Marla Quinn dropped the last manila folder of the day into a file
marked with U.N.C.L.E.'s logo and pushed the drawer shut. The
clock above had just clicked over to 9 p.m. when the Section 6 door
slid open to admit Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin. He greeted Marla
with a nod and a characteristic half-smile.
"Ah," he said amiably, "there you are. I was beginning to think
we'd lost you somewhere under those mountains of paper in records
She laughed. "Not yet. But if file-clerking for this madhouse of
an organization of yours gets any more strenuous, I may retire and
go back to my nice quiet library in Maryland. I don't know how you
get any work done around here with those alarms going off every
The Russian agent's smile broadened. "We manage."
"Did you need a file?" Marla asked. "I'll be glad to pull it for
you if you do."
He glanced around the filing room as though to make certain they
were alone. They were.
"Actually," he said, "I came to see if you were free for dinner.
You do get off at 9, don't you?"
Marla found herself at a momentary loss for words. It was a well-
known fact that Kuryakin seldom dated any of the 'girls' from the
office. And it wasn't that she didn't find him as fascinating as
all the other women at U.N.C.L.E. who might have killed to be asked
out by him. She just couldn't afford to be involved with anyone
right now. She couldn't risk involving anyone else...
"Marla... Is something wrong?"
Embarrassed that her indecision had been so obvious, she looked
nervously away. "No. I'm sorry, Illya. It's just that I'm so
tired. I think all I really want to do is go home and rest for a
The fleeting disappointment in his eyes was immediately replaced
with sympathy. "Of course," he said. "They must have run you
ragged down here today. Records Division is always short of help."
He paused for the briefest of moments, then added, "Are you certain
you're all right?"
Marla forced her smile back, mentally chiding herself for allowing
the anxiety and apprehension to show. "I'll be fine," she lied.
Illya didn't look convinced. "Come on then," he said, and took her
gently by the arm. "I'll see you home. I think you're too tired
to combat the metropolitan transit system tonight."
She started to protest, but thought better of it and allowed him to
escort her to his car in the parking structure that adjoined New
York Headquarters. She made deliberate small talk on the drive
through Manhattan's traffic. Illya listened, nodded politely and
said m-hm" in the appropriate places. But when they'd reached the
front door of her apartment, he forestalled her efforts to unlock
the door by reaching out a hand.
He took the key from her and closed his hand over it in a way that
suggested her going inside could wait for just a moment -- until
he'd spoken his mind. "You've been working for us for less than
two weeks," he said. "And every time I've seen you you've looked
as though the weight of the world were resting on your shoulders.
I don't mean to pry, but it's a proven fact that carrying the world
all alone can be hazardous to your health."
Marla silently reclaimed her key without meeting any resistance.
"My health is just fine. But thank you anyway... for the thought."
She jumped as footsteps echoed from down the hall. One of her
neighbors appeared from the stairwell, glanced at them
disinterestedly and let himself into an apartment four doors away.
"Do you always jump at every shadow that way?" Illya asked.
"I'm sorry," Marla said again. "But I just... can't talk about it.
I really would like to go in and get some rest now. Do you mind?"
Nobly, Illya conceded. But he drew a small white card from his
inner coat pocket and handed it to her. "If you should change your
mind, this is my phone number."
Marla accepted the card, and watched him retreat down the hall
before she opened the door to enter the darkened apartment. As she
flipped on the light and the door clicked shut behind her, she
noticed something odd about the air in the room. It was usually
warm and stuffy from being closed all day, but now there was a cool
breeze wafting in from... where? She stepped cautiously into the
bedroom, turned on another light and saw the window she had locked
this morning standing open to the evening air, its curtain
billowing gently in and out.
Perplexed, Marla had started to walk toward it when something
behind her made a scraping sound. She tried to turn, and abruptly
two hands grasped her hard by the shoulders, pulling her off
balance. She stumbled, fell backward, and kicked futilly at the
dark-clothed figure she found above her. He moved in a blur. And
with a sudden cold panic she realized that the metal-based lamp
from her bedside table was in his hand, rising into the air over
her, swinging downward...
Marla screamed and rolled away.
The heavy lamp struck a glass-topped table, shattered it and sent
needle-like shards flying. Several of them stung her as she
struggled to her feet and tried to bolt for the door. Her attacker
loomed in front of it, blocking the way. He grabbed her, and shook
her so hard that light specks began swimming in front of her,
obscuring his face. Marla tried to scream again, but there were
hands around her throat now. Strong, relentless hands, pressing,
closing, tighter and tighter. The world started going dark...
