Chapter 1 - The Crash
August 10, 1967 - Somewhere in the high desert of Arizona - midmorning
Shouts of warning. Metal crunching against rock. A falling sensation. Glass shattering. Cries of pain. Darkness. Silence.
The smell of gasoline permeated the site covering it in layers like a blanket mixing with the dust stirred up by the crash of the out of control vehicle, settling down once again in the dry bed of the arroyo. It was the first sense of awareness that Illya Kuryakin knew after kareening over the edge of the 20 foot embankment just off of a two lane desert road. Then he felt the pain, incredible pain coupled with the sensation of a tremendous weight pressing on his back and legs. With great difficultly and discomfort he lifted his head turning it, spitting sand out and then laying it back down with his right cheek pressing into the sand savoring the coolness, a respite from the intense heat of the Arizona sun. He lifted his left arm to wipe the sand out of his nose, or he tried to do so, but he found his arm was immobile caught under his torso. His right arm was free and after some awkward attempts was able to reach up over his ear, reaching from behind to brush most of the coarse grains from his nostrils.
For the moment Illya could not remember what happened, where he was, or fathom why he was pinned down. He heard a low groan and tried to locate its source until he realized it was from him.
"Illya, are you okay? Oh God." The voice came from behind him and Illya didn't have the strength to turn his head to search for its owner.
"Illya, are you hurt badly?" The owner of the voice moved into Illya's line of sight.
A fuzzy silhouette appeared. The blond agent peered through half closed lids to see an anxious visage with brown hair and eyes.
"Napoleon?" Relief! Napoleon will find a way to get him the help he needs. "Napoleon," he gasped finding it difficult to breathe, "I... I can't feel my legs."
"No, Illya, it's me, Stephen."
"Stephen? I don't know..." Confusion clouded Illya' eyes.
"Stephen Kessler, Illya, we were transporting a prisoner when we were forced off the road. Do you remember?"
Agent Kessler knelt in the loose sand laying a hand on Illya's left shoulder while he assessed the injuries his senior agent might have. It didn't look good. No, it didn't look good at all. The slight built blond agent had been thrown from the car as it rolled down the steep embankment overturning at least once before landing on its roof on top of him. All Kessler could see of his partner was his head and shoulders and his right arm. He could tell that Kuryakin was having a hard time breathing by the shallow gasps he made when trying to talk. The fact that the man was still alive was a mystery. The only thing Kessler could surmise is that the soft sand in the arroyo cushioned the impact.
Kessler, himself, had escaped serious injury. His arm was possibly broken and he felt as every muscle in his body was badly sprained, but he was alive and he was mobile.
Gradually Illya's head cleared allowing him to remember the events that led up to the crash. "Stephen, what about... our prisoner. Is he okay?"
"He didn't make it, sir. His neck was broken when he was ejected from the car. Not that I think it made a difference but there was no way he could break his fall with his hands cuffed behind him."
"What hap...happened to the other car?" He was referring to the car full of THRUSH goons that chased them down the road, bent on stopping the U.N.C.L.E. agents from successfully nabbing their scientist from the Satrapy just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.
"I don't know, Illya, I haven't seen them since the crash. Right now I'm more worried about you."
"I'm okay, I just...just can't seem to...catch my breath."
"No,you are not okay." Napoleon Solo, his Chief Enforcement Agent of Section 2, had warned Stephen about the Russian's stubbornness. "You have a laceration of your scalp, your trapped under a car, having trouble breathing...other than that your just freakin' fine!"
Kessler studied his partner's face, growing more concerned at the blue tinge to Illya's lips. He had to do something soon to relieve the pressure on the senior agent's back and lungs or he would suffocate. He pushed against the car to see if it would budge, causing Kuryakin to cry out it pain.
"I'm sorry, Illya, I've got to get this off of you." There was no response, Kuryakin had lost consciousness.
The rookie agent sat back on his heels. He had to do something soon. The sandy wash was only twenty feet below the road, but it would be a difficult climb back up. Sandy...wait that's it...sand! Sand is easy to dig! Kessler immediately began collecting large rocks. If only he could wedge the rocks under the part of the car covering Illya's back...
Fifteen minutes later, after frantically digging one handed in the sand and placing the rocks in the holes, he turned back to the Russian. Illya's lips were still blue and his face was beginning to turn blue as well. Panic welled up in his chest when he couldn't see any sign of breathing. Quickly and with silent prayer he raised Illya's left eyelid and saw that it was still reacting to light. Next his hand searched out the carotid artery and could discern the rapid fluttering of a weak pulse.
"Hang in there, Illya. Just hang on," he whispered his voice laden with guilt. Kessler began scooping out a shallow depression under Illya's upper chest trying to give it room to expand with a drawn breath. He was able to clear a two inch space. Once again he chanced a glance at Kuryakin's face. It did seem less blue. Now if the rocks would keep the car from pressing his partner further into the ground. As he wiped the sand off of his pants, Stephen organized his thoughts. Now that Illya could breathe more easily the junior agent searched his inside breast pocket for his communicator.
"Open Channel D, this is agent Stephen Kessler. We have an agent down. Open Channel D, please respond." Static was his only response. Either the communicator was damaged or, more likely, the signal was blocked by the sandstone canyon walls. He used his handkerchief to mop the sweat pouring of his forehead and looked up at the sun which was directly overhead. It was about noon. Looking back at Illya, Stephen realized that he needed to get some shade over Illya's head. Using four two foot long dried mesquite and white thorn branches, Kessler drove them into the ground with a rock, two on either side of Kuryakin's head then draped his suit jacket over them to provide a canopy providing shade for the unconscious agent.
Exhausted, he moved into the shadow of a mesquite bush to regain his strength. For a moment there was nothing to do but wait to see if his efforts worked. The accident and energy expended had taken a toll on the young man and without intending to, Kessler drifted off to sleep. Ten yards away, the senior agent he had been so wary of, so in awe of, lay helpless as the sun beat down and the temperature rose.
August 10, 1967 Phoenix, Arizona Early Morning
Napoleon Solo woke from a sound sleep. The alarm clock next to the hotel bed read 7:15. He groaned. He had only been asleep for two hours. He had finished his assignment and had celebrated its success with the lovely receptionist from U.N.C.L.E.'s Phoenix headquarters. He had planned to sleep in since his plane wasn't scheduled to leave until 4 pm local time and he saw no reason to rush the day. HIs thoughts turned to Illya and wondered how his partner's assignment was proceeding. He still had an uneasy feeling gnawing at his gut.
The CEA of U.N.C.L.E. - New York had been sent to Phoenix to help reorganize the Arizonan office after the discovery of a high level mole in the organization. Napoleon was sent by Alexander Waverly who considered the assignment as a good experience for the young man who was being groomed to replace him as Number 1, Section 1 when he retired.
Napoleon had balked at the assignment. U.N.C.L.E had just received some reliable intelligence that Jackson Hinderman, a chemist with a sordid reputation for developing methods of torture during the World War II, had joined T.H.R.U.S.H. and had developed an interrogation technique and had to be stopped. His partner, Illya Kuryakin, had been assigned to fly out to northern Arizona with agent Stephen Kessler to infiltrate the T.H.R.U.S.H satrapy located near Flagstaff, abduct Hinderman, and transport him to the Phoenix office to interrogate him.
As he lay in bed in his hotel room, Napoleon stared at the ceiling thinking about the last briefing session in Waverly's office.
"Come in gentleman, please sit down." Mr. Waverly didn't look up as agents Solo and Kuryakin entered and took their customary seats at the round desk. He waved his pipe in their direction indicating the files that were already there for them to read.
"We have a bit of a crisis, gentleman. It seems that Jackson Hinderman has found a home with THRUSH and has continued his research and development of new torture techniques."
He gave his two top agents a few moments to skim the intelligence report. Illya frowned and looked to his side to study Napoleon's reaction before turning to Mr. Waverly.
"Sir, if this report is accurate THRUSH will be able to break our agents very quickly!"
"Very true, Mr. Kuryakin. Which is why it is imperative that we bring Hinderman in with great expediency."
"Ah, Mr. Waverly, have we seen the results of these methods?" asked Solo.
"Unfortunately, yes, Mr. Solo. The Phoenix office had one of their agents captured two weeks ago. They sent in a rescue team. The agent was still alive when they found him. He died soon afterwards. The poor devil is probably better off dead. Much of his body had been eaten away."
The agents turned back to read the files in more detail. Jackson Hinderman had developed a method of introducing an acid under the skin by way of a time release pellet. When the specialized pellet was inserted below the skin, a chemical reaction with body tissue occurred allowing the pellet to dissolve slowly releasing the acid. The acid would begin to eat away the epidermal tissues. Once exposed to air the acid would react with it and begin the process of not only eating away at skin but strengthen and rapidly bore deeper into the muscles and organs. It was reported that the acid would neutralize itself after a certain time period. However, by that time the damage was done, leaving the subject first begging for his life and ultimately begging for a quick death. If there was a way to neutralize the acid faster, the intelligence department had not found the secret.
Both agents paled considerably at the thought of one of their colleagues being subjected to such a horrendous torture. They looked at Waverly waiting for the briefing to continue.
"Mr. Kuryakin, you and Agent Kessler will bring in Hinderman."
After a quick sideways glance at Napoleon, Agent Kuryakin answered, "Yes, sir."
"Good. Please contact Mr. Kessler and devise a plan. You are dismissed."
Illya stood up. Picking up the file, he gave an unreadable glance towards Napoleon, then with a brief nod of his head to Mr. Waverly, turned on his heels and strode out of the office.
"Mr. Solo, you will fly to Phoenix. The deceased agent was set up by a mole in Section 2 at the Phoenix office. The mole has been apprehended and taken care of. I want you to go there and help with the reorganization of their Section 2."
"Sir! I should go with Illya. Kessler's a good man but he is just a rookie fresh out of Survival School. He's only been on two other assignments! With such a dangerous man as Hinderman, Illya should have an experienced agent backing him, not some kid who's wet behind the ears."
"As you say, Mr. Solo, Mr. Kessler is a good agent and the only way to get experience is to go out on assignments. I believe that Mr. Kuryakin will have competent backup, plus he can teach Mr. Kessler the nuances of honing his skills. No, Mr. Solo, I need your skills to sort out the Phoenix office."
Napoleon opened his mouth to protest further.
"That is all, Mr. Solo. I've made my decision. Please pick up your plane ticket. You leave first thing in the morning." Mr. Waverly's tone along with his expression made it clear that no further protests would be tolerated.
"Yes Sir," and a subdued Napoleon Solo left Waverly's office.
"Napoleon," Illya was gathering paperwork in their shared office, "everything will be fine. I've checked Agent Kessler out and his first two assignments went well. The senior agents assigned to him have written very favorable reports."
"I know, Tovarisch. It's just that I would feel much better if I was on the assignment with you."
"You worry too much, my friend. Don't be such a mother hen." He stopped gathering papers to look at his partner. A somber half smile played on his lips and his blue eyes caught Napoleon's attention. "We are booked on a flight that leaves in a couple of hours. We'll either catch up with you in Phoenix when we bring Hinderman in or back here. Take care, Napoleon."
"You, too, Tovarisch.
Illya clasped Napoleon's shoulder with his broad hand and gave it a squeeze before leaving the office to pick up Kessler and head for LaGuardia airport.
The familiar warble of the UNCLE communicator competing with the background noise of the air conditioner brought Napoleon back to the present. With a loud sigh, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and padded across the room to where he left his suit jacket hanging on the back of the chair. Fishing the pen out of his pocket, he opened it.
"Mr. Solo, your plans have changed." The gravely voice of the Old Man informed.
The hairs on the back of Napoleon's neck raised and a cold chill ran down his spine. It must be serious if Waverly was announcing the plans directly instead of having it relayed through one of the communication techs.
"Ah, yes, Sir. Why the change?"
"Mr. Kuryakin..." Shit, Napoleon thought. A deep dread spread through him and he didn't hear what else Waverly said.
"I'm sorry, sir. Would you repeat that?"
There was a slight pause on the other end. "Mr. Kuryakin has not reported in since very early this morning. The last we heard they had Hinderman in hand and were on their way to Phoenix. He had indicated that he would report again when they passed near Mayer. He has not done so. To make matters more worrisome we have intercepted some radio transmissions on THRUSH's frequency mentioning an ensuing chase and crash.
