript clothing he’d brought with him once he dealt with this unwanted visitor.
It couldn’t be Rankin as he hadn’t reported his location to anyone.
The doorknob jiggled, and obviously someone had a key as Illya heard it being inserted into the lock, followed by a click.
The door opened slowly, and not hesitating Illya lashed out, smashing the butt of his gun into the face of what was obviously a Stasi agent.
There was no doubt in the Russian’s mind that’s what he was as the man sported their typical crew cut hairstyle. No need for them to be clandestine as people knew the secret police were everywhere. He was dressed in everyday street clothes, no trench coat or uniform. Even the Stasi could be a little clandestine.
They were constantly collecting information on as many people as possible through interrogation, phone taps and informants. So many citizens were signed up to report on their friends, neighbors and family members thinking that would be a way to protect themselves. Which meant, of course, one had to be careful to whom one even told an innocent joke.
The Stasi had a poor sense of humor...
He’d heard an amusing one recently. “Why do Stasi work in groups of three? The punch line was,’You need one who can read, one who can write and a third to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.”
The man went down, though he wasn’t out, as he stood, his face covered in blood, he was disoriented, a second agent appeared in the doorway, firing his weapon.
Illya grabbed the injured man, using him as a human shield and fired the agent’s own gun, bringing down the second Stasi.
He tossed his dead shield aside; his senses still on alert as he retrieved his Tokarev.
Stasi travelling in threes were actually no joke and Illya ducked into the bathroom, waiting for the next one to arrive. It was either that or walk out into the hallway right into an ambush.
The third man showed, violently kicking the bathroom door open and Kuryakin was confronted by one of the biggest men he’d seen in a very long time.
Raising his gun, Illya was quickly disarmed by the giant whose reach was freakishly long.
Illya found himself grabbed by the throat and lifted into the air, his feet dangling while he gasped for air.
Reaching to the back of his collar beneath his jacket, he drew his throwing knife from its sheath. Illya stabbed the man in the arms several times, leaving the blade stuck there as he was released.
Falling to the floor, Kuryakin gasped to catch his breath. He staggered to his feet, retreating from the bathroom only to be punched in back after his adversary removed knife from his arm, tossing it aside.
Reeling forward, Illya turned as he slammed against the wall but instead of collapsing he bounced, catapulting himself forward, aiming for the Stasi’s lower body.
Illya knocked him off his feet and straddling the man, he proceeded to hit him in the face, swinging his arms like a pendulum again and again until he was sure the Stasi was out cold.
Kuryakin rolled off him and heaved himself up to his feet; his knuckles were bleeding and for a moment he stared at them.
A hand suddenly grabbed his ankle, holding him in a vice like grip and pulled Illya off balance back down to the floor. This time the monstrous Stasi held him in place, pounding into Kuryakin several times.
Illya, now bruised and bleeding reached out, grabbing the nearest thing he could use as a weapon and that was a broken chair leg. He smashed it against the man’s head again and again, knocking him out for sure this time.
Illya struggled to his feet and finding his Tokarev that had been thrown across the room, he shoved it back into its holster.
He took the agent’s silenced pistol, and aiming for the head, he killed the
man as he’d clearly seen him and could identify him. The Stasi agent had to die.
Illya quickly changed to his street clothes, ones that would let him readily blend in and make him look like a local. He retrieved his throwing knife and stuffed his coat and other clothes into the small suitcase he’d brought with him with his other accoutrements.
Using a back stairwell, he exited the building to an alley, and from there he went in search of a second hiding place.
He found another hotel room, one less seedy as the previous one; the clerk who checked him in barely looked at him; that was a good sign, especially since Kuryakin’s face was bloody and bruised.
After securing the door, this time with a dresser shoved in front of it, he went into the bathroom and turned on the faucet in the bathtub, letting the cold water fill it as he stripped off his clothing.
Closing the door he saw himself naked in a full length mirror hanging on the back of it, suspended by a bent nail.
He hadn’t seen his body this way in a long time and he slowly turned, examining the many scars, as well as the new cuts and blossoming bruises.
Illya leaned in closely checking his right eye. It was turning quite black and blue. His cheekbone was swollen with a laceration and his bottom lip was split. The rest of his injuries could be masked by his clothing.
