Christmas Eve, 1968
The small group of people sat around the mahogany table resplendent with its linen table cloth, sterling silver place settings, and crystal stemware. The large mantle over the grand room’s fireplace was framed in fresh holly. Balsam wreaths adorned each window. The last hint of daylight shone through the large paned windows. The gray tones of the early evening snowstorm softened the harsh outlines of bare trees as snow flakes pelted the glass.
April Dancer sat to Napoleon’s left, next to her partner, Mark Slate. Roscoe Crowley and his partner, Steve Franks, were seated on the opposite side of April and Mark. Ben Creighton, head of Section III, sat the other end of the table while his second-in-command, Terry Kepner, sat to his right. All were close friends of their host.
Napoleon laid down his linen napkin before gently tapping his knife against the Waterford crystal goblet. He picked up his wine glass and stood facing his guests. “To my dear friends,” his eyes made contact with each of his them, his gaze lingering at the empty seat to his right, “I would like to thank you for joining me in this special Christmas dinner. It’s so rare for us to be able to be together, under the same roof when not assigned to a mission. I am honored that each of you braved the wintry weather to travel here to share in the Christmas festivities.”
The small number of guests raised their glasses echoing their agreement.
“As we enjoy our time here, let’s keep those who could not be with us today in our thoughts as they complete their missions or are assigned duties at headquarters so that we may get this time off.
"While Christmas day isn't yet upon us for another few hours, I would like to wish each and everyone of you a very Merry Christmas."
Again the clink of glasses and murmurs of "Merry Christmas" were repeated.
Napoleon sat down. The smile on his face didn’t reach his eyes as he once again glanced at the empty chair. He really thought that this time his partner and best friend, Illya Kuryakin, was going to share in the festivities.
Every year for the past four years, Napoleon had made a point of inviting Illya to share Christmas with him. The first year, Illya had politely declined. As a new agent in America, a Soviet agent at that, the Russian knew he would feel out of place amongst his colleagues celebrating a holiday of which his Soviet culture did not approve. He also worried that his KGB handlers might catch wind of such a celebration and send unfavorable reports to his superiors back home. That year Napoleon had set a place for his partner anyway hoping that he would change his mind.
The second year, while he truly appreciated Napoleon’s attempt to include him, Illya had the same concerns as the previous year and respectfully declined. Still, Napoleon set a place for him.
In their third year as partners, Napoleon once again asked, but as it turned out, neither agent was home for Christmas. Napoleon had been sent to France to deal with a security problem in Section 2 of the Parisian office. Illya was sent to the jungles of Brazil to lead an operation to quash a growing problem between Thrush operatives and some of the remote tribes living along the Amazon. While both returned to the New York headquarters, relatively unscathed, the holiday season was long over.
This year Napoleon once again invited Illya. “Illya, you are going to spend Christmas with me, aren’t you? Illya? Hey, Illya wake up! Can you hear me?”
He was answered with a loud groan. Whatever Illya might have said was muffled by his swollen, possibly broken, jaw. He hung suspended from the ceiling, his wrists bound by chains. His feet hovered above the cement floor by mere millimeters, just enough to keep his toes from reaching the floor.
Napoleon was chained to the wall in such a way that he couldn’t stand, sit, nor lie down, forcing him to remain in a squatting position. To keep his mind off of his screaming back and leg muscles, he tried again to engage Illya in conversation.
“Hey, Partner, are you with me? Come on, Illya. No sleeping on the job!”
Illya slowly lifted his swollen head to peer at Napoleon through his one partially opened eye, tried to say something that sounded like it could have been, “Napoleon, let me sleep.”
Solo grimaced. It sounded as if his partner was speaking around a swollen tongue and several loose or broken teeth. He had taken quite a beating around his head. “Come on, Illya. I’m trying to sort out my Christmas plans,” he continued hoping to distract his partner from the pain. “I need to know who’s going to join me up in Lake Placid this year.”
Illya tried to respond. Whatever he was intending to say came out as a soft moan before he passed out.
A week later, Napoleon entered medical to retrieve his partner. Fortunately, Illya’s jaw had not been broken and the U.N.C.L.E. oral surgeon was able to reset his teeth. It did make, however, for one surly Russian who was rapidly getting tired of a liquid diet prescribed until his teeth showed signs of settling down. Napoleon drove his partner home. Taking advantage of the situation to invite his partner, he once again, invited Illya to celebrate Christmas with him.
