But for the odd mix of costumes, Illya Kuryakin reflected, it might
have been medieval England rather than 1967 California. Several
brightly colored pavilions, nestled amid green hills and trees,
basked in Southern California's warm November sun. The weather
alone, he mused, might make this trip worthwhile. New York's
winters too closely resembled Siberia's, and if he and Solo
couldn't manage an assignment on the French Riviera or in Rio de
Janeiro, well, San Diego would do. At least there would be no snow
to contend with.
"Do you see her?" Napoleon Solo handed over the field glasses he'd
been squinting through. "I hate to say it, but I can't tell one of
these characters from another."
Kuryakin adjusted the binoculars and peered down at the cluster of
tents in the clearing below them. A knight in home-made armor
practiced sword swings with a wooden blade; another made duct tape
repairs to a cardboard shield emblazoned with an heraldic unicorn
rampant. A few dozen youngsters -- in their mid-teens, by the look
of them -- sat on woven blankets in and around the pavilions, some
playing songflutes and guitars, others passing bowls of some
unidentifiable food back and forth between them. Most wore pseudo-
medieval garb, but amid the fake chain mail and veiled hats mingled
long-haired youths in love beads and girls wearing beaded Indian
headbands -- and two that appeared particularly out of place
sported bright velour shirts (blue and yellow, respectively)
adorned with gold braiding and insignia. Now where had he seen
_that_ outfit before? Somewhere...
"Well?" Solo prompted.
"Hmph," Illya grunted, and adjusted the glasses yet again. "The
costumes make it difficult. Most of them hide the face and hair.
She won't look much like her picture."
His partner pulled a black-and-white snapshot from his pocket and
examined the image of a smiling, raven-haired 15-year-old. "Dr.
Sylvan did say the photo was a year old. A girl that age can
change quite a bit in a year. What I really want to know,
though..." He reached into another pocket for his communicator,
upended the pen's cap and twisted it. "Open channel D."
A moment later, Waverly's gravelly voice broke through the static.
"Yes, Mr. Solo?"
"We have the pavilions under surveillance, sir. Can we be briefed
now as to _why_ we're looking for Dr. Sylvan's daughter?"
"Most assuredly, Mr. Solo. When Lenore Sylvan ran away from home,
she took the only copy of an extremely sensitive research document
with her. It is consigned to a microdot, presumably hidden
somewhere on her person. Since Thrush has become aware of the
situation, it is even more imperative that you locate Miss Sylvan
and recover the microdot forthwith. Her life will be in imminent
"Yes, sir. Are we allowed to know just what _sort_ of sensitive
information we're dealing with?"
"The very worst sort, I'm sorry to say." Waverly's voice faded
briefly while papers rustled on his desk in New York. "The
microdot contains the coding for a particularly deadly, genetically
engineered virus. The scientist who conceived it, Dr. Milbert Jon,
nicknamed it the Job virus, possibly after that rather put-upon
fellow in the Bible."
Illya's demeanor darkened suddenly. He'd encountered Jon once
before, at a geneticists' conference in Stockholm, and he'd heard
of the Job virus. Neither the scientist nor his creation could be
described as pleasant. "I gather," he said to the communicator,
"that doctors Jon and Sylvan were working together on the
development of this virus, and that the project falls under a U.S.
Government-funded Top Secret heading?"
"You gather correctly, Mr. Kuryakin. Neither Dr. Sylvan nor Dr.
Jon is privy to the entire coding sequence: the complete string is
located only on the microdot. Thanks to an egregious breech in
security, Lenore Sylvan somehow managed to steal the microdot and
a small amount of money from Arizona Biotech's lab safe, then
disappeared with several friends of the, er, 'hippy' persuasion,
not to be spotted again until one of our informants located her in
San Diego. The rest you know."
Solo cleared his throat and cast a dubious glance downhill at the
motley collection of costumed teenagers. "Yes sir. You wouldn't
have any suggestions as to how we might persuade Miss Sylvan to
"Employ your charm, Mr. Solo. But retrieve her -- and the microdot
-- by force, if necessary."