Recounting the events in his head, Kuryakin slowly lowered himself into the clawfoot tub that had seen better days, it had no shower head, so a soak would have to do.
After the beating he had taken today, Illya knew this was going to be a bitch of a job.
He rotated his shoulders, feeling their stiffness. Pain rippled through other parts of his body as he ignored the icy water. It would help with any swelling.Illya was silent as the water took on a pink tinge to it after he submerged his head.
He blew bubbles from his nose while under the water. When he emerged, he sat there, ignoring the fact that he was shivering, and remained in the water, withstanding the cold for as long as he could.
Illya remembered living back in Moskva as a young agent, sharing a flat with too many people and the many cold water baths he was forced to take. There was never enough hot water, if there were any at all...this time a cold bath was a necessity.
Pulling the plug and draining the tub he stood and grabbed the single coarse white towel hanging from a hook on the wall and dried himself with it before wrapping it around his waist.
Walking back to the bedroom, lifted a telephone receiver intending to call Rankin and find out what happened to him. He stopped himself as someone could always be listening, knowing the Stasi penchant for phone taps.
The GDR invaded all aspects of the lives of its people and it was up to the Stasi to ensure Communist ideology was adhered to, not least by appointing a huge number of informants who spied on their fellow citizens so possible escapes or attempts at uprising could be dealt with. They used any means necessary to monitor the populace.
Instead, Illya drew his communicator, contacting Harry.
“Rankin never showed. I was set upon by Stasi agents at my last hotel.
“All three were neutralized, and I have moved elsewhere."
“Good, no one to identify you.”
”Correct,” Illya huffed, “now as to Rankin?”
“Give me a moment to check on what happened with your contact.”
The communicator went silent.
Minutes later Harry spoke.“Apparently Rankin was held up by an unexpected police sweep in the area. He had to take a more circuitous route to get to the rendezvous point and arrived late, but since he had no way of contacting you…”
“Go to the Rotes Rathaus 200 meters south-west of Alexanderplatz. You are to meet him there at 3:00 this afternoon.”
Illya refrained from saying that he knew exactly where the Rotes Rathaus, known as the Red City Hall, was located. The building took its name from the red clinker bricks that were used in its construction.
Built in 1869 in the north Italian High Renaissance style, it was heavily damaged in the battle for Berlin during the war and later rebuilt. It was uniquely different from the Stalinist style of architecture that influenced the rebuilding of what was under the control of the Soviets. It now served as town hall of the East Berlin Magistrate and the Communist Lord Mayor.
“Must I work with him?” Illya again asked of Beldon.”I feel I can manage better without him. I read his dossier before I left for this assignment and I believe him to be unproven in the field."
“Will you stop this incessant whining Kuryakin. It’s becoming most annoying.”
“Not whining, just my skepticism speaking the truth.”
“Get over it! Out!” Harry snarled.
Illya actually smiled. ” Ow! ” he mumbled as doing so hurt his lip.
One thing he enjoyed about working for the U.N.C.L.E. was that he could get away with annoying a superior and not worry about being sent to a gulag or shot by a firing squad.
He always liked to get in his digs even as a child, though for his efforts he suffered the pain of a teacher’s heavy leather strop on his back. To this day he would continue to backtalk to his THRUSH captors, just to annoy them. He took satisfaction in that despite what they did to him for it.
Napoleon called him a bit of a masochist, to which he laughed, saying it was merely the Russian penchant for suffering. People in the Soviet Union weren’t very happy, it was perhaps related to their freedom of choice or more correctly, their lack of it. Feeling that one had no sense of control over one’s life could make for a deep melancholia.
It was embedded into their psyche and the Russian soul, though Illya would argue with his partner that he had no soul and it was just a manner of speaking.
He still wasn’t thrilled in regards to working with a partner other than Napoleon, though there were a few he’d been assigned with whom he worked well, like Goran Kovač, Mark Slate and April Dancer... but an MI6 agent and apparent bumbling one at that did not bode well to Kuryakin at all.
All John Rankin did was listen, he eavesdropped electronically, collecting information, he wasn’t a field agent in the true sense of the word. Then again he was doing the same thing Illya did in Novgorod, Paris and London while he was with the GRU, he was also a listener, and performed dead drops to report what information he’d gleaned from those he spied upon.