Illya rolled his eyes, "Napoleon, you are like a broken record. Look, my friend, I truly appreciate your invitation, but I really do not think I should. Besides, Mr. Waverly, knowing that I do not observe the holiday, usually sends me on a mission during that time."
Leaning across the small table in Illya's apartment as the blond agent slurped his homemade chicken soup, Napoleon gently placed his hand on Illya's forearm above the bandaged wrist. "Illya, please, it would mean a great deal to me if you joined me for Christmas. I‘m having a few others who are close friends, but you’re my closest friend."
Blue eyes regarded Napoleon's pleading eyes. Illya gave a small half smile. "I cannot promise, Napoleon, but I will consider it."
"I guess that's all I can ask." Napoleon smiled broadly. At least he didn't say 'no'!
Napoleon felt a hand slide into his left hand. He looked up, shaken out of his reverie, to see April looking at him with concern. “A penny for your thoughts, darling. You were a million miles away.”
He gave her an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, April, I was just thinking about Illya. I really thought he’d be here this year.”
Mark, hearing the conversation, leaned over and quietly commented, “Napoleon, you know Illya. He just likes to have his alone time, especially during this time of year.”
“Yeah, Mark, I guess you’re right, a leopard can’t change its spots. Still, it would have been nice to have him here.” With a deep sigh Napoleon turned to make conversation with Steve and Roscoe.
April and Mark exchanged glances with unspoken words of concern. They thought Illya was going to be there this year, as well. He had told them, if he got back from his mission in time he would show up and surprise Napoleon.
The Second Week of December 1968
Illya Kuryakin had been on medical leave since his release from the infirmary. After subsisting on a liquid diet while his jaw and teeth healed he was finally given the go-ahead to start eating solid foods. He really didn’t want to cook so he picked up a meal from the neighborhood restaurant. He sat on his couch with a large plate of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and a healthy portion of cole slaw. Selecting a large chicken leg, he began to take his first mouth watering bite of solid food in two weeks when someone knocked on his door. He looked away from the drumstick to the door then back to his drumstick. He knew it wasn’t Napoleon at the door as his partner was on assignment. Maybe he would just ignore the door knock. He started again to take a bite of chicken when the knock was repeated, more insistent in its demand. Good manners won out. Illya sighed putting the untouched drumstick back on the plate, wiped his hands, and rose to answer the door.
With pistol in hand, Illya stood to the side of the door. “Who is it?”
“Illya, it’s me, April. And Mark, too.”
Illya looked through the peephole and saw his friends. “Just a minute, April.” He holstered his weapon and unlocked the door and welcomed his friends inside. Mark and April, both laden with grocery sacks, breezed in.
“We heard that you’re allowed real food and thought we’d help you celebrate,” April said, answering the unspoken query of an arched eyebrow.
The evening was spent in quiet, comfortable companionship. The three enjoyed a small feast while catching Illya up with the latest news and assignments. When the evening wound down they cleared the coffee table and washed the dishes. As Illya walked them to the door, April turned to him. “Illya, darling, Napoleon has asked us to celebrate Christmas with him up in Lake Placid. We’ve accepted. He also said that he’s invited you. Are you going to join us?”
“My partner is like an old dog worrying a bone,” Illya muttered, but April could see a hint of a smile on the Russian’s face. “Actually, I am planning on going if I get back from my assignment in time. But please do not tell Napoleon. I want it to be a surprise. That way, if I do not get back in time he will not be expecting me and be disappointed.”
“That’s great, mate. And mums the word!” Mark clapped him on the back.
“Oh, Illya, Napoleon will be so happy.” April couldn’t resist giving him a chaste peck on the cheek.
“Just remember, not a word, my friends. And barring any unforeseen circumstances, I will see you on the twenty-fourth.” Illya closed the door behind them.
Although the mission in Oslo, Norway, was fairly straight forward without the usual perils an agent could encounter, it took longer than Illya had anticipated. His plane did not touch down at Laguardia until 2 AM on the morning of Christmas Eve. By the time he had filed his report and checked out an UNCLE car, a blue Chevy Corvair, for his trip to Lake Placid it was close to 4:30 AM. He had just enough time to catch a couple of hours sleep before heading to Macy’s to buy gifts for Napoleon and the others since he was unable to purchase any before the mission. He was fortunate that the stores opened early in the morning to attract last minute shoppers. He was on his way out of the city by 9:00 AM.
