January 2, 1973
The crisp frost of predawn pressed down around the solitary figure leaving fingers of ice crystals forming on his clothing and the cloth wrapped barrel of his sniper rifle. A nearly full moon rested on the western horizon intermittently covered by clouds. The light reflected off snow laden mountain ridges and danced across tops of conifer trees.
Dressed in white camouflage, the shooter painfully edged closer to the crest of the hill overlooking a well fortified building surrounded by razor sharp concertina wire. His tightly bound waist screamed every time he bumped into a rock or bush. He did his best to ignore the feeling of the warm slick moisture that soaked his long john shirt. He pulled the brown and gray knit mask down around his face for warmth and concealment. It wouldn't do to have the telltale cloud of vapor from his breath give him away. Slowly he brought his high powered field glasses to his eyes to observe the building and grounds. Any sudden movement or accidental flare of moon light off of the lenses could give away his position forcing him to abort his grim mission, and that simply was not an option. If he failed...he refused to even let his mind explore that possibility.
The last intelligence report he received was that the intended target would be brought out at 08:30. At this latitude the eastern horizon wouldn't begin to announce the new day until 07:00. Official sunrise was 08:02. He checked his watch. The green luminous hands indicated the time was 06:15. If the reports were correct he had about an hour and thirty-five minutes to maneuver into the best shooting position and hunker down and wait for the target to present itself. He prayed for the predicted weather front to move in quickly to cover the moon.
December 29, 1972
Napoleon Solo, Number 1 of Section 2 – Enforcement, emitted a heavy sigh, scrubbing his face with his hands as he sat back in the upholstered chair and stretched his back and neck. Reaching to his right he toggled a switch on the communication panel.
"Miss Rogers, please bring in Mr. Kuryakin's latest mission file."
Illya, where the hell are you? Napoleon had not heard from his partner in three months. All he knew was that his partner had been assigned to a deep cover operation involving KIND, an acronym for Killers of Individuals in Need of Destruction, a rival organization to THRUSH. In some ways THRUSH was at least predictable, UNCLE could count on its nemesis to try for world domination through clandestine scientific operations or political influence. However, this new organization was heavily involved in arms dealing to any country willing to pay the exorbitant prices. They were also available for huge sums of money to assassinate anyone who had a contract taken out on them through the organization. It did not matter who the paying party was, or the intended victim, or for which government. Anyone was fair game for the right price.
Illya had reported in on a regular basis to Mr. Waverly, never going more than five days between reports. That is until eight days ago. The cryptic message came over Channel X which was strictly reserved for emergency messages from agents under deep cover who had been compromised. Napoleon had been in Mr. Waverly's office when the message came through.
"The sheep in wolf's clothing has left the fold, watch Red Ridinghood's back."
That was the last anyone heard from Agent Kuryakin before events began to go south!
Immediately after receiving the cryptic message from Agent Kuryakin, UNCLE's New York headquarters was under lockdown protocol and security measures were enforced in triplicate. No less than four section 3 security agents were with Mr. Waverly at all times.
The first half of Illya's message, "the sheep in wolf's clothing has left the fold", meant that Illya's undercover ops was in danger of being compromised and he might have to terminate the mission. The second part, "watch Red Ridinghood's back" indicated that Alexander Waverly was a target for kidnapping, at the very least.
Napoleon had urged his boss to stay within the confines of UNCLE headquarters on a twenty-four hour basis. Mr. Waverly had a well furnished apartment just off of his office for just such emergencies. However, the old man harrumphed at such a notion as he packed his briarwood pipe with his newest tobacco blend.
"Mr. Solo, do you honestly think that I'm going to settle for being holed up indefinitely in a security cocoon? Why if that were to happen then both THRUSH and KIND will have already been successful! No, young man, I will not let the likes of them dictate how I shall lead my life."
"Sir, it would just be until we can find out their plan and put a stop to it."
"Absolutely not, Mr. Solo. I have an urgent meeting in Washington, DC, and I will be there. As a matter of fact, I have an UNCLE jet waiting for me tomorrow for a 07:00 departure time."