Kuryakin was not a man to suffer a fool, much less work with one, but he had no choice. Then again, perhaps he could be wrong about this Rankin fellow; for him to have been operating under the nose of the Stasi and KGB all this time had to count for something? For that reason Illya would give him a second chance.
Kuryakin reminded himself the Brits used to chase after him while he was at Cambridge. They watched him but finally decided he was nothing more than a Russian student working on his doctorate in physics.
Yet it was he who was watching them and the other Russian students studying there. Though British security had their suspicions, they had no proof; they had no idea he was an agent of GRU. It seemed ironic that he was now essentially on the same side as MI6.
Illya didn’t bother using any makeup to cover his blackeye. He supposed it helped to make him look more like a local who had been in a fight or might have been questioned by the Stasi.
He dressed himself again in the old trousers, rumpled shirt and moth eaten cable knit sweater, and of course the turtleneck beneath it to hide his bruised throat. Over that he put on a worn brown leather jacket that had seen better days and a corduroy cap on his head. He wore an old pair of work gloves to cover his knuckles and when the disguise was complete Illya again looked like an average working man.
Every adult in East Berlin had a job, as with the coming of communism, there was little unemployment. There was a lot of surveillance, and most people lived double lives, in the sense that they learned early that what you say and do at home was one thing, but what you were able to say publicly or in school was quite another story.
Salaries were very low, but life-essentials where subsidized and cheap but that’s when they were available. As a result, things like bread and rent were affordable, but whenever you needed to buy something more than that, the prices were insanely expensive.
That of course helped create a black market, filling the demand for goods, though they were still not cheap. Selection in shops were poor. Whenever they got in a supply of some desirable goods, long lines would form. If you saw a line forming, you'd instinctively join it on the assumption that there must be something good, in some cases even without knowing what product you where in line for.
Kuryakin arrived ten minutes early for the 3:00 rendezvous and waited near the prescribed location, but kept out of sight. He glanced at his watch, taking note as the time ticked away. Ten minutes past the hour Rankin finally appeared.
The man moved like a timid mouse with his head craning in every possible direction. Obviously subtlety wasn’t his forté.
Illya finally approached him. “Du bist spät .(You are late),” he quietly growled in German. He was aware that Rankin knew what he looked like, and he Rankin. That eliminated the need for passwords.
“Sorry, I had to make sure I wasn’t followed. John Rankin,” he offered his hand. What the devil happened to you?” He eye’d Illya’s face.
Illya kept his hands in his pockets. “Are you not supposed to be Wulf Ullrich? ”
“Of course, but I figured you already knew that.
“This is not for my benefit, but for those who might be watching or listening,” Illya hissed in German.
There was an awkward moment of silence as Kuryakin stared at the man, waiting for a response.
“Well then, why don’t you come with me to my place on Bernauer Straße,” Rankin whispered. “Not too many people around as a lot of the buildings near the wall have been compulsorily emptied, though where I am is relatively safe. We can speak there.The street itself belongs to the French sector of West Berlin but the entrances and windows of the buildings on the southern side have been bricked up by the East German border guards and access to the roofs are blocked. Rumor has it that escape tunnels were being dug under the wall and the Bernauer Straße. They haven’t found any yet but I know where a tunnel is located. ”
The man wasn’t telling Illya anything that he didn’t already know. Still Kuryakin hissed in English, “Will you please be more careful about what you say. You might be overheard.”
Rankin’s face blanched and for the rest of their brisk walk he remained silent.
His apartment was on the third floor of a four floor walk up, which gave him a good view of the street. The exterior of the building had bullet holes scattered across its walls, stark reminders of the war even though seventeen years had passed.
Once inside, Rankin pulled closed a pair of heavy brown drapes in front of the only window and turned on a lamp in the now darkened room that stank of cigarettes.
The place was filled with recording equipment, monitor screens, books, papers, a phonograph and stack of unopened record albums. Illya took note of the artists, mostly American, some British popular music though he did spot some jazz recordings, including Coltrane.
“Would you like a drink?” Rankin asked as he began to rattle off his list of liquor like a barman.” I have vodka or would you prefer whiskey? I have Jack Daniels, or perhaps a Napoleon brandy? There’s Kentucky bourbon, rum from Barbados ...”