The channel went abruptly dead, and with a sigh, Solo returned the
faux pen to its pocket. "I think we're just a little too out-of-
step to blend well with the teenybopper crowd," he said.
The Russian agent considered their sober business-suit attire for
a moment, then handed the field glasses back to his partner. "Well
then..." He slipped off his dark suitcoat (too warm for this
climate anyway), then quickly dismantled the chest-strap holster
that housed his U.N.C.L.E. Special. He deposited both in the
jacket's righthand pocket, and proceeded to unknot and remove his
tie, unbutton the starched shirt collar and cuffs, and lastly to
roll up both sleeves to the elbow. Napoleon's squinch-faced
expression conveyed misgivings at the result.
"It's not exactly the vogue trend of the make-love-not-war set, is
it?" he queried.
"I left my love beads in Kiev." Illya draped the 'loaded' jacket
over one arm. "Cover me. I'll see what -- or who -- I can find."
With that, he left the other man on the hillside and made his way
down the grassy incline. He'd expected to hear the guitars and
recorders playing pseudo-medieval strains, but as he neared, the
squawky sound of a transistor radio belted out rock tunes instead.
_I wanna be freeeeeee,_ it wailed. _Don't say you love me, say you
liiiiike me. But when I need you beside me, stay close enough to
guide me, confide in me, wo-wohhhhhhhhh._
He walked past the first tent (unoccupied), and approached three
youngsters seated cross-legged on an Indian blanket. "Excuse
_I wanna hold your hand, walk along the sand, laughing in the sun,
always having fun, doing all those thiiings, without any strings to
tie me dowwwwwnnn..._
"What's the beef now, g-man?" a chain-mailed boy asked him. "We
need another permit or something?"
"Permit?" Illya was busy scanning all the nearby faces for any
that resembled Lenore Sylvan's photograph. "Oh, no. I'm not a
policeman. I simply need to find a friend of yours. It's rather
urgent, I'm afraid."
The boy and both his female companions snorted. "Not the fuzz?"
one of the girls said and giggled. "You sure _look_ like fuzz,
man. Don't talk like homegrown, though. Accent's toooo groovy."
She made the word 'to' three syllables long. "So where's your pad
and what's your bag?"
"Er..." This parlance might be more difficult to crack than he'd
imagined. "I'm not the 'fuzz.' Really."
"Uh-huh," the boy grunted. "Like, why should we believe you, man?
"Level," Illya echoed, taking a moment to guess at the kid's
meaning. "All right. The truth. My name is Illya Nickovetch
"Farrrrr out!" The second girl bounced to her feet, bells on her
long peasant skirt jingling loudly at the motion. "A Russian!
You're a spy, right? A Russian agent?"
Illya hesitated again, struggling to gauge the meaning of this
reaction. "Level?" he asked.
"Level," the trio chorused.
He nodded solemnly and said, "Yes." (Well, it was true enough,
wasn't it?) "It's vital that I speak with Lenore Sylvan. You have
my personal guarantee that I intend her no harm whatever. In fact,
I'm trying to save her from it. She may be in a great deal of
"I really dig Russians," the first young woman said in her sing-
song voice. "They are soooooo nifty."
Having encountered the word 'nifty' only on a commercially
available vinyl notebook, Illya was forced to dismiss the remark as
a probable (if somewhat dubious) compliment, and changed the
subject. "It really is quite urgent," he repeated. "Is Lenore
"Flower," the boy said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Her name's Flower now. This here's Saffron," he gestures to the
seated girl and then to the one standing, "that's Georgy Girl, and
I'm Merlin." He stood as he spoke this last, revealing a crudely-
sewn blue cape draped over the chain mail. Yellow stars and
crescent moons clung haphazardly to the fabric at random intervals.
"I'll announce you, man. See if the Lady Flower wants to, like,
grant you an audience, you dig?" With a theatrical bow, he ambled
away, leaving the Russian spy completely at the mercy of two
adolescent females, who promptly attached themselves to either of
"That is one _boss_ haircut," Saffron cooed, and stroked the blond
strands over his left ear.
"Yeah, bitchen-cool," Georgy Girl added in apparent agreement.
"Old guys don't usually dig that scene, y'know?"