Solo's knees felt weak and he sat down on the bed. He had been afraid that something untoward would happen. "What would you like me to do, Sir?:
"Go find them, Mr. Solo. We must not let THRUSH get Hinderman back...at all costs."
Napoleon felt his face blanch. "And what about Mr. Kuryakin and Mr. Kessler, Sir?"
"By all means find out what happened to them, but finding Hinderman and getting him back to Phoenix takes the highest priority. Headquarters will provide a vehicle. Waverly out."
Solo stared at his communicator. He really didn't care what happened to Hinderman at the moment. He needed to find Illya and Kessler. With a shake of his his head he headed for the bathroom for a quick cleanup. He didn't take the time to shower or shave. He needed to get on the road... fast.
Forgoing his usual suit, the CEA dressed in jeans, a chambray work shirt, and a pair of hiking boots. He picked up the promised Jeep from the motor pool and found his way to Interstate 17 and headed north. "I'm coming, Illya. Hang on."
Agent Stephen Kessler awoke to the sensation of something crawling on his leg. Opening his eyes warily he looked down to see a horny toad eyeing him suspiciously. With a quick intake of breath he brushed the harmless lizard away out of reflex. Then he realized that he had succumbed to sleep.
"Shit!" He had not planned on falling asleep.
Rising stiffly from his shady spot Kessler rose,splinting his bad arm against his body, and stumbled over towards his partner. The closer he got to him the more he was afraid of what he'd find. The blond agent was quiet, so very quiet.
"Illya." No response. "Illya?" Still nothing. "Illya! Mr. Kuryakin! You've gotta wake up!" He ran the last few steps and knelt by the senior agent's head. He touched Illya's forehead. It was sweaty and hot to the touch. At his touch, Illya opened his eyes.
"Kessler," the senior agent's voice was weak and gravelly from thirst. "Get out of here... THRUSH will come ... looking for Hinderman. You need to get out of here."
"Not without you, sir! I can dig you out and we'll go together."
Illya closed his eyes then spoke again with difficulty. "Stephen, I ... can't feel or move my legs ... can't catch my ...breath...suspect I have ... broken ribs." He took another shallow breath. "I won't be able to travel. It's ... imperative that you contact ... headquarters and let them know what hap...pened."
"I can't just leave you here. It's my fault that you're hurt. What would Mr. Solo say if I left you behind?"
Licking his dry lips Illya gathered his last bit of energy. "He'll understand. Leave, I order… go. Kessler, not your fault, you're ... a good agent. " And with those words he slipped back into unconsciousness.
Agent Kessler knew Kuryakin was right. "All right, Illya," he said quietly knowing that his words went unheard.
Standing, Kessler turned and inspected the overturned vehicle. The contents were strewn throughout the car. After careful inspection he found a partially filled canteen, some flares, a note pad, and a small flashlight. Carefully, jarring the vehicle as little as possible to avoid causing more pain for the Russian, Stephen gathered the items with his good arm and moved over next to Illya's head. He poured a small amount of water onto his handkerchief and touched the agent's lips. Even in an unconscious state, Illya's tongue sought out the water and swallowed reflexively. Stephen set the canteen and the flares next to Illya's right hand. Next he removed his jacket from the sticks where it was providing shade, replacing it with brush and branches. If THRUSH was to come looking for their dead scientist maybe they wouldn't notice Kuryakin. He knew it was a slim hope. At the very least maybe they would think Illya was dead and leave him alone.
THRUSH! What would they do if they found Illya alive? Would they use Hinderman's interrogation technique on him. The very thought caused an involuntary shudder. It was a question that Kessler didn't want to contemplate. Slowly, he drew his Walther p38 from his shoulder holster and with a shaky hand he held it to Kuryakin's left temple. For a brief moment he thought that the kindest thing he could do was to put a bullet in his superior's head. The thought of being paralyzed was enough to consider a mercy killing he figured, but to keep this man he admired greatly out of THRUSH's hands was justification in itself. But he couldn't do it and was angry that such a thought entered his mind. So instead, he wrote a note leaving it between Illya's right cheek and the ground so the slight breeze would not blow it away and left his weapon where his partner could reach it.
Kessler looked around the site of the wreckage. His eyes rested upon Hinderman's body lying several yards away from the wreck, partway up the steep embankment. The hot sun was already speeding up the process of decomposition. He didn't have either strength or time to properly bury the man, and the junior agent worried that wild animals may be attracted to the corpse, bringing them too close to Kuryakin.
Easing his bad arm into the sleeve, Agent Kessler donned his sports jacket, put the flashlight in a pocket and began his trek down the sandy wash towards what he hoped would be help. Taking one last look at the wreckage of the car and the bushes that hid Agent Kuryakin, Kessler sighed turned again and began his journey.
The THRUSH captain slammed his fist on the desk causing his men to involuntarily gasp and take a minute step backwards. They had never seen their superior so angry, so incensed.
The captain fixed his cold stare upon the most experienced of the three.
"Tell me again how you managed to lose the car, the UNCLE agents, and Jackson Hinderman. Your last radio transmission said that you were on their tail. That that bastard, Kuryakin, was in your sights! How could they have vanished?"
"Sir, they were able to pull ahead and gain distance on us. We rounded the next two turns and they were gone. The team waiting at the next intersection radioed that the car never made it that far."
"So why in hell aren't you looking for them?" the captain bellowed. "I have never seen such incompetence!" Without warning he grabbed one of the other men's pistol, spun on the hapless lieutenant and shot him between the eyes.
"Get this worthless piece of garbage out of here. Simons, you're now in charge. Find that missing car, find Hinderman, and bring Kuryakin back here. We'll give him a taste of Hinderman's interrogation procedure. And Simons, if you fail you will suffer the same fate as Roberts."
Simons snapped to attention, his face several shades paler than when he first entered the room. "Y-Yes, sir." He gestured to the other THRUSH underling to help him carry Roberts out of the room.
Simons entered the break room at the satrapy, wearing a murderous expression upon his face. Roberts was not only his brother-in-law, but a good friend. He would avenge his death. He would find that son of a bitch Kuryakin and take great personal pleasure in seeing him tortured and killed.
Looking around the break room, he ordered three of the men to gather their weapons and follow him.
"Rodriquez, Anderson, Vargas! You're with me. Gather your gear and extra water. Meet me at the motor pool and be quick about it" Turning on his heels he strode off to the outbuilding housing the THRUSH vehicles.
The men gathered within five minutes. Simons had signed out an open air Jeep with a rag top for shade. Rodriquez asked, "What's our mission?"
"We are the Search and Rescue team ordered to find Hinderman. Also, Captain Gardner wants the UNCLE agent."
"But weren't there two agents?" asked Anderson.
"Yeah, there were. If you see the younger guy you can dispose of him, but no one, and I mean no one touches Kuryakin but me! Is that understood?" Simons glared at each of his men daring them to say anything.
"Yes," came the reply in unison.
They clambered into the Jeep and sped down the road.
Extreme thirst. Sand. Grit. Pain. Birds singing, more thirst. Each of those sensations pulled at Illya Kuryakin's mind as he slowly regained consciousness. Why couldn't he move his legs? Worse, why couldn't he feel his legs? He took a deep breath, or at least tried to, and felt the weight of the wrecked car on his back. The breath caused pain to the injured ribs and his memory of the earlier events came rushing back.
"Kessler?" His voice croaked at a bare whisper. His throat dry. He swallowed what little spit was in his mouth. "Kessler? Where are you?" There was no response and there was no one within the Russian's limited field of vision. Illya hoped that the young agent followed his orders.
Illya tried to move his head, but his neck was stiff and he could barely raise his cheek an inch, not far enough to turn his face the other direction. The branches that Kessler had used to cover him for shade also hindered movement. His eyes narrowed as he realized there was a paper between his face and the sand. His left arm was still pinned under him, but he was able to maneuver his right hand and grabbed the paper. He was just able to put the paper in front of his eyes and read the message left by Stephen Kessler.
I've gone to try and find help. I am hoping that once I'm out of the arroyo I will be able to reach Headquarters with the communicator. I have left you with what's left in the canteen and some flares. I have also left my special with you, yours was lost in the roll over.
I'll be back as soon as I can.
I'm sorry my ineptness has caused you so much pain and trouble.
"Oh, Stephen," Illya murmured, "it wasn't your fault." He hated that the junior agent blamed himself for their predicament. His brow furrowed with the strain of a headache as his mind flashbacked to the crash.
The car came to an abrupt halt, the nose dangling beyond the torn up guard rail at the edge of the sandstone cliff. Only steel a quarter inch thick kept the car with its three occupants from disappearing over the edge to a certain death. Illya Kuryakin was the first to become fully aware of their predicament. His head throbbed from the hard impact with the steering wheel. He touched his left temple, his fingers feeling the blood that flowed from a cut. The prisoner in the back seat, his arms still secure behind him, was unharmed, a savage sneer on his face.
"You might as well give up, Kuryakin! You're a dead man either way."
"Shut up, Hinderman."
Kuryakin looked to his right to see his partner shake his head looking a bit dazed.
"Are you okay?"
"Yea, I think so. Do you think we lost them?"
"I hope so. We need to..."
A sharp jolt followed by a mournful groaning interrupted him. The weld on that section of the guard rail was about to fail. Any sudden move could send the car into the arroyo twenty feet below.
"Do you have any way to get out on your side"
Kessler moved too quickly as he looked out his window.
"...NO Easy..." Illya shouted. "If you move around too much you're going to send us over the edge." This last statement was punctuated with another groan of metal against metal and a gut wrenching lurch before resting once again against the guard rail.
"You seem to be forgetting something," the voice from the back seat snarled. "If you think I'm going to quietly back to Phoenix then you are deluding yourselves. He purposely moved abruptly to further unbalance the car.
Illya drew his pistol, "Hinderman, if you don't hold still I'll shoot you now!" He pointed his weapon at Hinderman's head. "Stephen, can you reach back to his door and open it?"
"Yeah." He reached back to open the right rear door, the vehicle rocking slightly.
"Okay, HInderman, get closer to your door. We'll all jump."
"Do we all jump out on the count of three or go one at a time?" Kessler asked.
Illya paused to consider. " I think we better do it together. I need to move over to your side. All I have here on my side is open space," he whispered as if the very sound of his voice would set the car on a crazy slide over the cliff's edge. They all cautiously moved to right side of the vehicle.
"Okay, on the count of three. One...two..." An instant before he could say 'three' a violent jolt from behind knocked both agents off balance. As the car teetered over the edge, Illya cursed under his breath.
Kessler panicked and lept for safety. Hinderman, seeing a chance for escape, head butted the Russian forcing him back behind the steering wheel and prepared to leap. The sudden and violent motion was all it took for the car to begin its plunge into the arroyo below. Illya grabbed at the steering wheel as the car plunged over the steep embankment. He flailed helplessly as it began the first of its rolls. The last he remembered before darkness took over was being flung out the driver's window.
Kuryakin strained against the weight of the car to see how much, if any, movement he could create with the thought that he would try to dig himself out from under the car. The effort caused him to cry out in pain. Shutting his eyes, he rested until the pain subsided. Raising his right hand he swatted at the gnats and flies that buzzed around his head, attracted by the dried blood from the scalp laceration. Illya's hand brushed the canteen. He felt around for the flares and Kessler's UNCLE special and felt somewhat reassured when his hand closed around the pistol grip.
He moved his hand back to the canteen. With great effort he lifted his head just high enough to turn his face towards the canteen, moving many of the branches off of him in the process. He could only drink from a horizontal position and much of the water spilled into the sand below his mouth. The water that made it into his mouth was like the sweetest nectar and he marveled at how something so simple was so necessary for his survival.
When Illya finished the small ration of water that he allowed himself, he took a look around and caught his breath. About 10 yards away lay Hinderman's body. His neck was clearly broken and the body was already showing signs of decay in the 105 degree heat of the Arizona summer.
