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Free of body, Free of soul Part Three

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PART THREE

CHAPTER EIGHT

It was dark, but a cool, refreshing darkness, a welcome contrast to the day with its fierce heat and unforgiving light. Illya blinked a few times and then sat up, for a few moments confused by his whereabouts until the massive form of Emil Terrebonne loomed over him, enabling him to place things back in their correct context before he had fallen asleep.

Terrebonne had been out when he returned and Napoleon wasn’t answering his communicator, so Illya had had no opportunity to discuss the meeting he had witnessed in the Cathedral earlier in the day. A note directed him to the bedroom where he now lay; glad of the rest before what he knew would be an exciting, but long evening began in earnest.

‘OK?’ Emil said in his usual deep husky voice, as Illya nodded and stood up. ‘There’s a shower through there. We’ll take in some food and stuff first and then hit O’Brien’s.’ For a big man, Terrebonne moved both fast and fluidly. Before Illya could comment he had disappeared, leaving the Russian to contemplate the clothes waiting for him in the small closet by the door. Someone had obviously decided that his disguise should begin immediately, judging by the absence of anything of his own and the presence in the closet of a suit, shirt, tie and underwear of a distinctly French cut. Illya fingered the clothes. Professor Martin had sent garments which Illya Kuryakin would never have been able to afford or even have chosen, especially at the time he had lived in Paris. Whoever Martin thought this Gabriel Guerin was, he was certainly proving to be less of a country bumpkin than Illya had originally believed he might be.

He wandered into the bathroom and turned on the shower, glad to rinse away the remaining hairs he could still feel stuck to his neck. He smiled at the haircut, absolutely sure that his partner would approve, before drenching himself under the torrent of the showerhead. When he finally emerged, finding Guerin’s clothes more or less a perfect fit, he discovered Terrebonne lounging on the sofa, the ubiquitous iced tea in his hand, and the strains of what sounded like Charlie Parker issuing forth from the gramophone behind him. He nodded in silent approval of Illya’s new look and motioned him towards the drinks, not wanting to spoil their enjoyment of the music by unnecessary words. Eventually the disk finished and he slid upwards rather elegantly, removing and replacing the disk into its sleeve with practised skill.

‘Ready?’ he said, affixing a pair of rather large dark glasses to his head and pointing to the door.

‘More than’ Illya replied, following him out.

Outside, the life of the district continued, the darkness giving a different character to what was essentially a continuation of the same activities of the day. There seemed to be a greater number of people hanging from the iron balconies that ran across the buildings on several stories, quite a few of them women who appeared to be touting for a particular type of business, Illya thought as he glanced up. Emil kept up an easy pace through the busy streets, his size combining with his opaque glasses to lend an air of someone who was not to be messed with.

After passing through a few blocks where enticing smells accompanied people coming away from the open doors of a mind-boggling array of restaurants, Terrebonne eventually stopped outside a busy looking bar not far from the UNCLE offices.

‘We’ll save the smoother places for when your partner’s with us’ he said, flashing a gleaming row of teeth at Illya. ‘This place has history, and does a cocktail you need to sample.’ Before Illya could reply they had plunged inside, passing by a large room with two enormous pianos facing each other in it, a crowd of people gathering round shouting requests at the two players, before emerging into a quieter courtyard at the back.

Illya sat down at one of the iron tables and glanced at the menu.

‘I recommend the catfish strips’ Emil said, as the server appeared from behind him, ‘or you could have the wings.’ Illya frowned, wondering how well the food might sit with what was going to be a greater than average consumption of strange drinks, judging from what was being served to those around him. Emil, who appeared to be able to read his mind as well as Napoleon could, smiled.

‘Yeah, it’s the south; everything fried.’ He murmured something to the server, as Illya picked up a paper napkin with the words ‘Have fun!’ on it.

‘This place became legit in 1933 when prohibition ended’ Emil continued, glancing round him in a remarkably discreet way, as the server returned with two glasses of a distinctly strange shape filled with an ominous looking red liquid. ‘This drink was invented on account of the fact that during the war the bar owners here were forced to take a ratio of rum to scotch of fifty to one, so they had to come up with something to do with all that rum, see?’ Illya nodded and gazed at the glass. Rum was very low on his list of favourite drinks since he had been fooled into drinking several glasses of a similar looking cocktail in a very dark bar in Kingston, Jamaica by the resident UNCLE agent there. He still remembered another dark velvety voice whispering in his ear, ‘we call it The Bamboozler’ as he slid slowly downwards onto the floor.

