The last strains of Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" segued into The
Beatles' "Nowhere Man" as the colorfully-dressed teenagers, a
transistor radio concealed somewhere in their midst, crowded onto
the sunbaked California sidewalk. Goldman Film Studios had only
one gate, and one beleaguered guard, both of which the teenybopper
mob was determined to get past.
"Oh come on, man! Can't you just tell us when Bert Dolan'll come
through here? We only wanna see him!"
"Yeah. Don't be a drag, will ya? Let us in!"
From across the street, Illya Kuryakin regarded the modly-garbed
youngsters with open trepidation. "Must we go through that?" he
asked Napoleon Solo. "Maybe there's another entrance."
His American partner grinned. "What's the matter? To hear you
talk, anyone would think they don't have teenagers in Russia."
"We don't." At Solo's disbelieving look, he quickly added, "Well,
not like these."
"I don't know what you're worried about. I doubt if they bite."
"Or bathe," Illya said cynically.
Mm." Solo fished his U.N.C.L.E. ID card out of a pocket as "Baby
Love" by the Supremes drifted across the street over the noise of
the crowd. "Well, I'm afraid 'ours not to reason why.' U.N.C.L.E.
wants to know how a TV script outlining a genuine Thrush operation
happened to turn up here, and we deliver."
Leaning on the parked U.N.C.L.E. car, Illya folded his arms. "I
still say it's only a coincidence. Kidnapping defecting Soviet
military officers is hardly an original idea, you know. Even for
"Maybe. But naming the defector Colonel Anatoly Guryevich Prolenko
in both the script and real life is a bit of an overdose of
coincidence for my taste."
Kuryakin stood instantly upright, away from the car. "They used
"So I've been told. First thing we have to do is get a look at
that script. They haven't started shooting it yet; our informants
said it wasn't scheduled for production till some time next month."
Solo started across the street, and his blond partner reluctantly
followed. "Not that it matters, but which television series has
managed to accomplish this incredible 'coincidence'?"
"The one they're trying to get in to see." Solo nodded toward the
teenagers. "Biggest hit of the '66 season. Simon Kohl, Secret
_"Kohl?"_ Illya made a face. "I thought that was some sort of
An outcry from the crowd drowned Solo's response. A young girl's
voice bewailed the guard's continued refusal to allow her past the
gate. "If you don't let me meet Bert," she moaned, "I'm just gonna
curl up and die, right on your doorstep!"
The guard, stocky, greying and jowl-faced, was unimpressed.
Illya stopped on the sidewalk just short of the crowd, and gave
Solo a querulous look. "Who's Bert?"
"Who's...?" Solo looked surprised. "Bert Dolan. Superspy Simon's
alter-ego. I keep forgetting you don't own-a TV set."
"Hmph," Illya responded, eyeing the primarily female contingent of
fans. "I refuse to be sorry. I can think of far more interesting
things to do on the rare occasions that I'm home..."
"You have a point." Solo edged his way into the press of bodies and
headed for the gate. Halfway through, he felt a small hand clamp
onto his own, and he turned to look into soft green eyes framed by
too much make-up and a Buffy Saint-Marie hairdo.
"You're a producer, aren't you?" Her voice was high, and as thin as
the rest of her. "You really look like a producer. Like,
"Wha--?" Her frontal assault had taken Solo by surprise. He met
Illya's bemused look with a weak smile and recovered his composure
enough to tactfully give the girl back her hand. "No no.
Actually, I'm just ... uh..." _A spy,_ his mind teased. _A real
one._ "...visiting," he finished lamely.
All interest in him instantly dissolving, she turned on Illya.
"Are you a producer or a director or something? I mean, you don't
look Establishment, but sometimes you never know. You're an actor,
Kuryakin half-smiled at her. "Sorry," he said. "I'm just
They worked their way a little closer to the guard's booth. This
time they were intercepted by a boy of perhaps 15, wearing John
Lennon glasses and a rainbow sarape. "Have you got passes?" he
queried hopefully. "Maybe you can let a few of us in with you?"
"I'm afraid not," Solo told him. "Nothing personal."
"I wanna get the back of my hand autographed," one of the girls
sighed. "Then I'd never ever wash it again. Gawd, that'd be so
"You know something?" Another of the teenage girls had suddenly
attached herself to Illya. "You're cute!"
Solo restrained the urge to laugh aloud at the Russian's pained
"Thank you," Illya said, tight-lipped. He tried to disentangle his
arm, but his captor persisted.
"Are you a Simon Kohl fan, too? Isn't he boss?"
Illya squirmed. "I... uh..."
"He doesn't watch television," Solo said, coming to the rescue.
"Has a bad case of bibliophilia."
The girl released Illya's arm immediately, and inched away. "Oh.
That's not catching, is it?"