The drive from New York City to the Lake Placid area usually took a little over five hours when the weather was cooperating and the roads were clear. Unfortunately, a predicted nor’easter had moved into the area earlier than forecasted. A wind driven snow began falling by 10:00 AM. The road crews worked hard at keeping the main roads clear of snow with their snowplows and sanding trucks, but traffic was still backed up bumper to bumper for miles. Impatient drivers nudged their cars closer to the ones in front of them as if crowding the car ahead would get them to their destination any faster. Drivers leaned on horns and gestured as others cut in front of them trying to crowd their way into, then out of, the lanes looking for the fastest moving one.
Illya Kuryakin concentrated on not grinding his healed teeth in frustration as he waited in the backed up traffic. While he sat he checked the road map to see if there was a viable shortcut that would take him off the turnpike and away from the snarled mess. He spotted a likely possibility and planned to leave the turnpike twenty miles up the road.
Illya Kuryakin turned off of the main highway onto the two-lane secondary road. He noticed that this road had not been plowed and sanded as well as the main highway, but it wasn’t bad. He slowed down a bit to compensate for the road condition. No need to rush as it was only about fifteen more miles to Moose Lodge on the outskirts of Lake Placid. He should be there in about forty-five minutes at his rate of travel.
The last hint of gray light in the western sky peeked through the wall of bare branched hardwoods mixed with a smaller variety of coniferous trees that came up to the edge of the road. There was an occasional break in the trees off to the right allowing a glimpse of the partially ice covered creek that paralleled the road. Illya looked at his watch. It was 4:30 pm. If he increased his speed slightly he might be able to get there in time to join in the pre-dinner festivities. Although his Soviet upbringing still made him feel somewhat uncomfortable about joining in the Christmas celebration, he was looking forward to the company of good friends and seeing the expression on Napoleon’s face when he opened the door to Illya’s knock.
The road climbed gently as it wound its way around the contours of the Adirondack Mountains. Illya could feel the the tires fighting for purchase on the accumulating snow. It wasn't anything he couldn't handle as he had driven in far worse conditions, but he would be glad to get to Lake Placid so he could relax.
He glanced to the right side of the road and smiled at the whitetail doe pawing at the snow, nibbling on the dormant grass that lay underneath. He enjoyed driving through the countryside and seeing the ...
The loud panicked blare of a horn brought the Russian's full attention back to the road in time to see a large red pickup truck skidding sideways across the road as it tried to negotiate a curve. Even in the fading light, Illya could see the terrified look on the driver's face as the man over corrected causing the truck to flip on to its side and skid directly towards Illya’s car. The agent jerked his steering wheel hard to the right in an attempt to avoid the oncoming truck. Unfortunately, the curve was layered with black ice hidden under the snow. Both vehicles collided with a crash and careened across the road before sliding down a rocky embankment towards the swift moving waters of the creek.
The screech of metal on metal filled Illya's ears as he held tightly to the steering wheel. The UNCLE car rolled once before coming to rest with its front end in water. The last thing he felt was his head crashing into the windshield when the car came to an abrupt halt against a large boulder.
The gathering finished dinner by 9:00. Mark and April stood by the lodge's ten feet tall Christmas tree in the pretense of admiring its decorations. They looked furtively towards Napoleon and the others who gathered around the fireplace enjoying an after-dinner drink.
"Mark, I'm worried about Illya. He should have arrived by now. Do you think we should tell Napoleon?"
"Nah, not yet, luv, the storm probably delayed him. Let's give him another hour, don't you think? Besides maybe he's still involved with his mission."
April looked at him, her eyes searching his. She could see the doubt in his expression. "But you really don't think so, do you." It was not a question.
Mark lowered his eyes a second before answering, "No luv, I don't." Pulling out his communicator he said, "Excuse me, I believe I have a call to make. I'll be right back." He left the room to call Illya, or failing that, headquarters.