‘It’s called ‘The Hurricane’ Emil said, a kind of sadistic smile washing over his broad, expressive face. Illya smiled back and prayed for the early arrival of the catfish.

After refusing a second ‘Hurricane’, the first one making him understand clearly why it was so named, they moved on, passing out into the street again. After a few short blocks, they turned left, walking in the street until the sounds Illya had looked forward to, beckoned them towards a shabby looking double fronted building with large iron gates swung open to reveal a hallway crammed with people and decorated with an astonishing jumble of electricity meters on the wall above and behind them.

‘Preservation Hall’ Emil said above the noise. ‘Opened a few years back to safeguard and honour Dixieland Jazz, which it does.’ He nodded to himself as he spoke, as if to confirm the status of the building. They plunged in, Illya following behind Terrebonne as the crowd parted rather than risk any sort of confrontation with the huge man in front of him.

Inside, he could see straightaway that music was the only consideration of every person in the room. The place itself was basic in its décor and furnishings. The seating consisted of benches in the main part, with a few upholstered seats lining the walls at the sides. The walls themselves were undecorated, the plaster falling off in places, with a series of large paintings of significant artistes covering anything lacking in the wall covering. At the end of the room, facing the audience was assembled a jazz band, the trumpeter in the middle of a set. A couple of people moved, allowing them to take up seats on the pew-like benches screwed to the walls, a position Illya thought excellent, bearing in mind what might lie ahead. He could see that Emil thought the same, and for a moment, reflected on the possibility that for people like them, there was never any ‘off duty’ time. He thought of many similar times he had shared these kinds of evenings with Napoleon. His partner was adept at appearing relaxed, without a care in the world. Only Illya had learned to see that in reality the American was ever-vigilant, never allowing himself to become vulnerable to something unexpected from any quarter.

I found a new baby’ Emil whispered, as the band began a new set after prolonged clapping. Illya sighed a little and raised his eyebrows.

‘The story of my life’ he muttered, allowing himself to be drawn into the music as he expected to be. This sort of jazz, with its clever mixture of ragtime and blues, the improvisations of trumpet, trombone and clarinet suited his mood. He had never really listened to much Dixieland jazz apart from a few notable names, and thinking about his collection, he realised that there was a big hole in this particular section. He felt his fingers start to move along an invisible instrument as the clarinettist played, then sang and then played again, the other musicians in the band blending with his lead.

Glancing along the front row he was suddenly confronted by the appearance of a small boy, sitting on the lap of the pianist. His initial disapproval slid into fascination as the child laid his hands on his father’s as he played then astonishingly, began to play himself.

‘Yessir’ Emil growled softly beside him; ‘it’s in the blood.’ Illya smiled a little wistfully at the thought of the child. Until that moment, he had almost persuaded himself that his life would be better, easier, lived alone. After all, the man next to him seemed utterly content, Napoleon almost certainly did, why should he think he was any different to them? Then somehow, the sight of the boy and his father threw his sensible, logical thinking out of the window as surely as if he had stood up and hurled his gun across their heads and out of the French doors behind the band.

They took in some more food from a restaurant just a few doors down from the Hall and continued walking, Illya munching ruminatively on the wings he was trying to decide whether he liked or not. Of all the places he had visited since he had moved to the United States, this city, and this part of this city felt the most seductive, as if the mixing of Europe and the New World provided a location to satisfy something within himself that had remained in the old world he had left behind. Despite his difficulties with it, even the climate contributed to his sense of wonder in the place. He began to imagine himself living here, being part of it in the way that Emil was. He slowed, a deep sigh issuing forth from within him. A sense of reality returned, of the impossibility of it happening. He threw the remains of the food into a nearby trash can and moved on.

Emil was waiting for him outside another, similar but smaller building, with the usual arrangement of shutters and grilles thrown open to await them. From the street, the sound of a clarinet could be heard. Ever after, he always associated the instrument with that evening, its sweet versatility with the events that unfolded that night. Above their heads, a swinging sign announced that they had arrived at ‘The Open Door’, an unoriginal but accurate name, he thought as he followed Emil inside, the hawker at the door acknowledging the big man as a regular.