Kuryakin stared at her for a moment. "Regrettably, no," he
They made their way at last to the booth, showed the weary guard
their U.N.C.L.E. identification, and were escorted inside over the
protests of the crowd. Simon Kohl's set, they were told, was just
two blocks to the west and easy to find.
Solo looked down at his suit as they started walking past the
studio office buildings. Then, glancing at Illya's omnipresent
pullover and black jacket, he said, "Is it nice to know that you
don't look 'Establishment'?"
The Russian shrugged. "Is it nice to know that you do?"
Solo returned the shrug.
Simon Kohl's 'set' was an artificial lake traversed by a flimsy
footbridge. Some fifty cast and crew members milled between the
profuse lighting and camera equipment, and chaos was reigning.
"Tilt the reflectors, Ed. I need more light on the bridge!"
"Wardrobe! Bert has to have that breakaway suit, stat!"
"No, not there! It'll be in the shot..."
"More script changes? _More?_"
"A three camera shot, Donald. I don't want to miss any action
A strident buzzer, pitched somewhere between a foghorn and a
wounded moose, deadened the uproar.
"OK, quiet!" the director shouted. "Where are my stuntmen?"
The U.N.C.L.E. agents watched as two men in dark fatigues took
positions on the bridge, and when the cameras had begun rolling,
proceeded to act out an oddly silent fight scene. None of their
blows connected, so the resulting pantomime appeared almost
balletic. The 'fight' culminated in one man's fall through a balsa
wood railing and into the shallow water below.
"All right, cut!" the director yelled. "Print it! Lynn, get Bert
back out here for the close-ups, will you?"
Lynn, an attractive redhead with a clipboard on one arm, summoned
Bert Dolan out of a nearby dressing trailer, and the handsome star,
dressed in identical fatigues, replaced the victorious fighter on
the narrow bridge.
Illya, observing the proceedings glumly, said, "He doesn't look
particularly 'groovy' to me."
Surprised at the uncharacteristic Americanism, Solo laughed.
"Well, you're not 15, female and desperately in love with every
idol in the teen magazines. Bert should enjoy it while he can.
Next year, he'll be somewhere in nostalgia-ville."
"Can I help you gentlemen?" The redhead with the clipboard had
noticed them, and Solo appreciatively noticed her back.
"I hope so," he said, and produced his ID card again. "We're from
the U.N.C.L.E. We'd like to ask you a few questions about one of
your upcoming scripts, Miss--?
"Weber. Lynn Weber." There was both suspicion and concern in her
green eyes. "I'm the script supervisor."
"Oh really?" Solo turned on his most engaging smile, and quickly
outlined their assignment for her. Illya, long since familiar with
the m.o., stood by silently while Lynn Weber's suspicions melted
under the world-renowned Solo charm.
"I'm sure I can find you a copy of the script," she said when Solo
had finished the run-down. "And you'll want to talk to Bert. He
wrote that one."
Illya glanced at the fight choreography being replayed on the
bridge with Dolan. "He writes, too?"
"Uh-huh. Our last three episodes. It's not standard procedure,
but when you're the reigning tube idol and top Nielsen-getter..."
She paused, perhaps to curtail a sarcastic comment. "He's not all
that bad, tell you the truth. Why don't you give me a minute, OK?
I'll let him know you're here."
While Solo uncandidly admired her retreat, Illya turned to survey
the rest of the studio's backlot. He filed a mental note to have
U.N.C.L.E. check into Goldman's financial status. The facades of
the nearby western set were in a sorry state of disrepair, and an
adjoining "European" sector looked on the verge of actually falling
Before he had time to call in the request, however, he and Solo
were ushered into the cramped dressing trailer and shortly
introduced to the star of 'Simon Kohl.' Lynn Weber made the
introductions and promptly left again, though not without first
bestowing a script and a radiant smile on Napoleon Solo.
Handsome Bert was considerably less cordial. He glared at them in
the harshly lit dressing mirror while vigorously attacking his
make-up job with a sponge. "I never heard of this uncle," he said
irritably. "And I dunno what this flap over my script is all
about, but you've got exactly 3 minutes to explain it to me. I've
got another take coming up."
Dolan's being the only chair in the place, Solo and Illya were
obliged to stand behind him and address his reflection.
"Would you mind telling us where you came by the... uh... plotline
for this story, Mr. Dolan?" Solo thumbed through the multi-colored
pages of the script Lynn had just given him.
"Came by?" Bert huffed. "I don't know what you're implying, but I
didn't 'come by it' anywhere. I wrote it."
With a knowing look at Solo, Illya accepted a folded sheet of paper
from him, glanced at it briefly, then handed it to the actor.