Napoleon drew his breath to continue the debate. Before he could open his mouth his boss simply said, "Dismissed," and turned back to the files before him. The CEA lowered his eyes and acquiesced. "Yes Sir."
That was seven days ago. Two days later, the Chief of UNCLE Northwest, disappeared off the radar. Literally. During his return flight from Washington, D.C., flight control lost contact with the jet. There had been no communication from the pilot and no report of crashes. The jet simply disappeared. Two days after the disappearance the pilot and the four section 3 agents were found dead, each with a bullet to the back of the head, but no sign of Waverly. Napoleon truly felt the yoke of responsibility that his boss generally wore when he knocked on five different doors Christmas day to bring bad news to the families of the men who were killed.
December 29, 1972
Napoleon closed Kuryakin's file. Mr. Waverly had not had Napoleon "read in" to the deep ops mission as the information was on a need-to-know basis. Now that he was, for the time being, filling in for Mr. Waverly, he felt it was time to acquaint himself with his partner's mission. Illya had been picked for this particular mission because of his knowledge of weaponry, ability to speak multiple languages, and excellent marksmanship which were all qualities that recruiters from KIND looked for. In addition, the Russian agent's fair complexion and Aryan looks would appeal to those in the organization who were recruited from White Supremacist groups.
His partner had been involved with missions of this kind before, hell they both have, but what left Napoleon feeling like he had the wind knocked out of him was the presence of a highly unusual document which bore Illya's signature tucked in the back of the file. It stated that for reasons of complete secrecy between governments, if Illya's cover was compromised there would be no rescue. Any involvement by UNCLE would be denied and Illya would be without protection or support. He would be effectively left out in the cold. The fact that Illya acknowledged this possibility and had signed his name in agreement made Napoleon's blood run cold.
December 31, 1972
Two days later the last cryptic message from Illya came into the communication center. Immediately Napoleon was called down to hear the recorded message.
"Nose of Oro y Plata, RRH fini 36 hours, can't stop it" **
Napoleon ordered the communications agent to have Agents Mitchell, Washington, and Saunders report immediately to Waverly's office. He called down to the map room and requested topographic maps of western Montana and the eastern panhandle of Idaho delivered to the office as well.
"Gentlemen," Solo addressed the agents around him, "we have reliable intelligence that Mr. Waverly is being held in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana on the western border." He unfolded one of the topo maps and pointed to a section of the western Montana that looked like a nose protruding just below the panhandle of Idaho. "It is your job to gather the necessary reconnaissance photos from the military and form an extraction team to safely bring Mr. Waverly back, and gentlemen…you have less than 35 hours before his execution. Any questions?"
"All right, good luck gentlemen."
The agents gathered their maps and headed to their operations room to plan for their mission.
January 2, 1973
Solo had been at the UNCLE New York headquarters for ten and one half days straight, eating his meals at the desk and catching cat naps on the couch. He was exhausted. Between the kidnapping and threatened execution of Alexander Waverly and worry for his missing partner he hadn't had much sleep. Without intending to he had put his head down on folded arms at Mr. Waverly's desk and dozed off. A loud piercing buzz awoke him.
Napoleon Solo impatiently punched the intercom's button when it buzzed, breaking into his half dream state.
"Yes, Miss Rogers?"
"Mr. Solo, the extraction team has reported in. They are in place and ready. They will maintain radio silence until the mission is completed."
"Thank you. Miss Rogers, would you mind making a fresh pot of coffee? I would greatly appreciate it. I'm going to take a quick shower. Please hold all calls unless it's the extraction team calling in."
"Of course, Mr. Solo."
The extraction team consisted of twenty of UNCLES' top agents. They had located the KIND compound nestled in a high valley in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana.
Dressed in cold weather gear to ward off the subzero degree weather, ten teams of two slowly and methodically surrounded the area. They were in position and ready for an assault on the building by the evening before. Each agent was wrapped in a down sleeping bag to keep warm. There were no fires and only cold rations to eat. Not one person complained. They were willing to sit and risk frostbite for as long as it took if it meant getting Alexander Waverly out unharmed. Each team was isolated from the others as they were under complete radio silence.
