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CHOICE Part Six
At last, you might be saying, this Summer Solstice challenge written at the behest of mrua (I blame her for it all) has ground itself to a conclusion!  Hopefully you might have dropped over to MFU Scrapbook, but if you haven't please do if you can bear to.  Anyway, the watery  angst continues for our blond genius whilst his partner gets around a bit.

PS With apologies, I am having problems putting all this under the cut!


CHOICE Part Six

There was something extreme about how little boats rocked, Illya thought, sitting between the two rather burly guards facing Raymond Grollé in the stern.  He had never encountered problems on board any of the ships he had served on in the Navy, their ability to take the rough seas in their stride making it even verge on exciting at times.  But in little boats every small wave seemed a crisis, rocking them violently to and fro and pitching their passengers inward towards each other or outward and even overboard.  He decided that actually being in the water was far more preferable than being on it in one of these, but he had the appropriately sinking feeling that overboard was where he was headed before long whether he liked it or not.

Grollé was obviously not particularly fond of boats either it appeared, but from the way he ordered the other men about and fingered the lid of the large box beneath his feet, Illya drew the conclusion that he was not prepared to entrust the Russian’s fate solely to the two men either side of him.

He had slid the little homing signal into Dorothy’s fortunately well lacquered hair earlier in the evening, when they had spent some time in what proved to be an enjoyable clinch outside the Costelloes’ chalet.  A prescient feeling of something bad happening later that evening had prompted the act, something he hoped that in the end would be preferable to his ultimate instructions if all else failed.  It now appeared that their embrace might be the last intimate thing they did together if Grollé was to have his way.

He was now convinced that Dorothy had gambled her freedom for his, inexperienced enough not to understand the ways of THRUSH in general and Grant Chesters in particular.  It was no real surprise to him that Grollé was waiting conveniently by the pier, or that Napoleon, whom he had glimpsed in Pamela’s Aston Martin as he was hauled onto the boat, had taken the correct decision to put the girl’s life before his partner’s.  Through Illya’s mind flashed memories of the short months they had shared together since he had sidled up to Solo at London Airport earlier that year.  His final decision, whether to remain at UNCLE or to respond to the contents of the letter in the suit he had discarded now seemed secondary to the more pressing need to survive the next few minutes and hours.  Despite all of it though, he still, however illogically, harboured the deep conviction that Solo would return.

Unusually, Grollé did not either seek to lecture Illya on his triumph or regale him with the details of how his death was to be accomplished; instead he merely stared at the legs and girders of the pier as the boat slowly passed by.  Illya craned his head round, watching the coastline, lights twinkling from the houses of those few occupants who were still up beyond their bedtime.  He could see the road bending round and away from the sea, and wondered if by now Napoleon had managed to catch up Chesters and at least save the mission from total disaster and more important, save the girl.  His head sunk back down to contemplate his shoes again, until suddenly prodded to attention by one of the men sitting next to him.

‘Stop the engine and moor her.’  Illya looked up.  They had reached the pier head, the great bulk of the theatre looming over them now in absolute darkness, entertainment having ceased for the night.  He estimated that the pier itself was probably about one hundred and twenty metres long, the entrance way a distant and shadowy shape some way off.  Obviously the plan was not to drop him far out in the depths of the North Sea, but, looking at the water now at high tide, it would be deep enough and cold enough to do him considerable and probably fatal damage just leaving him here.

‘I expect you’re wondering what is going to happen’ Grollé said suddenly, not being able to resist at least some gloating at Illya’s expense.  Illya stared at the contents of the box, the lid now thrown to the side.  There were no heavy weights as he thought there might be, only a number of ropes of different thicknesses, lengths and materials.  Illya pursed his lips and looked at Grollé, assuming what he had heard Napoleon refer to as his ‘little boy lost’ look.

‘Looks interesting’ he said expectantly.  Grollé sniffed, steadying himself as one of the guards anchored the boat to a leg of the pier jutting out towards them.