"This is an authorized reproduction of part of a confidential
U.N.C.L.E. document. It compares your script with the factual
kidnapping of one Anatoly Guryevich Prolenko, defecting Soviet
military officer. You will note that the only difference seems to
be the substitution of the name Kragg -- your fictional crime
syndicate -- for Thrush."
Scarcely glancing at the paper, Dolan dropped it between various
hairbrushes on the dressing table. "Geez, where'd they get you
guys, Zap Comic Books?"
A loud rap on the flimsy trailer door accompanied a muffled voice.
"Ready for the chase sequence!"
Solo tried to block the TV star's path out, and found himself
shoved rudely into Illya as a result. Dolan promptly disappeared,
leaving the door open.
"Nice fella," Solo said facetiously.
"Someone should turn his friends at the front gate loose on him."
Illya retrieved the U.N.C.L.E. document from the dresser and tucked
it into a jacket pocket. "What now?"
"Well, we've tried asking nicely. I guess now we ask not-so-
nicely." Solo started out, but Illya caught his coat sleeve.
"Napoleon... Did you notice anything odd about this place?"
"Huh? You mean other than pretty-boy Dolan out there? No, why?"
"We passed several other sets and sound stages on the way in here,
and none of them was in use except for this one. Shouldn't a
supposedly thriving television studio have more than one production
in progress at once?"
Solo considered that. Now that Illya mentioned it, he hadn't seen
any other film crews on the lot. "Well," he said. "Maybe it
"Mm. And maybe there's also more to Goldman studios than initially
meets the eye. You keep after our fair-haired super-spy. I think
I'll prowl a bit."
"Suspicious Russian," Solo quipped. Then, more serious, he added,
"All right, I'll cover for you. Just stay out of trouble. Or is
that too much to ask?"
Illya ignored the additional jibe. He already had his pen
communicator in hand, prepared to call in for the financial check
on Goldman Studios. As Solo left the trailer, his partner was
quietly requesting channel D.
Simon Kohl, secret agent extraodinaire, was currently embroiled in
a tire-squealing car chase, or at least the concluding scenes of
one. As Solo approached the film crew, a late-model Corvette
careened down the road in front of the cameras, a black Cadillac in
hot pursuit. The little car braked, skidded and spun out on the
brink of the artificial lake. Its larger adversary squealed to a
halt several yards away. The director yelled 'cut' again, and
production stopped just long enough for Bert Dolan to hastily
replace the stunt driver behind the wheel of the sportscar. With
film rolling once again, a strangely silent gun battle ensued, with
three trench-coated baddies in the black Caddy vollying shots out
the windows at Simon Kohl, whose .38 caliber revolver answered with
equally anemic clicking sounds. Solo noted with some amusement
that a 3-inch silencer had been screwed onto the .38's barrel. One
of the villains was also using a silenced revolver.
This time when the camera stopped, a lengthy consultation was
followed by a clapboard man whose slate read "take 2," and the
entire gun battle sequence was repeated.
In the next take, a bullet from Kohl's trusty revolver ignited the
Cadillac's gas tank, and the bad guys (now safely replaced by
uncomplaining dummies) exploded in a flaming fireball. While the
technical crew attacked the burning car with fire extinguishers,
Lynn Weber spotted Solo and came toward him.
"Great stuff, huh?"
Less than tactful, Solo said, "Well, uh..."
"Oh, come on!" She sounded hurt. "Don't tell me you're one of
those people who never watches television."
"Oh, I do. Now and then. It's just that... Well, excuse me, but
one little bullet would have a hard time blowing up a Cadillac.
"This is Hollywood, Mr. Solo. We blow cars up every day, even
without bullets. Sometimes all we need is a little slide down a
hill or a nice big crash into another car. And then...?"
"What? Oh. Then there's the gun. I guess I never looked that
closely on TV, but..."
"What's wrong with the gun?"
"Uh... It's a .38 caliber revolver, with a silencer."
"So are lots of our guns. Silencers are 'in' this year."
"Yeah, well I guess that's nice, but it doesn't work. I mean, you
can't silence a revolver. An automatic, yes: that's a closed-
chamber explosion. But a revolver is open-chambered, you see, so
there's no way to stop the sound from escaping out the back. It's
sort of like..."
He trailed off, aware that she was staring at him like a trial
judge pondering whether to sentence the convicted malefactor to the
"Listen," he said hastily, "I still have to ask ol' Bert over there
a few questions. Any chance you can arrange an uninterrupted
interview?" He gave her another smile and was gratified to see her
"I'll see what I can do. By the way, Mr. Solo, where's your
"Around," Solo replied vaguely. "Somewhere."