He also noticed footprints, Kessler's he assumed, in the sand leading down the sandy wash. Good at least Kessler is clear. He should be able to contact UNCLE once he was away from the canyon walls. Illya's next thought was of THRUSH. He was quite sure that they would come looking for them and was surprised that they hadn't been found yet.
Kuryakin returned to analyzing his situation and trying to figure out how to get himself out from under the car. Now with his head turned towards his free hand he was able to move a bit more easily. Slowly, he started digging at the sand around his chest and the roof of the car.
The work was tedious and after what he estimated was an hour, Illya, stopped to rest. His right hand abraded by the coarse sand was bleeding and his finger tips were badly skinned. As he rested his ears picked up the sound of a car approaching on the road above. Quickly he moved the gun and flares into the shallow hole he had dug and covered them with his chest. He couldn't do anything about the note as the breeze had blown it out of his reach. All he could do was close his eyes and feign unconsciousness.
Above him car doors slammed, he counted at least three slams. Voices could be heard, one voice louder than the others gave the commands.
"This must be where the car went over. Get down there and see what you find."
The sound of boots sliding and scraping on rocks filled Illya with anticipation. He tried to relax.
"Hey, Simons, here's an UNCLE pistol."
Simons took the pistol from Rodriquez. The "K" on the grip shown through the dirt. "It's Kuryakin's gun. Look for bodies, but be careful."
"Boss, we found Hinderman! He didn't make it."
"Shit! The captain is gonna be pissed. All right, there's nothing we can do about it, find those UNCLE agents, and remember, Kuryakin's mine."
Steps drew closer, the Russian tried to keep his breathing shallow.
One of the THRUSH minions approached the car. He didn't see anything except some bushes were piled up next to it. "That's odd," he murmured. As he go closer he saw a shock of blond hair through the branches.
"Hey, Simmons, looky here what I found!"
Simmon's ran over. "Ain't that Kuryakin?"
Simmons grinned maliciously. "It sure is. Clear those branches away. Let's get a look at the mighty UNCLE agent.
Illya held stock still, even as the thorns from some of the branches raked across his head.
"Is he alive, boss?"
Simmons noticed the blood trickling from the scratches caused by branches. Dead men don't bleed. He looked at his men and motioned for them to be quiet.
"Gee, I don't know, boys."
With that he climbed up onto the undercarriage of the car and jumped up and down on the edge that was over Kuryakin. Illya let out an involuntary cry of pain.
"Yep, I guess the SOB's alive," Simmons laughed.
"Simmons, I found a note." Vargas handed it to his boss.
"The other UNCLE agent has gone for help. We need to track him down before he succeeds. Gather your gear."
"What about him?" Rodriquez pointed to the helpless agent. You want me to put him out of his misery?"
"No!" Simmons slapped him. "What did I say about Kuryakin? He's mine. I'll deal with him when we get back. Tie his free hand to the frame of the car so he can't move around. He's not going anywhere."
Illya felt his right hand being jerked behind him and tied fast to the frame of the car. He moaned from the pain of being jostled.
Simmons leaned down and grabbed the blond agent's hair forcing eye contact between them. "Well, you little bastard, look at you know. Enjoy your rest UNCLE man because when I'm finished with you, you'll wish you had died in the crash."
Kuryakin met his gaze. "Go to hell!"
"Maybe I will, but I'm taking you with me." With that he pushed the UNCLE agent's head hard into the ground.
"Oh, grab his canteen. He won't be needing it."
The men gathered their gear and filed by the car as they followed Kessler's tracks. Each one of them walked close enough to Kuryakin and made a point to kick sand full into his face as they filed by.
Slowly, the noise of the group receded as they put distance between them and the site of the wreck.
Illya's hope for rescue sank as he was once again left unable to help himself, and was …alone.
Agent Stephen Kessler hiked in the arroyo's soft sand for about two miles before he found a break in the steep banks where he could climb out. His goal was to find an open area to make contact with UNCLE's Phoenix headquarters, then get back to his seriously injured partner.
He stopped to catch his breath and sought the shade of a palo verde tree - being careful to look for snakes. The western diamondback rattle snake and its smaller cousin, the sidewinder, both inhabited the area. During the worst heat of a summer's day they often sought out the cool shade of rocks and vegetation. Sitting down, the young agent pulled his communicator from his pocket. "Open channel D! This is Agent Kessler reporting."
Again he was greeted with nothing but static. With a sigh of exasperation, he closed the communicator pen and shoved it back into his pocket. He needed to get help fast. Stephen did not think that Kuryakin could last another day trapped under the car.
He rose from his shady spot and continued paralleling the wash. As he walked, his thoughts turned to the Russian. He was surprised when Mr. Waverly had assigned him to partner with Kuryakin. He was both flattered and intimidated. Agent Kuryakin had a reputation for being one of the best, if not the best agent in UNCLE , but was also rumored to be prickly, cold, and a loner with all except his usual partner, Napoleon Solo. Stephen had so wanted to impress the senior agent, to show that he was ready to be a reliable field agent.
Agent Kuryakin surprised him. The senior agent had been cordial and encouraging. He even complimented Stephen on his contribution to the plan when they held a meeting to discuss the best strategy for infiltrating the satrapy and kidnapping Hinderman.
And all went well. The two UNCLE agents were able to get into the area undetected, find Hinderman's cottage and retrieve him. Everything went south when a guard saw Kessler and yelled out for him to stop. Stephen turned around with a quick right cross that connected with the guard's jaw. The result was like watching an old Rube Goldberg cartoon in slow motion. As the guard staggered back from the blow to his chin he stepped on the tines of a rock rake which caused the handle to fly up and in doing so hit the emergency button on the wire fence. The claxon alerted the others. The UNCLE agents were just able to escape in their vehicles before the THRUSH henchmen could begin firing.
"I'm sorry, Illya! We would have had a clean break if it wasn't for me." Strike one, he thought to himself, there is no way he would get a good report after this.
"It wasn't your fault, Kessler. Watch behind us and take out their car if you can." Kuryakin busied himself with trying to lose the chase car.
Kuryakin edged far enough ahead of the other car to turn onto a secondary road that wound it's way through the Sedona hills. At one particularly sharp turn, Hinderman leaned back on his seat, lifted his feet and kicked a glancing blow to Kuryakin's head. The car skidded on gravel and slammed into the guard rail.
After he leapt from the car and rolled to get clear of it, Kessler berated himself for panicking. Strike two – what a rookie!
Kessler looked up in time to see the car fall over the edge. Horrified, he watched as Hinderman was ejected with the first roll, landed on his neck and never moved again. The junior agent watched with dread as the car tumbled end over end and rolled again. "Illya!" The blond agent was tossed from the car and it came to rest on him.
Stephen shook his head. Pull yourself together, Kessler. It will do Illya no good to dwell on your stupidity. He needs you to pull yourself together. Now! He rose from his shady spot and walked another mile before trying his communicator once again. "Open channel D, Agent Kessler reporting."
"Channel D open this is Solo," came back the tinny sounding reply.
"Agent Solo, thank God! Where are you?" Exhausted and filled with relief, Kessler sat down on the edge of the arroyo his legs hanging over the side.
"Just north of Camp Verde on Interstate 17. Are you all right? We've been waiting for you to report in."
"No sir! Mr. Kuryakin is … he's seriously injured. Hinderman is dead."
"Kessler, where are you? What's wrong with Il...Agent Kuryakin?"
I'm not sure, sir. We were being chased. Mr. Kuryakin took a secondary road. We're south of Sedona, but I'm not sure where. Illya's trapped under the car. His back maybe… broken, he couldn't feel his legs. Mr. Solo, he needs hel…."
Stephen Kessler fell over the edge of the cliff to the bottom of the arroyo. He never heard the rifle shot that struck him in the back and passed through his chest. He lay stunned in the sand watching his life's blood seeping into the sand. He closed his hand around the communicator, the channel still open.
Strike three, Stephen. It was his last thought before the light left his eyes.
Napoleon Solo pulled his Jeep over to the shoulder of the interstate. "Agent Kessler, come in. Report please. Kessler! Do you read me?" He looked at the pen communicator and made an adjustment and tried again. "Kessler, report!" Only static could be heard over the open channel.
Making another adjustment, Solo, contacted the Phoenix Headquarters.
"This is Agent Solo. I had brief contact with Agent Kessler, but now he is not answering. He has, however, left the channel open. Please get a fix on his frequency and triangulate it to find his location. I'll wait for your report. Solo out."
Sitting in his vehicle just waiting was one of the hardest moments Napoleon had ever had, but it would be a waste of effort and valuable time if he charged off in the wrong direction. He did pull the Arizona state map out of the glove box and studied the possibilities of where to start looking.
Illya! Kessler had said that Illya was badly hurt with a possible broken back. "Oh, God, Illya! What's happened to you?" Solo muttered while looking at the map. He knew he should have been on the assignment as Illya's partner. He should have insisted to Mr. Waverly that they work together. Now his friend was reportedly trapped under a car, badly injured, and Napoleon had no idea where. His first job was to find Kessler and hope that he was with Illya.
Napoleon impatiently looked at his wristwatch. "Come on! Where's that report? Time's wasting!" he said aloud, slamming his hand against the steering wheel. As if reading his thoughts the communicator warbled loudly.
"Solo here! What do you have for me, Phoenix?"
"Mr. Solo, we have the information you requested. We don't have an exact location, sir, but we can get you close. Kessler's last known spot was slightly north of the Yavapai County line, in Coconino County. There are several forest service roads off of state highway 179. It looks like they may be on one of those. You are about 18 to 20 miles from their location."
"All right, Phoenix. Thank you. I gather you are not receiving a homing signal, is that correct?"
"That is correct, Agent Solo."
"I would like to have med-evac helicopter ready to fly on a moment's notice. I have a report of one agent, maybe two, down and seriously injured."
"Unfortunately we can't send a helicopter at this time sir."
"Why the hell not?" Napoleon's voice quaked with the rage and helplessness he was feeling.
"We can't. There is one hellacious thunderstorm currently over the area complete with large hail and micro bursts. No aircraft are taking off all over the city. Also, weather reports indicate that your area may be hit with severe showers, especially later in the evening, as well, sir. I know you're not used to these types of storms, Napoleon. Stay out of the dry washes and arroyos. There could be some flashfloods even if it's not raining right in your area. Stay alert."
"Great, just wonderful!" The sarcasm in Napoleon's voice was noted. "Okay, I am switching on my homing signal. As soon as it is possible please send the helicopter to my location. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir, just as soon as we can."
Napoleon took another look at his map then folded it once and put it on the seat next to him. Checking over his shoulder for traffic , he slammed the gear into first, then second and pulled back onto the highway spraying gravel behind him. He glanced over to the west and saw clouds building up. Popcorn thunder showers were not uncommon this time of the year and more than one had the potential for growing into a major storm. He could see the roiling clouds beginning to build into the classic anvil shaped thunderheads.
XxX XxX XxX XxX
The THRUSH sniper chambered another round just in case the UNCLE agent lying in the sand moved.
"Nice shot, Anderson!" Simmons congratulated him with a clap of his hand on the man's shoulder. "That takes care of one of the UNCLE vermin. "
"Should we go down and check him out, Simmons?" asked Roriquez.
"Naw, he's dead. Let the crows and buzzards take care of what's left of him that is if the coyotes don't get to him first. Let's get back up the wash and collect Kuryakin and get out of here."
XxX XxX XxX XxX
As soon as the sound of tires faded away, Illya Kuryakin began working on the rope that held his arm to the door frame. He had had the presence of mind to tighten his muscles so his arm wasn't fully extended when the THRUSH lackey tied him. That combined with the over confidence of the men believing that he had no way of escaping, meant that the job of tying his arm was poorly done. If he extended his arm completely behind him he could reach the frame of the car and the knot. With the little bit of slack he could maneuver his fingers around the knot.
Fatigue, pain, and thirst were working against him. After several failed attempts Illya had to stop and rest. His arm and fingers cramped painfully from lack of water and his shoulder ached from over extension. As he rested, flexing his fingers and trying to relax the muscles in his arm, he thought about his predicament.
He knew that his chances of surviving this ordeal were slim. If Mother Nature didn't kill him, THRUSH would. Kuryakin was a man of few fears. He was not afraid of dying, but the fear of dying alone was one that haunted him. Dying alone and undiscovered was an even stronger fear.