The interior resembled the jazz bars he was used to in New York a little more closely. Illya wrinkled his nose a little at the smoke, which combining with the heat of the place made for a particularly sweaty atmosphere. A series of small round tables filled the room, a few booths along the side filled with small parties of men and women seeking a little more privacy. At the far end of the room a stage for the band stood with the bar immediately to the side, from where female servers floated amidst the audience serving drinks.  

Emil motioned Illya towards an empty booth on the side of the room nearest to the rest rooms and the back exit, which appeared to have been reserved for his use, judging from the speed with which the drinks arrived. Illya was relieved to see that for the moment, the lurid cocktails had been replaced by a more acceptable round of scotch and soda, which he sipped slowly as the new set began.

The band was the usual line up for this kind of music. A clarinet, trumpet, trombone and sometimes even a cornet, together with the piano and a rhythm section of guitar and string bass, rounded off by the drums. Illya saw the trumpet player stand, ready to front the melody, the others improvising in turn to create the sound he was getting to appreciate as Dixieland Jazz. As they played he was glad of Emil’s murmuring guide to the melodies, some of them less well-known to him than others.

Ice cream’ Emil hissed deeply as the set continued, a steady flow of patrons taking their seats in the room and contributing to the steadily rising temperature of the place. During a break between sets Illya stood up, the call of the rest room winning out over the next drink. He edged his way round the now fully occupied tables in front of the stage and out into a small corridor leading to the men’s room, a blessedly cool oasis with a roaring fan overhead and an open window letting him breathe in a little less smoky air. He was just turning to leave when he felt a hand grasp his shoulder.

The hawker from the front door stood baring the way to the exit, his eyes covered by a pair of sunglasses as opaque as Emil’s. Illya frowned, pondering the reason for his appearance, apart from the obvious one.

‘Your friend needs a word; outside’ he uttered in a deep, rather monotone voice, suddenly turning and going out of the door without glancing back to see if his message had been heeded. Illya frowned again and then shrugged before following him out.

He was waiting for him in the corridor, but at the opposite end, holding the door open to what was obviously the way out to the back of the building. Sliding his hand towards his gun felt like a natural reaction to what was being presented, but the other man turned and led the way again, reassuring Illya a little about the likelihood of an attack the other side of the door.

Emil was waiting for him in what turned out to be a tiny courtyard, the glow of his cigar the only real light in the place besides that of the moon above them. The hawker melted away back into the club, leaving them standing alone together, the music of the band starting up again masking any other sounds from around them.

‘We have some unexpected guests in there’ Emil began immediately, throwing down the remains of his cigar. ‘I think it would be very unwise if one of their employees were seen in the company of someone who is seeking employment in their fine undertaking’ he added, another, more sardonic smile coming to his lips.

‘Oh’ Illya replied, nodding slightly.

‘I saw them come in when you were in the John, which was mighty fortunate’ Emil continued. ‘Said I was just leaving, so when you appear tomorrow, they won’t make the connection, seeing that none of them have seen you before, apart from Miss Vangie of course.’ Illya breathed out slowly, a long slow sigh.

‘Perhaps I ought to leave too’ he said, part of him feeling rather regretful, though for what reason he tried not to dwell on.

‘No, I don’t think so’ Emil replied. ‘I recommended this place to Mr Arceneaux sometime back; he knows I’m a regular here. But if you feel concerned, you could come in from the front again and stay at the back; they have a booth right at the front on the left side and only Miss Vangie is in a position to see you then.’

‘Perhaps it might be useful to see them’ he said, noting Emil’s expression, something similar to Napoleon’s when he had seen through his partner’s words.

‘Fine’ Emil said. ‘I’ll meet you at the Café du Monde round about six. No doubt you’ll be in need of a little refreshment by then.’ He turned immediately and headed towards what appeared to be a black wall, but which, after pushing back a creeper, revealed a small gate miraculously unlocked for their exit.

Illya followed Terrebonne down a rather dark and exceedingly narrow street, turning away from the other man back towards the club, the hawker at the door inscrutable as he entered for the second time that evening. As Emil had mentioned when they were walking, the likelihood of a THRUSH agent lurking would be high, and Illya was not disappointed to note a man leaning against the wall of the building opposite as he entered. He turned and stared meaningfully at him, hoping that the agent would remember him enough to report on the time and manner of his arrival if anyone asked.