There were shelves containing tins of caviar, sardines, canned fruit, potted meats, jars of pickles and so much more.
Illya knew exactly why Rankin was in possession of such things; he used it to barter for information. What he couldn’t find out using by bugs and observation, he got from his local sources, but those sources needed to be bought, not with money but with goods.
Liquor was always a useful tool, but the food was an excellent enticement in a place where so many things were in short supply or even non-existent.
“No thank you,” Illya responded, his voice remained cold. “I am not here for pleasantries, I am here as a part of a mutual cooperation agreement between the U.N.C.L.E and MI6. However, for the mission I am operating under the credentials of my former employer.”
“The GRU wasn’t it Kuryakin? UNCLE got you as a part of an agreement with the Kremlin.”
“How do you know that?” Kuryakin squinted at him.
Kuryakin would have to rethink his opinion of Rankin, perhaps he was not a fool and it was all part of an act of ineptitude.
“Please refer to me by my GRU designation here in East Berlin when necessary.”
“Do you mean the nom de guerre, ‘Spider?’ A GRU nickname you earned for your ability to climb great heights with ease.”
“How do you know that? No one, not even the UNCLE knows about that?”
”May I remind you again... spy. I believe you honed your climbing skills even more so while you were at Cambridge.”
Illya didn’t respond to that, though he gave Rankin an icy blue stare.
“When necessary you will address me as Comrade Captain Kuryakin, and nothing more.”
“Fine.“Rankin pounded back several shots of whiskey, giving Illya the impression he was a bit of a hard drinker. Physically he looked like he couldn’t punch his way out of a paper sack.
Through his conversation he came across as a bit of a weasel and a manipulator. He was apparently adept at information gathering, given the amount of equipment he had on hand.
Still Illya wasn’t ready to trust the man, even though they were supposed to be on the same side. His instincts gnawed away at him, making him suspect Rankin of being underhanded. This made Illya wonder if he was an even better spy than he appeared.
The Brit finally turned his back to the Russian and he slipped a large folded paper from behind one of the shelves.
He waved Illya to the desk, sweeping aside the bits of flotsam and jetsam there, including an ashtray piled with extinguished cigarette butts.
As he opened the paper, a detailed map of the city was revealed.
He pointed to a particular street a few blocks from the wall as he lit up a smoke from a pack of Juno brand cigarettes.
Rankin inhaled and blew the smoke in Kuryakin’s direction.
“Oh would you care for one old chap?”
“No, I prefer my Turkish blend. I did not bring them with me to ensure my cover would not be compromised.”
Illya leaned forward after putting on his Soviet issue, black-framed reading glasses.
“The woman and her daughter are being held here. It’s a Stasi substation that only a few people know about, and I’m one of them.”
Illya was unfamiliar with this location. It stood to reason as the Stasi changed their substations and clandestine locations all the time.
“And how did you locate them...wait. I know, because you are a spy.”
“Well that, and I managed to get a bug into the substation. If found out by pure chance really,” he could see that Kuryakin was squinting at him after removing his eyeglasses.
Without waiting for Illya to ask, Rankin offered an explanation.
“You see there was this young theatre actress, not a featured performer but a background performer who fancied by the Station Chief, a Captain Wilhelm Voss. I made a deal with her to drop a few listening devices when she was invited to dine with him there. I got off pretty cheap with a few tins of caviar, some French wine and a three pair of nylon stockings. Luckily Voronin’s wife and daughter were brought in before the listening devices were discovered.”
“And the actress, what happened to her?”
“Sadly she met an untimely death...strangled by a pair of those very stockings.”
Rankin merely laughed.
Illya’s expression remained unchanged, though his opinion of the MI6 agent did. Apparently the timid, inept mouse was all an act. Now Rankin had an aura of ruthlessness about him, or was it braggadocio ?
That still didn’t mean the Kuryakin trusted him.
Illya knew what it was like to have a ruthless side, he kept his under wraps. It was part of him thanks to his brutal Soviet training, though once joining the Command and becoming an agent on the side of maintaining peace in the world, he knew that violence, that brutality had to be locked away and compartmentalized with so many of his other secrets.
There were a few times he’d let it loose over the years, but it was only when the target of his bloodthirstiness truly deserved it. It was not that he felt he should be both judge and jury, but those who became his targets of such savageness, for the most part, were former Nazis. After those incidents Illya became even more mindful of not letting such brutish behavior surface again.