‘What I’m interested in, Mr Kuryakin, is how long it will take you to die once we have you in place’ he said, fingering the thickest of the ropes, a short densely woven piece made of a material Illya couldn’t identify.  ‘In the morning of course, you will be found at low tide and in due course identified as an officer of the KGB masquerading as Waverly’s innocent little Russian UNCLE agent.’  He threw over a thinner piece of cord to one of the guards and then turned back to look at Kuryakin.  ‘You could call this a preventative measure’ he said icily, ‘that is, preventing what might turn out to be quite a successful partnership from blossoming, n’est-ce pas?’

Illya felt one of the guards lock his shoulders in a hold that he didn’t even try to resist, turning him away from the other man while his hands were re-tied with the new cord.  He was turned back to face Grollé, holding what now resembled a noose in his hands.

‘A word of explanation’ he began.  ‘I am sure the scientist in you is wondering about the nature of the material these cords are made of.’ 

‘Enlighten me’ Illya replied tersely, surprised that the cord round his wrists was relatively loose.

‘You will find that once the cords come into contact with water, they begin to contract.  Of course, in experiments we found that the temperature of the water did affect the speed of contraction, but I would guess that you probably have, . .’ he shrugged his shoulders lightly and gave Illya an unpleasant leer, ‘oh, about an hour to live I would say.  I’m afraid that, unlike the method of execution in this country, your death will not be quick or painless, Mr Kuryakin.’

************

The water felt jarringly cold but Illya knew this would not be impossible to survive, in this depth at this time of year.  There was a far more serious hurdle to overcome in the shape of the ligature round his neck holding him to the pier’s structure and the increasingly painful cord round his hands.  He watched the boat pull away for a few moments before giving his full attention to the cords.  Keeping the noose out of the water was essential, even though it meant an increasingly painful stretch of his neck and shoulder muscles to do it.  His saturated clothes were also contributing to the drag downwards.  He steadied himself against the pier leg, gripping it with both of his own, more flexible legs.  He had been surprised they had allowed his feet to remain free, but their oversight would only mean the difference between life and death if he was given enough time by the noose.

Giving his shoulders another hoist, he brought his left leg up behind him and, after a few failed attempts, managed to grip his shoe and pull it off.  Brief moments of his military training came before his eyes; unpleasant scenarios created in fake boats rapidly filling with water as the men scrambled through the bulkheads to safety.  Painfully, the cord now biting into his wrists, he pulled the shoelace off the shoe and felt it float down into the depths.  There were so many distractions pulling him towards unconsciousness; he forced himself to forget the cold, the pain in his wrists, the slowly tightening noose, and just concentrate on the lace, winding it carefully round the ligature holding his hands together.

He took a deep, shuddering breath and pulled the hard end of the lace.  Immediately an alarming and incongruously fierce burning sensation shot through his wrists, followed by the delicious sensation of his hands becoming free of their ties.  He forced his arms forward and up above his head, dragging himself free of the water, and using his legs to give him some purchase on the pier’s structure.

Despite all his efforts though, he could feel the inexorable tightening of the cord round his neck, the dampness of the environment being enough to affect it.  The noose was attached above his head to one of the metal struts between the pier’s legs, some kind of metal clamp making the connection between cord and crossbar.  Steadying himself with one hand on the metal upright, he brought up his other knee and managed to grasp the other shoe and yank it off.  Flexing his fingers he turned the heel round and pulled out a small strip resembling a piece of grey chewing gum.  He closed his eyes momentarily, focusing on the task and trying to blank out any feelings of panic caused by the constriction on his throat or the numbing cold of the water.  Ramming the shoe into the top of his trousers, he reached up and attached the explosive to the metal clamp, before, after another heaving breath, he relocated the shoe and grasped hold of the lace.  Summoning all of his remaining strength and with a literally strangled piercing cry, he pulled the lace.