He thought of Napoleon. Although he feared not being found, he hoped that it wasn't Napoleon that would find his corpse. Illya had seen corpses found in the desert. It was not a pretty sight. The bodies were bloated and blackened by the sun. Wild animals had scavenged them leaving the corpses hard to identify. No, Napoleon didn't need to be the one to find him and it hurt Illya deeply because he knew exactly that it would be Napoleon who would do everything possible to find him.
A slight breeze ruffled his hair and with it he thought he heard a faint report of a gunshot from a high powered rifle. Oh shit, Kessler! He knew the young agent was unarmed. The THRUSH agents must have found him. Illya closed his eyes for a moment thinking about Kessler knowing in his heart that the young agent was no more. With a renewed urgency, the Russian worked at the knot. If he could just get that one arm loose he would have a better chance. "A better chance at what? " he allowed himself a sardonic chuckle.
XxX XxX XxX XxX
The THRUSH jeep pulled to a stop above the area where the UNCLE agent lay trapped under the car. The occupants climbed out and surveyed the area below.
"What do you want us to do, Simmons?" Vargas asked.
"Let's get down there, get the car off the bastard and haul him up here. Then we'll take him back to headquarters.
"Won't moving him, hurt him further?" Anderson asked.
The other men looked at him as if he had totally lost it.
"Anderson! Think! What do we care if it hurts him further. He's not going to live much longer anyway! The captain wants to use Hinderman's methods on him. If he's still alive after that then I plan to have a little fun with him." Simmons smiled maliciously. "I think he could be a great source of entertainment tonight. What d'ya think, boys?"
From the distant northwest a low rumble could be heard. Simmons looked up to see dark skies hovering over the mountains and mesas and occasional fingers of lightning streaking through the sky . "We'd best hurry, boys, or we're going to get wet!"
The four men began their descent towards the car and Illya Kuryakin.
Warning: disturbing imagery, minor rough language
As the THRUSH agents approached the overturned car, Simmons noticed that the UNCLE agent's arm was no longer tied to the car and was now lying stretched out beyond his head. His fingers outstretched and clawed, buried in the sand, as if he had been trying desperately to pull himself out.
As he walked up to Kuryakin Simmons stepped on the man's fingers. No reaction. He squatted down next to the Russian and grabbed a fistful of hair and turned the man's head so he could look into the agent's eyes.
Illya Kuryakin's eyes were slightly opened but not focused. He mumbled incoherently through parched lips then his eyes rolled back.
"Whadda he say, Simmons?" Anderson asked.
"I'm not sure. Hey, Kuryakin! You still with us?" There was no response. Simmons slapped Kuryakin's face. Still no response.
Laughing Simmons sneered, " He's out of it. Okay, boys, put your gear down and let's get this car off of him and haul his sorry ass up the hill. Anderson, you and Vargas get the front. Rodriquez, you and I will get the back. On the count of three we'll lift this edge off of him. Vargas, when I tell you, you grab Kuryakin and pull him out.
"Okay, ready? One…two…three!"
Their groans of effort and strain chorused through the air. So intent were they on their task none of them saw Kuryakin surreptitiously move his arm and reach under his chest.
"Okay, Vargas, now!" Vargas left his position and moved towards the Russian's head, grabbed Kuryakin's collar and pulled. The body didn't move.
"You gotta lift it higher, man," Vargas yelled. "This guy's stuck, I can't move him!"
"All right, put your backs into it," gasped Simmons. "Try again Vargas, hurry it up!"
Inch by inch Vargas was able to pull Kuryakin free from the car.
"Got him, Simmons, he's clea..." The echo of a pistol shot reverberated off the canyon walls, followed by three more in rapid succession. Vargas fell back, his empty gaze staring at the clouds. Rodriquez had made a step towards Kuryakin before he fell forward, falling on the Russian agent's legs. Simmons howled with rage as he realized what was happening and charged towards Kuryakin. He, too, was stopped in his tracks by a bullet from the UNCLE special. The last bullet brought Anderson down. With no one left to hold the car up, it fell upon him as he collapsed from his mortal wound, leaving only a crown of blond hair showing.
Illya Kuryakin dropped his right arm, unable to hold the pistol up any more. The act of twisting his upper torso to turn and shoot the three men behind was painful and took the last ounce of reserve strength and left him sweaty and gasping for air. At least, he thought, he was sweating. That meant he didn't have heat stroke…yet. He lay his head down to rest..."Just for a minute," he told himself. He dozed lightly.
As Illya lay in a twilight state of awareness a shadow crossed the right side of his face followed by a sharp pain to his ear. As he jerked away from the direction of the pain, a huge set of coal black wings beat the air above him and moved slightly away. The Russian's blue eyes opened to see the oily sheen of black feathers and flakey unfeathered neck and head of a vulture. Beady black eyes bent down to the level of Illya's eyes attracted by the shine. Eyes were often the first bits of a carcass a vulture will consume. In a panic he flailed his right arm. "I'm not dead, yet!" he yelled, or tried to but it came out as a hoarse whisper.
The agitated bird moved away to join the rest of the carrion eaters that had gathered on the sandstone boulders and mesquite trees; nature's garbage disposals sat around and on the corpse of Jackson Hinderman.
Adrenaline pumped through Illya's veins giving him a renewed interest in his surroundings. Keeping a wary eye on the vultures he began to mentally catalog his injuries. His scalp laceration had dried. His left arm, surprisingly, was uninjured although quite tender. His fingers on the right hand were abraded from digging in the sand. He knew he had at least a couple of broken ribs and he could only take shallow breaths. His tongue felt thick and his mouth as dry as the desert from lack of water.
Finally, he began to assess the part of him that he had been avoiding, fearing what he would find. His back was, at the least, badly bruised. He looked further down to his legs and caught his breath. Laying across his legs was Rodriquez. Illya hadn't even noticed him in the heat of the shooting. What worried him more was he couldn't even feel the THRUSH agent's weight. He tried pulling one of his legs from under the fallen man and was dismayed when he couldn't get the leg to even twitch a muscle.
"Okay, Kuryakin. Get your priorities straight. What do you need to do first?" Illya gave himself a stern pep talk. This was not a time for feeling sorry for himself. Water, that was his first immediate need. He eyed the pile of equipment and canteens the agents had left nearby. He tucked the pistol and some of the flares into his belt at the small of his back. Digging his hands and elbows into the deep sand the blond agent slowly, laboriously pulled himself on his stomach towards the water.
Shaky hands untwisted the cap on the first canteen. As he turned his upper torso so he could lie partially on his back, Illya upended the canteen and let the life giving cascade of water pour into his mouth faster than he could swallow it. Water flowed out and past the corners of his mouth, down his chin and throat and onto his chest. He laughed at the sheer joy of being able to drink the liquid and feel it's coolness on his skin. Finally the euphoria of quenching his thirst gave way to common sense. He capped the canteen and collected the others putting the straps of each around his neck. Kuryakin debated whether to take one of the rifles, but reconsidered. It was heavy and he would have to drag it along with everything else and he knew he didn't have the strength. He did have the UNCLE special that Kessler gave him. Kessler - Illya swallowed the rising lump in his throat at the thought of the young agent who had unknowingly saved his superior's life, yet possibly sacrificed his own life with the simple act of giving his gun to the injured senior agent. Illya vowed to find the man and take him home to his family.
Illya thought of Napoleon. He knew that his friend and partner would be out leaving no stone unturned looking for him. It would be so easy just to sit and wait for him. A couple of the vultures had turned their eye towards him and had begun their ungainly flap and hop movement towards him. Their presence alone convinced him that he needed to move away from the corpses rotting in the sun. Slowly he began his journey up the arroyo. He dragged himself along, his useless legs trailing behind him. His movements established a routine. Reach forward with hands and elbows, dig into the sand and then pull the rest of his body and gear ahead, rest, and begin again. After a half hour Illya dared to stop and look back. He choked back a cry of despair, he had only covered about fifty yards and there was no sign of a break in the arroyo's steep sides for him to climb out. The wind picked up and the sound of thunder rolled across the sky.
For those of you who have never been to the high desert of the southwest, USA, there are signs all over the place indicating that one is in a national forest. Well, don't look for trees...lol...it's not that kind of a forest. You are more likely to see many varieties of cacti, sage brush, and other desert flora. I remember my first visit in 1968 and being from New England I kept asking if this is a national forest, where were the trees!
Napoleon Solo slammed on the brakes causing his jeep to skid to a stop on the loose gravel of the national forest road. He had spent a frustrating hour traveling back and forth on several dirt roads looking for some sign of a car wreck. According to the Phoenix office Kessler's communicator signal was broadcasting from somewhere close by. Grabbing a pair of binoculars, he climbed out of the jeep and glassed the area below where an arroyo paralleled the road. He slammed his fist on the hood. Nothing! Damn! Where could they be?
There was a disturbance up the sandy wash where it disappeared around a bend. The squawking of crows and the circling of vultures drew Napoleon's attention. Jumping back into the vehicle, he slammed the jeep into gear, the transmission whining in protest. Although he felt an urgency to see what the ruckus was about he was also afraid of what he may find. As he neared the area, Napoleon once again brought the jeep to a stop. A still form lay in the sand about 100 feet up the arroyo and closer to the opposite bank. Scavenging birds surrounded the body fighting amongst each other. The CEA of UNCLE sprinted across the sand shouting at the birds as he ran. The scavengers dispersed and Napoleon could see who was lying there. Kessler! There was no doubt. The scavengers hadn't been there long enough to do much damage to the corpse, but also the communicator was still clutched in the junior agent's hand.
Napoleon knelt down by his junior agent placing a hand on the shoulder of his body. "I'm sorry, Stephen. I'm so sorry!" He began the unpleasant task of searching Kessler's body, hoping to find some clue that would lead him to Illya's whereabouts. Nothing. Solo did noticed that Kessler's UNCLE special was missing. There had been no sign of a struggle. Only the presence of one entry wound to the back and an exit wound to his chest. It was evident from the red stains in the sand that the agent had bled out quickly.
At least he didn't suffer long, Napoleon thought, although it was a small consolation.
Picking up Kessler's communicator, Solo addressed the Phoenix office.
"Solo, here. Come in Phoenix."
"Phoenix, here, Mr. Solo, go ahead."
"I've found Kessler, he's dead. Get a fix on my homing transmitter for my current location and send someone to pick him up as soon as possible. You'll find him on the west bank of an arroyo off of NF road 9884."
"What about Mr. Kuryakin, Sir? Any sign of him?"
Napoleon swallowed hard, the knot in his gut tightening. "No, nothing so far. What about that helicopter? Is it able to take off yet?"
"I'm sorry, Napoleon. All aircraft are still grounded. Just as soon as it's possible we'll send one your way."
Napoleon let out a long breath in an attempt to control his emotions. "All right, but don't wait a second longer than necessary. I need a pair of eyes in the sky. Solo out,close Channel D."
Napoleon lifted Kessler's body and hauled him up and over the edge of the bank and left him under the low branches of a mesquite tree hoping that it might keep predators and scavengers away.
"Where is Illya, Kessler?" Of course, there was no answer, however, it helped Napoleon to think out loud. He could see Kessler's tracks and noted that they headed up the arroyo. He followed them about 200 yards and saw that they consistently paralleled the wash. He bent down to pick a piece of fabric from a bush. It matched Kessler's suit.
Napoleon straightened up and looked around. Off to the west, the sky was an angry black, the afternoon sun, behind a series of huge thunderheads, edged the upper level of the clouds with silvers and golds. Dark gray sheets of rain streaked with white obscured the mountain ridges, bending to the will of the wind. As the wind rushed down the slopes of the western hills towards his location the desert temperature cooled noticeably hinting of hail.
Napoleon had two choices. Abandon his jeep and keep following Kessler's tracks from the direction the young agent came for an unknown distance or go back to the jeep and head up the road with the hope that he could spot the car wreck. The former meant a more accurate path to Illya but would take a precious amount of time traveling on foot; the latter meant traveling faster, but not being able to follow the tracks directly. Turning an eye towards the approaching storm clouds, he chose the jeep and prayed that he had made the right choice. He needed to find Illya before the storm made it impossible to do so. Sprinting across the wash and back to his jeep he headed up the road his eyes constantly scanning the surrounding area for signs of his partner.
