It was a tough climb to the top even on multi-geared mountain bikes and until they got their breath, neither boy had any inclination to admire the spectacular views over the valley below. But fully and (naturally) quickly restored, they set off again and when the road began to descend, they moved fast, the wind in their hair, laughing gaily until rounding a bend they came upon the scene of an accident and slithered to a halt to avoid it. An abandoned car stood empty, its gull-wing doors left wide and the engine running; another car beyond it was on fire.
Propping their bikes against the rail they studied the scene from a safe distance. The fire in the other car looked fiercer than it was. “Can you see anyone inside?” said Joe.
“Don’t think so.”
They now approached and walked around the gull-winged car admiring its trim and the sound of its powerful engine. “Willya listen to that… wow! Man, this is some car.”
It seemed to be summoning someone – anyone – to help it continue its lightning flight through time and space.
“Never seen one like it.”
“Piranha, six-cylinder job, Corvair engine.” Phoebus-like, Bobby had long coveted a ride in such a chariot.
“Who’d leave a thing like this open and running? – I mean, where are they?”
The two boys looked over the edge of the road and could see no obvious sign of anyone. The dying fire allowed them to pass but the road beyond was empty.
“Maybe everyone ran away from the fire.”
Bobby rolled his eyes. People who had a car like this shouldn’t run away and leave it.
“Maybe they were kidnapped.”
“Oh come on! Say, how about we take it and deliver it someplace?”
“You mean you want to take it for a joy-ride – I know you. Anyway, what about the bikes?” Joe’s father had paid a lot for his bike.
“Okay. We’ll bring it back after we find someplace to turn,” said Bobby placatingly.
The Thrush agent’s car had burst into flames when, in desperation, the UNCLE agents pursuing him hit it with their flamethrower but he had foolishly tried to outrun the fire until obliged to abandon his vehicle. Solo and Kuryakin, still some distance behind, saw him jump out and take a run up the mountain side. This man had vital information on him – there was no time to waste. Pulling up, they leapt out in pursuit, leaving doors open and the engine running.
Solo was gasping as he followed his lithe partner’s much faster progress up the steep slope. “I don’t think we’re gonna catch him, Illya,” he panted.
“No, I can’t see or hear him,” Illya agreed but as he spoke, they heard a roar from below. “The car!” and with that, Illya slithered past him in a hopeless dash to the road. “Too late,” he groaned as Napoleon landed beside him, “It’s gone.”
The boys hid the bikes in the bushes over the rail and climbed into the car. It wasn’t the easiest or most gracefully accomplished manoeuvre and when they closed the doors, they also discovered, as they hunched down with their heads firmly up against the roof and their knees almost up to their ears, that it was a very cramped space for two tall teenagers.
The manual transmission was no problem – Bobby was learning to drive his grandfather’s old car as well as the automatic family saloon – so the only shock was what happened when he touched the gas pedal. It took off like a rocket and it was fortunate that the road ahead remained empty while he struggled for control.
“Wow!” he said, recklessly engaging a higher gear.
Joe, white-faced beside him, clung to his seat and said nothing as they shot down the winding road. At the first sharp bend, Bobby touched the brakes and the car jerked to a violent halt, throwing them both forward. Joe was flung against the dashboard which suddenly revolved to reveal a control panel like that of an aircraft. Seeing it, Bobby threw the gear shift into neutral and applied the handbrake to look more closely.
“What is this?” whispered Joe, rubbing his chest.
There was a live radar display and another screen, currently blank, which appeared to be something to do with sonar, and one that was labelled Infrared Visuals.
Bobby now fingered the array of buttons. One contained a small image which looked like an arrow through a bird’s wing. Another looked like the propellers of an aircraft or boat. Yet another looked like it produced a laser beam… What did anyone need with all that?
“What’s this? It looks like a flamethrower…”
“Don’t touch it!”
“Not going to… I think this must be an ejector button. Wanna try it?”
“No. Let’s get out of here, Bobby. We’ll be in so much trouble.”
“What, and miss a chance to ride in a car like this? – you’re crazy.”
“No, I’m quite sane.”
Bobby laughed. “Relax, Joe. Eat your heart out James Bond, here I come.” He engaged gear, released the brake and was just about to touch the gas pedal when a man jumped down into the road in front of them. He held up a hand and with the other pointed a lethal-looking weapon at them.
Napoleon sat on the rail mopping his face and neck while Illya prowled angrily around the burned-out wreck of the Thrush agent’s car.
“You can’t do anything, Illya. We’ll have to call in and admit defeat.”
“Not yet.” Illya came to sit down beside him and turned to look down at the view. “You can’t see the road from here, but we’d be able to hear the car if it’s moving… and I don’t think it is.”
They listened. “You could be right – either that or the sound is muffled by the overhang.”
“He may not be used to a manual transmission and stalled it.”
“So we try to catch up on foot and hope he doesn’t get it going?” Napoleon looked down at his shoes and grimaced.
A flash of something gleaming in the vegetation below the rail now attracted Illya’s attention. He leaned over and pulled at the branches of a bush. “Hey, look – a bicycle… no, two. Napoleon, here… give me a hand. We won’t have to walk or thumb a ride now.”
Between them, they dragged the two bicycles out of concealment and over the rail. These were serious mountain bikes – evidently for much taller individuals judging from the height of the seats. Napoleon glared at Illya. “You don’t really think we can catch that car, of all cars, on a bike?”