The blast was more than he expected.  The clamp flew apart, the cross beam, with an ominous clang coming down and releasing the end of the rope.  Illya, struck by the metal beam, felt himself at once being thrown immediately outwards and down into the dark waters beneath.  Despite his frantic grasping of the noose, there was no mistaking that it was now rapidly and fatally cutting off his ability to breathe.

***********

‘I understand.  Solo out.’  Pamela looked across at Napoleon, Alan Costelloe behind him leaning forward slightly in order not to be left out of the news.  Napoleon sighed deeply and looked back, noticing that unlike her brother, Dorothy had finally fallen asleep, her face showing signs of the fear, exhaustion and stress which she had endured and survived in the last hours.

‘Not good news I’m afraid, although it sounds as if we have one less irritant to deal with at this moment in time’ he murmured darkly.  He looked round, realising that it was going to be difficult excluding Alan from the conversation, however undesirable that might be.  ‘That was McGuire.  Apparently the police found Castle and Ponman at the scene of the accident and got in touch when they found their ID.  It looks as if our former colleague wasn’t as dead as I thought he was.’

‘Oh God’ Pamela muttered, the car moving forward rapidly as she spoke.  The outskirts of the town flashed by, the long black line of the pier eventually coming into view. 

‘They’re sending medical assistance’ he said ominously, his eyes indicating their eventual journey’s end, ‘and the local police have a couple of plain clothes officers for back-up’ he continued.  ‘Otherwise, it’s just you and me, sister.’

A hard tap on his shoulder indicated otherwise.

‘Mr Solo, I’m ready too’ Alan interrupted in a stage whisper, notebook at the ready.  Napoleon opened his mouth, to be stopped by Pamela’s touch.

‘That’s very kind, Alan.  You can help Mr Solo on with his equipment and then we can get things ready for when he gets back with Mr Kuryakin, can’t we?’ she said gently, ignoring Napoleon’s expression.

‘What equipment?’

They pulled up in a side street near the pier, the small houses conveniently darkened to mask their activity.  Pamela and Napoleon got out, Alan quietly opening the back door and joining them in a cluster round the boot.  Pamela swung the lid up, revealing its contents.  Beside a very large blanket and other clothes lay a complete wet suit and various additional items including a very vicious looking knife. 

‘How the hell did you,. .‘  Pamela put her finger to her lips and handed him the suit.

‘Girl Guides, dear.  Remember?  ‘Be prepared’.  Now, get that on pronto and we’ll see what’s going on over yonder.  Alan can guard the car and Dorothy until we return, right, Alan?’

‘Right!’ Alan replied, jangling the keys he’d been given in his hand and then getting into the driver’s seat of the car.

‘Remember, keep the car locked at all times until we return, do you understand?’ Pamela said, taking off her coat, her black jumper and trousers instantly rendering her almost invisible against the dark solidity of the houses behind her. 

When Alan had disappeared into the car, she reached into the boot and drew out a holster with its UNCLE standard issue Walther PPK firearm, waiting until Napoleon was ready and had shoved his mask and breathing equipment into his backpack. 

‘You may not need all of that, but we don’t know yet’ she said as they crossed the road, hiding between cars conveniently parked in front of the pier entrance.  They remained crouched down for a while, until after a sign from Napoleon, the two of them ran swiftly down what remained of the beach towards the shadowy safety of the first of the great pier’s girders.  It was a good vantage point to look out towards the sea and to observe the movement of anybody on the water.  Napoleon reached into his backpack and retrieved a pair of field glasses, scanning the blackness in front of him.

At first there seemed nothing, just the sound and sight of the tide rushing up and drawing back from the beach.  The endless predictability of it lulled him into a slight stupor for a few moments until a dark movement from under the pier head made him crane forward and adjust the glasses.  He could see them becoming more clearly defined as they approached; three men, two quite obvious guards, and the other, smaller man quite obviously not Illya.

‘He’s not with them’ he said rather hoarsely, giving Pamela the glasses and grabbing his backpack.  Pamela gazed at the little boat for a minute then put the binoculars down.

