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Cattle Market

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Illya Kuryakin wasn’t a naïve man, and was fully aware that there was slavery, in many forms, all over the world. However, attending a sale of women who were intended to satisfy the perverse appetites of anyone who could afford them, left a nasty taste in his mouth. Despite being an accomplished actor, he wasn’t certain he could pull off the role of a buyer. The sale was being held in a hotel which was known to be a legitimate business front for Thrush.

Glancing nonchalantly around the large function room, which was populated with cocktail swilling, cigar smoking men, and guards with whips on their belts, he spotted Napoleon. They had entered separately so as not to arouse suspicion. The American was fully playing the part of rich playboy but, even with the distance between them, Illya could read the subtle body language he was showing. No-one else would notice, but Illya could tell Napoleon was just about ready to break character and end everything there and then.

Solo was well known as an admirer of the female form, but there was usually some sort of two way street. The women he was attracted to had to be open to his appreciation and advances. If not, he backed away, and respected their wishes.

There were currently only six women in the room, and all of them wearing only underwear and high heels. They were no doubt owned by whoever was in charge of the operation, and were circulating around the room with trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres. However, none of them was Janine Enfield; daughter of one of the cities most respected bankers. She had been abducted shortly after her father had refused to embezzle his bank on behalf of people who wouldn’t give their identities.

Both Napoleon and Illya knew they would have to stay in character for as long as necessary if they were to stand any chance of recovering the girl. Once they could ascertain her presence there was a coalition of civil authorities waiting to pounce as soon as they were given the word. The sales were known to be Thrush operations but, because of the complexity of sorting everything out, U.N.C.L.E. and the other agencies were working together, with Solo and Kuryakin leading the investigation.

Illya had just accepted a drink from one of the hostesses when he was approached by a man in a suit so expensive it made one of Napoleon’s look like something from Goodwill. He was tall, dark-haired, and tanned.

“Count Armand Poplawski?” the man asked him.

“Yes,” Illya replied, clicking his heels, and bowing slightly.

“My name is Thomas Porter,” the man said as he shook Illya’s hand. “I am the organiser of today’s little event.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” the ersatz count replied, wondering if Porter had been digging into the background U.N.C.L.E. had planted.

“I understand you’re Polish,” Porter continued, letting Illya know that a background check had indeed been undertaken. “And I also believe that you are more than comfortable financially.”

“You are well informed, Mr Porter.”

“We can’t be too careful in this business. We are hardly trading a legal commodity.”

“Do I take it that I have passed your rigorous security?”

“Indeed you have, Count Poplawski,” Porter said, with a mercenary grin. “Having seen the extent of your assets, I am happy to be able to offer you access to our exclusive private buyers club.”

From his position at the opposite side of the room, Napoleon tried not to show his concern at seeing Illya being led out of the main room by Porter and two of the guards. His fears were assuaged slightly when his partner sent across their clandestine and silent ‘I’m okay’ hand gesture.

Illya was led up to the next floor of the building, and into a private suite. He was invited to sit down on a plush velvet chaise longue while one of Porter’s underlings was sent to fetch the ‘special item’. Illya recognised Miss Enfield immediately.

She was slightly taller than average height, had deep brown eyes, and shoulder-length auburn hair. In the photographs Illya had seen she was dressed in the latest trends. Her father could afford to indulge her somewhat excessive shopping habit. Now, however, she stood in front of him completely naked.

She was shivering, though Illya was certain it was more from abject fear than from being cold. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her cheeks wet with tears. It took everything Illya had not to break character. Luckily for the men in the room, guests had not been allowed weapons at the gathering. Had he had his gun on him Illya knew he couldn’t have prevented himself from taking out every one of them.

“Would you like to inspect the merchandise?” Porter offered.

Steeling himself, Illya set his expression to that which his colleagues knew as ‘the Ice Prince’, and stood up. The young woman froze as he took her small chin in his large, powerful hand and silently appraised her. He turned her face left and right, not seeming to care how she felt about it.