It was different from the violence that he had to resort to defend himself or others, such as he had done today. When it surfaced, Illya felt it made him into a different person, an animal of his Soviet master’s making. That just wouldn’t do...
The Brit opened a desk drawer and took out a manilla envelope. Beneath it were neat stacks of currency, German Deutsche Marks, East German Marks, Soviet rubles, British banknotes as well as American money, It was quite a stash for a single agent. making Kuryakin wonder if Rankin was doing some wheeling and dealing on the side.
“Would you care for a spot of tea then?”
“Yes, thank you,” Illya decided to tone down his attitude.”That would be most welcome.”
Rankin put the kettle on the boil and minutes later the pot was ready. After letting the tea steep, he poured the tea into two fine bone china cups for them.
“Sorry no milk. It’s Russian tea by the way. I thought you might enjoy that more.”
After sipping his tea and nodding, Illya was handed the envelope.
“What is this?” Kuryakin asked.
“It’s the layout of the substation. The ummm, actress described it to me in detail before she met her end.”
Illya gave no reaction as he opened the envelope and looked over the drawing.” How accurate do you suppose it is?”
“I trusted her memory as she was an actress after all and accustomed to learning her lines. The women are being kept in this room. So when do you want us to make our move?”
“Us? I think not,” Illya said.”You have completed your part of the mission and I will take it from here.”
Rankin seemed shocked.”You can’t dismiss me like some underling; this is a joint operation.”
“As I said, you’ve successfully completed your part of the mission, now it is my turn.” Illya tucked the map of the layout inside his sweater.
“Are you going in tonight? I could at least give you backup in the event of trouble.”
“You give me backup? You are far from being a field agent, you are an intelligence gatherer. Leave the dangerous work to a professional like me. I will retrieve Madame Voronina and her daughter tonight and be out of East Berlin by midnight. I plan to use a knockout gas to take care of anyone in the building, I will however have an antidote for the woman and girl. Now, thank you for your assistance; I will be sure to let your superiors know that you were helpful. Goodbye Agent Rankin.”
The man’s face turned beet red and looked as though he were about to explode. Illya turned and left the apartment before that happened.
“You condescending piece of Russian shit,” Rankin cursed under his breath.”You think I don’t know how to play the game, do you?”
Illya returned to his hotel room to prepare for his assault on the substation. Initially he had planned to use his GRU credentials to simply walk in the front door, but after being attacked by those Stasi agents, he thought better. He would need a more circuitous approach.
Changing into his black trousers and jacket, he pulled a woolen cap over his blond hair to hide it.
He brought with him a light but sturdy climbing rope with a grappling hook, a bag containing glass balls filled with the sleeping gas, a mask to prevent it from affecting him once it was released, and the antidote to give to the woman and girl.
There was more than enough gas to knock out everyone in the building, and once he had the mother and daughter in his custody, he would simply walk out the front door with them to the street.
From there they would head to Bernauer Straße, where Illya knew there was a not an escape tunnel, but a sewer line that they could use to get to the western side of Berlin.
He was sure it would be closed by some sort of locked grating, but the miniature acetylene torch he’d brought would make quick work of that and then they’d be home free. The sewer would be pretty nasty, but that would be a small price to pay to escape East Berlin.
It was half past eleven when Illya tossed the grappling hook and scaled the three story building with ease. Once on the roof, he dropped a number of the gas balls into a ventilation shaft. It was a fast acting gas and would give no one time to react before they passed out. Giving it about ten minutes to take effect throughout the premises, he quickly picked the lock on the door to the roof and putting on his small gas mask, he entered the building.
The stairs were dimly lit as he moved slowly down them, at the base of the stairs there were a number of unconscious Stasi agents. Carefully stepping over them, he came to another door, this one however wasn’t locked. When he opened it, he was confronted with something he did not plan upon.
There facing him were several armed men, each wearing gas masks.
Their weapons cocked at the same time and he was ordered to drop his weapon and put his hands on his head.
“Chyort, ” Illya cursed in Russian; he had no choice but to comply. Still it was worth trying to ad lib.