When Mark returned April watched as he approached. She paled at the expression on his face. As he spoke to her quietly her hand went to her mouth in a silent gasp. Mark gave her a slight nod and they both approached Napoleon.
Touching Napoleon on the elbow, Mark spoke quietly, "Excuse me, Napoleon, may April and I have a word with you?"
Napoleon, who had been engaged in a lively discussion with Ben Creighton, turned to face Mark. "Of course, Mark!" he said brightly. "What's on your mind?"
"In private, mate?"
The other guests picking up on Mark's tone moved away to give the three some space.
Napoleon's expression changed to one of wariness. "What's going on, Mark?"
April answer instead. "It's Illya, Napoleon." She hastened to continue before her friend could jump to any wrong conclusions. "He was going to surprise you and drive up if he got back from his mission in time, but he should have been here hours ago."
"I tried calling him on the communicator, but there was no answer," Mark broke in. "I called headquarters and had Wanda check the records. He got in around 2:30 this morning, filed his report, checked out an UNCLE car for the trip and signed out about 4:30."
"Well, I'm sure he's okay, Mark," Napoleon said. "After all, he was probably exhausted and got a late start, and with the nor'easter hitting he probably got delayed in traffic." Napoleon didn't believe his own words.
"Yeah, well, I thought about that and had Wanda check the signal from the tracer in the car," Mark continued. "Napoleon, his car hasn't moved for the past (he checked his watch- 9:30) five hours."
"Did Wanda say if they had a fix on his location?"
"About twelve miles from here on Route 73 just west of Keene. Napoleon, I've talked with the highway patrol. No car has been reported stuck or left on the road, and there are no hotels or businesses in that area. It's basically out in the middle of nowhere."
Napoleon went into full CEA mode. He called the rest of his friends over and relayed the information that Mark had given. "Alright, we need to locate Illya's car. He may have been ambushed by THRUSH although I think it's unlikely, but something's happened and he might be in trouble.
"Rosco, I want the four of you to stay behind in case Illya shows up. If we haven’t found him by the time we reach Keene we’ll contact you. In which case you’ll start driving towards Keene and look in case we missed something, while we drive back doing the same thing. We’ll meet in the middle. Between us maybe we'll spot Illya's car. Mark, what model car is it?”
"A light blue Chevy Corvair, mate.”
“Alright, Napoleon. While you head that way we’ll call the highway patrol and report him missing as well as give them a description of the car.”
Darkness. Wet! Cold, no warm, no...both. Illya opened his eyes. As his muddled thought processes slowly cleared he realized he was in trouble. He felt bitter cold moisture on his legs while his head dripped warm, sticky drops down his face into his eyes and mouth. His head hurt like hell. He raised his right arm to wipe away the warm moisture from his eyes. Blood. A lot of blood. He reached up to his scalp and found a large gash at his hairline. His hand brushed against pieces of glass stuck in his hair. Then he remembered. The images of the truck colliding with his car then forcing both vehicles down the embankment came back in bold technicolor.
His legs were wet and freezing. His ears had stopped ringing and now picked up the sound of water splashing against the car. Illya looked through the flowing blood to see the front foot wells had filled with water from the partially ice covered spring.
Illya pulled his communicator out of his pocket. Even without a light he could tell it was broken. It had been bent in half from the force of the crash. Shit. He pushed hard against the driver's door. The door refused to budge. He threw his left shoulder into the effort succeeding only in jarring his body and making his head hurt more. A wave of dizziness and nausea washed over him as white stabbing lights drove pain through his eyeballs. Illya paused a minute to let the pain subside then drove his shoulder into the door again. This time he was rewarded with the complaining groan of the door yielding to his efforts.
As he climbed out of the car he immediately felt the water’s current rushing around his knees. Illya sloshed through the creek to climb up its low bank. The bank was slippery with ice and snow causing him to stumble onto his knees and hands.
As he stood up he saw the mangled wreckage of the truck. It lay upside down, its roof pierced through by a limb of a tree that splintered in the crash. The passenger door was flung open, hanging twisted on its hinges. Illya inspected the inside. It was immediately apparent the driver was dead. The tree limb that had pierced the truck’s roof was also driven through the driver’s chest. The Russian briefly bowed his head. Someone would be without a family member for Christmas.