* * *
Illya Kuryakin strolled unaccosted through the various street sets
of the backlot. Other than the fact that it was deathly quiet,
something else about the deserted studio bothered him. He wasn't
certain yet what it was, but U.N.C.L.E.'s report on Goldman Inc.
had left him more suspicious than ever. The corporation had
liquidated its plummeting stocks and filed for chapter 11
bankruptcy over two years ago. Fourteen months later, an anonymous
party had taken it over, evicted all the studio employees, and set
"Simon Kohl" up as the one and only product of the new Goldman
The perfect cover for a Thrush front if ever he'd heard one.
He emerged from the European sector into a broad street flanked on
either side by soundstages. The huge, hangar-like buildings were
all padlocked save one, which had its corrugated steel door
Perhaps too invitingly...
Kuryakin slipped the modified Walther U.N.C.L.E. Special out of its
concealed shoulder holster, and stepped cautiously through the
Cooler air. Shadows. A faint oil odor, like a mechanic's garage.
And an almost repressive quiet broken only by his own footsteps on
the gritty concrete floor. Stray cables snaked high overhead
across a soundproofed ceiling. Below that, dented klieg lights
drooped crookedly from low-hung scaffolding. The dilapidated
remains of a few interior sets lined the walls: a country kitchen,
parlor and dining room, a modern office, and something vaguely
resembling the inside of a submarine.
Intrigued by the latter, Illya approached it and deftly ran his
penlight over the submarine "controls." Strange. They were the
only thing in here not coated with dust. He ran a hand over the
panel, experimentally pressing a button here or there. Most were
nonfunctional plastic dummies, but one stud gave beneath his touch
and clicked loudly. Green light glowed from beneath the panel, and
illuminated several of the keys. Pocketing the penlight, though
not the Special, Illya quickly scanned the designations, paused
over a key marked "ELEV," and carefully pressed it.
With a lurch and a loud hum, the floor began dropping out from
under him. He turned a circle with the gun ready, but no one
awaited him on the harshly-lit lower level. The hydraulic floor
deposited him in a hospital-like corridor, with green paint half
way up the otherwise naked walls and closed doors running up, down
and off to either side. No one was about, but the air of disuse
prevalent everywhere else was definitely absent here. He could
With the Special held in front of him, he approached the corridor
intersection, where a circular desk like a nurse's station harbored
a bank of television monitors. Several were on and operating, and
one of them showed Illya a sterile cell paced nervously by a man he
recognized as Anatoly Guryevich Prolenko.
The scuff of a shoe on the bare tile floor came too late for him to
avoid the blow that sent his Special flying. Another followed,
slamming him into the plaster wall of the counter before he could
strike back. He landed with his shoulder blades grinding into the
wall, and the barrel of a luger resting squarely between his eyes.
A thick index finger with a dirty nail twitched anxiously at the
"Back off, Walt." The calm voice that staid the trigger finger was
all authority -- and female. "Do you think I let him get all the
way down here just so you could put a bullet in him? Come over
The luger retreated along with Walt's hammy hand. The rest of him,
Illya noted, was no more attractive. But the woman who'd called
him off might have stepped out of the pages of Fashion World
Magazine. Illya had seen her face before, in an U.N.C.L.E. file.
His mind sifted rapidly through a long list of names and matched
one of them with the remembered photograph. Lauren Macek; European
Thrush operative specializing in chemical and psychological methods
of extortion, coersion... and "interrogation."
"Mr. Kuryakin, I believe," she said smugly, proving that
U.N.C.L.E. wasn't the only organization to keep thorough files on
its adversaries. "How kind of U.N.C.L.E. to send you, of all
people, to pry into my studio."
Illya looked up at her from under the still-present threat of
Walt's gun. _"Your_ studio?"
"Yes, it's mine. And so is Anatoly Prolenko, though he isn't ready
to admit it yet. Did you know the wretched little turncoat doesn't
speak a word of English? Or French, or Italian?"
"Really?" Illya was beginning to see where this carefully-laid trap
would be leading. "How terribly inconsiderate of him."
She smoothed platinum hair back with a manicured hand and smiled.
"Thrush has translators, of course. But the nearest one is in
Florida poisoning fish tanks or something and can't be sent until
tomorrow. So you see I was particularly pleased to see you on our
above-ground surveillance cameras. Colonel Prolenko is in need of
someone to explain the worthwhile benefits of Thrush to him."
Walt's luger still danced impatiently. "Can I put a bullet in him
after that?" he asked anxiously.
Macek's smile became patronizingly indulgent. "Put him in the cell
with Prolenko. Then go and bring the other one. And Walt -- don't
forget to search him, thoroughly." She turned on one spike heel and
disappeared down a side corridor. Walt, motioning Illya up,
proceeded to carry out her last order.
Deprived of communicator, heat capsules, wristwatch and both shoes
(Walt was thorough if not terribly bright), Illya was escorted down
another hall and into the cell he had seen on the TV monitor.
