Illya held up the cup and stared at it. The tin cup held a white frothy liquid and two doll heads. Compared to the meager offerings they’d had over the course of the last three days, this was almost appealing. He sniffed it and made a face. “Napoleon?”
His partner didn’t stir from his cot. “Don’t look at me. I didn’t do it.”
“I know you didn’t, but who did?” Illya brought the cup to Napoleon and offered it. “And why?”
Napoleon, like Illya, sniffed. There was a sour sharp edge to the liquid. Despite his raging thirst, he set it back down. “Small world.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I was a kid, there was a girl in our school who collected doll heads.”
“We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but compared to her family, we lived like kings. Her father would haul trash away for a small sum and whenever he found a toy, he’d give it to her. She had this broken down doll carriage and all these doll heads. She called them her babies. She was very fond of bathing the heads in discard soap from the bulk tank. She was always baffing them, as she used to say. She was a little slow, but sweet natured and kind. Then there was Glenn. His family moved into the village during fourth grade and I knew he was bad news from the start. He’d been held back a year, so he was bigger than the rest of us and a bully. Oh, he was awful.”
“And he set his sights on you?”
“Worse. On Tina. One day, I was coming home and discovered that he’d destroyed Tina’s little carriage and was crushing the doll heads with rocks. Tina was beside herself.”
“What a little thug.” Illya’s voice was thick with disgust.
“He was all that and more. I knocked him down and sent Tina home. Later he came back with two of his friends and beat me up. When my dad heard what happened, he had my uncles give me some self-defense moves and I grew a couple of inches. I got a part time job and bought Tina a real doll with my first paycheck. I think that was the moment when I decided upon a career path of helping people. In a way I have Glenn to thank for starting me”
“So what happened to him?”
“His family moved and I never saw him again.”
“Sadly, she developed some sort of illness and died the next year. She was buried with the little doll I bought her. The last time I saw her, she told me if I ever needed help, to just let her know.”
“Now would be a good time.”
“Agreed.” Napoleon smiled at the thought. It was easy to drift back to those days, back to when everything was so black and white. Of course, this incarceration with THRUSH seemed a bit different. Neither of them had been seriously abused and that started him upon another course of thought. “How many THRUSH do you know, Illya?”
“Personally or work wise?”
“A few hundred, more or less.”
“And of those, how many would be twisted enough to do something like that?”
“A few hundred, more or less.” Illya returned to his cot and sighed. “Any brilliant ideas?”
“Nope. Fresh out.” Napoleon scratched at his whiskers. “I gotta say, it’s weird, though.”
“Because of the dolls’ heads?”
Napoleon rolled over onto his stomach and studied his partner. “When was the last time you experienced THRUSH’s hospitality and weren’t beaten, tortured, threatened or asundered?”
“Asundered? Is that even a word?”
“No idea…” Napoleon trailed off, then braced himself up on his elbows. “Hey, where did they go?” He looked around their small cell.
“Where did what go?”
“The doll heads in the cup.”
“What are you rambling about?” Illya didn’t move. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“You should be. You found it.”
“Why is that impossible?”
Illya rolled over at that point. He was oozing blood from a half dozen various wounds. “I’ve been dead for an hour.”
Napoleon’s eyes flew open and he bolted out of his cot, chest heaving. Eventually, reality found him again. He was alone in the small cell. There wasn’t any place for Illya to hide, even if he wanted to. Just another damned dream.
Even now, though, he saw the cup as clearly as if it were real, as if Illya was there and handing it to him. That’s when the plan began to form and that’s when he started to scream.
“Anything?” Illya Kuryakin wiped the perspiration from his brow. It was not heat that caused it, rather effort. They’d been searching the sprawling THRUSH complex for what seemed like days, when, in fact, it had only been a few hours.
The Command Leader slowly shook his head in the negative. “The place is so big, it’s going to take days to search everything.”
“Napoleon doesn’t have days. God only knows what THRUSH has been doing to him.”
“It wasn’t too bad really.” Both men spun and a bedraggled Napoleon was standing there. His voice was harsh and he needed a shave. “Um, trick or treat?” His knees started to buckle.
“Napoleon!” Illya hurried to the man’s side. “Medic!”
“Don’t need a medic, Illya, just something to drink. For some reason, my throat is a little sore.” Immediately a cup was offered to him and he sipped slowly at it.
“I should imagine.”
After what felt like an eternity, Napoleon handed back the tin cup and smiled.
“Would you like more?”
“No, but I was referring to the cup.” Illya helped him to a log and knelt before him. “You gave me a similar one just a little bit ago.”
“How could I do that, Napoleon? I’ve been here the whole time looking for you.”
Napoleon nodded, suddenly tired. “I know, but as the saying goes, you came to me in a dream. It was because of you that I was able to convince the guards that I’d seen a poltergeist. You gave me this cup and it was filled with sour milk and two doll heads.”
“A what?” Illya snapped his fingers and the medic appeared and began to examine Napoleon.
“A poltergeist. It’s a mischievous spirt that loves to play tricks. They are usually young children, which made the heads make sense.”
Illya ran a hand over his lower face and nodded. “Whatever it was, I’m glad you are back with us. Why don’t you get some rest and I’ll call for transport?”
He watched as Napoleon was guided to a small tent, then turned at the noise of someone approaching.
“No sign, Illya.”
“That’s all right, he found us.”
“What? How did he escape?”
“He says he convinced them that he was being haunted by a ghost that gave him a tin cup with doll heads in it.”
“Maybe it did. I found this in an empty cell.” He held up a tin cup. “It was filled with some white stuff, but I dumped it out.”
“Just the liquid?”
“No, there were these, too.” He held out his hand and Illya caught his breath at the sight of the crushed doll heads.
“Get rid of those and don’t’ let Napoleon see.” As the man started to leave, Illya said, “And make sure you bury them in consecrated ground, like that cemetery we passed.”
“Remember back with Cutter on the Island and he told you that there would be a time in your career when a senior agent would give you an order that sounded insane, but that you knew you had to carry it out, none the less?”
“Get rid of those and don’t let Napoleon see them.” As the man started to leave, Illya said, “And make sure you bury them in consecrated ground, like that cemetery we passed.”
“I never joke on All Hallow’s Eve.” With that, Illya said a silence prayer of thanks to whatever had brought Napoleon back to them and went to join his partner.