The Touch of Death Affair

by Jean Graham

The Munich restaurant was filled with muted conversation, soft
music and drifting clouds of grey cigarette smoke. Napoleon Solo
and Illya Kuryakin, welcoming a respite from the heat of the August
afternoon, stepped into the foyer and quietly scanned the
restaurant's many early dinner patrons. One of them would be their

"Which one is table _dreizehn?_" Solo asked under his breath. "I
don't see any numbers."

The head waiter approached them, menus tucked primly under his arm.
"Guten Tag, Meine Herren. Platze fur zwei?"

Illya shook his head. "Nein, danke," he said politely. "Wir
treffen hier eine Bekannte. Konnen Sie uns sagen, bitte, wo Tisch
nummer dreizehn ist?"

The waiter nodded. "Selbst verstandlich. Folgen Sie Mir, bitte,
Meine Herren."

As they walked behind him into the smoke-filled room, Illya said,
"When in doubt, one can always ask."

Solo, whose German was considerably less than adequate, scowled at
him in response. "That," he quipped, "is easy for _you_ to say."

They arrived at a somewhat secluded corner booth, and Solo found
himself smiling in pleasant surprise as their contact greeted them.
He would be the last to complain about discovering, to his pleasant
surprise, that their contact was female. That she also happened to
be attractive was, however, an extra added dividend. Never let it
be said that Napoleon Solo knew not how to appreciate the finer

She shook Solo's hand firmly. "Mr. Solo? I'm Debra Warner."

"My pleasure," Solo said, and meant it. He was surprised for the
second time when she turned to Illya and said, "Dobri Dien, Illya

Illya offered her a faint smile. "Hello, Debra."

Solo cleared his throat as they were seated. "You didn't tell me
the two of you were acquainted," he said to Illya.

The Russian agent shrugged. "You never asked."

"Illya and I worked together last year in Lisbon," Debra explained.
"I believe you were in North Africa at the time, Mr. Solo."

"Was I?" Solo grinned. "You know you really shouldn't keep secrets
from me, Illya. Especially when they're as pretty as this one."
"I suppose I should know by now," Illya said, "that keeping a
beautiful woman from you would be no less easy than swimming up
Niagara Falls."

Debra was still laughing at that when the waiter arrived to take
their order. Then, when he had gone again, she turned to business
and handed Solo a black and white photo of a sultry blonde woman
wearing fur and jewels. "Fiola Thanos," she told him as Illya
looked on and exchanged knowing looks with Solo. "You've met her

"Uh... yes. Once. Only then she was calling herself Vureyka Dor.
And the last time we saw her she was sinking to the bottom of a
very large, damp lake."

"So THRUSH has managed to bring yet another agent back from the
dead," Illya remarked. "What is she up to this time? Murder?
Subterfuge? Diamond and fur smuggling?"

"An experimental viral strain," Debra said seriously. "We don't
know how it's carried or administered. But she's managed to kill
two of our agents with it in the past week alone. It's fast-
acting, untraceable, and definitely lethal."

"Well, that sounds like Vureyka," Solo said. "A few months ago in
Washington it was a will gas she was peddling to Thrush. Looks
like she's graduated to a somewhat deadlier field of competition."

Illya took the photograph from him. "Fiola Thanos," he repeated
disdainfully. "How unoriginal."

Solo smirked. "I don't know. I think it gets the point across
rather well."

"Unfortunately, we don't know where in Munich she's hiding," Debra
said. "All we do know is that Thrush has an underground operation
set up below a building near here. Infiltrating that may lead us
to Fiola. Or Vureyka. Or whatever you call her."

"What I'd call her is 'deadly,'" Solo decided. "And the sooner we
can put her out of business, the better."

After their meal was concluded, Debra led them back out into the
afternoon sun and to a small black Volkswagen parked on the street.
"When I graduate to full-time spy," she joked, "I'm going to buy
myself a Mercedes. In the meantime, though, my Kafer will have to

"Kafer? " Solo echoed.

"It means Bug," said Illya.


They drove only four or five kilometers before Debra parked again
in front of a towering grey stone cathedral. "Welcome to Thrush
Eastern's newest West German satrapy," she said.

"You must be joking," Illya said, dismayed. "A church?"

"I'm afraid so. Oh, as far as we've been able to determine, the
majority of the church operations are perfectly legitimate. They
aren't even aware of Thrush's presence under their building. But
somewhere in there is a secret entrance to the satrapy. And the
only clue to Fiola Thanos' whereabouts."