XXX XXX XXX XXXX
His clothes were shredded. Coarse sand had forced its way down his pants as he dragged himself along and ground against his groin making every inch he moved even more painful. A large boulder was ten feet ahead and Illya changed his course slightly to head for it. He had no energy left, but the boulder gave him a goal to reach and he kept up the monotonous routine of reach, dig in, pull, and drag until he reached it.
Illya dragged himself to the shady side of the boulder and pushed and pulled himself into a half sitting position. Gasping for breath, as much as his broken ribs would let him, he sat for a minute to take advantage of the little relief the shade offered. He uncapped a canteen and drank deeply not caring about the pain from his parched, cracked lips that had begun to bleed. Rest, if only he could rest. Just for a minute, that's all, only for a minute.
He dreamed of waterfalls, of diving into the deep cool pools where the water cascaded over rocks. He dove into the crystal clear waters, swam to the bottom of the pool and pushed hard with his feet, kicking, rocketing back to the surface. Breaking the surface he laughed at the sheer luxury of it all. Spotting Napoleon on a rock he yelled for his friend to join him. Napoleon waved and prepared to dive when the crack of a bullet sent him plunging into the pool in an uncontrolled fall. "No! Napoleon!" Illya woke with a scream in his throat. The crack of thunder reverberated along the canyon walls. Rain pelted the ground around him making craters in the dry sand, and Illya was keenly aware that he was in trouble. He had never experienced a flash flood, but had read about them and he knew the conditions were ripe for one now. He had to find a way to get out of the arroyo and there was no time to lose.
Illya's mind raced weighing the odds and formulating a plan. The closest, mostly likely spot to find a way out of the arroyo was ahead about twenty-five yards on the left bank. A large tree with exposed roots was his best chance. Maybe he could climb out by pulling himself up the roots. Making sure he had his canteens, flares, and pistol still on his person he forced himself back onto his stomach and headed up the wash once again.
If you have never been to the desert or seen a flashflood, I would like to suggest that you go to youtube and do a search for flashfloods. There are some amazing videos out there.
In its own curious way nature pointed the way to the site of the car wreck and the carnage that lay about it. Just as scavengers flew above and settled around Kessler's body, they were also present at the site, except there were many, so very many more.
Pulling his jeep onto the shoulder of the road some distance away, Napoleon stepped out and carefully observed the area. As much as he wanted to charge down the steep bank into the arroyo and look for Illya, it wouldn't do to run into a THRUSH trap. Ahead, about 200 yards, just around a curve in the road, was a jeep with the THRUSH insignia painted on the door. Next to it was the twisted and broken guard rail. If Illya's vehicle went down there how did anyone survive?
With mounting tension and trepidation Napoleon, once more, glassed the area both above the road and around the jeep. No sign of THRUSH. He surmised that if they had been around then the birds would not be hovering over the site. Abandoning caution he grabbed a knapsack from the rear of the jeep and sprinted over to the area. The vultures moved away slowly not wanting to relinquish their bounty. Steeling himself, he looked over the edge. One body in civilian clothes lay in the wash close to the near bank. Although he couldn't identify the face, Napoleon knew it couldn't be Illya. The hair color was wrong and Kessler had said that he was trapped under the car. The car! The vehicle was overturned, resting on its roof. Napoleon couldn't see anyone from the side facing him.
As he began to walk around the car he saw three bodies in THRUSH uniforms lying near the car.
"Illya?" Oh, God! Illya!" His cry was punctuated by a bright flash and a huge clap of thunder. The storm was upon them. All he could see was a crown of blond hair and a hand. A hand that had been ravaged by wild animals. His friend was dead. He sank to his knees in despair. Illya was gone.
A cold drop splashed on Napoleon's forehead bringing his attention back to the urgency of getting clear of the arroyo. The miasma of grief that weighed him down lifted as he realized that time was running out. There would be time for grieving later. He needed to get Illya out from under the car. He was damned if he would let flood waters further ravage Illya's body. He needed to recover him and get out of the arroyo. Napoleon approached the car and knelt down next to the blond head.
"I'm sorry Illya. I've should have gotten here sooner." Tears running down his face, mixing with the light rain, Napoleon reached for the blond hair intent on brushing it off of his friend's forehead which was facing the other direction. Napoleon jerked his hand back as if burned. "What the hell?"
The texture of the hair was all wrong. The color wasn't even right! Napoleon leaned over and dug under the car to reach the face. This man had a mustache! Napoleon's spirits rose from the deepest depths of despair and he began to hope again that perhaps he wasn't too late to save his friend. But where was he?
Napoleon looked up and saw marks in the sand. Not foot prints of any kind. No, they were drag marks! Someone, and he believed it had to be Illya, was dragging his body up the arroyo. Kessler had said that he thought Illya's back might be broken. Concern for his partner's physical condition did not wash away the renewed sense of hope that Napoleon had for finding Illya.
As he headed up the arroyo, Napoleon noticed with relief that the rain had stopped. There had been a few sprinkles but mostly lightning and thunder. He tried his communicator. Where the hell was that helicopter!
"Open Channel D, Napoleon Solo reporting." Nothing but static, damn. Well that explained why Kessler was so far away from the wreck. He was trying to get a signal. He stopped a moment to make some adjustments to the communicator. In that instant a strange sound registered in his brain. A strange rumbling…and he knew.
Quickly Napoleon jammed his communicator into his jean's pocket and headed for the west bank of the arroyo. As he climbed up a flash of metal fell unnoticed back into the arroyo. Solo looked up and 100 yards up the arroyo he saw it. He had always thought of a flash flood as announcing itself with a ten foot high wall of water. But that wasn't the case! What he saw frightened him even more. Not necessarily fear for himself but for Illya. The flood was preceded by a deceptively peaceful trickle in the sand. However, it was quickly followed by a roiling, seething three feet high wall of mud that consumed and churned up everything in its path. Large sections of the banks were undermined and fell into the raging waters. Whole mesquite trees raced down stream smashing into rocks and other debris.
Napoleon looked back towards the overturned car just in time to see it picked up by the crest of water and tossed around as if it was some child's toy being carelessly thrown about, and his heart sank. If the flood could do that to a vehicle what chance did a person with a broken body have? Illya!
Xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx
The roots of the cottonwood tree were buried deep into the sandy side of the arroyo, with just a few exposed and reaching out past the bank. Despite his exhaustion and pain Illya Kuryakin had dragged himself to the spot within ten minutes. With a sardonic half simile he congratulated himself for breaking his earlier speed record for dragging himself across the sand.
The lip of the arroyo's wall was a good five to six feet above him and the lowest root was two feet below that, but both may as well be 100 feet high Illya thought. He tried to reach the roots by pushing his chest off of the ground and found it was impossible. His left arm was still weak from being trapped under his torso for so many hours. Biting his bottom lip in concentration the Russian flipped onto his back and with great effort pushed himself into a sitting position with his back against the wall. He could just grab the lowest of the roots with his right hand. Taking the canteens from around his neck Illya thought he could use one of them as a grappling hook. If only he could snag the canteen in the upper roots and get it to hold he could use the strap to pull himself up.
On the fourth try the canteen jammed between the roots. Illya gave the strap a hard tug. It seemed strong enough to hold his weight. That was the easy part. Now all he had to do was climb hand over hand with a weak arm and pull an uncooperative body up through the roots and over the bank. Piece of cake, Kuryakin! He knew his chances were slim. Worried that he might lose his flares, remaining canteens, and weapon in his struggle to climb out of the arroyo, Illya tossed them up onto the ground away from the lip of the bank.
Taking the strap in his hands, he began the task of pulling himself up…and with a cry of pain fell back onto the sandy bed of the arroyo. He tried again with the same results. Illya was known in the UNCLE gym for his incredible upper body strength, but each time he pulled, his broken ribs threatened to pierce his lungs or his muscles. Gasping for air with shallow breaths, he let out a groan of frustration. He contemplated just staying there, 'though he knew he couldn't.
As he sat quite still waiting for his energy to recharge he felt it. A slight vibration, almost as if the earth was humming. As it got stronger it reminded him of when a subway was speeding along beneath the street. It took a few moments for Illya to comprehend what was happening. As he began to understand the cause of the vibrations he looked upstream and felt sheer terror such as he had never felt before. Bearing down on him was a muddy tumbling crest devouring everything in its path.
As he desperately reached again for the roots, his mind registered the image before him in slow motion and magnified detail. He saw every rock, every piece of wood, bits of the opposite bank collapsing as the mud choked wave reached for him. With a last surge of strength Illya, ignoring all pain, pulled himself as high up on the strap as he could and wrapped it twice around his bad wrist. With his good hand he tied a knot hard and fast praying it and the canteen jammed in the roots would hold.
In seconds the wave was upon him, hitting him with such force he feared he would lose his arm. The silt filled water washed over his head when the wave's crest hit him. His body was dragged along with the current until it reached the end of the tether. His legs jerked and bucked against the wave. Illya fought to bring his face above the water, but it was reluctant to give up its hold on him. He felt a sudden jerk. He knew the canteen was losing its hold in the branches. Illya brought his face up once more just in time to see a small tree heading straight for him. A branch hit his skull with a glancing blow, the extra force challenging the canteen's tenuous hold even further. Illya knew he was going to die. He no longer had the strength to hold himself against the current, to fight to raise his head above the water. The number 2 agent of section 2 of UNCLE Northwest last thoughts before losing consciousness were of his partner. I'm sorry, Napoleon, I tried. His vision faded from brown, to gray, and finally black. He never felt the rope that was slipped under his arms, the hands that pulled him above the water. Neither did he feel the strong arms enfolded around him nor the tears that fell upon his face. Nor did he hear the prayerful pleas from his partner's lips, "Oh dear God. Illya stay with me, tovarisch. Please stay with me!"
Napoleon pulled Illya back from the arroyo's edge and collapsed with him in his arms. Gently he laid him onto the ground and with a quick glance, Napoleon visually inspected his partner. The late afternoon light reflected off of Illya's mud encrusted face. The red sand of the arroyo clung in clumps to his hair. His clothes were torn. Only Illya's belt kept his trousers attached to his body. The shirt was no more than shredded ribbons and his skin along his torso and arms was nearly as much in shreds as his clothes. But it was Illya's eyes that caused Napoleon's chest to tighten with dread. Dull blue eyes stared up at him vacant and unseeing.
"Come on, Illya!" He urged. "I didn't rescue you so you could die on me." Napoleon gave his partner a hard slap to the flaccid face muscles, then reached for Illya's neck praying for a telltale pulse from the carotid artery. "Come on, Tovarisch. Stay with me." There! It was racing and thready, but there was definitely a pulse and his friend's chest rose and fell with shallow rapid breaths. Napoleon sat back on his heels and exhaled a deep sigh of relief. Illya was alive! He wasn't out of danger, but now the older agent felt there was hope that his partner just might pull through.
Before he inspected Illya more closely for injuries, Napoleon grabbed one of the canteens and gently poured water over the Russian's face to clear away the mud from his nose and mouth. The older agent wished he could have used more of the precious drinking water to wash away more of the filth, but he couldn't afford to waste it.
He evaluated and mentally cataloged Illya's injuries. His friend had a probable concussion, a scalp laceration, and large areas of abraded skin. Through the mud Napoleon could see massive bruising of Illya's torso indicating the likelihood of several broken ribs. Through the ripped trousers he could see where skin was scraped raw in the groin area.
"Shit, that's going to hurt!" Napoleon empathized, and immediately grew silent. He hoped that it did hurt, and hurt like a son of a bitch! If it hurt then Illya at least had feeling as far down as his hips.
Before inspecting Illya's lower extremities, Napoleon looked toward Illya's face and saw blue eyes watching him.
"Hey, Partner. Welcome back to the land of the living."
Illya's lips moved in response, but he could not coax words past his parched throat. Napoleon offered him a small drink from a canteen. As the younger agent tried to rise up on his elbows and grab the canteen Napoleon gently restrained him. "Easy, my friend. You've got to lie still until I can figure out how badly you are injured."