“ Lower your weapons now. You are to look in my pockets gentlemen, where you will find my GRU identification and credentials. I am Comrade Captain Illya Kuryakin of Soviet Military Intelligence. I am here to check that your security is sufficient, given the prisoners you are holding here. Madame Voronina and her daughter Roksana are of the utmost importance to Moskva, and they must be kept safe at all cost. So far I am not impressed.”
The Stasi looked at each other, but didn’t lower their weapons. “We three are safe from your gas, though the other agents here were not. We let them be subjected to it to let you think you had succeeded with your plan.”
“I said lower your weapons now,” Illya barked at them. He spoke in German, sounding very threatening.
Another of the Stasi spoke ,” We were warned of your gas attack and you are not who you say you are, UNCLE agent.”
Illya sneered at them. It had to be Rankin; no one else knew of his plan, not even Beldon.
“You are quite mistaken; whoever gave you your information was lying to you. Or have you become that incompetent that you cannot recognize a liar? My report to the head of the Ministry for State Security will not bode well for you. Now lower your weapons you idiots!”
Whether it was what he said, the confidence of his voice or both, something made them look suddenly sheepish and they complied.
“Our apologies Kamerad Kapitän, we were just trying…”
“Do not apologize; it is a sign of weakness. Now take me to Madame Voronina and her daughter. I am to interrogate them.”
“They are unconscious Kamerad Kapitän.”
“I have a remedy for that, now move! Make it quick!”
Illya followed them to where the women were being held, but as the double doors were opened, there was an explosion down below on the first floor.
“ Chto teper'?” (now what?) Illya growled in Russian. He made the decision to shoot the Stasi agents before investigating what had happened.
As he reached the landing to the stairs that would take him down to the ground floor, he held his gun in one hand and a Stasi gun in the other, preparing to shoot whatever came at him.
Emerging from the smoke was none other than John Rankin.
“What the deuce are you doing here?” Illya yelled.
“Coming to rescue you of course.”
“Rescue me?” Illya grabbed him by the collar and slammed him against the wall. ”It is more like you set me up. Trying to play the hero? Is that your game?”
Rankin struggled to free himself, but just as Illya had surmised, he wasn’t very strong. Yes he was a bookworm after all, the listener and gatherer of information who thought more of himself.
“For two years I have rotted in this damnable place, building my contacts and waiting for a real assignment. Instead I get a pompous UNCLE agent who talks down to me, treating me like I’m beneath him, when I am more than capable of…”
“Shut it Rankin. All you did was nearly get me captured and killed. Now move your zhopa and help me with the women.” He let the man go and shoved him forward, but not before relieving him of his handgun.
They returned to Madame Voronina and Roksana and after giving them the antidote they slowly came to.
Illya whispered to them in Russian, telling them he was here to help them escape. “I am Illya Kuryakin of the U.N.C.L.E. Your husband and father awaits you in London. Come, we must hurry.”
He and Rankin helped the women to their feet and hurried them downstairs where they exited to the street. It wouldn’t be long before the area would be crawling with more secret police and no doubt the KGB.
They scurried along like rats in the night, though Rankin hissed his protest as Illya led them in a different direction from which he thought they should go.
“The tunnel is this way!”
“We are not going that way, now be quiet before someone hears you.”
They held onto the women, who were surprisingly calm as Illya took them to a sewer grate. He took a small pinch bar from his pocket and pried it up, though they had to duck as a spotlight passed over their heads.
He pulled it up with the help of Rankin and as he lowered the women down the Brit backed off.
“Oh no,” Illya whispered,”You are coming with us. These women still need help.
Before Rankin could protest, Illya shoved him into the sewer. Kuryakin slipped in after him, while pulling the sewer grate closed after himself.
The smell was putrid as he dropped into the filthy water filled with who knew what. It was slimy and up to their thighs.
“Move,” he whispered.
After slowly treading forward to the light of a small flashlight, that Illya dare not shine at the water, they finally came to the large metal gate that blocked the way. It wasn’t locked, but had been welded into place.
This is where the acetylene torch would enable them to get through to the western side of the city.
It took several attempts to light it but finally the spark brought the flame to life. Illya adjusted it slightly and began to cut into the metal.
It took longer than he’d hoped, but finally an opening large enough for them to squeeze through was made.
They were finally safe as they reached another sewer grate, this time in West Berlin. Illya paused, pulling his communicator
“Open Channel D- Beldon.”