"Wonderful," Solo breathed. "Shall we have a look inside?"

Debra opened the VW's glove compartment and removed a square
styrene box. "Be with you in a minute." Solo watched her wind her
hair into an attractive knot that was deftly fastened up by a
number of hairpins from the box. Then, from further in the depths
of the little glove compartment, she pulled a lace mantilla and
draped it prettily over her head. "All right, gentlemen," she
said. "Shall we go to church?"

The interior of the cathedral was, in a word, breathtaking.
Rainbow hues of light streamed in through stained glass windows to
warm the cold grey stones of the floor and dye them in reflective
patterns that crept slowly eastward with the sun's motion. Candles
flickered in their glass containers, tiers of light offered up to
the saints. Their smoky fragrance, pungeant yet far from
unpleasant, reminded Solo of boyhood visits to his Aunt Amy's
church in Queens. Of course, that had been a far smaller building,
but it had been no less imposing to a seven-year-old Napoleon.

There were three priests silently conducting some ceremony-or-other
at the altar. A few scattered worshippers sat or knelt in various
places among the pews. Debra led them down a side aisle, performed
a swift genuflection which they declined to immitate, and slipped
quietly into one of the rows of polished wooden pews. They
continued to follow her lead, kneeling as she did on the padded
railing protruding from the bench ahead.

Illya watched the ritual at the altar with intense interest.
Debra, noting his fascination, whispered from her place beside him.
"Have you never been inside a church before, Illya Nickovetch?"

He glanced at her, and the corner of his mouth curled slightly.
"Several. In Kiev, Leningrad, Moscow, and Vladivostok. But all of
those were museums..."

"I think," interjected Solo in a whisper, "that if you'll examine
those three gentlemen of the cloth up there a little more closely,
you'll note that one of them has feathers under his frock."

Debra nodded. "The one in the center. His name is Klaus
Brinkmann, and he's a West German agent for Thrush."
Illya watched the proceedings now with a renewed interest. "My,"
he said. "How pious our fine-feathered friends are becoming."

The Thrush agent priest completed his ceremonial ministrations as
they watched, and leaving his two companions, exited through a side

"I believe that's our cue," said Solo, and the three of them rose
to surreptitiously follow. Their quarry led them into a stone
courtyard, through a shadowy pillar-lined walkway and finally
walked into a wider courtyard that could offer no cover for the
pursuers. They hung back in the shadows, watching as the bogus
priest crossed, paused near the bell tower, and glancing around to
be sure he was unobserved, lifted a trapdoor at the base of the
tower and hurried through, closing it carefully after him.

"Ah," said Illya. "The old tunnel under the belfry gambit. A
trifle obvious, don't you think?"

"Maybe," Solo agreed. "And maybe they're just getting a little
more careless than they used to be. If the two of you are willing
to stay here and play back-up, I'll go and take a look." He pulled
the U.N.C.L.E. Special from under his jacket and prepared to cross
the sunlit courtyard.

Illya took out his silver pen communicator and tapped it once on
the side. "If you need me," he said, "just whistle."

"I'll remember that." Solo followed in the Thrush agent's footsteps
to the base of the tower, found the concealed trapdoor and
cautiously lowered himself through the opening. He found the
corridor at the base of the dusty stairs deserted and poorly-lit.
It looked (and smelled) more like a catacomb than the entrance to
a Thrush satrapy. Gun in hand, he moved soundlessly toward the
only door, found it unlocked, and pushed it open to reveal a well-
stocked but perfectly ordinary wine cellar.

"_Well,_" he considered, "_Thrush has been known to hide its
operations behind false wine cellars before. There was that time
in Budapest..._"

He'd begun making a slow circuit of the cellar, hunting for secret
doors, when a sound made him spin -- and he found himself staring
down the barrel of a Thrush rifle. "Welcome to my cellar, Mr.
Solo," said the bogus Father Brinkmann. "I am sorry to disappoint
you. But there is no longer a satrapy here. Only a trap."

With a sick smile at the Thrush agent's feeble joke, Solo dropped
the U.N.C.L.E. Special and raised his hands.
* * *
"He's been in there an awfully long time," Debra,
said to Illya. "Don't you think you ought to call him?"

The Russian shook his head. "That could prove awkward. The
communicator signal is notoriously noisy in closed places."