After a brief search, Illya found a couple of blankets, a flashlight, and a cigarette lighter. Wrapping the blankets around him for some semblance of warmth, he pocketed the lighter and flashlight before heading up the embankment to the road. He had remembered passing an old rundown sheep shed a mile or so back. He decided to make his way there to take shelter out of the storm and try to get warm.
Never had a mile seemed so endless. Surely he had covered that much distance in the last half hour yet he could not see the sheep shed he knew had to be nearby. Illya pulled out the flashlight to light his way. His hand shook so much from the cold it was a wonder that he could get the beam of light to focus on anything.
He traveled about another quarter mile when he found a break in the trees revealing a small meadow. Using his flashlight the faint outline of the rundown shed, about 100 feet away, was caught in the beam of light. Fighting the slippery footing, made worse by his smooth soled, wet loafers, Illya climbed over a century old stone wall then waded through knee deep snow around the far side of the shed to the entrance of the dilapidated building.
Illya shone the flashlight into the shed. The building was in poor condition. The roof had caved in towards the center leaving little room for someone to even crawl into. Old dust encrusted cobwebs hung from the beams, and on the dirt floor lay piles of moldering straw. Even in the sub-freezing temperature the smell of urine and sheep dung permeated the air. None of that mattered to Illya. All he saw was a place to get out of the wind and the snow.
He crawled into a far corner where the walls seemed to be sturdier than the rest of the place. Clearing a spot on the floor, Illya prepared to make a small fire. He gathered a few clumps of straw together and fished out the cigarette lighter. His hands were so numb that he had trouble getting the flint wheel to turn. Finally after several minutes he was able to produce a flame only to have it go out immediately. He scowled at it and tried again with the same results. He shook the lighter and found that there was no lighter fluid. The lighter was useless.
Fighting the numbness in his hands and legs, Illya struggled to get out of his wet shoes and pants which had stiffened with ice below the knees. He massaged his feet trying to get the circulation going, then wrapped each foot with several layers of one of the blankets he had torn into pieces. The other blanket was pulled around his torso then covered with layers of foul smelling straw. Illya checked the luminous dial of his watch, 9:18 pm. Nearly five hours had passed since the crash. It was going to be a long night. Shivering uncontrollably, Illya settled back into the straw, piling more on top of him and waited for morning.
The windshield wipers worked furiously to keep ahead of the snow which was falling more heavily. Napoleon was glad April and Mark were with him. He had to keep his full attention on the road ahead given that the road was slick and visibility was down to about fifty feet. April and Mark sat in the back seat, each looking out the side windows searching for any sign of a stalled or wrecked car. Nothing. When they reached Keene, Mark called back to their friends at the lodge and gave them the news. The other agents immediately left the lodge and headed toward Keene.
“Napoleon, why don’t you let me drive, mate? You’re practically cross-eyed from watching the road the last hour.”
Napoleon pinched the bridge of his nose. Mark was right. He was tired and had a hell of a headache caused by tension and eye strain. “Yeah, sure, Mark. That’s a good idea.”
“Maybe before we head back we should make sure he didn’t check into the hotel,” April suggested.
As they suspected, there was no sign of Illya. They checked the bars and the hotel. “This is crazy. We’re wasting our time here. Illya would have contacted us if he were able. We need to get back on the road to search for him,” Napoleon said impatiently.
By the time they headed back, the driving conditions were so treacherous that no one else was on the road. It took almost a half hour to travel six miles. Mark was almost sorry he had volunteered to drive as he didn’t have as much experience driving in blizzard conditions as Napoleon. Tension was high in the car as each person concentrated on looking for the Corvair and quietly worried about Illya.
The two tone warble of Napoleon’s communicator pierced the silence startling all three agents. Napoleon opened the pen, “Channel D open.”
“Napoleon! Terry, here. Listen, we just got a call from the highway patrol. They think they might have found something about ten miles from the lodge at mile marker 52. We’re about five miles away.”
“We just passed mile marker 50, Napoleon. We’re almost there,” Mark said.
Napoleon acknowledged Mark with a nod. “Okay, Terry, thanks. We’ll probably get there before you.” He closed the communicator. “Okay, Mark, get there as fast as you think is safe.”
“Oh, shite!” Mark saw it first. Up ahead the blue and red lights of emergency vehicles reflected off of tree trunks and the falling snow. Napoleon leaned forward trying to see better.