‘Well, what are you going to do?’ For a moment he stared out at the sea and then turned to her. 

‘Let them go’ he said slowly.  ‘Illya has to be our priority now and you can’t take on three men.  I’ve already lost too many people to all this and I don’t want to add you to the list.’  Pamela smiled.

‘Go, get him back.  We’ll be waiting’ she said, kissing him, before sinking back into the shadows of the pier structure as he sprinted up the beach and towards the pier entrance.

The lock on the gates was relatively easy to pick, Napoleon easing his way through and then picking up speed as he sprinted along the open planks of the pier towards what he prayed would be the place where his partner had been left.  Running was something he was trained to do but didn’t particularly enjoy, unlike the Russian, whom he had collided with one morning outside the back entrance of UNCLE.  Kuryakin had still been living in the Section accommodation within the building at that time and had obviously been returning from a long run, judging from the sweat which plastered the clothes to his body and ran in profusion from his face.  But through the exhaustion he had glimpsed an uncharacteristic joyousness in his new partner’s demeanour, something he had stored in his mind to add to other observations he had made of the man who was now becoming an important, even precious part of Solo’s life.  Smiling, in spite of the situation, Napoleon increased his stride and forced himself on towards the dark mass at the end of the pier.

The unmistakeable sound of explosive and the resulting clang and grind of metal threw him to a juddering halt in front of the theatre, looming up in front of him as a silent, colossal witness to the sounds below the deck.  Shining his torch down he could see what he imagined was a strut from one of the pier legs poking out seawards towards a gently seething mass of water in its trajectory. Without time for anything except his mask, Napoleon clambered up onto the delicate ironwork of the pier and dived into whatever awaited him below.

There seemed no reason why Kuryakin, a far superior swimmer to Napoleon, should be under the water until his partner’s torch lit up his head.  Underneath the swirling blond, sea anemone hair, Illya’s face looked contorted, his eyes back in his head and his body drifting.  The ligature, like some nightmarish pearl necklace shone in the torch’s light against the darkened skin of his neck and face, only contributing to the sick feeling sweeping up and through Napoleon.  Thrusting his arms under his partner’s he pulled him upwards, bursting onto the surface of the water with an eerie crash which echoed on the metal structure above them.

He forced himself backwards towards the nearest leg of the pier, at the same time wrenching his knife from its seal on his arm.  Illya remained ominously still.  Napoleon was sure he was breathing albeit shallowly, but with the ligature still in place and so tight, it could only be minutes before even this fragile hold on life would cease.  Leaving go of one of the Russian’s arms, he attempted to hack down at the cord, his heart beginning to pound as the ligature appeared to resist any attempt on his part to cut it. Strangely, he could even feel it constricting his fingers as he attempted to squeeze them underneath.  He shone the light in Illya’s face, detecting a bluish tinge about his lips that made him close his eyes for a moment before he made one more final and hopeless attempt to sever the cord.

He wasn’t aware of the dingy until it was almost upon him. Pamela’s face was suddenly looking into his, other arms dragging him and Illya into the craft. 

‘He’s dying, I . . I can’t get it off’ he managed to shout to no-one in particular.  Illya lay on his back, the two police officers either side with Pamela now at his head.  For a moment they stared at the nightmarish scene evolving in front of them before, with a gasp, Pamela leaned forward and took the Russian’s hands.

‘Look, he must have had the same round his wrists and he got free’ she stuttered wildly, staring at the three men.  ‘How did he do that?’  Napoleon leaned forward and then suddenly unzipped his wetsuit, ripping open a small packet and pulling out a thin strip. He could hear the Russian’s voice in his head, telling him about the explosive he had developed, almost the first thing he had done in the laboratory since he had arrived in New York.

‘Don’t mistake it for gum, you might have a rather volcanic reaction in your mouth’ he had said sardonically.  Now his experiment could, if Napoleon misjudged it, be responsible for injuries which might turn out to be worse than Kuryakin’s present fate if the cord was not removed from his neck.