“Open your mouth,” Porter commanded.

Illya suppressed a shudder. It was quite clear that the sales of these were little more than transactions at a cattle market. Janine ignored the instruction until was threatened with one of the whips. With fresh tears flowing down her cheeks she relented. Seemingly satisfied, Illya gave a curt nod, and she reclosed her mouth.

“Turn around,” he told her. “Slowly! Let me see what I’m paying for.”

As Janine turned, Illya quickly saw why she had been so quick to avoid the whip. Her back was criss-crossed with ugly red welts, which looked fairly fresh. Illya was no stranger to the whip himself, and inwardly winced at the pain he knew she was in. It galvanised his resolve to take these men down.

“So you are interested?” asked Porter, hopefully. “You won’t regret it.”

“I never said that,” the blond snapped.

Janine returned to her starting position, feeling very much like a prize heifer she was being treated like. She glanced at the man who was watching her through steely blue eyes, hoping to see something which would lessen her fear, but there was no readable expression on his face.

“How much?” Illya asked, feeling sick to the stomach as he said it.

“You must understand that, as a new client, the price will be higher than usual,” Porter explained. “The more business we do, the cheaper the merchandise will get. Once you’ve spent a certain amount with us, you will be eligible to have women taken to order.”

Illya nodded his understanding; not trusting himself to speak. It took everything he had not to react when he was told that Janine could be his for $150,000.

“The thing is, are you truly good for the money?” the slaver asked. “We know that the accounts of Armand Poplawski are healthy, but how much ready cash does Illya Kuryakin have?”

*****

Despite Illya signalling that all was well, Napoleon was worried. They had both gained access to the gathering too easily for his liking. Added to that, Illya had been led away far too quickly. Solo hadn’t gotten this far in life by not trusting his instincts, and right now they were telling him something was very wrong. He was tempted to call in the civilian forces early, but they hadn’t fulfilled their part of the mission yet. While it was important to get this enterprise shut down, locating Miss Enfield was the priority.

As quickly as he could, Napoleon made his way to the entrance of the building and left. He was tempted to make his way around to the back in order to find another way in but it simply wasn’t feasible. Although he had tried to be surreptitious Napoleon had been very aware that his every move was being observed. When he was far enough away from the hotel, he pulled out his communicator. One of the agents waiting on standby would have to go in.

*****

Illya was in an all-too-familiar position. He had been tied to a chair, with his hands cuffed out of the way to ensure he couldn’t attempt to escape. Janine had been made to kneel, facing him, in the centre of the room. She was still unclothed and doing what she could to cover herself.

The young woman was confused; wondering just who the blond man was. Although he was still the same man, his demeanour and expression were entirely different. Gone was the emotionless and ice cold monster she thought him to be. In his place was a man with warmth and sorrow shining from his gaze.

“You made a huge mistake coming here,” Porter told his captive. “And you might like to know that your partner has turned tailed and abandoned you.”

Illya didn’t react. He realised that something must have spooked Napoleon into a change of strategy.

“You don’t seem concerned,” Porter stated, eliciting a bored shrug from Illya.

“”Let’s see if we can change that,” the Thrush continued. “While I await on instruction on where to send you, why don’t we loosen that tongue a little?”

“Better men than you have failed,” Illya sneered

He wasn’t unduly fazed. He’d endured many torture sessions in his life, and knew he would be able to handle another. However, the next thing porter said put an entirely different complexion on the situation.

“You will answer my questions, or the young lady will be reacquainted with the whip.”

To enforce the words, one of the guards cracked his whip against the floor next to Janine. She flinched away from it, and hugged herself in fear. She didn’t say anything, having learned not to speak out of turn quite early, but Illya could see the pleading in her eyes. He knew he could take it, but was unwilling to allow Janine to suffer more of it.

“What do you want to know?” he asked.