“Oh, dear God!” April tugged at Napoleon’s sleeve, pointing out the crumpled blue Corvair already loaded onto a flatbed truck. The front end was badly crushed as well as the rear left panel. The driver’s door hung precariously on its hinges.
Before Mark could come to a complete stop, Napoleon was out of the car, moving towards the Corvair. Mark and April caught up to him. “There’s so much blood,” April whispered.
Voices could be heard as the first responders began to climb up the embankment. Napoleon looked in that direction. April watched Napoleon’s face blanche as he saw the men crest the hill carrying a stretcher with a blanket covered body. Napoleon started towards them, but Mark caught his arm. “No, Napoleon, I’ll go and check.”
“No, thanks any way, Mark,” Napoleon answered, his voice raspy with grief. “I need to do this, myself. I owe him that. You two stay here.”
His friends watched as he moved slowly, almost mechanically, over to the stretcher. He spoke with the highway patrol officer showing him his identification card, then turned to the stretcher. Hesitantly, Napoleon lifted a corner of the blanket. They watched as his shoulders dropped and his head bowed as he slowly sank to his knees.
April and Mark moved quickly to his side to help him and console him. As they reached him, Napoleon looked up with utter relief on his face. “It’s not him.”
“Napoleon?” April questioned.
“It’s not him, April! This is not Illya!”
The other agents showed up shortly after. The seven agents gathered around the highway patrol officer as he told them what he and the others had found. “So, Mr. Solo, I can’t tell you where your man went off to. The snow has covered all tracks. But there’s one thing I can say with certainty." He jerked his thumb towards the Corvair and then the stretcher. The driver of that car is one lucky son of a bitch that he isn’t on his way to the morgue like that poor slob over there. You can bet he’s hurtin’ though. From what I can tell from the shape the windshield is in and the amount of blood all over the place, he is injured. Hard to say how bad, but the blood can give you a hint.”
Napoleon grimaced. “Thank you, Officer. Do you know of any place nearby where he could have found shelter?”
“Nope, there’s really nothing around here ‘cept maybe a barn or two where he could hole up. I don’t think he could have gone far with him bleeding so much.”
That tidbit of information did nothing to assuage Napoleon’s fear for his partner’s safety. “Yes, well, thanks again, officer.” He turned to his friends. “Roscoe, would you guys take your car and head towards the lodge? Keep a look out for any structures such as buildings or walls where Illya might have taken shelter. We’ll head back towards Keene and do the same.”
“Sure, Napoleon.” Roscoe looked up at the sky. “Napoleon, it looks like there may be a break in the snow. If the clouds clear up it also means the temperature will plummet. We need to find Illya ASAP!”
“Yeah, Roscoe, I know. Okay, let’s get a move on. Stay in touch with your communicators.”
The sharp sounds of car doors slamming and wheels crunching on snow were heard by the first responders as the UNCLE agents departed.
He couldn’t stop shivering, no matter how much straw he piled on top of him. Illya knew that if he actually stopped shivering it would be a sign that he was in danger of severe hypothermia. He tucked his hands under his armpits and pulled himself into a ball, trying to conserve as much of his body heat as possible. Every few minutes he would doze off only to jerk awake. He chastised himself for falling asleep, knowing that each time he closed his eyes he was risking the possibility of never waking again.
His eyes jerked open. He checked his watch, 11:56. Illya held very still, or as still as someone who was shivering could, and listened. The wind soughed through the trees that bordered the meadow creating a low moaning sound. He settled back against the straw.
“Mama? Is that you? Where are you?” He saw nothing, only heard the whisper of a voice long lost in his past. “Kuryakin, you have definitely slipped a cog,” he mumbled to himself and closed his eyes again.
Illyusha! The voice held a note of urgency. Illyusha, my son, stay awake.
“I am tired, Mama. I am just going to rest my eyes for a little bit.” Again he closed his eyes.
Illyusha, you must not sleep.
“Just for a little bit, Mama.”
Napoleon and his companions slowly drove east once again toward Keene. He noticed that the snow which had been falling heavily at the crash sight had now slowed down to a flurry with the moon peeking through the clouds above. April and Mark each scanned the south side of the road looking for any tracks or clues that someone had traveled on that way on foot.