‘Turn him over, quick’ he shouted, ‘hurry!’  He leant forward and wrapped a tiny strip of the explosive round the cord at the side of Kuryakin’s neck, forcing his fingers underneath the ligature.  Pamela immediately grabbed a piece of cloth stowed by her side, and dipping it in the sea water, covered Illya’s head above the cord.  She smiled grimly, and gripped Napoleon’s arm as he turned the dial of his watch.

‘Don’t want his hair to catch fire’ she whispered, ‘we’d never hear the last of it.’  In spite of himself he smiled, and then pulled the dial of the watch sharply.  A sound resembling a very small firework going off, followed by a minute but brilliant flare jerked them into action, one of the police officers throwing a small bucket of water over the Russian’s head eliciting a hissing noise and the smell of scorched hair and flesh.

‘Oh God’ Pamela murmured again, before yanking open a box and pulling out a large bandage.  When the smoke cleared Napoleon found himself on his knees, a heavy, white cord in his hands.  Covering his face he remained there for what felt like some time, before, wiping what he afterwards claimed was smoke from his eyes, he sat up and contemplated the now calm, black sea.

***************

He was lying on his side when Napoleon arrived, his hands and wrists lying heavily bandaged above the bed’s coverings whilst a substantial dressing was held in place by further bandaging on his neck. The bandage brought back instantly the memory of the cord and not for the first time Napoleon reflected on the irony of having to use Kuryakin’s explosive invention on the Russian himself.  He looked down at his still partner, observing with a wry smile that someone had performed a neat job with clippers up the back of Illya’s neck, Pamela’s makeshift covering not being quite enough to save the prizewinning thatch of blond entirely. 

Pamela appeared silently in the doorway, bearing a tray in her hands containing two rather solid looking cups of tea and a plate with three fat slabs of fruit cake, as well as a plastic container resembling a child’s drinking cup.  She glanced at the recumbent figure on the bed before smiling and whispering in his ear, ‘tea up.’

‘About time.’  There was a slight quivering of eyelashes before Illya’s eyes opened fully and he turned his head a little, a twinge in his facial features telling Napoleon that the burns were still raw and painful.

After working out the intricacies of the hospital bed, they managed to hoist him upwards between them, Pamela playing the dutiful nurse and feeding Illya whilst, between mouthfuls, they conducted a kind of informal debrief of the mission between them.

‘So, both Grollé and Chesters got away’ Illya said, lying back on the pillow. 

‘Yes, but against that we have Miss Costello back safe and sound, and at least we now know whose side Chesters is on’ Napoleon countered, putting his cup down.  ‘Don’t worry about Chesters, I will deal with him, eventually’ he murmured.  Illya opened his eyes and reached out towards his partner’s arm.

‘No, Napoleon.  We will deal with him eventually’ he said quietly. ‘This whole thing is to do with our partnership, and so we, as partners, will bring it to a conclusion.’  Napoleon nodded, aware that Pamela had got up and was moving towards the door.

‘You talk boys, I’m going to fetch two people very anxious to see our patient’ she said, blowing a kiss to Illya and giving Napoleon a more knowing look before disappearing out of the door.

They sat in silence for a while, Napoleon growing to appreciate his partner’s need for silent introspection.  After some time, when Kuryakin looked as if he had almost fallen asleep, his eyes opened again and he looked over at Napoleon.

‘In the restaurant, er, did you find anything of mine?  Napoleon picked up a small attaché case by his chair and flipped open the locks, placing the case on Illya’s knees and spinning it round to face him.  His communicator and the other items were there, the ring now in a small box which he fingered with difficulty before glancing at the other things. 

‘The letter is there too’ Napoleon added quietly.  Illya looked up, knowing from his partner’s face that it had not been read, and that Solo would not ask for explanations about any of the items laying in the case.  He stood up and pulled the letter out of a side compartment in the case, pushing it towards Illya.