Illya endured this attention with silence and a smile, suddenly
feeling positively paleolithic at the ripe old age of 34. 'Old
The transistor radio bleated a station ID while two more characters
in medieval 'armor' ambled onto the playing field to exchange
wooden swordblows. Over the loud _thwacking_ of their 'battle,'
Simon and Garfunkel warbled a tune he recognized.
_Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes;
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.
It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair.
Most of all you've got to hide it from the kids,
Coo coo ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know, wo wo woooooooh._
When Merlin reappeared with a reed-thin girl draped over his arm,
Kuryakin disengaged his own appendages and headed toward them.
"Are you Lenore Sylvan?" he started to say, but something whined
past his right ear and _thocked_ into the grass nearby.
"W-what the--" Merlin stuttered, but another shot pre-empted his
question, _ping-ing_ off the hardwood of a giant pepper tree.
"Get down!" Illya shouted. The U.N.C.L.E. Special came out of
hiding: he tossed the jacket aside as he dropped and rolled, aiming
back in the direction the shots had come from. From the opposite
hillside, he could hear Solo's Special returning fire at the same
time his own sent several rounds into the brush above. The bushes
swayed frantically; someone in black darted from cover to vanish
again into the undergrowth. A moment later, Napoleon Solo crossed
the same spot in hot pursuit.
Chaos had erupted in the clearing. Screams of alarm had sent the
revelers scattering, abandoning guitars, flutes, radios, swords and
shields on the green. The Russian agent picked himself up just in
time to see Merlin and 'Flower' disappearing into the trees.
Muttering a disgusted curse in Russian, he set off after them.
The trees thinned and promptly gave way to a concrete sidewalk.
Which way had they gone? He pulled up short and glanced in all
directions. They hadn't been that far ahead of him...
A gaggle of tourists stared at him from across the street. "Must
be makin' some kinda movie, Freida," one of them commented, and
snapped a picture with his Kodak. Kuryakin glanced at the Special,
then popped the safety back on and tucked it into his belt. It
would still be visible, but he couldn't do much about that just
A glimpse of bright floral fabric sent him running east, down a
walkway that eventually became a bridge (spanning a freeway far
below), then led him into the park's vast museum complex. He
charged past the Museum of Man, veered left, charged up a short
flight of steps, came up short again in the courtyard of the Old
Globe Theatre. Now where? Ignoring the curious stares of matinee
theatre-goers milling in the patio, he turned right and headed east
once again, up a winding path, past a fountain... Had that been
Merlin's blue cape darting into that door? He raced up more steps,
wound his way between scores of sightseers, stopped on another
bridge -- this one small and ornamental, crossing a huge concrete
lily pond. The cape had gone in the opposite direction, left into
a tall, dome-shaped, wood-latticed building. Illya wheeled and
hurried inside. A thick jungle of tropical plants confronted him
immediately inside the door, and he blinked in the sudden
transition from bright sunlight to cool shadow. "Merlin!" he
called, feeling suddenly silly shouting the mythical name into an
artificial rain forest. "Lenore, please come out and talk to me.
I can help you."
Narrow winding paths led off in two directions from the door. An
elderly couple shuffled down the lefthand path, glared at him
disapprovingly before wandering out. "Lenore!" he tried again.
"I've been sent to protect you. I can't do that if you run from
He ventured a few feet up the lefthand pathway, swallowed instantly
in soft green shadows. "Lenore?"
"Don't move." Something hard pressed itself into the small of his
back. A gruff, masculine voice said, "Hands up, and don't try
He complied, feeling even more embarrassed now. A slender hand
came round to pull the U.N.C.L.E. Special from his waistband.
"All right. Turn around."
He'd expected to come face to face with Thrush -- the assailant
from the woods, most likely. Instead, he turned to find a boy of
no more than 17. Multiple strands of colored beads decorated the
front of his lacy white shirt, and a bright red band of silk
encircled his forehead. But what interested the Russian agent at
the moment was the 'gun' that had been pressed into his back. It
was one of the black plastic songflutes.