“Do you see anything at all?” Napoleon kept his eyes on the snow packed road.
“Not a thing, mate,” Mark replied.
Napoleon pounded the steering wheel with his left fist in frustration. “Damn it! Where are you, Illya?”
April reached over from the back seat and squeezed her friend’s shoulder. “We’ll find him, Napoleon. Illya’s resourceful, he’ll be alright.”
Napoleon reached up and gave her hand a squeeze. “I hope so, April,” he sighed. “I just wish we knew how badly he was hurt.”
“Look out, Napoleon!”
Napoleon looked up to see a white tailed doe dash in front of his car. He braked hard causing the car to skid ending up with its front facing the stone wall that paralleled the road. They watched as the deer jumped the wall.
“Napoleon, look!” April grabbed his shoulder again. “There’s fresh blood on the wall!”
“That’s impossible, I didn’t even hit it!”
All three got out of the car to inspect the wall. There was no doubt that the marks on the snow covered wall were blood. Strangely, there were no deer tracks in the snow. However, as they looked around, Napoleon found several depressions in the snow that could possibly be human footprints filled in by falling snow. However, the footprints, only extended a short distance before they disappeared all together.
“These have to be Illya’s,” Napoleon whispered, “but which way did he go?”
Mark looked up and around. Both April and Napoleon turned to him when they heard him give a startled gasp.
“What is it, Mark?”
“Look,” he pointed southward. “Over there!” Fifty feet in front of them the doe stood looking back over her shoulder towards them. Twenty feet beyond that the moonlight breaking through the clouds shone upon a run down, collapsed sheep shed. “Do you suppose, Illya could have made it to the shed?”
Napoleon began plowing through the knee deep snow in the direction of the shed. “There’s only one way to find out!” His heart soared with hope and dread. What if…
They slogged through the snow. It escaped their notice that the deer had disappeared leaving no tracks behind. Napoleon rounded the corner of the shed first. Grabbing his flashlight he played its beam around the inside. The roof had collapsed in the center, but the corners still had room for someone to take shelter. He thought he heard a low whispering voice say, “Just for a little bit, Mama.”
He shined the light into one of the back corners to find his missing partner huddled in a pile of straw. “He’s in here!” he called back to April and Mark. “Illya’s in here!”
Napoleon crawled into the corner. His friend was semi-conscious, mumbling incoherently. He was alarmed at the amount of blood covering his friend. “Illya?” he whispered. “Illya, it’s alright, tovarisch.”
Napoleon chuckled. “Hardly, Illya.”
“Oh. Napoleon? Did you see her, Napoleon? Did you see Mama?”
Napoleon tried not to let his friend’s delirium worry him. He patted Illya on the shoulder and smiled. “No, I must have just missed her, tovarisch.”
Quickly, he assessed Illya’s condition. His friend’s face and suit jacket were covered with caked blood which came from a deep laceration of the scalp near the hairline. It was still bleeding. Deep contusions along his forehead and right cheek could be seen where the blood had been wiped away. His right eye was swollen shut. Napoleon was somewhat concerned with the uncontrollable shivering and confusion, but all in all, Illya appeared to be in relatively good health considering what he had been through in the last seven or so hours.
Patting him on the cheek, Napoleon coaxed Illya into a full level of consciousness. “Illya, look at me.” One blue eye met his. “Can you walk, tovarisch?”
A weary nod, “I believe so,” he rasped. Napoleon helped him put his trousers back on.
He and Mark moved Illya out of the shed. The men had him don both their coats while Napoleon gave him his gloves.
“Where’s April?” Napoleon asked.
“She went back to the car to warm it up and gather some blankets, mate. She also called the authorities. They told her that while Keene is closer, there is a small medical clinic in Lake Placid. They can send an ambulance to meet us if we ask.”
Illya shook his head. “No, once I warm up I will be fine.”
Napoleon studied his face carefully. “Are you sure, Illya?”
He was answered with a weary nod. “All right, let’s get you to the car, it’s a short walk.”
Mark spoke up. “Ah, mate, I think we need to carry him.” He pointed to Illya’s blanket covered feet.
“I believe we can take care of that. Mark, grab my hands.” The two men made a seat by clasping each other’s wrists. Turning to Illya he said,
“M’ Lord, your chariot awaits!”