"Quite true," said a new voice. "But then, so are guns I'm told."
The guard, wearing traditional Thrush fatigues, was pointing his
homing rifle directly at Illya. "You will hand me your weapons
now, Mr. Kuryakin. All of them."
* * *
Napoleon Solo remembered little beyond being bound and gagged by
Klaus Brinkmann in the dank wine cellar. The Thrush agent had
effectively stripped him of guns, communicator, explosive devices
and several other U.N.C.L.E. gadgets. Then the sting of a
hypodermic had sliced through the sleeve of his coat, and the world
had gone hazy.

He could vaguely recall being carried out through a door (probably
not the same one he'd come in by) and up a steep flight of stairs.
Then there had been the chuffing sound of a helicopter's blades,
and shortly, the sinking feeling deep in the pit of his stomach
that told him he was airborne. To where or whom he could only

* * *
From their locked cell in the northern rectory of the church, Illya
and Debra heard the helicopter pass close overhead.

"Some of the birds would seem to be taking flight," Illya commented

Debra sat miserably in one corner of the barren room. "Yes. For
all the help it is to us. We're stuck in here with no
communicators, no weapons and no way out."

"I wouldn't say that."

"You wouldn't?" She watched, captivated, as he removed a shoe and
slid aside the false heel, dropping two thermite heat capsules into
his palm.

"Either Thrush really is slipping," he said, "or they were simply
in too big a rush to get out of here, probably taking Napoleon with
them." He attached the heat pellets to the cell's lock as he
spoke, and began searching his pockets in vain for something to
ignite them with.

"No lighter?" Debra asked dismally. "Like I told you in Lisbon,
it's what you get for not having any vices at all. No wine, no
women. Not even cigarettes."

"I have been known," he said, frowning, "to indulge in two of the
three from time to time. Just now, however, I'd settle for one
good match. I don't suppose you--" At Debra's negative response,
he turned his attention to the naked light bulb suspended from the
ceiling above. "All right then. We do it the hard way."

Minutes later, Debra found herself in awe of Illya Kuryakin's
talent for escape artistry. He had turned off the light (the cell,
after all, had been designed for meditation, and not for holding
prisoners) and working only in the dim illumination that came
through the barred opening in the door, he'd wired the bulb socket
to the lock, using the detached pull chain as a conductor. Then,
with a flick of the switch and a flash of blinding light, the door
was open, and they were out into the corridor, running.

Shouts and the sudden sputter of gunfire told them that all the
Thrush operatives hadn't yet evacuated the premises. Debra and
Illya sprinted down the narrow hall, turned a corner -- and
collided headlong with two armed guards coming the other way.
Illya came up swinging, knocking one of them to the floor before he
could recover. Debra grabbed the other one by an outstretched arm
and sent him flying over her shoulder to land with a bone-jarring
thud against the nearest stone wall.

Illya dusted off his hands and retrieved the Thrush rifles from the
floor. "You do that very well," he said, handing her one of the

"Thank you." Debra flipped back a section of her hair that had
come loose during the fray. "I told you, I'm practicing to be a
full-time spy. Now shall we make ourselves scarce before any more
of their friends show up?"

Smiling, Illya gestured her forward. "After you," he said.

Once back in Debra's VW, Illya stashed the rifles safely out of
sight in the back, and turned back to open the small glove
compartment. "I don't suppose you carry a directional finder in

"It's hidden in the first aid kit. Why?"

While she negotiated Munich's early evening traffic, he removed the
little white box and extracted the smaller metal device from inside
it. When he had turned the miniature dials, a faint but distinct
beeping sounded from the speaker.

"That's why," he said.

Debra was puzzled. "Solo? But they would have taken any homing
devices away from him, wouldn't they?"

"Not unless they pulled his teeth. That's where this one is
hidden." Illya studied the dial intently. "Take a left up ahead
and keep moving due east..."
* * *
Napoleon Solo opened his eyes to find that he was secured to a
straight-backed chair with his hands cuffed behind hiim. He
appeared to be sitting in a penthouse apartment; windows on all
sides showed clear views of the city. To one side, his Special and
communicator lay in plain view on a glass-topped coffee table. And
in front of him, the beautiful Vureyka Dor preened before a gilded
wall mirror. She wore a low-cut white satin evening gown,
diamonds, and long white gloves. Even the comb in her hand was

"Ah, Mr. Solo, at last," she purred when she'd finally noticed that
his eyes were open. "I'm afraid we never had the opportunity to
meet properly in Washington. I'm Fiola Thanos."