Anatoly Prolenko, no longer pacing, looked up from the bunk as the
cell door slammed shut and inquired in gruff Russian as to what the
hell was going on.
Illya waited until Walt's blocky figure had vanished down the hall.
Then in his native language, he said simply, _"You have been
kidnapped by Thrush, Colonel."_
Startled, Prolenko came up off the bed. _"You are Russian?"_
_"My name is Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin, and I work for an
organization known as U.N.C.L.E. I was sent here to investigate a
Thrush plot to kidnap you. I'm sorry to say I hardly expected to
find the operation already this far advanced."
Under a shock of grey hair, worry lines wrinkled the colonel's
forehead. _"What is this Thrush? What kind of insane country
permits such a thing to exist?"_ Illya spent the next 20 minutes
explaining Thrush, U.N.C.L.E., Lauren Macek, and the fact that the
U.S. of A. was not the only insane country in which Thrush was able
to operate. Before he'd finished, a disturbance outside the cell
announced the return of Walt, with two Thrush reinforcements and
three new prisoners: Lynn Weber, Bert Dolan, and Napoleon Solo.
The latter was dragged in with a Thrush thug pulling on either arm,
and from the look of him, Solo had given them quite a fight.
When the new arrivals had been crowded into the cell, Walt marched
off again, leaving his accomplices to stand guard.
"Are you all right?" Illya noted the purpling bruises on his
partner's face with concern. Solo, disgusted, merely nodded.
"What is this?" Bert Dolan was yelling. "Who are all you people
anyhow? Look, I've got a TV show to shoot here, so would you mind
"Bert," Lynn Weber interrupted. "Shut up."
Solo glanced at Prolenko and then at Illya. "Is that...?"
"How long has he been down here?"
Kuryakin translated the question and turned back to Solo with the
answer. "Only one day here. They held him in a house somewhere
prior to that."
"And he doesn't speak any English? Doesn't it behoove one to learn
the language of the country one defects to?"
Illya's only response was a noncommittal shrug of the eyebrows.
"By the way," Solo added, "there were two more of your countrymen
upstairs a while ago, also looking for the colonel. Said their
names were Darov and Serkovich, or something like that. Ring any
Prolenko's eyes went wide at Solo's mention of the names, and he
gasped something in rapid-fire Russian.
"Wonderful," Illya breathed. "He says your visitors were from the
KGB and the GRU, respectively."
Lynn Weber was confused. "The GR who?"
"Soviet military intelligence," Solo told her.
"KGB," Bert grumbled. "GRU, U.N.C.L.E., Thrush. What is this,
"Something like that," Solo answered "Oh, and Bert... I'd like you
to meet Colonel Anatoly Guryevich Prolenko. The man you 'invented'
for that script of yours. What did you do to get hold of all that
Illya solvied part of the mystery by simple deduction. "The studio
is a Thrush front," he said. "He probably raided the office files
and just plagiarized some of the better 'plots.'"
Dolan flushed. "I didn't know any of it was real! Look, Solo, I
don't want to be involved in any of this, so would you please tell
your gorilla friends out there--"
"You don't want to be involved?" Lynn Weber huffed. "You _caused_
this mess, you egomaniacal imbecile!" She leaned back into a corner
of the cell with her arms crossed, and the glare in her green eyes
dared Dolan to argue. He didn't.
Walt had returned again, this time with Lauren Macek. She slipped
a small, boxy gun from a coat pocket as she regarded the cell full
of people. Loading the weapon with six needle-tipped bullets, she
said, "Really, Walter. I didn't ask you to bring half the
population of West Hollywood down here."
"They were all together," Walt said defensively. "What was I
s'posed to do?"
"Follow my orders, Walt. You were also told not to damage Solo.
You disobeyed that order as well. Two mistakes in a row. I'm
afraid that's two more than Thrush is willing to tolerate."
The big man's face went ashen as the little gun came up to point at
him. It spat once. Walt clutched at his stomach and went down at
the feet of his two companions, who watched compassionlessly. Lynn
Weber cried out and buried her face in Solo's coat. While the rest
of the gathering stared, something grotesque began to happen on the
floor outside the cell. Gasping, Walt writhed on the polished
tile, his body twisting into impossible contortions. Solo and
Illya both watched in grim fascination as Macek's victim, eyes and
tongue bulging hideously, screamed in agony, flopped over, and
finally lay still.
"Not exactly the best of test subjects," Lauren Macek said into the
stunned silence. "But adequate for demonstration purposes. The
gun is called a Lenzor, Mr. Kuryakin, after its Thrush inventor.
The bullets are miniature explosive charges tipped with
endrothanophene, a pain inducing drug. The results, as you see,
are imminently satisfying."