*****

Around the back of the hotel, Mark Slate crept through the shadows. He was certain that, because Napoleon had definitely been compromised, the Thrushies inside would be on higher alert. The Brit’s instructions were to confirm Miss Enfield’s presence, and report in. The civilian authorities, alongside U.N.C.L.E. would then rush the place. He was only to engage the enemy once back up arrived, unless he had no other option.

Thanks to the tracker Illya had hidden in his shoe, Mark knew which floor to go to. Deeming it too much of a risk to go inside, he took to the fire escape instead. It was by sheer luck that it led to the window of the room he needed.

Risking a peek, Mark quickly took in the scene of Illya tied to a chair, a naked woman, two guards, and a man with an air of absolute arrogance. Recognising the woman as Janine Enfield, he called in the cavalry. While he waited, he tried to hear what was going on inside the room.

“I shall ask you one more time,” Porter said to Illya. “If you fail to answer this time then this pretty little thing won’t be so pretty.”

He stroked Janine’s head as though she was a pet dog, causing her to sob. She looked to Illya for help with an expression which broke his heart.

“So, Kuryakin,” Porter continued. “Tell me the security codes for access to the U.N.C.L.E. computers.”

Outside, Mark heard the ultimatum. He realised that Illya had been stalling, but had run out of time. He would have to take things into his own hands. In one smooth move he pulled out his pistol, dived through the glass of the window, and darted the three Thrushies. Mark then put the weapon away and pulled one of the curtains down. He wrapped it around the naked woman, who was now openly crying. Untying Illya, Mark explained that everything was in motion. The Russian nodded before dropping to his knees in front of Miss Enfield. He pulled her into a hug and reassured her that it was all over.

“Please forgive me,” he said softly.

“For what?” she asked, between sobs. “You came to rescue me.”

“The way I was treating you when I first came in wasn’t very nice,” he explained. “I had to act like a buyer to gain their confidence. It was the only way to get to you. I failed my part but, thanks to a man skilled in fluid strategies, I knew help would be coming.”

“Don’t let Napoleon hear that,” Mark said, with a chuckle. “We’ll never hear the end of it.”

As though the mention of his name had summoned him, Napoleon burst into the room.

“Is everyone okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” Illya replied. “How about your end?”

“Everyone is just about mopped up.”

Napoleon introduced himself to Janine before asking mark to find her some clothes.

“Your father is waiting outside,” he told her. “And you’ll feel better going out there dressed.”

*****

About two hours later, when everything had settled, Napoleon and Illya were waiting in Mr Waverly’s office to give their verbal report.

“You got captured again then?” Napoleon muttered, as stared out of the window at the lights of the city.

Illya glared at him, but said nothing. He knew when his partner was trying to get him to rise to the bait, but he wasn’t in the mood for their playful sparring. The way he’d had to look at Miss Enfield, as though she was merely livestock, had left him feeling soiled. Illya had known going in that he would be expected to ‘inspect the merchandise’, but it had been more degrading than he could possibly have imagined. Napoleon knew what was bothering his partner, having been given part of the story, so could understand his mood.

“Have you got plans after this meeting?” he asked.

“I just want to go home,” Illya replied. He was tired, and just needed to comfort of home.

“Then I’m coming with you,” Solo told him. “No arguments, Tovarisch. We’ll get some take-out food and beers, and you can talk through this.”

Illya didn’t argue. It had taken a few years, but he had finally realised that talking things out actually did help when it came to overwhelming emotions. He’d buried things for so long that he hadn’t realised how cathartic it could be. However, he still wasn’t prepared to visit the psych department. Illya was naturally distrustful when it came to revealing his feelings and, although he knew the U.N.C.L.E. psychiatrists only had his best interests at heart, he was still reluctant to go near them unless he had to. Napoleon, however, was his closest friend, and he trusted him implicitly.

“Thank you, moy droog.”

Solo smiled. What he’d had to do would always be in Illya’s mind, but he would soon come to accept it as a necessary evil.