"Way to go, Gypsy my man." Merlin materialized from the rain
forest with Lenore Sylvan in tow. "This fuzz told us he was a
Russian spy, like can you dig that scene? Said he wanted to talk
to Flower. Then some pig starts scragging us from the trees."
Gypsy pointed the Special at its owner, but apparently he wasn't
familiar with firearms -- the safety was still firmly in place.
"That true?" he grunted. "Are you fuzz? Sent by Flower's big
Establishment Daddy, maybe?"
"No, I am _not_ 'fuzz,'" Illya averred. That term, at least, had
made inroads to the New York coffee houses, and he knew its
meaning. But they were wasting precious time with this. Thrush
could walk in the door behind them at any moment. "I was sent here
to protect you," he said to the girl. "But not by your father. I
work for..." he fumbled an ID card from his shirt pocket, "...the
"Uncle?" Gypsy puzzled, squinting through his orange tinted granny
glasses at Lenore. "Hey, I thought you said it was your old man,
Babe, not your uncle."
"I don't _have_ any uncles," the girl insisted, nervously
scrutinizing Kuryakin from head to toe. "And I don't think I
groove on this at all. Let's split this scene, OK Merlin?"
"Wait--" The Russian agent moved to block their path, turning his
back on Gypsy and the harmless Special. "Please, hear me out
first. Lenore, the microdot you took from your father's lab
contains some extremely dangerous information. So dangerous that
a lot of people are willing to kill for it."
"Including you, huh _fuzz?_" Gypsy reasserted himself by pressing
the gun into Illya's ribs. Annoyed, the U.N.C.L.E. agent turned
and grasped the Special by the barrel. "Excuse me," he said and
easily pulled the weapon from the startled boy's hand. Gypsy's
look of astonishment barely had time to register -- a crashing
noise amid the foliage made them all spin around. Again, Kuryakin
spotted a flash of someone in a dark business suit. Snapping off
the gun's safety, he charged into the jungle growth after the
moving figure and tackled it full length. His prey toppled,
landing face down in the bracken with a loud "Oomph!"
His reclaimed Special aimed and ready, the blond agent gripped one
shoulder and turned the man over -- only to come face to face with
a disgruntled Napoleon Solo.
"Don't look now," his partner grumbled, and blew at a nose-tickling
frond, "but the Thrush went thataway." He pointed south to the
The Russian scowled at him. "So did our costumed friends," he
said. He could see the hem of Lenore Sylvan's flowered skirt just
disappearing into the bright sunlight at the door.
"Come on." With a disgusted groan, Solo picked himself up and
headed for the door.
Their gaudily dressed quarry was easy to spot amid the milling
throngs, especially now that the teenagers were a trio.
Unfortunately, the Thrush agent would doubtless find the hunt just
They wound their way through more crowds of camera-toting
sightseers -- the gun in Illya's hand drawing startled exclamations
as they went. They followed the flower children past another
gurgling park fountain, through an ornate wrought-iron gateway, and
into the landscaped central patio of a massive two-story building.
Again, the abrupt transition from sunlight to shadow made Illya
blink as they paused inside the arched gateway. The building was
a Spanish-style quadrangle, open to the sky at the center, with
offices and meeting rooms surrounding the sunlit patio. Rhythmic
piano chords echoed from the second floor, and a woman's strident
voice called out dance movements in badly-accented French.
"Which way did they go?" Solo panted, trying to see into the
shadowed corners of the four-sided walkway.
"Right here, my friend."
The man in the dark suit materialized from beneath the concrete
stairwell to their left, a .45 automatic in hand. Three terrified
youngsters, their hands raised, stepped out of the shadows beside
him. "You will drop the gun. Now."
Kuryakin let the Special fall into a convenient potted palm. He'd
seen this man somewhere before. Where? Thrush mugshots? A
"Thrush, I presume," Solo quipped, holding his empty hands out in
"That's not his name," Lenore Sylvan huffed. "It's Jon. Dr.
Milbert Jon. And he works for--"
"Arizona Biotech," Illya finished, remembering where he'd seen the
face. The geneticists' conference in Stockholm...
"And more recently, for Thrush," Jon added with an ugly smile. "So
you see, you were both right. I'll take the microdot now, Lenore."