‘This letter is from Admiral Gutskov of the Soviet Navy’ Illya began with no preamble.  ‘Apparently he had been informed that all was not going well for me in the United States.’

‘Oh.’  Napoleon fought back his own more selfish feelings about the import of the letter and waited.  After months of close study he was beginning to detect the signs of anguish so often hidden in the Russian’s bland expression, but whatever the letter contained, it was the decision of the other man which mattered and that Napoleon would accept, whatever the outcome.

‘He has offered me a commission, at a higher rank of course’ Illya continued, looking away from Napoleon.  It would be a diplomatic position, in Czechoslovakia I understand.  He tells me that there is trouble brewing there which our government needs to investigate and deal with.  There would be no . . . consequences if I returned home, but if I decide to do so, then, well, there would be no second chance to come back to UNCLE, if you understand.’ He looked at the letter and then, uncharacteristically chuckled.  ‘He says that I could settle down, look for a good Russian wife and have lots of babies.’

He pushed the letter away and gazed intently at Napoleon.  ‘I would very much like a wife and family one day but not yet, perhaps not for a long time, Napoleon.’

Napoleon stared a little, and then began to smile broadly. 

‘Right, yeah.  I think that’s a . . . wise choice, comrade, about the family that is.’

Illya smiled and attempted to hoist himself a little up the bed. 

‘Now, when I am let out of this place I understand that we have a week’s holiday owing to us.’  Napoleon frowned, wondering what was coming next. 

‘Um, yeah, the holiday.  I was um, planning to spend it with . .’

‘Lady Pamela?  I thought so.  Well that is fortuitous Napoleon, because there won’t be room for you on our holiday, I’m afraid.’  Napoleon’s brow wrinkled slightly.  He had got the impression that the Russian’s relationship with the girl had not progressed that far, but even he could be wrong about women, at least occasionally.

‘Alan tells me that he has found out through his contacts in the camp that I have been awarded a week’s free holiday for winning the other competition I entered’ Illya said mysteriously.

‘And that was?’

‘It was called ‘One in a Million’ Illya replied.  ‘Actually it was a fix, but I worked out how they were cheating, so in return for agreeing to keep quiet, they gave me the holiday.’  The haircut and his irrepressible smile were both contributing to give Napoleon the impression of a triumphant ten year old sitting in front of him. 

‘Lucky you.  So, if you don’t mind me asking, who will you be sharing with, on this holiday of a lifetime?’  Illya blinked, an astonished look on his face.

‘Alan of course.  We have a lot of catching up to do if he’s going to pass the Eleven Plus examination next year and get into the Grammar school he’s so keen on.  Oh, and Dorothy is sharing with her mother.  Unfortunately, her father will have to return home, so won’t be able to join us.’

‘Mm. Unfortunate.  Well, don’t neglect the young lady in your efforts to educate her brother.  She seems to have worked miracles already, by the look of you.’  He had only managed to get to the door before the empty plastic container hit him squarely on the back of the head, bouncing away to be caught expertly by Alan.

‘Second rule of espionage, Mr Kuryakin’, he said grinning, ‘always show respect to a senior agent.’  Illya groaned.

‘Well he is a lot older than me, that’s true.’ 

As Napoleon and Pamela skilfully drew Alan out of the room. Dorothy drew up a chair and leaned across the bed.

‘Third rule of espionage, Mr Kuryakin’ she breathed, as he drew closer.  ‘Always submit to a higher power.’

‘Willingly’ he murmured.



Enjoyed the story.

Thanks, I'm so glad u did.

Ah, you had me worried for poor Illya there for a bit! Nice skills he displayed in getting himself even a little bit free, and, in true UNCLE style, you had Napoleon come to the rescue just in time!

Very nice story, with a riveting action sequence in this bit, and a classic ending. Well done.

A perfect icon for my story!
Thanks so much for reading! Yes, he is startlingly good in water, is he not, but one always needs a dashing American to come to the rescue!

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