_"Bozhe moi."_ Anatoly Prolenko, who had watched the grisly events
from the back of the cell, sat down hard on theedge of the wooden
bunk. _"It is insane, this place. All of the people are insane."_
The Lenzor in Macek's hand swivelled to point directly at Napoleon
Solo, and the woman behind it smiled. "Now that we've proven the
weapon effective, let's get to business, shall we? Mr. Kuryakin,
you will translate my instructions to Colonel Prolenko exactly as
I give them. No tricks, or your friend will be following in
Walter's late, unlamented footsteps."
The U.N.C.L.E. agents exchanged jaundiced glances. It was an old
ploy, but no less effective for its age. Reluctantly, Illya nodded
"Tell him that I have studied the methods of his former government.
I find their persuasive methods most impressive. Tell him Thrush
would prefer he cooperate with us voluntarily, but we are prepared
to be persuasive."
Illya dutifully translated the veiled threat. Prolenko's response
was a characterisitic Russian grunt. _"Manipulative, scheming
woman,"_ he said irritably. _"It is well said, 'Where the Devil
can't do anything, he sends a woman in his stead.' Tell her to take
her peculiar-looking little gun and..."_ Colonel Prolenko
graphically described a physiological impossibility.
Unflinching, Illya looked up at Lauren Macek and deadpanned, "He
The beautiful woman with the gun frowned, but kept the weapon aimed
at Solo. "Then tell him Thrush has men watching the wife he left
behind in Leningrad. If he wishes to see her again, he will do as
That, Illya decided, was most likely a bluff. If Prolenko had
indeed left a wife behind, then she was almost certainly a guest of
the KGB by now, and out of Thrush's reach. He translated the lines
Prolenko's reaction surprised him. _"Wife?"_ he hissed. _"They may
shoot her, for all that I care. The woman is a harridan and a
shrew. If I cared about her, do you think I would come here? She
was reason enough to leave Russia! I should have done it long ago,
if it had not been for..."_
The tirade continued, but Illya turned back to Macek and said
calmly, "He still isn't interested."
Lauren Macek's response was interrupted by the sudden flashing of
the overhead lights. The two Thrush thugs pulled their guns and
headed off down the corridor at a trot just as an explosion rattled
the ceiling. Cursing, Macek spun and followed after them.
"Sounds like maybe our friends from the KGB and the GRU have come
calling," Solo said. "You got anything to open this lock with?"
Illya looked dejectedly down at his stocking feet. "No. Have
Solo shook his head.
"What about this?" Bert Dolan dug into a pocket and produced the
prop .38 with its phony silencer.
Illya took it from him, incredulous. "You've had that all along?"
"It's a prop gun. I'm a fake secret agent, remember? They didn't
even bother to search me."
Solo looked balefully out at the corpse on the floor. "That's
three mistakes, Walt old buddy."
Scowling wordlessly at the out-of-place silencer, Illya unscrewed
it, handed it across to Solo, and proceeded to open and empty the
"Can you shoot the lock off with it or something?" Dolan asked.
With a patient glance at Solo, Illya said, "Even if the bullets
weren't blanks, that would probably do nothing but jam the lock.
There is another possibility, though." He handed the empty gun to
Solo, then positioned the blank cartridges carefully in his
handkerchief and tied it into a small bundle. This he shoved into
the brief space between the cell door and the adjoining wall.
"Does anyone have a cigarette lighter? Or a match?"
Everyone but Prolenko began searching pockets, but no lighter
"Well," Solo sighed. "It was a nice idea while it lasted."
"Don't bury it just yet." Illya turned to Prolenko.
_"Zatsigalka?"_ he asked.
The colonel dug enthusiastically into a pocket and handed across a
heavy silver lighter. Illya gave it a satisfied little toss in the
air before snapping open the lid to ignite it.
"How can you open the lock with that?" Lynn Weber wanted to know.
"It's only blanks. You said so yourself."
Solo drew her away from the door as Illya ignited the handkerchief,
and the others followed suit. "Even blanks have enough gun powder
to go 'bang'," he said. "Get your heads down."
It was a small but noisy explosion: a succession of loud pops that
were echoed by gunfire from the corridors beyond. Solo (who still
had his shoes) and Prolenko took turns kicking at the burned lock
until it finally gave way, and the captives spilled joyously out
into the hallway. Illya stopped just long enough to liberate his
shoes, two communicators and a pair of U.N.C.L.E. Specials from the
nearby desk, while Solo relieved Walt of his luger and handed it to
"You know how to use a real one of these?"
"Uh... I dunno. I never tried."
"Well you may have to learn. In a hurry. Come on."
They headed toward the exit, and promptly ran into a gun battle
raging between Thrush and two men in dark blue business suits who
had broken through the submarine-set elevator. Solo herded the
group into another corridor, where they all pressed their backs to
"The only exit appears to be busy," Illya said.