The band was in full swing when he pushed his way onto the back wall and slid along towards a table in a conveniently shadowy part of the room. The trombonist was belting out a Rag, the audience fully engaged in enjoying the music rather than staring at any new arrivals. Across the smoke, he located the booth immediately.

There were four of them, two men, two women, gathered round the square table of the booth on two of its four sides, the men facing the stage, the women on the side wall facing outwards. As Emil predicted, only Evangeline Houghton could have possibly seen him from where she was sitting, and at that moment, she was fully engaged in a conversation with the woman by her side.

The booth seats were luckily not high enough to hide the two men from Illya’s gaze. They looked to be of similar height, though in the flesh Arceneaux seemed heavier set than Chauvin, his dark hair slicked back in a rather shinier version of Napoleon’s hairstyle, he thought. Chauvin looked younger and fairer, with a more brutal haircut which looked recently acquired Illya decided, running his hand through his own hair to sympathise. In the flesh he looked the very archetype of an American clean cut war hero, the type people admired and trusted. Quite unexpectedly Illya felt a sudden tinge of jealousy for this man; successful, handsome, with a beautiful woman by his side. He shook his head slightly and frowned at himself for the thought.

Not being able to hear what was being said allowed him to concentrate more fully on the body language of the men. Arceneaux seemed more aggressive in his gestures, leaning towards the other man and gesticulating with his hand on several occasions, whereas Chauvin appeared to be more passive, listening with a rather self-satisfied smirk across his face that Illya found at once unpleasant and worrying. Of the women, the blonde, who Illya knew from the photograph his partner had been so taken with, was almost certainly Lucie-Mae Arceneaux, seemed to be dominating the conversation. Evangeline, like her fiancée, sat quietly listening, but her expression was less readable than that of the man next to her.

As he surveyed them, Evangeline suddenly looked across the room, staring straight towards him. For a moment she seemed confused, her open, attractive face frowning with the effort of recollecting something. Then instantly it seemed to clear, a slight smile illuminating her expression as she continued to gaze at him. She put her hand up to her hair, now put up into a rather plastered style that Illya disliked, but which immediately signalled to him what her thoughts might be. They maintained their mutual stare for a few moments longer before a couple wandered in front of his table and he took the opportunity to rise and disappear out into the street and back towards other streets and other clubs Emil had listed for him.

He stopped outside the open window of a take-out Chinese restaurant unbelievably named ‘Takey-Outy’ and then lent against the wall by its side, munching slowly on some chicken teriyaki on sticks which turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of the evening. There was no doubt that Evangeline had recognised him as the man who hesitated outside her window on St Charles, and had signalled her observation of his change of appearance, though not whether she approved of it nor not, he thought, smiling. What was of real concern though was whether she had communicated this knowledge to her companions. No doubt he would discover this on Monday morning he thought grimly, but in any case, he would have to admit what had happened to Napoleon and receive the usual lecture in return. He could almost hear his partner telling him not to be so naïve, not to trust that kind of woman so readily.   He sighed, privately admitting to himself that in this case, Napoleon would be fully justified in his censure of his wayward partner.

As if to prove his partner right, Illya found the rest of the evening exhausting rather than anything else, as he attempted to put back some sort of logical, clear thinking into his befuddled mind. Neither music nor alcohol helped him, and finally, as light dawned, he stumbled gratefully towards the unfurled blinds and the soft, sugar coated floor of the Café du Monde.

Terrebonne was sitting at a table outside waiting for him, looking none the worse for wear and sipping a large cup of steaming coffee. Illya sat down, a waiter leaping forward from the row she had been sitting in, and presenting him with a coffee together with a plate of what his slightly queasy stomach told him was the speciality of the house.

‘Have a beignet’ Emil said slowly, taking one off the plate and stuffing it into his mouth with enthusiasm.   Illya noticed that as the other man ate, the thick sugar covering of the beignets had drifted through the cut iron of the table, making a delicate white pattern on Emil’s dark trousers beneath.

Illya picked up the beignet and began to eat, its sweetness, together with the coffee, bringing some sort of clarity to his tired mind. Terrebonne didn’t even try to ask about the evening, letting him enjoy the meal before walking slowly back to the apartment with him in a kind of comfortable silence that Illya appreciated.