The agents reached the medical clinic at 1:25 AM. Dr. Bennett met them at the door to let them in as the New York State Police office had called ahead to advise him that he would be receiving a patient. As he watched the group park under the portico and get out of the cars he was struck by how weary they all looked. The individual that was to be his patient was obvious by the amount of blood that covered the man’s head and clothes. Dr. Bennett noticed that despite the injuries the young man insisted that he could walk unaided. Well, he wasn’t about to let that happen and immediately pushed a wheelchair out to the waiting vehicle.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Bennett. Young man, I think it would be best if you had a seat.”
“No, thank you, doctor. I am able to walk.”
“Illya! Do what the man says, sit down!” The dark haired man commanded.
The patient shot a one eyed defiant look at his friend but relented and took a seat.
As he rolled the patient into the clinic he addressed the others. “If you’d take a seat out here, I’ll take our patient into the examining room and evaluate him. He needs to be cleaned up before I can suture his scalp laceration. I will also take some X-rays of his head to see if he is concussed.”
“Dr. Bennett, my name is Napoleon Solo. This is Illya Kuryakin, my business partner and best friend. I’d like to go back with him.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Solo. I don’t allow anyone but patients and medical personnel in the examining area. Don’t worry, Mr. Kuryakin is in good hands. Now have a seat. We should be finished in about an hour.” Without further comment, Dr. Bennett promptly wheeled his patient through the double doors.
Ten stitches and several X-ray images later, the doctor wheeled Illya back through the doors into the waiting area.
Mark nudged Napoleon who was cat-napping. Napoleon looked up to see his friend come through the doors. “Oh shit!” he mumbled to Mark. “I bet that went over well.”
Illya looked much improved, but it was hard not to notice that the right side of his forehead looked much higher as his hair over the laceration had been shaved back.
Napoleon rose to his feet and walked over. “Well, doctor what did you find?”
“That Mr. Kuryakin is a hard headed individual, in more ways than one! The worst injury is the laceration. He also has a mild concussion. I would prefer to keep him overnight, however he has made it clear that wasn’t going to happen.” Dr. Bennett smiled ruefully. “He was none too happy about his hair either. I had to keep reminding him that hair grows back.”
Illya looked up and glared.
“So he can come back to the lodge with us, right?”
“Absolutely.” He patted Illya’s shoulder. “Just keep an eye on him. If any problems develop you know where to find me.” He smiled and looked down at Illya. “Mr. Kuryakin, you are one stubborn, tough SOB.” He looked at his watch, 3:30 AM. “Now, all of you, get the hell out of here. I need to get some sleep as the kids will be screaming to get up at 6:30 to open presents. Go on…out! And, Merry Christmas.”
The small group of people sat around the mahogany table once again resplendent with its linen table cloth, sterling silver place settings, and crystal stemware. The snow storm had passed and sunlight bathed the room with its warm rays shining through the large windows.
Napoleon laid down his linen napkin before gently tapping his knife against the Waterford crystal goblet. He picked up his wine glass and stood facing his guests. “To my dear friends,” his eyes made contact with each of his them, his gaze lingering on the occupied seat to his right. Smiling broadly, he continued, “Thank you for your help in locating my wayward partner.”
All joined in the toast.
“And a toast to Illya.” Napoleon turned to Illya who grimaced at the taste of the sparkling cider, no alcohol for victims of head wounds. “The gift of your presence makes my Christmas complete!” With a wink he continued, “thank you for remaining in one piece long enough to get here. And, remember,” he chuckled, “hair does grow back.”
Illya smirked at the last comment as the others raised their glasses to him. Then he stood raising his glass. “Thank you, my friends. When I first came to New York I had no friends and people were reluctant to trust ‘the Commie’. But Mr. Waverly assigned me to partner with the most self-assured, egotistical blockhead I have ever met.” The others chuckled.“For that I am most grateful.
“For the last four Christmas holidays Napoleon has tried to bully me into sharing this holiday with him, and for various reasons I had declined.” He looked at Napoleon, his blue eye meeting warm brown ones. “However, my friend, that was my mistake and perhaps I was the blockhead. I value your friendship more than you will ever know.” He turned to the others and bowed slightly, “and yours as well.”
He raised his glass once more, “Merry Christmas!”