Lenore shot him a look venomous enough to make a viper cringe.
"No," she said. Somewhere nearby, a carillon began chiming the
Deathly calm, Jon aimed the .45 at Gypsy's head. "I don't need any
arguments from a spoiled brat. You'll hand it over or I'll start
shooting your friends, one by one."
Gypsy sneered at him, but the fear wasn't quite concealed from his
eyes. "Have you been out of it or _what?_" he demanded. "War is
like, off the popularity charts, man. You dig?"
Jon's face darkened. Solo cleared his throat loudly in the ensuing
awkward silence. "You, er, know what's on the microdot, do you?"
"Flower says war's on it. Death, destruction, pestilence. All the
Establishment's fave things." The carillon finished its musical
chime and tolled four o'clock.
"Is that _all_ she told you?" Kuryakin started to ask, but a sudden
explosion of voices burst from the upstairs classrooms and came
careening down the stairs. A mob of pink-clad pre-teen ballerinas
gavotted into the patio and overflowed into the corner occupied by
their motley little group.
"Ooooo, Dawna, look! A movie! They're making a movie!"
"Cool! Are you the director?"
"Are you playing the bad guy? Can I see the gun?"
"What's the movie called? Can we be in it? Can we, pleeeease?"
Unnerved by the instant inundation, Milbert Jon recoiled -- just
enough to pull the .45 out of line with Gypsy's head. Kuryakin had
scant seconds to act before one of the children moved into the way:
he aimed a flying kick at Jon's gun hand and connected, sending the
weapon arcing high into the air. Jon let out a howl of pain and
bolted for the doorway. The ballerinas squealed with delight,
still certain they were in the midst of a movie scene. Solo dived
after the gun; Illya snatched his Special from the potted palm with
one hand and grabbed Lenore Sylvan's arm with the other. He
shouted one word over the melee.
Everyone scattered. The Russian agent kept a firm grip on Lenore,
running east to an outer courtyard, across another street. He'd
seen Napoleon Solo chasing Milbert Jon north into a tree-lined
parking lot. He fervently hoped there were no more Thrushes
waiting in the bushes.
They veered left past a concession stand -- he noticed only then
that Gypsy and Merlin were both running just behind them -- and
passed between two brightly painted pillars that heralded an
Kuryakin paused only long enough to take in the clustered, stucco
cottages with easels, canvases and gaudy pottery displayed in their
multi-paned windows. He spied an open door and headed for it,
ducking under a low wood-beam lentil, passing through the cramped
front-room shop with its cluttered racks of objets d'art. They
stopped in one breathless huddle in the cottage's back room. There
was more space here: a broad artist's work table, braided rugs on
the crude wooden floor, a fire crackling on the rock-and-adobe
Lenore Sylvan pulled free of Illya's grasp and made herself at
home, sitting cross-legged near the fire. Merlin and Gypsy took up
residence on either side of her, leaving the Russian agent
standing, his Special still in hand.
Lenore flipped an errant strand of dark hair over her shoulder.
"You know something? You are so _up tight._ Why don't you learn
how to live? How to _breathe?"_
Leave it to youth to be both profound and simplistic in the same
breath. Anyone would think they had shots fired at them by Thrush
agents every day. "Lenore," he began, and both boys immediately
interrupted to correct him. "All right, _Flower,_" he amended,
feeling thoroughly silly. "I don't think you understand."
She shook her head, bangle earrings glittering firelight orange at
either ear. "No, man. It's _you_ who's not getting the drift,"
she said. A sudden noise behind him made Kuryakin spin and
raise the gun. It was Saffron -- one of Merlin's girlfriends from
the clearing. She jingled in carrying a tray of something-or-
other, latched the door behind her, and gave both agent and gun a
somewhat jaundiced glare on her way past.
"Oh, this is Saffron's Cousin Violet's studio," Merlin volunteered
helpfully. "It's what you squares in the spy game would call a...
a safe house. Yeah, that's it. You groove?"
"Not much, no," Illya muttered, tucking the Special away once more.