Once again the lips moved and Napoleon leaned in with his ear close to Illya's mouth to hear his partner's raspy whisper. "What kept you?"
With a wry smile, Napoleon, answered back, "Smart Ass."
Several moments passed while Napoleon continued to inspect Illya's injuries.
"Napoleon…it seems I can't feel my legs." The voice, only slightly louder than before, was tinged with fear."
"Illya, I'm going to turn you on your side so I can inspect your back. Here, tell me when you can't feel my hand anymore." Napoleon began pinching Illya's skin hard from between the man's shoulder blades down towards his waist. "Can you feel this? How 'bout here? And here?"
Each time Illya answered in the affirmative. Then Napoleon pinched the skin below Illya's belt… there was silence. "Illya?" Solo was hoping that his partner had simply gone to sleep or lost consciousness. As Napoleon looked at his friend, Illya swallowed hard and averted his eyes.
Again Napoleon asked, "Can you feel this, Illya?"
"No." Illya's response was barely audible.
Napoleon took in a sharp breath and let it out slowly working to keep his voice calm. "How about here?" No answer. "Illya?"
"Leave it, Napoleon. There's no point in going on with this." Illya's voice reflected the defeat in his eyes.
"It's going to be okay, Illya. We just need to get you back to Phoenix. Hang in there, Partner." Napoleon gently eased Illya onto his back and patted his friend's shoulder. "Let's get you out of here." He reached for his communicator. His hand closed on pocket lint. Shit! Desperately the older agent searched all of his pockets, to no avail. Napoleon knelt again by Illya's head. "Illya, I'm sorry, but I've lost my communicator. But there should be a chopper coming soon to pick us up." He grabbed the canteen and gently lifted his partner's head. "Here, have some more water." After several long gulps Illya closed his eyes and Napoleon helped his partner lay his head down.
"Napoleon….I'm cold." It was a simple statement accompanied by the chattering of teeth.
"I'm not surprised, Tovarisch. You're soaking wet." And probably going into shock, Solo thought. Unfortunately he had no extra clothes for Illya and debated whether to remove his partner's torn, wet clothes or leave them on. He opted for temporarily leaving them on as they might offer a little protection from insects. Napoleon looked around for a way to warm his partner. Any dead wood that could have been used for a fire was swept downstream in the flood.
"Tovarisch, I'll be right back." The blond agent only nodded, his eyes still closed. Napoleon's brow furrowed as he heard the raspy shallow breaths of his friend accompanied with an occasional cough. He stood up and headed away from the edge of the arroyo.
Illya heard his partner's retreating footsteps. With each footfall that faded so too did Illya's confidence. His shivering became uncontrollable, his breathing was labored, and his coughing grew worse. He commanded his legs to move, even if it was just a little twitch. Nothing. The blond agent bit back a cry of frustration. What good was he to himself or UNCLE if he didn't have his legs? The Russian was not one who was prone to feeling sorry for himself. He had always taken what life had thrown at him and adapted. But this time…this time maybe it would have been better if Napoleon hadn't saved him. If he had just let himself be swept away with the flood. That's enough, Kuryakin! Self pity doesn't become you! He admonished. Even then the shadow of self pity did not completely relinquish its hold on the man.
Napoleon had noticed that this area of the high desert was used for pasturing small groups of cattle, Herefords mostly. The white faced cows and their calves could be heard lowing gently nearby. Where there are cows, there are cow patties, he thought. He had seen people in India use dried cow dung as fuel. "If it's good enough for them it ought to be just fine for us," he mused. He looked around and found many cow patties, but he was looking for the ones that were completely dry. Taking off his shirt he piled as many patties into it as possible and used it as a basket to carry them back to where Illya lay in the sand. Solo, if the girls could see you now! He laughed at himself. He knew his reputation as a natty, debonair dresser would be sullied if the girls knew he was carrying an armload of cow shit in his clothes.
As Solo approached Illya, he became alarmed at how much his partner's condition had deteriorated. Illya was fighting for his breath between spasms of shivering. Napoleon knew he had to get those clothes off of his partner…now! He set the dung down and arranged the patties into a pile. Grabbing one of the flares that Illya had thrown onto the arroyo's edge earlier, he took the cap off and struck the flare against it. Once ignited, he stuck the flare under the dried dung. Quickly a blue, odorless flame grew and Napoleon added the rest of the cow patties to the fire.
Napoleon turned his attention to Illya. "Hey Partner, let's get these wet clothes off of you." There was no objection and that, in itself, spoke volumes to Napoleon about his friend's condition. He gently removed Illya's shredded clothing. Taking off his own t-shirt and using it as a towel, Napoleon began the process of drying Illya off. Despite his careful ministrations, Napoleon heard Illya gasp in pain as the cloth rubbed against his bruised ribs and massive abrasions along his torso. "Sorry, Tovarisch," he murmured.
"S'okay, Napoleon." A coughing fit followed the whispered response.
He didn't dare move his injured partner anymore. Great was the fear that further movement would cause a broken rib to puncture a lung or some other organ, or that Illya's back would be further injured. Napoleon lay down next to his friend, put his right arm under Illya's head and his other arm across the front of Illya's shoulders. He pressed close to the blond agent, offering his own body heat to warm the man's trembling body. The blue flame of the fire reflected off the two men as they both slipped into a deep sleep brought on by total exhaustion. Neither heard the distant thrum of an approaching helicopter.
Search lights flooded the immediate area providing light for the medical personnel who arrived with the UNCLE helicopter. They worked quickly with skilled precision on the gravely injured agent. Carefully they eased Illya Kuryakin onto a backboard and stabilized his neck and back with sandbags to prevent any lateral movement as they placed him on a stretcher. They covered the agent with blankets and placed an oxygen mask over nose and mouth. Because he was so severely dehydrated, It took the medics a few moments to find a vein and start an iv bottle of saline solution and also a broad spectrum antibiotic. Not once during the poking and prodding did Illya wake up.
Napoleon stood nearby absent mindedly fingering Illya's medallion as he watched the medics tend to his friend. They had removed it from around the Russian's neck and given it to him. He filled them in about the injuries he knew Illya had and how he had acquired them. He was gravely worried about his friend's paralysis, but a more immediate threat was the danger of pneumonia. Illya's breathing was still shallow and labored, his cough more frequent and severe.
Charley Hickman, the chopper pilot, came up beside Napoleon with a thermos of warm coffee. Napoleon gratefully accepted the offered cup as the desert had cooled off considerably when the sun sank below the horizon.
"Just as soon as the medics get your partner stabilized, we'll be taking off, Mr. Solo."
"Thanks, Charley. The sooner we can get Illya to medical the better I'll feel. How long will the flight take?"
"It won't take long, maybe about 40 minutes"
Napoleon toed the sand with his boot. Forty minutes…why had it taken so long to get to them.
Hickman saw the look of frustration in the agent's eyes.
"I'm sorry, Napoleon. We got here as soon as we could. I wish we had arrived sooner."
"Yeah, me too, Charley, me too." Looking up into the pilot's eyes he asked, "What happened? Why did it take so long?"
"Phoenix was totally covered in thunderstorms, Napoleon. A series of super cells passed over the city. That's unusual, most of the time we might get one and it only lasts a few minutes to an hour. All air traffic was grounded because of the lightning and unpredictable winds.
"When we finally got the go ahead to take off we followed your signal from your communicator and then it stopped suddenly!"
Napoleon grimaced. "Yeah, Charlie, I must have dropped it while climbing out of the arroyo. The flood waters must have taken it downstream. It wouldn't have worked after that. So how did you find us?"
Charlie smiled, "Your fire! It wasn't very big, but out in the middle of nowhere where there are no other lights it was bright enough to attract our attention."
One of the medics approached them. "Hey, Charley, we've got the patient stabilized and we're ready to go." He looked at Napoleon. "He's awake, sir, and asking for you."
"All right, men. Let's get in the air," Hickman called and headed for the pilot's seat.
Napoleon clambered in the open rear door, sat down next to his partner, and buckled himself into the seat. "Hey, Tovarisch. How are you doing?" His friend mumbled something and was agitated. Napoleon reached over and removed the oxygen mask.
"Napoleon, Kessler…he's down there somewhere, we can't leave him behind!" The injured agent tried to rise up on his elbows, but he was held back by the restraints used to immobilize his spine.
"Illya," Napoleon squeezed his friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry, I thought you knew….Stephen Kessler is dead."
Illya stopped struggling. Silence, and then softly, "I thought perhaps he might be." He set his jaw and momentarily closed his eyes. When he opened them again he glanced at his friend as best as he could with his head immobilized and spoke, "Napoleon, promise me you will recover Kessler's body. Don't leave him for the animals and the desert heat. Promise me."
"It's already been taken care of, my friend. I called the Phoenix headquarters as soon as I found him. They sent a crew out to take Stephen back to Phoenix, from there his body will be sent to New York. I've been told that his family has been notified."
Kuryakin relaxed visibly upon hearing this bit of news. "I'd be dead if it weren't for him, Napoleon." He swallowed hard and then continued, "He was a good agent." Napoleon put the oxygen mask back in place and squeezed his friend's forearm as Illya fell asleep.
Xxx xxx xxx xxx
How he kept from creating a trench in the waiting room floor from his pacing, Napoleon didn't know. The helicopter ride had been uneventful until the last five minutes when his partner went into respiratory distress. The medics shoved Napoleon aside as they rushed in to work on Illya. They ended up intubating him and using a bag to help him breathe. The last Napoleon saw of his friend was when the medical team transferred the stretcher to a gurney and raced off to the medical section for evaluation and surgery. A nurse had gently taken Napoleon by the arm and led him to this room.
"Mr. Solo?" Napoleon brought his head up sharply at the mention of his name. He was so engrossed with his worry for Illya he had not heard the doctors approach.
"Mr. Solo, I am Dr. Mark Reisbeck , Mr. Kuryakin's surgeon and this is Dr. Amanda Sinclair our neurologist."
"Call me Napoleon, doctors. How is he?"
"Well, Napoleon, he is out of immediate danger," assured Dr. Reisbeck. "He had several broken ribs and one of them pierced his right lung collapsing it. We've repaired the damage and he is breathing much better. If his blood gas levels are normal by tomorrow morning we should be able to take him off of the respirator.
"He was badly dehydrated when he came in but we are rehydrating him through IV fluids. We will have to watch his renal output to make sure his kidney functions are normal, but we aren't really expecting any problems. We also need to keep an eye out for infection. With all of those abrasions being exposed to the filth in the flood waters, it is always a possibility. All in all, he is a very lucky man, Napoleon! For the most part he should recover well and quickly."
"Ah, for the most part, doctor? What aren't you telling me." A tight knot in his gut had only just begun to relax, until the last sentence and now it was tighter than ever.
Dr. Sinclair spoke up. "I guess that is where I come in, Napoleon. As you know Mr. Kuryakin was experiencing paralysis to his lower extremities from his hips down. For now he will have to have a catheter as he has lost the ability to control his bodily functions…"
"Wait, Dr. Sinclair. You said 'for now' does that mean the paralysis is temporary?" hope surged once again in the CEA's chest.
"At this point, Napoleon, we see no reason why it shouldn't be. Radiographs and tests show that his spinal cord is not severed; only severely bruised and inflamed in the lower lumbar area."
"Doctor, that's great news!" Napoleon ran his hands over his face feeling the tension releasing throughout him. He wanted to shout out for joy, but professional decorum prevailed.
"Just a moment, Mr. Solo," warned Dr. Sinclair. The return to the use of his surname brought Napoleon up short. "While we fully expect Mr. Kuryakin to recover from his paralysis there is a chance that he will never fully regain his mobility. Recovering enough to continue being a field agent is going to be…..well, let's just say that a lot of it is up to Mr. Kuryakin and his willingness and strength of character to persevere."
Napoleon gave a tight half smile and his brown eyes stared intensely into hers. "Dr. Sinclair, it is obvious you don't know my partner. He is one of the strongest, most stubborn men I know. He has never been a quitter, and perseverance is his middle name."
"Let's hope so, Mr. Solo, let's hope so. Your partner is going to need all of those attributes in the months ahead."
"May I see him?" Napoleon not only was in a hurry to see Illya, but he also wanted to get away from the negative talk.