“Kuryakin, you are calling at a rather inopportune time.” (a woman’s voice giggled in the background) “This better be good.”
“Tsk. Harry, I have arrived with the package, “Noting that it was after midnight; he gave Beldon the location of the sewer and asked for assistance, including blankets.
“ Remain where you are and I will have help there shortly. Beldon out.”
Illya said nothing about Rankin being present.
“Kuryakin old chap, if you’re done needing me I’ll return to my outpost. I can’t say it was a pleasure.”
“Neither can I,” Illya said as he watched Rankin disappear back down into the darkness of the sewer, though he did toss the man the flashlight.
He spoke again into his communicator. “Channel D-overseas relay- Waverly.”
“Please tell me you have good news Mister Kuryakin,” the Old Man sounded as energetic as ever, regardless of whatever time his agents contacted him, though currently it was half past six in the evening.
“I have Madame Voronina and her daughter safe and sound in West Berlin... no thanks to Agent Rankin.”
“That will be a longer story for later if you do not mind sir. At the moment I am waiting for an extraction team to arrive to assist me with the ladies.
“Very well. I await your follow up report Mister Kuryakin, and good work. Waverly out.”
A team quickly arrived and brought Illya and the women, who had remained surprisingly quiet, back to headquarters.
Baths were made available as well as a change of clothing. Mother and daughter were fed, then sequestered in guest quarters.
Illya made his report to Harry, though at least this time the man was fully clothed. He was just finishing a meal of schnitzel with potato dumplings. He was drinking a stein of lager and off to the side was a generous helping of strudel.
“Help yourself to some strudel my dear boy, I’m sure you’re famished after your ordeal in the sewer, or perhaps that experience has put off the infamous Kuryakin appetite.”
“No thank you. It is my understanding that I will be escorting the Voroninas to London in the morning. I want nothing more than to get some undisturbed sleep.”
“Not surprising. So tell me, how did it go with Rankin? By virtue of the fact that you completed your assignment, as the Americans say, without a hitch, I will assume that you two worked well together.”
“Not as well as you think.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I will detail it in my final report to Mister Waverly.”
“And as head of this division of the U.N.C.L.E. I demand you answer my question.”
“Harry, much as you would like to think it, I am not beholding to you or anyone else except Alexander Waverly. Now good night and do not eat too fast, you may choke on your food.”
“Kuryakin!” Harry coughed as the Russian turned away and exited the office.
The next morning Illya and the ever silent women boarded the UNCLE jet for London.
They were offered a meal on their flight by the hostess and for the first time the mother spoke in heavily accented English. It was definitely not a Russian accent and seemed more German. It was Illya’s understanding that the wife and daughter were born and raised in Moskva.
He spoke to her in Russian but was merely answered by nods or shrugs, the daughter rose to use the loo and it was then Illya followed her to the rear of the plane.
“Roksana, if I may call you by your name? You have been very quiet this entire time and I want to make sure you and your mother are all right. This whole ordeal was quite upsetting I am sure.”
The girl finally spoke in Russian, nodding her blonde head at first. “Yes, mama and I were very frightened. We will be happy when we are reunited with my papa and can live a life of freedom and plenty.”
“I am glad you are all right. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Yes Agent Kuryakin, that would be nice,” she disappeared into the bathroom.
Something was very wrong. The girl was not speaking with a Moskvich accent at all; it sounded more Ukrainian. Illya knew the difference as he was born in Ukraine of a Russian parentage. Having been raised from the age of ten until the age of sixteen in a Moskva school, he was able to recognize that accent readily. He spoke Ukrainia n, but his Russian was distinctly Moskovich, and he knew the language differences from each of the Oblasts. He had after all, an ear and a gift for languages
He had the hostess fetch tea for the mother and daughter, if that’s who they were and he excused himself, saying he had to go to the cockpit to check to see if their arrival in London would be on time.
Instead he contacted Napoleon by radio, informing him of his doubts about the passengers.
“Are you sure Illya? You think they’re not Voronin’s wife and daughter?”
“Their accents are all wrong for people who were supposedly born and raised in Moskva. I think you need to press Voronin for the truth, as to who are the women with him. They did arrive from Paris, correct?
“Yes they did tovarisch.They’re all together in guest quarters. I’ll inform the Old Man of your suspicions. Solo out.”
