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A Frisson of Fear

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Arsenal Island sat out in the Mississippi River, between Illinois and Iowa, in the Quad Cities area. Napoleon and Illya had waited for their contact just outside the Colonel Davenport House for some hours, nearly ready to leave, when the contact finally showed up. It was a quick drop, a few exchanged words to explain why the contact was so late, and then all three parties made to leave in the darkness which had fallen.

Unfortunately, gunshots rang out and the two U.N.C.L.E. agents found their egress from the island blocked. With an escape by car no longer possible, Napoleon and Illya ran to a small caretaker's cottage they had spied while waiting for their tardy contact. Circling around the small cottage to the riverbank, they found a small rowboat tied up to a rather decrepit pier, untied it, and hastily clambered in. Illya took the oars and, plying them ably and quietly, brought the small boat out into the river. He and Napoleon made themselves small to avoid being seen and, when no further sign of pursuit showed itself, sat up to make for the Iowa side of the river, which was currently closer than Illinois.

Along with the spicy smells of oak and hickory wafting over from shore, there was a musty smell arising from the river. A few lights dotted the shoreline further down, but Illya headed for the cluster of lights in downtown Davenport. The current was strong with the torrential rainwater of storms a few days earlier in Minnesota, and Illya found it hard going to pull across it.

"Feel free to take a turn, Napoleon. I won't stop you."

"Ah, well, you're doing a great job, partner mine. Just keep it up. Heh, it'll save you some workout time in the gym!"

Rolling his eyes, Illya continued his work at the oars, when he felt a sudden strong resistance to his pulling. Startled, he began lifting the old oar from the water when he saw the skeletal hand holding on tightly to the edge of it. Thinking with disgust of a skeleton floating freely in the musty waters, wondering where on earth it might have come from, he reached forward to remove the bony hand from the oar.

With a scream which echoed across the dark surface of the water and reverberated back to the little boat, Illya realized that a full skeleton clad in grayish decayed rags had grabbed his hand and was trying to pull him into the water. Behind him his partner, shocked into momentary motionlessness by Illya's scream, regained his senses and grabbed the slight body of his partner by his belt, tugging him back into the boat while knocking the bony body away with the butt of his Special.

Hastily grabbing the oars, Napoleon rapidly propelled the agents toward a light at the end of a small landing on the Iowa shore. Upon looking back over his shoulder, he noticed insignia on the gray rags, as well as the clear outline of a Rebel cap on the back of the malevolent skull, as the skeleton subsided silently back into the dark water from which it had come. In the meantime, Illya sat shaking and glassy-eyed in the bottom of the boat.

"What WAS that, Napoleon?"

"Well, I'd just as soon leave this out of our report, Illya, but it sure looked like a Confederate skeleton to me. Are you okay?"

Deeply embarrassed by his reaction, the Russian quietly responded, "I saw many terrible things in the war as a child, my friend, and this...thing...looked like something out of a mass grave." He put his hands to his face and shuddered. Napoleon lay his hand on the slim shoulder and squeezed.

"I know there are Confederate soldiers in various cemeteries around this area. I suspect we just met someone who was never buried."

At a groan from his blond-headed partner, Napoleon put into the landing, tied the boat up and helped his shaken partner ashore.

"We've completed our mission and had the crap scared out of us doing so. I think it's time for some hot food and cold drinks. What do you think?"

Illya simply nodded his head.