"Vureyka Dor," Solo corrected. "And the pleasure is all yours."
She bent over him in the chair, purposely affording him a clear
view of her ample cleavage, and Solo, clearing his throat twice,
added humbly, "Well, most of it anyhow."

"You have a 'way' with beautiful women, isn't that so, Mr. Solo?
That is what they have always told me. Shall we see if it is
true?" She caught his chin in one gloved hand and kissed him,
firmly and eagerly. He considered trying to resist the action, but
decided it would have been futile. If the lethal virus were
somehow contained in her lipstick, she would surely have contracted
it herself. Still...

"You're a very attractive man, Mr. Solo," she whispered into his
ear. "I find you very interesting."

"Yes well that's all very nice," he whispered back. "But if you'd
unlock these handcuffs, I'm sure I could be even more interesting."

She laughed. "That is what the last U.N.C.L.E. agent who came here
also said. You really must learn to be more original."

Solo looked crushed. "You're just trying to hurt my feelings,
Vureyka," he mocked.

"Oh, much more than that. You did come to Munich to find out about
the Death virus, did you not?"

"Is that what you call it? Charming name."

"It's a very charming virus." Slowly, she began slipping the glove
from her right hand. "It can kill within minutes. And the
carrier... The carrier can wear it in something as perfectly
innocent as, say, fingernail polish, and never be affected by it at

The white glove slithered off and fell to the plush carpet,
revealing a hand with sculptured nails all painted a glistening
shade of blood red.

"So utterly simple," she sighed, running the deadly fingers through
Solo's hair. "One touch... One scratch... and the enemy is dealt
with." She curled one finger in front of his eyes then, the nail
poised to strike. "Good-bye, Mr. Solo..."

Gunfire erupted suddenly outside, and Vureyka retracted the claw
just as the front door burst open to admit Debra Warner and Illya
Kuryakin. Debra caught the startled Vureyka in a flying tackle;
Illya was immediately embroiled in combat with a Thrush guard who
had appeared from somewhere -- and Solo tried desperately to shout
above the din loud enough to warn Debra about those lethal

He wasn't certain she could hear him, but she seemed to be holding
her own against the blonde Thrush siren. With one well-placed
kick, Debra sent her spinning across the room to collide, by
coincidence, with the guard Illya had just thrown in her direction.
The man fell over her, and Vureyka, shrieking, grabbed him and
buried her nails in the flesh of his arm. He gasped, and collapsed
at once to the carpet. Within seconds, he had turned a deathly
shade of pale, and gasping and choking, he writhed briefly on the
floor before he fell silent, never to move again.
Vureyka took advantage of the split second during which this
ghastly sight had frozen her onlookers, and made a dash for the
still-open door. Illya caught her by the left arm, and when the
lethal nails of her other hand slashed at him, he snagged them with
a drapery that had been pulled down in the struggle, and wrapped
the heavy cloth around and around until Vureyka's hand resembled an
art-deco beehive. She screamed, kicking and biting as he tried to
drag her toward a nearby table.

Debra plucked Solo's confiscated Special from the coffee table,
hastily checked the clip, then fired a sleep dart directly at the
flailing blonde banshee in Illya's arms.

Vureyka yelped and slapped frantically at her backside for a moment
until the dart's effect made her crumple peacefully to the floor.

"Thank you," Illya breathed.

"My pleasure." She put the gun down again, watching as he used the
drapery cord to tie the slumbering Vureyka to a sturdy table leg.
"You do that very well," she said, echoing his earlier words.

"Practice." He finished the last knot with a flourish and stood
up, only to find Debra in his arms.

"Would you teach me how to do that? I think I could definitely use
a refresher course in knot-tying."


"Ahem!" Napoleon Solo rattled the handcuffs that still bound him
helplessly to the chair. "Excuse me. I really hate to interrupt,
but would the two of you mind getting me out of here?"

"Did you hear something?" Debra asked Illya.

"Hm? Oh, that. You can ignore him."

Over Solo's further entreaties, she whispered, "Does he always make
so much noise?"

"Yes, often. But he's harmless." The Russian agent smiled. "At
least, for the moment."

Oblivious to both Solo's protests and to the insistent signal that
had begun warbling from the communicator pen on the coffee table,
Illya and Debra shared a long and lingering kiss ...