Solo checked the clip in his Special. "Yeah, well that's not our
only problem. Those fellows in blue aren't the two Russians who
came calling earlier. In fact, those 'uniforms' look more like CIA
issue to me. Or maybe NSA."
"Alphabet soup," Bert Dolan repeated. "You forgot the FBI, the
DAR, and the ASPCA."
Solo scowled. "Our Colonel Prolenko is one popular guy."
Another explosion shook the wall behind them. The firing from the
other corridor abruptly ceased. Gun first, Illya peered around the
corner and saw a smoky scene of devastation. The two Thrush hoods
lay dead amid rubble from what had once been the elevator platform
-- but neither Lauren Macek nor either of the men in blue was
anywhere in sight.
Cautiously, they each stepped out into the open, feet crunching on
the debris-littered floor.
"So much for the only exit," Solo said, starino up at the
impossibly high ceiling. "Even acrobats couldn't reach that."
"Then there's another way," Illya said. "Because Macek got out
_"Lestnitsa!"_ The sudden shout directed their attention down one
of the side corridors, where Prolenko stood at an open door, waving
frantically at them. _"Lestnitsa!"_ he repeated.
Solo looked pleadingly at Illya. "Now what's he saying?"
Mildly embarrassed, Illya replied, "He's found the stairs."
Minutes later, they emerged into the open air of a street outside
the soundstage, surprised to find that dusk had fallen during their
brief sojourn below. Streetlights cast cold pools of light on the
deserted buildings, and everything was quiet. There were no signs
of the combatants.
"Now whatta we do?" Bert Dolan whispered. The luger trembled in
To Illya, Solo said, "I'll take these two to a safe place and call
the local gendarmes. You get Prolenko out of here."
With a curt nod, Illya took the colonel firmly by one arm and led
him off into the shadows. They'd traversed several of the European
set blocks, angling toward the main gate, when a faint sound off to
their left alerted Illya to another presence. He shoved Prolenko
quickly into an alcove mere seconds before something thocked into
the plaster wall where they'd been standing. It hissed briefly and
then burst with a soft, lethal explosion.
"Lenzor bullet," Illya murmured, and hastily worked the slide on
his Special. "Madame Macek would appear to have found us."
_"An insane, uncivilized country,"_ Prolenko whispered in agitated
Russian. _"Everyone behaves like in American movies. I should have
stayed in Leningrad with my shrew of a wife!"
"Shh!" His Special at ready, Illya tried to spot any movement
beyond them in the shadowy street. Pressed flat against the
artificial bricks of the alcove wall, he cautiously peered around
And ducked quickly back when another shot splintered the building's
wood framework. In the same instant, something ripped through the
left sleeve of his coat, and a branding-iron fire seared its way
into his arm. He stumbled backward, felt Prolenko's hands pulling
him down and away... from what?
A mini-explosion from the wall he'd just been standing against
answered the question. Lauren Macek's bullet had burrowed into the
phony brick and discharged itself--after travelling through part of
his bicep with its drug-tipped needle. _"You are hit,"_ Prolenko
informed him unneccessarily. _"Be still. Let me lZook at it."_
_"No."_ Illya forced his hand away, never letting go of the all-
important U.N.C.L.E. Special. _"Stay down. Wait. Make her come
_"But your arm..."_
_"I am all right. It is nothing."_ The last was a half-truth. He
had scarcely been grazed, yet his entire shoulder felt as though
someone had clamped it in a vice grip and twisted the handle to
"close." Stubbornly determined to ignore it, however, he sat down
against the wall and rested the gun across one knee, waiting.
Nothing moved in the street.
After a long, almost suffocating silence, Prolenko said, _"I must
ask you a question, Comrade Kuryakin."_
Illya looked up at him, silently assenting.
_"Why did you come here, to this country?"_
Contemplating that for a moment, Illya decided the best answer to
the question was most likely another question. _"Why did you?"_
The scrape of gravel from the street brought them both to instant
attention. The Special took aim at the darkness.
_"It is enough,"_ Prolenko said suddenly, and Illya was startled at
his abrupt movement toward the sidewalk. _"Enough of this! Do you
hear me, crazy woman? Prolenko is here!"_
Kuryakin tried to grab for him too late. The pain in his arm
prevented him from getting to his feet in time, and the Soviet
colonel marched foolhardily out into the open, muttering angry
Russian epithets as he went. Illya made it out of the alcove
several steps behind him, but by the time he had managed to snag
the sleeve of the colonel's coat, Lauren Macek had stepped out into
the feeble light with the Lenzor pointed squarely at Prolenko. He
froze, and from the other side of him, Illya's Special levelled
itself at Lauren Macek.
"A charmingly classic stand-off," she said acidly. "But I have the
advantage. Tell this Russian oaf that he'll work for Thrush or for
no one at all. I have absolutely nothing to lose at this point by
"Nothing but your life," Illya said tonelessly.