Something crashed in the outer room.
_The door,_ she realized dimly. _Someone heard me scream. Someone
She heard a shout, and a soft chuffing noise that sent something
whizzing over her head. Then the hands released her and in a
moment, other hands, gentler ones, were guiding her to the bed and
sitting her down there. When her vision cleared moments later,
Marla saw Illya Kuryakin coming back through the open window from
the fire escape. He was slipping the .38 caliber U.N.C.L.E.
Special back into the shoulder holster under his coat.
"He's gone," he said quietly.
Marla closed her eyes and rubbed painfully at her throat, unable to
find any words just yet. She heard Illya move away and then,
moments later, the bathroom tap came on. He returned with a paper
cup full of water, which he pressed into her hand.
"Drink it," he ordered. "You'll feel better in a moment."
She drank, nearly choking on the water before she was able to
swallow normally again. Illya held the cup for her until it was
empty, then crumpled it neatly in one hand and stood there for a
long moment, expectantly.
"Do you want to tell me what all of this is about now, or shall I
just call the police department and let them handle the details?"
Marla paled. "Please don't do that," she said hoarsely.
"Someone has just tried to kill you and you don't want to involve
"I don't want to involve you either. Please, Illya..." Abruptly,
she found herself fighting back tears and unable to go on.
He righted a bedside chair that had overturned in the scuffle and
sat down in front of her. "Involve me," he said. "Rescuing
damsels in distress is one of my specialities, remember?" When the
levity failed to evoke the desired response, he asked a more
serious question. "Do you know who your visitor was?"
Marla shook her head. "No. But I don't have to guess who sent
him. I was hoping they wouldn't find me up here, but..."
"You hoped that who wouldn't find you?"
She shuddered. "Goff."
She saw immediate recognition of the name in Illya's blue eyes.
"Marcus Goff? The racketeer? What did you do to get him this angry
"It's a very long story."
Illya, not to be put off now, said, "I have plenty of time."
Marla sighed, and opted to abbreviate the tale as much as possible.
"Goff committed one of his murders personally a few years ago.
Only as usual, no one could prove it because no one ever found the
body. There was a witness: a member of his organization who later
turned state's evidence. Goff had him executed, gangland style.
No one could prove that either. Only it turned out the witness had
pin-coded a certain book with enough information to convict Goff
ten times over."
"Pin-coded," Illya echoed. "That's the old cipher system using
small pinholes punched through the book pages to indicate certain
words and letters that later decode to a message?"
She nodded. "Goff thinks I know where the code book is."
"And do you?"
Marla grew suddenly nervous again. "I've said enough. I don't
think I should answer that."
He rose and moved back to the open window. "You already have," he
said. "Get your coat. I'll take you home with me tonight and
we'll look into Mr. Goff's code book first thing in the morning."
"No." Marla shook her head. "I'll be all right here. He won't
come back, not tonight. I know how they work."
Illya stared at her from the window. "You mean this has happened
"Once. In Maryland, before I left."
Illya closed the window and promptly drew the curtain. "In that
case," he said, "you'll have to pardon the intrusion, but I'm
spending the night on your living room sofa. And in the morning,
you're going to take me to that book."
"But I can't--"
He raised a hand. "Please. No arguments. Remember my specialty."
He moved to the door, and Marla. realized for the first time that
the outer door was still standing open. A few curious neighbors
were gawking in, wondering what the noise had been. "I'll take
care of them," Illya promised. "You get some rest. If you need
anything, I'll be right outside."
Marla slept fitfully. When she woke, weak sunlight was filtering
through the curtain, and she could hear a voice speaking softly
from the living room. She got up, washed, dressed, and went out to
find Illya on the couch, talking to his pen communicator.
"And that's all we have on him?" he asked it.
"I'm afraid so, Mr. Kuryakin," the pen answered in soft feminine
tones. Marla recognized the voice as Lynn Morton from U.N.C.L.E.'s
records division. "It seems this Mr. Goff keeps a remarkably low
Illya frowned. "Well, see what else you can dig up for me, will
you? And tell Section 2 I'll be in a bit late this morning." He
glanced at Marla. "Personal business."
Marla poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot that was already
steaming on the kitchen buffet. "You don't have to do this, you
"Indulge me. How far away is the code book hidden?"
Leaning on the bar, Marla took a sip of her coffee before
answering. "It's here in New York. I had it secretly transferred
to a Manhattan branch library before I moved."
"Well, the sooner we can get to it, the better. Are you ready to
"But we can't just walk in and pick it up! Goff will be watching
"I'm counting on it."