As each team waited for the predetermined time for starting the assault, the agents constantly scanned the surrounding area for scouting patrols from KIND's fortress. Two of the teams were to stay in their hiding places when the raid began with the assignment of stopping any escapees from taking off over the mountains. Agents Saunders and Kozlow were one of those assigned teams.
Agent Saunders slowly glassed the mountain side below him. There was just enough moonlight peeking from behind an increasing cloud cover to allow for careful observations. Just as the moon came out from behind a cloud Saunders detected movement about 100 yards below him and to the left. He elbowed his partner.
"Stan," he whispered, "take a look down there. Low and to the left about eleven o'clock."
Stan Kozlow took the binoculars and checked the area Saunders had indicated. At that moment a cloud fully covered the moon and the mountainside was dark once again.
"I don't see anything, Partner, but we'll keep an eye out." They both settled back and turned their attention to the compound below with an occasional glance to their left.
The sniper was glad for the weather front coming over the mountains. The added cloud cover made it easier for him to belly crawl over rocks and brush without being seen. Finally he was in place covered by a white camouflage net to break up the outline of his body. His set the bipod legs of his rifle down and took aim at the doorway he knew the target would exit. Satisfied that all was as it should be, he loaded the special cartridge into the chamber and slowly, quietly slid the bolt home with a barely audible click.
In cold the temperatures, sounds were sharper and a slight breeze blowing uphill carried a soft click to the ears of Saunders and Kozlow. The two agents looked at each other and quickly turned their binoculars in the direction of the sound. Nothing. Saunders kept glassing that area while Kozlow waited for the signal. It was almost 08:20.
The south door in the compound opened and a handful of warmly dressed guards emerged dragging a man dressed in thin pajamas and in bare feet through a foot of snow. His hands were shackled behind him. His feet were shackled with a short length that made walking almost impossible. They dragged the prisoner to a stone wall and slipped the chain for his hands through a metal ring and left him as they retreated about ten yards. Snow began to fall… heavily.
They're early! The sniper took careful aim through his rifle scope and set the crosshairs on the chest of the prisoner. The falling snow threatened to obscure his target. He had only one shot and knew he couldn't afford to miss. He took a deep breath, slowly exhaled half of it, and held it as he slowly squeezed the trigger, trying to pull it between the beats of his heart.
Above him Saunders once again noticed movement and now that it was light he could see the sniper's nest. "Son of a bitch! Someone's down there!" He brought his rifle around to draw down on the sniper as all hell broke loose.
The sniper squeezed off his shot finding its mark. A red spot blossomed on the prisoner's chest and Mr. Waverly fell instantly, his torso falling forward. Only the chains on his hands mounted to the iron rings kept him from falling to the ground. His body hung grotesquely bent at the waist.
A mortar round from one of the UNCLE teams landed in a courtyard at the other end of the compound to signal the beginning of the assault. Swarms of UNCLE agents descended upon the compound blowing doors and racing through the building. Two teams ran to Mr. Waverly and gently lowered him to the ground.
In the same instant, Saunders fired a shot at the sniper hitting him. The man raised up, looked up hill and stumbled in their direction. Kozlow also fired. His shot slammed into the sniper catching him in his midsection causing the man to pitch backward and slide down the hill about twenty feet.
The leader of the UNCLE raid called all clear over the radios. Saunders and Kozlow left their cover and climbed down to the downed man. He lay face down in the snow his right arm covered in blood was splayed out to the side. Kozlow used his boot to flip the man over. The white camouflage parka was soaked in blood. The man's chest heaved as he gasped from the pain. Saunders reached down and removed the mask in one quick motion and jerked his hand back as if bitten by a snake.
"What the hell?" Kozlow looked over at his partner. He followed his gaze down to the sniper's face.
"Damn!" was his only response.
Blond hair spilled out onto the snow already mixed with blood, and looking up at them as snowflakes began to cover his face were the pain filled blue eyes of Illya Kuryakin.
** Montana's motto "Oro y Plata" Spanish for gold and silver. If you look at the western border of Montana you will see what looks like a profile of a man.