"Of course. He has been transferred to ICU until he is off of the respirator. We've told the nursing staff to expect you. You may have free access to him while he's there."
"Thank you, doctors! I appreciate you help." Napoleon turned on his heel and headed for the elevator.
The doctors watched the man's retreat to the elevator.
"Those two appear to be more than partners, obviously they are good friends as well."
"Let's hope so, Mark. Mr. Kuryakin is going to need all of the support and encouragement that Mr. Solo can give him."
Napoleon entered Illya's cubicle in ICU. No matter how many times he saw his partner in Medical, no matter how banged up Illya had been over the years, he never could get used to seeing his partner hooked up to IV's and machines. He always feared that the next time Illya might not survive. This time was no different.
As he drew the vinyl covered chair close to Illya's bed, Napoleon blocked out the sound of the heart monitor and respirator. He simply wanted to concentrate on being there, to let his friend know that he was there for him. Pulling Illya's medallion from his pocket Napoleon studied it for some time, his fingers absently rubbing it while he thought about what the doctors had told him.
"Hey, Partner," his voice a gravelly whisper, "you're going to be all right, Tovarisch. Just you wait and see." Napoleon let out a shaky sigh, and drew in an even shakier breath. His right hand reached up to wipe an errant tear as he drew another ragged breath, trying to maintain control over his emotions. "The docs say you have some hard work ahead of you, my friend, but I believe you can do it. You'll have to be at your stubborn best, Illya, but you're the strongest person I know. If anyone can beat this, it's you, Tovarisch."
Napoleon took the medallion and wove the chain through Illya's fingers, putting the medallion in his palm. Patting his friend's arm he whispered, "I've got to go talk to Mr. Waverly, Illya, and file a report. But I'll be back as soon as possible. He rose out of the chair and headed to the door. He turned around for a quick look at his partner and shook his head before leaving.
As Napoleon left the cubicle a nurse came in to check the heart monitor and respirator. She adjusted the drip for the IV, patted the injured agent on the shoulder and left never noticing the single tear that escaped his eye and ran down his cheek.
Warnings: mildly coarse language. Nope this is not the end, not yet...
One month! It seemed more like one year! In that month he had regained feeling in his lower extremities and gotten rid of the damnable catheter. "Well, that's something!" the injured agent muttered to himself. Unfortunately, while feeling had returned to his legs, mobility had not. And now with the frustration of immobility there was also pain, intermittent pain that radiated up and down both legs like fire. While he tried to hide the pain from the doctors and Napoleon, he couldn't keep from breaking out in a sweat or emitting an occasional gasp when it hit. Doctors had prescribed pain medication which he was reluctant to take. He didn't like the way it dulled his mind and made him feel like his thoughts were being filtered through a jumble of cotton.
One of the physical therapists came waltzing into his room unannounced, greeting Illya in an overly cheery shrill voice, "Good morning, Mr. Kuryakin, and how are we this morning?"
The blond agent's eyes narrowed as they fixed on her with a gray steely stare. "I don't know how you are, but I'm just fine," he spoke through tight lips.
"Well let's just see how well our exercises are going, shall we?"
"No! " Picking up several of his journals he flung them in her direction. He was so tired by this woman's patronizing comments. He had endured if for the past month, but no more. "Get out. Get out now!"
"Why, Mr. Kuryakin, how rude!"
A water pitcher traveled the same flight path as the journals, hitting the far wall and splashing its contents about the room. "And stay out!" he yelled to the backside of the retreating therapist.
Xxx xxx xxx xxx
Napoleon entered Mr. Waverly's office. As CEA he had been invited to sit in on a conference discussing Illya's progress and medical condition.
"Ah yes, Mr. Solo, please join us. I believe you know these gentlemen and lady from medical.
Napoleon gave them a brief nod before sitting down.
Dr. Sinclair, the neurologist, reported that after one month feeling had come back to Illya's lower extremities, however mobility had not. The nerves in his lower back were still highly irritated. To make matters worse Illya was plagued with intermittent pain.
"How much of his inability to use his legs is physical, doctors?" Mr. Waverly asked
Napoleon's brow furrowed. Surely the Old Man wasn't suggesting…
"It's hard to say, Mr. Waverly. While we feel that much of his condition is due to his injuries we are also exploring the idea of there being some psychological blocks to his recovery," responded Dr. Shulz, another neurologist. "We would like to have the psychiatric team come in and evaluate Mr. Kuryakin."
"Now just a damn minute!" interjected Napoleon. "How could it be psychological? You know as well as I do that Illya has been working his hardest at his therapy sessions. Hell, his therapists even complain that he is pushing himself too hard. How do you explain that, doctors?"
"Mr. Solo, you will do well to remember your manners and behave as the Section 2, number 1 agent that you are!" reprimanded his boss.
Napoleon had more he wanted to say, but stopped and muttered an apology.
Mr. Waverly turned to the doctors, "Gentlemen and lady, thank you for your report. Regarding having the psychiatric team come into evaluate Mr. Kuryakin, make it so. Good day, gentlemen."
The doctors said their goodbyes. "Ah, Mr. Solo, I need you to stay a moment, please."
"Yes sir." He waited for a further chewing out. He knew the Old Man wasn't happy with his outburst. Instead, his boss softened his expression, compassion colored his voice.
"Napoleon, I know how difficult this has been for Illya and for you as well. It is never easy to see one's partner, one's friend suffer -especially a man as proud and private as Illya is. We need to use all of our available medical resources to give him a chance to fully recover. I don't want to lose one of my best Section 2 agents from the field. However, if his situation doesn't improve soon, within the next month, I will be forced to pull his Section 2 certification. He could still work in the labs. As a matter of fact I think he would make an excellent head for the Research and Development labs or maybe he would be interested in heading Section 3 - security, " he smiled as he squeezed Napoleon's shoulder and added, "However, young man, I have not given up on Illya. Don't you either."
Napoleon was touched by the unusual show of compassion his boss had just displayed. Rare was the time when the Old Man referred to his agents' given names which only demonstrated how much he was affected by Illya's injuries.
"Yes, Sir, and …thank you." He left Mr. Waverly's office and headed to the elevator.
Xxx xxx xxx xxx
The elevator doors whispered opened when the lift arrived at the medical floor. Napoleon stepped out, hesitating before heading towards the wing where Illya's room was located. Loud voices echoed through the corridor. He gave a little smile. There was no doubt who was the owner of one of the voices. His partner had been cooped up in the medical wing for a month and Napoleon knew that Illya was going stir crazy. Hell, he would have been in the same boat if he had been cooped up as long!
As he approached Illya's room a woman came out crying and muttering something about damn Russians and stubborn ingrate. He poked his head in the door and smiled, "I see you are continuing to woo the staff with your usual charm, Partner."
"I'm warning you, Napoleon, don't you start with me, too." The smoldering look from Illya's eyes called a halt to any good natured banter that Napoleon was going to start.
"I wouldn't dream of it, Illya." His expression softened . "What's wrong, Tovarisch? How can I help?"
"I need to get out of here, Napoleon. I want to go home. There is absolutely no reason for me to stay here."
"Illya, you need to stay here, you know that, until your legs are healed."
"Bull shit, Napoleon! I can be a cripple in my own apartment as easily as being one here! At least at home I can be myself. I won't have doctors constantly poking and prodding me as if I were some damn guinea pig."
With that he reached over from his bedside to grab the ever present and hated wheelchair. Using his arms and upper body strength he grabbed the arms of the chair and maneuvered his hips onto the seat. He then pulled his right leg down , next his left leg. Picking up his legs from behind his knees he placed each foot on the footrests. Turning the chair he wheeled himself towards the closet where the clothes that Napoleon had brought him weeks ago were hanging.
"Hey, hang on, Illya, where do you think you're going?," asked Napoleon as he placed his hand on his friend's shoulder.
Illya spun his wheelchair around. "Home, Napoleon, with or without your help."
"All right, Tovarisch. Just promise you'll wait here for a few moments while I talk to Mr. Waverly. I have an idea. Do you promise?"
Illya relaxed his shoulders just a bit. "What do you have in mind, my friend?"
"I don't want to say until I talk to Waverly. Can you hang on that long?"
The Russian relented. "Okay, Napoleon…but don't take too long."
An hour later Napoleon came back to Illya's room. "Well, we got the green light, Tovarisch. You can leave under one condition." He saw Illya began to bristle at the thought of conditions. "The powers that be insist that you have someone stay with you, I thought you could stay with me, if you're willing. And since your apartment is just a couple of floors down, you will have ready access to it. Meanwhile, Mr. Waverly has ordered medical to outfit both of our apartments with the necessary equipment to make it easier for you. What d'ya say?"
In half an hour, Illya was dressed. He could do most of it himself, but Napoleon had to help him pull his briefs and pants up over his hips, a skill he had not yet mastered during his stay in medical. Napoleon knew how much it took out of his partner to admit he needed such help.
When finished Illya was exhausted and covered in perspiration. He was surprised how much energy such a small task of getting dressed cost him.
Napoleon smiled and patted his partner's shoulder. "What d'ya say, Tovarisch. Shall we go?"
Illya, his demeanor considerably more amiable, half smiled and with a dramatic gesture he replied, "Home, James, and don't spare the horses!"
Muted light from the last of the evening's sun found its way into the dimly lit living room and rested upon the back of the apartment's lone occupant. Illya Kuryakin sat at the end of the couch with a bottle of vodka in one hand and his head laid back against an upright cushion. His wheelchair was parked slightly off to one side. The forgotten tone arm of the hifi's turntable had finished its journey across the Billie Holiday album and now repeatedly searched for a new path beyond the record's paper label.
A glass hurled through the air with such speed the trajectory had no arc to it, sending glass shards in all directions from the force of the impact against the wall
The disabled agent had set out to get drunk. He wanted very badly to drink himself into oblivion and surrender to the pall of despair that threatened to envelop him most days, or maybe he was drinking to forget and hide from that despair. He didn't really know, nor did he care. But he couldn't get drunk, not for lack of trying. It seemed he couldn't even do that right and out of frustration he had launched the glass.
Two weeks! Two long, frustrating weeks ago he had been released from the hospital. Napoleon had been gracious enough to help him adjust to being home. The first five nights he had stayed in Napoleon's apartment which had been outfitted with aids to help him maneuver around in the bathroom. After those first five nights, Illya had decided it was time to begin the transition of moving from Napoleon's apartment into his own.
Napoleon helped whenever Illya needed it without being overly solicitous which he appreciated. His partner had also driven him to headquarters each morning so he could attend the daily physical and occupational therapy sessions. It was today's session that had set off his current mood.
The physical therapy session had begun with the routine of stretching and manipulating his legs to keep the muscles from atrophying. While he now had feeling in his lower extremities he was still unable to move them on his own. After the exercises the therapist had Illya put on the thick canvas belt that provided her with a hand hold to help support him while he attempted to stand at the parallel bars.
He wheeled the chair up to the bars and with his arms and chest muscles pulled himself into a standing position. Slowly, he began what he called the bunny hop. He reached forward on the bars pulled and pushed his legs until they cleared the floor and he could swing them forward to line up under his torso. Then he would begin the process again.
Drenched with sweat from the effort, he paused briefly to catch his breath.
"You're doing fine, Mr. Kuryakin. Just take your time."
Too tired to speak he gave her a brief nod and reached forward once again. As he brought his hips and legs forward and put weight on them severe burning pain shot through his legs. He cried out and lost his grip on the parallel bars and went down. The therapist felt her patient begin to go down and couldn't keep a solid hold on him. Instinctively, she positioned herself so as he fell he landed on her thus cushioning his fall.
Illya was unhurt with the exception of his pride. He immediately rolled off the therapist and lay gasping in short breaths as he worked through the pain.
"Try to breathe deeply, Mr. Kuryakin. It will help you relax." The young therapist seemed to be fine.
"Are you okay, Miss Johnston?" he asked between gasps.
"Oh don't worry about me," she smiled. "It goes with the job. But, I'm sorry I didn't keep you from falling."
"It's not your fault. Please don't give it a second thought." While he was outwardly straining to be civil, his mind screamed at his soul over the embarrassment and indignity of his situation.