"It isn't safe _enough._" Saffron's tray rattled as she set it on
the table and began rearranging the objects it carried: candles,
incense sticks, brass incense burners. He dismissed the noise and
turned back to Lenore. "There are more people like Milbert Jon out
there," he tried to explain. "A lot of very dangerous people. I
was sent here to make certain that microdot doesn't fall into their
Lenore Sylvan's face suddenly grew far older than her 16 years.
"But you and the _feds..._" (the word came out a curse) "...will
use it instead to make the world a _safer_ place, is that it?"
The firelit room grew suddenly stifling. "Not exactly. The idea
is to see that it _isn't_ used."
She gazed up at him, her dark eyes wide and querulous. "How?" she
The plaintively naive question left Illya Kuryakin at a momentary
loss for words.
The pungent aroma of wax candles and floral incense began filling
the room while he tried to formulate a suitable answer...
* * *
Solo had run down his quarry in a corner of the tree-lined parking
lot. Milbert Jon was, at the moment, trying desperately to scale
a chain link fence topped with both barbed wire and the terse
warning sign DANGER: KEEP OUT.
"I really wouldn't do that if I were you, Milbert." Solo delivered
the cautionary words from behind the cover of a shiny red Mustang
convertible. He wasn't taking any chances that Jon wouldn't have
a second weapon stashed away for use in a tight spot -- like this
one. "Y'see, Milbert, if I remember my tourist maps correctly,
you're about to drop in on the San Diego Zoo -- without an
The Thrush scientist ignored him and scrambled up the fence,
grasped an overhanging branch and swung himself safely up and over
the razor wire barrier.
One barb caught the cuff of his trousers when he tried to jump.
Solo heard a _rrrrrrrrrip,_ a muffled oath and the loud _chink_ of
protesting chain link as Milbert Jon flipped head first over the
fence, slammed into it, bounced, and ended up hanging upside down
by one leg, wriggling like a hooked salmon.
"Tsk tsk tsk tsk tsk." Solo approached the fence and twisted his
head around until he could _almost_ see the squirming Thrush
agent's face through the metal squares. "I _told_ you this wasn't
a good idea. Didn't I say that? Some people just never listen."
Jon merely swore at him and tried again to contort himself out of
his predicament. Unfortunately, he had too many years of
indulgence padding his middle to make a go of it. The captured
cuff ripped a little further, inching him groundward.
"Hmmm," Solo intoned, peering at the wooded area beyond Jon's
flailing figure. "They don't cage most of the animals in the San
Diego Zoo, did you know that, Milbert? "They're kept in natural
habitats, separated by trees..." He rattled the chain link
mercilessly, making Jon bob up and down. "...and fences."
The Thrush yelped and twisted around, trying to see into the trees.
"I'm not sure what's in _this_ habitat," Solo speculated. "Timber
wolves, maybe. Or tigers."
"#@$%›! Get me _out_ of here!"
"I'm glad you asked." The U.N.C.L.E. agent traded his Special for
a communicator. "Open channel D," he said. "I need a link to the
SDPD, please. Tell them we have a package for pick-up. And, er,
I think maybe they should bring a hook and ladder."
* * *
"Are you really Russian?"
'Flower' and her companions had formed a semi-circle on the braided
rug, each holding a stick of the smoking incense. The candles and
more incense burned on the artist's table behind Illya.
"Yes," he said, wondering what that had to do with the subject at
"Then you're right. I _don't_ understand you." Lenore's hippy
argot appeared to have vanished along with her innocent look. "My
father co-developed the Job virus under U.S. Government grants.
And who do you think the military machine wants to use the plague
"It's hardly that simple," he started to say, but stopped himself.
For these youngsters, it _was_ that simple. How did you explain
cold war politics to a flock of idealistic children? He wasn't
sure he could explain it to himself. Still feeling awkward and out
of place, he knelt on the rug at the open end of their circle. "I
give you my word that the microdot will be locked safely away."
Gypsy gave him a long, hard look. "Where no one will ever use it?"
Kuryakin blinked, taken aback by the earnest tone. What had become
of the childish, harlequin characters he'd found among the
pavilions one brief hour ago? "We'll pray not," he said in answer
to the question. How could he promise to prevent Armageddon? How
Saffron leaned over and placed a small burning candle in his hand.