“Sure. Why not? If he’s stalled it and it isn’t moving, it could be quite close.”
“Well, it’s a good thing it’s all downhill from here, I can hardly reach the pedals – and nor can you,” Napoleon grumbled as they set off.
“Just be thankful we’ve found some transport, my friend. It’s a long way down.”
“Why are bicycle seats so damned uncomfortable?” was Napoleon’s next complaint.
“Napoleon, just…” Illya stopped speaking abruptly as they rounded a bend and saw the car and their quarry. He was pointing a gun at two skinny youths, one of whom, still trying to climb out of the car, appeared to be stuck.
Napoleon, unused to two-wheeled transport, had to use both hands to stay on his bike, unlike Illya who let go the drop-handlebars and sat upright, using his weight to steer, and reached for his gun as his momentum took him into range.
“I can’t get out,” said Joe, trying to drag his feet out from under the dashboard.
Bobby had managed to climb out of the car and was suffering the pains of returning circulation from even that brief confinement. The man with the gun was growing impatient and waved it menacingly.
“He’s stuck,” said Bobby gesturing at Joe’s predicament.
“Well, help him out or he’ll have to come with me.”
Bobby tried again then turned to the man and said, “I could use some help.”
Exasperated, the man tucked his weapon under his arm and stepped forward to lend a hand. With his help, Bobby heaved and up came his friend who swung a leg out and tried to stand, then squawked with the agonies of cramp. The man resumed his posture with the gun and was about to step into the car when he suddenly collapsed.
Startled, the two boys just stared, then Bobby looked up to see a man speeding towards them on a mountain bike, his fair hair flying. He now pulled up with a screech of brakes and revealed himself to be a short guy with a very fierce expression.
“Hey, that’s my bike!” Bobby exclaimed, and as a darker man arrived a little more sedately, said, “And that’s Joe’s.”
“And that’s our car. We’re quits,” said the darker man, and added feelingly, “Joe can have his bike back, and its saddle, with my blessing and sympathy. Just one thing I’d like to know – did either of you expect to father children in the future?”
“What?” said Bobby.
“Excuse me?” said Joe.
The older man grinned, but the boys now observed the gun in Illya’s hand and looked at the man lying in the road. “Is he dead? Are you licensed to kill?” said Bobby hopefully.
“No. We use sleep darts. He’ll just have a headache when he wakes up,” Illya replied, to youthful disappointment. He was searching the man’s pockets and now rose triumphantly with an envelope in his hand. He opened it to check its contents and put it in his own pocket. “Time to go,” he said to Napoleon.
“Hey, wait a minute,” said Bobby. “Who are you, and what is this car – it’s amazing – I want to know what these controls do.”
Illya looked at Napoleon who said, “We’re special agents for the U.N.C.L.E. – a law enforcement agency,” he added, seeing blank faces. “My partner is the expert on this car. Illya?”
The two boys came up to him a little apprehensively. Observing that the special-control dashboard had been activated, Illya frowned. “You didn’t touch any of this?”
“No… well, I wanted to try that one,” said Bobby, pointing at the button with the bird wing and arrow image.
“One of you might have been thrown out if you had,” said Illya. “It operates the rocket launcher in the doors.”
Ecstatic, Bobby next wanted to know about the ejector seat button. “Yes, that’s what it is, but it’s disabled. The car has very light bodywork so some of the controls are liable to send it into a spin.”
“And the radar and sonar screens?”
Illya sighed. “It’s amphibious… in theory, at least.”
“Oh, wow. Have you tried it?”
“Thankfully, there has, so far, been no call to do so.”
“Why’s it such a tight fit?” asked Joe, still massaging the painful cramp in his thigh.
“You might well ask,” said Illya drily. “This is the most uncomfortable car in the fleet.”
“Fleet? You mean you got more like this?”
“Not quite like this.”
“But do they go like this one? I mean – just touching the gas… And the brake … wow!” Bobby’s enthusiasm was clearly wasted on this irritated man, though it seemed to amuse his friend.
“The other vehicles are much more, shall we say, predictable. This one – in my opinion – is a little over-engined for its beam.”
“Isn’t it a bit conspicuous, too?” said Joe, addressing Napoleon rather than the fair-haired man, whose eyes he found a little intimidating.
The steel-blue gaze was turned on him but when he met it, a little shrinkingly, he found Illya was smiling, an unexpectedly amiable expression compared with any he had exhibited so far. The gaze turned slightly satirical as he looked at Napoleon. “Out of the mouths of babes…” he said smugly.
Clutching the largesse that Napoleon had bestowed on them, they watched the uncomfortable, unpredictable, amazingly-weaponed little blue car disappear in a roar of exhaust fumes.
“He sure can drive… Wow! But willya look what the other one just gave us!” said Bobby counting the bills.
“Yeah. Nice guy. That blond one, though – he called us babes. I call that pretty damn’ cheek,” said Joe.
Bobby, who had been given the never-to-be-repeated opportunity to drive the most powerful car he’d ever seen, was prepared to be indifferent to insult and merely replied, “Did you see him on my bike, too? No hands, going fast downhill and firing a gun? What a guy!”
“I wouldn’t want to meet him on a dark night, though,” said Joe.
“Yeah, but he’d be on your side, wouldn’t he?”