"Trust me." He opened the front door and stood waiting for her.
Regretting that she'd ever told him anything, Marla put down her
half-finished coffee and followed him out the door.
The morning traffic was, as usual, a war zone. Illya maneuvered
through it with an accustomed ease born of many years' practice,
and Marla directed him uptown, toward the library building she
hadn't dared visit since moving to Manhattan. But she knew the
book was there. Illya's repeated glances at the rear view mirror
told her that Goff's men must already be tailing them, however.
"They're back there, aren't they?" she said bitterly. "I told you.
Goff will do anything to get his hands on that book. He doesn't
even know the title, but he's not past burning down an entire
building in order to destroy it--once he knows where it is."
Illya considered that. "Let us hope," he said, "that he doesn't
decide to go that far." He removed the communicator again and
reopened the frequency. "Channel D, please. Napoleon, are you
"Right behind you," said a familiar voice. "That is, I'm two cars
behind you. I'm tailing your tail. Who is he?"
"I'll explain later," said Illya. "Just stay with us."
"Roger," Solo's voice said facetiously. "Over and out."
When they pulled into a parking garage a block from the library
building, the tail drove on by, with Solo's convertible in pursuit.
When Marla and Illya arrived some minutes later at the library's
main floor checkout desk, they found Solo already waiting for them.
"I managed to find a parking place on the street," he explained.
Illya, long-familiar with Solo's phenomenal luck, gave him a sour
look. "You would. Where's the tail?"
"He pulled into the alley out back. Looks like he's calling for
"Well, I suppose that's to be expected."
"Just what is it you have in mind?" Marla asked Illya nervously.
"They could be planting charges down there for all I know."
"I doubt that," Illya replied. "Never make a big noise when a
small one will do. They'll try to get it the easy way first."
"Nothing. We're going to give it to them."
"Relax." Illya took her by the arm. "Just take me to the book.
The _wrong_ book. Mr. Solo will take care of the rest."
"The wrong book...?"
"That's right. Anything will do. Just make it look convincing.
They're likely to be watching." He gave Solo a quick briefing
before taking Marla up the elevator to the fourth floor. There,
deep in the comfortable rows of ceiling-high bookshelves, she
selected a well-read copy of _War and Peace_ and handed it to
"There," she whispered. "Enjoy it."
He gave her an odd look before tucking the novel under one arm and
heading back toward the elevator. A few library patrons glanced
disinterestedly at them as they passed. Any one of them might have
worked for Marcus Goff.
Solo was no longer in evidence downstairs, but Marla decided not to
ask why. They used Illya's library card to check out _War and
Peace_, and walked nonchalantly out the front door. No one
accosted them on the way back to the parking structure, but Marla
had the incessant 'crawly' feeling that they were being watched all
In the car again, Illya called his partner on the communicator.
"How's the hunt?" Solo asked jovially. "I'm happy to report that
all the wolves left the lair in hot pursuit."
"Good. We'll lead them a merry chase for a while and then broaden
their horizons with a healthy dose of Tolstoy. Are you ready for
the rest of your assignment?"
"Willing and eager. Where do I find the genuine article?"
Illya handed the pen device across to Marla, who accepted it a
little hesitantly. "Mr. Solo?"
"Still here," the pen said. "But since we're going to be sharing
secrets, why don't you call me Napoleon?"
"All right. The real code book is in Special Collections,
Napoleon, on the third floor. You need my private ID number to
take it out." She proceeded to give him the number, and Solo signed
off with a promise to see them at headquarters.
"Is that where we're going?" Marla wondered, handing Illya back
"Indirectly, yes." He glanced in the rear view mirror. "Our
friends back there would expect us to try to lose them first." He
took several rapid turns, cut through an alley, and landed them in
the middle of a 43rd Street traffic snarl, where they were forced
to crawl for several blocks and finally came to an idling stop,
gridlocked with the rest of the mid-morning commuters. Horns
blared, engines rumbled, and impatient motorists exchanged glares
and occasional obscene gestures.
"This is your idea of losing them?" Marla asked.
Illya shrugged. "I didn't want to lose them too thoroughly." He
pulled off his silver tie tac, picked up _War and Peace_, and while
they sat idle in the traffic jam, began thumbing through the pages.
"What are you doing?"
"Planting a red herring."
The tie pin's sharp point began punching tiny holes through the
Marla cringed. "Do you have to do that? That's wanton destruction
of public property, you know."
"I'll send them a replacement personally," Illya said, flipping
pages and punching again. "In the orignial Russian."
Marla glared at him. "You would."