Macek smirked at him. "Are you willing to trade mine for his?
Don't be an idiot, Kuryakin. Tell him what I said."
Despite the agony crawling slowly through his shoulder muscles,
Illya's grip on the P-38 never wavered. "Sorry," he said. "Fresh
out of translations. Put the Lenzor down. Then we'll talk."
Her face said plainly that she didn't quite believe his threat.
"No qualms about shooting a woman, Mr. Kuryakin?"
Not a hint of emotion was betrayed in the answer. "None whatever."
"I really should have let that idiot Walter kill you when he had
the chance. You're as stupid as he was..."
Something in her eyes forewarned Illya of her action a split second
before she took it. The Lenzor swung away from Prolenko to aim at
him, one slender, manicured finger closing steadily on the
Illya shot her.
The Special coughed three times, its gunflash punctuating the dark.
Macek's shot slammed harmlessly into the cobbled pavement. She
gave a single, startled cry before collapsing on top of it, and the
soft explosion of the special bullet a moment later made her
already-lifeless body jerk spasmodically.
Silently, Prolenko knelt beside her and performed the superfluous
motion of checking for a pulse. _"Dushevnobolnoi,"_ he breathed.
_"Even in the war, I never saw such madness."_
Numbing cold had begun to overtake the fire in Illya's arm and
shoulder, and good sign or bad, he was glad of it. He'd barely
replaced the P-38 in its holster when the sound of running
footsteps echoed in the distance.
_"Get up!"_ he whispered sharply in Russian. _"Someone is
Prolenko got up. _"Who is it?"_
The footsteps clattered on cobblestones, coming closer.
_"Alphabet soup."_ Ignoring the colonel's baffled look, Illya
hastened him off down the shadowed street.
* * *
Napoleon Solo stood at Goldman Studio's only gate and watched a
third LAPD contingent storm the now-floodlit backlot. Their search
had thus far netted them two frustrated CIA men, one KGB, one GRU,
and the body of one Lauren Macek.
"I don't like it," Solo admitted to Lynn Weber. "Illya should have
checked in by how. It's been over three hours."
Nearby, Bert Dolan ran a hand through hopelessly rumpled hair and
sighed. "Well why don't you try calling him? Don't all you real
secret agents have telephones in your shoes or something?"
Solo shot him a murderous glance before pulling his communicator
out and trying for the fifth time to raise Illya over channel D.
There was still no answer. He'd just put the slender instrument
away when a familiar, accented voice said, "Looking for me?"
Solo spun. "Illya! I've been trying to raise you for three
"Sorry. Had to turn it off. It uh... might have been awkward."
"Well where've you been? And where's Prolenko?"
The Russian smiled wryly. "With any luck, on his way back to
Leningrad and a very shrewish wife."
Solo's face fell. "Leningrad? But I thought he was defecting?"
"So did he. But that was before he discovered the United States of
America to be a hotbed of rampant insanity. He decided that
retreat was indeed the better part of valor. So I sent him home."
"You sent him... ?" Solo stifled the echo. "How?"
"Code four-seven priority, on the U.N.C.L.E. jet." At Solo's
stunned look, he added, "You will recall that ours is a multi-
national, non-political organization."
"Mm. Well all the same, every now and then you still leave me to
wonder just whose side you're on, did you know that?"
"I'm on the world's side, Napoleon." Illya rubbed at a still-numb
arm and yawned. "I only wish the world would stop depriving me of
so much sleep."
Three young voices from the nearby gate suddenly chorused Bert
Dolan's name. A trio of teenage girls struggled to fight past the
on-duty cop, creating the weird illusion of a uniformed Kali with
six flailing arms.
"It's him! It's really him!"
"Oh, gawd. I'm gonna die! Simon Kohl, for real!"
Dolan turned to make a quick escape and found his way blocked by
Lynn Weber. "Just a darn minute, Superspy Simon. Why don't you
just once show those poor deluded kids that you know how to play
the part of a human being? Huh?"
Dolan glared at her, opened his mouth to arque, then shut it again
under her withering stare. "All right," he said, pulling a
ballpoint pen from his pocket. "Just this once."
While the star of "Simon Kohl, Secret Agent" went off to enthrall
his fan club, Lynn Weber seized Napoleon Solo's arm
enthusiastically and began leading him away. "I've been thinking
that maybe this series could use a little dose of reality,
Napoleon. How would you like to serve as part time creative
consultant? Or technical advisor? Or maybe we could call it..."
Illya noted Solo's pleased grin as the pair disappeared arm-in-arm
down one of the floodlit sidewalks. Shaking his head slowly, he
turned his own steps back toward the gate.
The world owed him a good night's sleep.
* * * The End * * *