While the therapists did all they could to keep their patients from falling, when something like this happened they would often use the situation as a teachable moment to help the patients learn to help themselves. It was one of the ways to build self reliance and self confidence. Before Miss Johnston could talk Illya through the process, two other people, one an assistant, the other another Section 2 agent who was receiving therapy for a minor injury, ran over to help. Not waiting to ask how or if they could help, both men barged in picked Illya up like a rag doll and plunked him unceremoniously into his wheelchair.
"There you are, Illya!" the well meaning agent offered. "Are you okay?"
The Russian agent tried to vocally brush the man off. "I'm fine," he answered between clenched teeth accompanied with a withering stare.
The agent then, without asking, grabbed the wheel chair and started to move it where he thought Illya would want it.
"Leave me alone!" Enraged and humiliated, Illya repeated, "Just... leave me... the fuck alone!"
"Alright, alright. I was just trying to help. Geez…what an ingrate!" The agent raised his hand in mock surrender and walked off.
Illya began to wheel his chair to the exit. "Wait, Mr. Kuryakin! You're not finished with your session," Miss Johnson called.
Without turning around he shouted back, "YES, I am. And don't expect me tomorrow!" Without further comment he wheeled himself through the swinging doors, found his way to the UNCLE parking garage and asked the security guard to call him a cab.
So here he sat in the half light of his living room, angry at the world and himself, and he couldn't even get drunk. "Chyort!"
Xxx xxx xxx
Napoleon was deeply concerned about his partner. He noticed that Illya was increasingly avoiding other people including him. As CEA he had access to Illya's records and he sat in his office reviewing the report from the psych department. The psychiatrists believed that part of Illya's inability to gain mobility was a subconscious effort to punish himself. That he actually blamed himself for Stephen Kessler's death. It didn't help matters that because of his injuries and hospital stay, Illya was unable to attend the agent's memorial service.
Also on Napoleon's mind was that he was very aware that Mr. Waverly had allowed him to stay close to headquarters so he could be there for Illya. But after six weeks the time had come for him to go back out in the field, maybe for several days or weeks at a time. How was Illya going to cope then?
The buzz of the intercom broke into his thoughts. The medical department had called to relay the incident in the physical therapy room and that his partner had not stayed for the full session and had, in fact, left the building. Shit! He thanked the department head for keeping him informed. Unfortunately, he had a few more priorities to tend to before he could head over to Illya's apartment and see if he was okay.
Standing in front of Illya's door, Napoleon listened for a moment before knocking. He couldn't hear a sound. He knocked the coded knock they both knew. "Illya? Illya! Open up. Illya are you okay?"
"Go away, Napoleon! Leave me alone!"
"Can't do that partner, I'm coming in."
"I said, 'Leave me the fuck alone!' "
Early in their partnership both men had exchanged apartment keys in case of emergencies. Napoleon took his set of keys and began unlocking the series of locks. All he could think of was a discussion he and Mr. Waverly had earlier in the day regarding Illya's status as a Section 2 agent.
Well, he thought, I may be losing a partner, but I'll be damned if I'm going to lose my friend. With that in mind he opened the door to Illya's apartment and ducked just in time to avoid being hit by a flying vodka bottle as it smashed into the door right by his head.
Illya's eyes widened as he watched rivulets of blood finding their way down Napoleon's cheek after glass shards from the bottle ricocheted off the door and struck him. "Oh god, Napoleon, I'm so sorry, I didn't…" his voice trailed off as he looked down at his shaking hands, unwilling to meet his friend's eyes.
Napoleon clenched his jaw, not from pain, but rather in attempt to hold his temper. Without a word he crossed the small living room, glass crunching beneath his shoes, and entered the kitchen to grab some towels to staunch the flow of blood. He also set the coffee percolator on the stove. He looked over his shoulder at his partner. Illya hadn't moved, hadn't said another word, but the slump of the shoulders told of the demons of doubt and defeat that haunted his friend. Napoleon contemplated his next move. What he did or said next could very well set into motion the end of their friendship. He prayed that wouldn't be the case and prayed that Illya would eventually forgive him.
While waiting for the coffee to finish brewing Napoleon rummaged through the pantry and found a meager selection of canned goods. The icebox was nearly as devoid of food. Finding some bread and sliced cheese he made a grilled cheese sandwich and warmed up a can of tomato soup. When the food and coffee were ready he placed them at the dining table. He purposely did not take the meal directly to Illya.
"Illya, come eat."
"Illya?" Napoleon moved to the couch into his friend's line of vision. Illya still avoided even looking in Napoleon's direction. He was mortified that he had injured Napoleon and couldn't bring himself to look at the man.
"Agent Kuryakin! You will get your lazy ass over to the table and eat…now!"
"No!" Illya shouted…..then almost a whisper, "No."
Napoleon grabbed Illya by his shirt, then lifting the man by his arm pits, he forcibly put his friend into the wheelchair. To his dismay, there was no resistance, no fight at all from Illya. He just let himself be put into the chair as if he had no will of his own.
Here goes, oh God, please let this be the right tactic. "Well, I thought I'd never see the day!" he started with his best CEA no nonsense voice.
"I never thought I'd never see the day that Illya Kuryakin would make a liar out of me!"
"What do you mean, Napoleon?" Illya's voice was flat with no hint of true interest in what his partner was saying.
"I told the doctors that you were a fighter! That you were the toughest, bravest man I know, and that you would never quit! But, obviously I was wrong. No wonder Mr. Waverly has decided to rescind your certification for Section 2. He doesn't believe in quitters either."
Those words got Illya's attention. He felt the fury build up within him as he finally fixed a cold stare on Napoleon's face.
"Be very careful, my friend," his voice seethed through clenched teeth. "You don't know what you're saying. I am NOT a quitter."
"Bull shit! You are nothing but a quivering puddle of self pity. You're content to sit in that chair and let people feel sorry for you and do your beck and call, and when life throws a curve ball you just give up! Here goes.. "I guess I need to call Stephen Kessler's parents and apologize to them. Apologize that he died for no good reason. That my partner has made a mockery of his sacrifice."
With a roar, Illya pushed himself up and out of his chair launching himself with full fury at Napoleon. He tackled him at the waist bringing them both crashing down to the floor among the broken glass. He brought himself up on his knees, drew his fist back and landed a right cross against Napoleon's left jaw.
"That's not true! You know that's not true!"
He brought it back to strike his friend again when Napoleon grabbed Illya's fist.
"Illya…look!" Napoleon's voice strained from the pain in his jaw.
The Russian's momentum was arrested by Napoleon's hand, but the rage was still present in his eyes.
"Illya! Look at yourself!"
And he did. He was on his knees. He was bearing weight on his knees! Dropping his arm, Illya sat back and rolled his hips to one side. Pushing himself with his arms he was able to lean against the side of the couch. Flooded with emotions that ran the gambit from remorse to elation several half sobs, half laughs erupted from deep within the man's soul.
Napoleon picked himself up and moved over to the couch, as well, settling down next to his friend. He reached a hand over to cover the top of Illya's hand. In a gentle, soft voice he said, "I'm sorry, Tovarisch. I didn't mean any of those things I said. I just had to find a way to prove to you that you still had fight left in you. I know this has been a trial for you, but I also knew that if you gave up on yourself you would never recover. Forgive, Tovarisch, please."
Illya's eyes met Napoleon's. "There is nothing to forgive, my friend, except for the fact that I ask your forgiveness for my behavior." He looked at his friend's swollen face. "Hmm, I believe you are going to have a beaut of a black eye. Come on, my icebox may be nearly empty but I do have ice for the swelling. Together they uprighted the wheel chair and Illya lifted himself into it. As Illya ate the dinner, Napoleon had prepared, he listened as his partner filled him regarding the conversation he had with Mr. Waverly.
" I guess there is one thing that is true, Illya, and I'm sorry. Mr. Waverly has temporarily rescinded your Section 2 certification." His eyes searched for Illya's face for a reaction, there was none. "He did say that he would be happy to reinstate you if your physical condition improved, but he still wants you at headquarters working in either Research or Security."
Illya stopped eating long enough to reply. "It's okay, Napoleon, I'm surprised he delayed his action this long." He gave a half smile, "But as long as he understands it is only temporary…and I think that, thanks to you, we've just proven that indeed, it will be temporary."
Together they cleaned up the apartment, going over the floor several times with the vacuum to find all the broken pieces of glass. Napoleon bid his friend good night and headed upstairs to his own apartment. Illya secured his door and headed to bed. For the first time since the accident when he dreamed of walking through forests or running on the beach he knew it wasn't a fantasy but a forecast of things to come.
The next several weeks Illya Kuryakin spent much of his time at headquarters working out in the physical therapy unit. With renewed energy his legs strengthened and moved at his command. The doctors and therapists also began using a medical technique that had been widely used for hundreds of years in China, but only beginning to be accepted in western medicine. With the help of acupuncture, the constant pain that plagued Illya began to subside and then go away all together.
A month after the incident at Illya's apartment, Stephen Kessler's parents were visiting their son's grave site at Memorial Gardens cemetery. They stood quietly arm in arm with their heads bowed when they heard a car drive up. They paid no attention to it as many people to visit the graves of loved ones. Their ears were drawn to the sound of tapping and a slightly shuffling gait as it grew near. They turned to see a slight young man making his way towards them. The blond man walked slowly with the aid of two canes carefully placing his feet with each step. Even in the cool weather they could see beads of perspiration on the man's face from the effort it took him to walk the short distance from the car to them. He stopped in front of them.
"Mr. and Mrs. Kessler? My name is Illya Kuryakin."
Napoleon had stayed by the car as he watched his friend make perhaps the longest walk of his life. He watched as Illya approached the couple standing next to Agent Kessler's grave and extended his hand in greeting. He could see Illya speaking for several moments, but couldn't hear what was said. Suddenly, the couple pulled Illya into a warm loving embrace.
Xxx xxx xxx xxx
Six months after Illya had been transferred to Section 8, he stood outside Mr. Waverly's office. He had been summoned there moments before by Miss Rogers, saying that Mr. Waverly had made an urgent request for his appearance.
Illya hadn't seen much of Mr. Waverly's office since his transfer. Dressed in his lab coat with his blue triangular badge signifying his department, he stood patiently waiting for Mr. Waverly to call him into the inner office. Napoleon wandered into the waiting area, greeted Illya and indicated that he, too, had been called.
The door opened. "Ah, gentlemen, please come in." Mr. Waverly looked up from a file folder and indicated for his men to have a seat. He took a few more moments to finish reading the file before him then looked up. He fixed his blue gray eyes on the Russian.
"Mr. Kuryakin! I believe that you are out of uniform!"
"You heard me."
"Excuse me, Sir?"
"Mr. Kuryakin, you are to surrender your badge immediately!"
The Russian kept his face impassive and without argument hesitantly removed his blue level badge. "Yes, sir," he answered quietly. Napoleon smiled secretly. Illya placed the badge on the huge round table and turned it so it now sat in front of Mr. Waverly.
Immediately, Alexander Waverly picked up the blue badge and replaced it with a yellow badge and spun the table back around to the perplexed man. "Mr. Kuryakin, you are from now on to wear attire that is appropriate for a field agent, do you understand me?"
Illya picked up the yellow badge that bore his old number 2 and stared at it. Realization reflected on his face and he broke out in a broad smile. Napoleon laughed and pounded him on the back. "Welcome back, Partner!"
Mr. Waverly also breaking into a rare smile stood and walked over. Shaking Illya's hand he spoke, "Welcome back to Section 2, young man. It's been too damn long!"
Swallowing hard, trying to find his voice, Agent Kuryakin responded with a heartfelt, "Thank you, Sir!"
"Now gentlemen, we have a problem!" He handed each man a file. "It seems that THRUSH has been kidnapping diplomats from a few embassies from several of the smaller west African nations. I need you two to fly immediately to our South African office and put together a team to investigate the situation and put an end to this problem. Take these files with you and review them on the plane. You leave within the hour. Good day, gentleman and good luck.
"Yes Sir." The two men chorused as they turned on their heels and left.
The Old Man puffed on his pipe and smiled as he watched Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin walk shoulder to shoulder through the corridor on the way to their next assignment.