Miraculously, the traffic knot began to untangle itself, and Illya
was obliged to put the book aside and drive again. They arrived,
still unaccosted, back at the headquarters parking garage, and
walked calmly toward Del Floria's with Marla carrying the book
under one arm.
"I think your decoy plan is backfiring," she told Illya as they
started down the tailor shop's short flight of steps. "Shouldn't
they have made a run for the book by now?"
She'd barely finished the sentence when something whined off the
metal railing near her left arm. Several more shots rang out:
people on the street screamed and scattered: Illya pulled Marla
hastily down behind the concrete wall of Del Floria's sunken
doorstep and returned fire at several figures crouching behind the
cars across the street.
"I think this qualifies as a valid try," he said, squeezing off
another shot. More bullets came at them from behind a heavy metal
trash container on their side of the street. Illya fired back at
it intermittently. "That ought to be enough resistance," he said
after a moment, though he reloaded the Special and continued
firing. "Count to ten, slowly. Then throw the book toward that
trash container over there."
"Throw it?" Marla cradled the book protectively. "But I can't just
Bullets spat at the sidewalk and pinged off the metal fence.
"Don't argue!" Illya said between return shots. "Do it!"
"I knew it was a mistake," Marla breathed, silently counting. "I
should have chosen a book I didn't like!" Reaching ten, she gave
_War and Peace_ a mental apology before heaving it over the
railing. It landed with an unpleasant thump on the concrete and
skidded toward the trash barrel. The gunfire came to an immediate
standstill, and Marla could hear sirens screaming in the
background. A man in a dark business suit ventured from behind the
trash container, scooped up the book and promptly vanished into the
interior of a black limo that had swept up to the curb to whisk him
Marla found herself standing on the steps of Del Floria's beside
Illya as another car, this one a Metropolitan Taxi, pulled up to
the curb and disgorged Napoleon Solo, who paid his fare and glanced
around at the crowd of gaping onlookers.
"I took a cab to be sure no one was following," he said. He
glanced around at the staring crowd. "What's the matter?" he asked
with mock innocence. "Did I miss the party?"
Illya, holstering his gun, gave Solo a wry look. "Did you bring
the legitimate merchandise?"
Solo patted the pocket of his suitcoat, and looked again at the
growing mob of curious bystanders. "Shall we?" He gestured toward
Del Floria's door.
As the wailing sirens came closer, Illya moved to escort Marla on
through the tailor shop door. "By all means," he said. "Let's not
wait around for awkward explanations." With a nod to the balding
man behind the pressing machine, he added, "I'm certain Mr. Del
Floria can satisfy the curiosity of New York's finest with his
The faintest hint of a scowl crossed the tailor's face as the three
agents disappeared into his fitting room. One of these days, he
was going to run out of 'reasonable' explanations.
Marla sat, moments later, across the round office conference table
from Alexander Waverly, with Solo and Illya on either side of her.
The chief of U.N.C.L.E.'s Section 1 was perusing the library book
Solo had brought in.
"Most interesting," he said, and sent the book around the revolving
table top until it came to rest in front of Illya. "Section 4
tells me they should be able to decode the necessary information
inside of an hour. To be turned over to the local authorities,
"By the time Marcus Goff finds out his book is a phony," Solo
added, "the district attorney will already have the necessary
evidence to convict him."
"I don't know how to thank you," Marla said sincerely. "All of
Illya picked the book up, stared at it a moment, and grimaced at
the title. _"Grovener's Experimental Theory of Genetic Cross-
Fertilization in Giant South American Rhutabegas_???"
Marla laughed. "Well if you're going to punch holes in a book,
that's certainly a better choice than _War and Peace_, don't you
think?" While Illya pondered that, Marla arrived at another
profound conclusion. "You know, it just occurred to me... I
haven't eaten anything since yesterday. I'm starving."
Waverly, who had just summoned an aide to take the code book down
to Section 4, said, "I'd be delighted to accompany you to the
cafeteria. I was thinking of going for a spot of tea myself."
Napoleon Solo cleared his throat. "I thought the young lady might
prefer a private lunch at _ma Maison_?"
Illya took Marla firmly by the hand and they both rose from the
table. "I know a better place," he said decisively. "Out of the
way, private, and with an excellent Russian cuisine."
"Mm," said Marla. "That sounds expensive."
"As a matter of fact," he guided her away from the table as he
spoke, "it's free. And it has an exclusive clientele -- of two."
Leaving Solo and Waverly to exchange surprised glances, they walked
hand in hand out into Section 1's main corridor and headed for the
The door of Waverly's office rumbled shut behind them.