The jet landed on time at Heathrow Airport with Illya and his charges met and escorted to headquarters in a sedan with the windows blacked out.
As soon as their arrived, the woman purported to be the real Madame Voronina and her daughter Roksana were arrested by UNCLE security.
The scientist broke down under the pressure of questioning, telling Napoleon that it was his real wife and daughter who had arrived from Paris, but when the women arrived from Germany he had been instructed to say they were his real family, and say his wife and daughter were the spies.
He’d been told both he and his family would be killed if he didn’t cooperate and spy on the Americans; they’d be hunted down by the Stasi and KGB.
The poor man was terrified. He thought that if he went along with the plan then his real wife and daughter would be locked up by the U.N.C.L.E. but then they would be safe.
It was now up to Great Britain and the United States to decide who’d want Voronin and his family. The CIA and MI6 would take over from here.
Napoleon and Illya’s job was done and they headed back to New York. Once returning to headquarters they gave their full report to Waverly, though he was specifically interested in the debacle with Rankin. MI6 would be informed of his actions and an investigation would no doubt ensue.
Illya passed on dinner with his partner as he wanted to just go home and sleep for the next twenty-four hours. He was tired from the assignment and jet-lagged on top of it. Though he was wont to admit it, the job in East Berlin had stressed him out more that he thought it would, no thanks in part to John Rankin.
Napoleon on the other hand went out for the evening, in search of a ]certain woman, and he found her in the bar of her favorite hotel.
He stepped up behind her, giving her a little nuzzle on the neck before sitting on the bar stool beside her.
“I think it’s time to change your aftershave darling. I could smell it a mile away.”
“Angelique.” He waved to the bartender, ordering a scotch on the rocks and another drink for her.
“And what brings you here? Have an itch that needs scratching?”
“No not really. I need to speak to you about the intel you gave me, the freebie regarding Voronin and his family.”
“Was there a problem with it?”
“Oh, let’s say there was a bit of a double-cross going on.”
“Not by me darling, I merely passed along what a little birdie told me.”
“And who exactly was that bird?”
“You know I can’t tell you that Napoleon, you know...honor among thieves.”
“If you don’t tell me, then you’ll have to take the blame and that won’t be very pleasant for you, especially if you’re sent to Antarctica as a consequence.”
“Oh dear, I don’t like threats, but I dislike the cold even less. My furs and a hot blooded man such as yourself to cuddle up next to wouldn’t help against those temperatures.”
Napoleon gave her the stink eye. “Come on, time to fess up. Either it’s the birdie or you...I’m sorry.”
“Oh well, if you insist. He’s not a bird as in THRUSH but he’s one who likes to play the game. His name is Rankin, and is merely a low-level functionary for the British though he likes to play with the Russians as well. He’s in East Berlin.”
“Thank you.” Napoleon leaned over and gave her a chaste peck on the cheek after which he threw money on the bar for the drinks.
“Oh can’t you stay darling, I’m feeling rather chilly,” she pursed her lips as she batted her eyelashes.
“Sorry, not tonight.”
“Another raincheck I suppose?”
“Yes, but I’ll make up for it, Scout’s Honor.”
Waverly decided that Voronin and his family would be reported as having been killed in a car crash in the United States. The bodies, gotten from a local morgue, were burned beyond recognition of course; word of the accident was leaked very carefully by the CIA.
The imposters were sent off to Tartarus*the UNCLE prison in Antarctica and kept there under false names and would remain in solitary confinement until such time that Voronin would have safely disappeared, along with his wife and daughter, thanks to the United States government. It was then the agents would be released to the GDR government. The Old Man suspected their life expectancy would be cut short once they returned home.
MI6 did its own investigation of John Rankin and discovered he’d been double dipping, doing work for both their organization as well as with anyone who'd pay him for his intelligence gathering services. That’s where all that money that Illya reported having seen came from.
Illya read the report to Napoleon several months after the East Berlin assignment had been completed. Rankin was found dead, shot in the head execution style. His apartment building with all its contents had been destroyed by a massive explosion, the cause being reported as a gas leak.
Apparently MI6 really knew how to clean up their messes...
A/N: Tartarus was first coined by Gina Martin a/k/a GM, and has now become part of fanon.