"You come to the funeral, then," she said cryptically.
He stared at her, eyes questioning.
"We're holding a funeral," Lenore told him. "A funeral for Death."
She spread her left hand out on the carpet, and for the first time
he noticed the tiny butterfly tattoos adorning her bright pink
fingernails. She peeled one of the butterflies away, re-affixed it
to an unlit incense stick. He had no doubt that the tattoo
contained the microdot. Nor did he need to ask what she intended
to do with it. Somehow, though, he felt oddly disinclined to do
anything about it.
"Some things should never be," Lenore intoned, and picked up the
stick. Kuryakin was struck with the impulsive thought that here,
in the hands of an innocent, rested the potential death of
Or the potential life.
The lethal incense stick passed hand to hand around the circle,
until Saffron held it out to Illya. Four sets of eyes watched him,
He looked at the dancing candle flame, then across to Lenore
Sylvan's anxious gaze. No one said anything.
He took the stick.
Small and lethal. A splinter of wood with both perfume and a tiny,
deadly hitchhiker clinging to its sides. Illya Nickovetch
Kuryakin, he mused to himself, had not been young or innocent for
many years. Never so young or innocent, in fact, that he could
believe any military complex should be trusted with the kind of
power he now held in his hand. Not even U.N.C.L.E. had the clout
to protect the world from that -- not if the U.S. Government
asserted its 'ownership' of the virus. Not if the military engine
decided to escalate the cold war into a hot one, using silent,
untraceable plague as a weapon.
Some things should never be.
He touched the incense tip to the fire.
They all watched it catch, flame, then begin its orange glowing
march down the stick toward the butterfly decal.
"They'll only design another virus, you know," he said grimly as
the first edge of the butterfly's wing began to singe.
"Probably." Lenore sounded pleased. "But my father won't help
them. He hated the Job virus. When he said he planned to destroy
it, the Feds threatened to kill him. That's why I took it."
The butterfly flamed, a tiny conflagration of death, and curled
into black molten ash on the stick. The stench of burnt plastic
mingled briefly with the piquant floral scent of the incense.
A funeral for Death.
"U.N.C.L.E. will protect you -- and your father -- against any
retaliation," he said, handing both incense and candle back to
Saffron. As it stood, he would have a great deal of explaining to
He hoped it would not be an empty promise.
* * *
"And Mr. Waverly said _what?_" Napoleon Solo sipped his marguerite
and absent-mindedly admired the cocktail waitress' mini-skirted
Across the table, his Russian partner stared into an untouched
vodka. "He said that we were both fired." Solo's attention came
back to the here and now, and there was a decidedly pregnant pause.
"For three days," the blond agent finished.
"Oh," was the other man's only comment.
Their table and the restaurant terrace overlooked Balboa Park's
amphitheater/organ pavilion, which was slowly filling with people
as evening fell. Kuryakin watched the gathering concert-goers, the
ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. They could,
of course, have been 'fired' for three days in worse places.
Milbert Jon would be cooling his heels in jail for at least that
long, and Lenore Sylvan would be going home to her father -- with
an U.N.C.L.E. escort, courtesy of L.A. headquarters.
"Well, that's what he said," the Russian reiterated. "Ours not to
reason why, ours but to enjoy the time off for good behavior."
And it had been good, he told himself, despite what the U.S.
Government or anyone else might have to say about it. He'd just
been mildly surprised to find the head of U.N.C.L.E. ostensibly
agreeing with him. Mr. Waverly never ceased to amaze him.
"And what's this?"
Solo reached across the table and tapped the enameled bronze
pendant hanging on a beaded chain around Illya's neck.
"A gift. From Flower and friends." Kuryakin fingered the gaudily
painted trinket with its distinctive trident-in-a-circle shape.
"It's supposed to symbolize peace."
"Ah-hah." The American agent looked skeptical. "You planning to
become a convert to the peace and love crowd, are you?"
"Oh, I don't know." Illya allowed the smile to bloom. "There may
be something to this peace business at that. Besides, you never
know. Someday the Russians and the Americans may even find
themselves working together."
He toasted Solo with the vodka.