‘Get some rest’ Emil said as they finally reached Illya’s bedroom, once again appearing to divine what was absolutely necessary. He melted away, leaving Illya to summon enough energy to remove his clothing and force himself not to just drop them on the floor before dropping himself onto the bed in an ecstasy of relief and exhaustion.

 

CHAPTER NINE

‘That is a mighty fine vehicle you have there, Mr Laurence’ Napoleon said, affecting the southern accent he had been perfecting over the last few weeks and grinning as Emmanuel Laurence swept up, bringing Miss Kitty to a smooth halt beside him.

‘Glad you approve, man’ Laurence retorted, heaving up the capacious boot lid and stowing Napoleon’s luggage inside, before swinging open the passenger door. ‘Your partner took a liking to my Miss Kitty too’ he added, as they moved majestically away from the terminal building and out into the stream of traffic heading for the city.

At the mention of his partner’s name, Napoleon glanced behind him, as if by some miracle the Russian would suddenly appear. Laurence smiled, and sat back into his seat, the car appearing to take charge of the journey for the next few miles.

‘He’ll be coming along later’ Laurence said laconically. ‘Emil said he had a heavy night, and all.’ Napoleon frowned slightly and adjusted his sunglasses to the glare of the afternoon sun, glad that the slipstream of the convertible provided a comfortable breeze against the brutal heat beating down on him from above.

‘He’s a smart fella’ Laurence continued, looking ahead. ‘Smart, but a little, how can I put it, vulnerable at this moment in time?’ Napoleon raised his eyebrows slightly, impressed by Laurence’s intuitive sense of his partner’s mood.

‘Mm’ he said, sighing slightly. ‘Put it down to women; or one woman in particular’ he replied. ‘As in, ‘getting over’ one particular woman.’

‘Uh-huh’ Laurence murmured, the car slowing as if it was listening in to the conversation. ‘Well, he’s a big hit with the women of my household, I can assure you’ he said, smiling. They drove on in silence for a while, Napoleon dividing his thoughts between happy memories of the city they were gradually approaching and more disturbing concerns for the state of his partner’s heart.

‘He’s following directions, though?’ he said eventually, beginning to wonder what Illya had been up to, apart from a night out in the French Quarter with Emil Terrebonne.

‘No problem with that’ Emanuel replied, tapping his fingers in a syncopated rhythm on the large steering wheel. ‘I’d say he looks to be highly efficient in that quarter. He’s already getting into his role as that French student you fellas have set him up to be.’

‘But not quite the kind of student he’s played before’ Napoleon said, remembering the briefing papers he had scanned on the journey, and his partner, his long hair falling softly over his face, playing the clarinet in a room which now seemed a long way away and a long time ago. He stared at the endless succession of low-rise outlets strung along the main airport road, a slowly building feeling of expectation growing within him at the prospect of another mission together beginning. Kuryakin’s prolonged absence at the University followed by his own protracted time at Langley and the whole Marion affair had served to induce in him a longing to get out into the field with his partner, even though at least to begin with, they would be in separate places. Still, there was the minor excitement of a little breaking and entering to be done that evening, and he found himself almost rubbing his hands in anticipation of the event.

Laurence, with his usual facility for divining what was in other people’s minds, broke the silence between them.

‘It’ll be illuminating to see what there is of interest in the Arachne place’ he said, almost between his teeth. ‘But, as I said to Illya, I wouldn’t hold out too much hope of an instant solution to this little mystery. For once, THRUSH is doing a fine job of keeping things tight to its chest.’ Napoleon sucked his teeth at Laurence’s comments, having come to a similar conclusion himself after reading the briefing papers and discussing the mission with Waverly before he left.

‘However,’ Laurence continued, ‘even clever dicks like Arceneaux leave some sort of dirty trail behind them somewhere. There will be something; the trick is whether you and your partner will spot it, see?’

‘I do’ Napoleon replied darkly. Miss Kitty slowed and then glided round a sharp corner, her ample girth rolling the ruts in the road admirably, Napoleon thought. He gazed at the shining expanse of the car’s dashboard, the metal trims polished to perfection and glowing in contrast to the soft grey of the interior finishing. He knew that Laurence had been apprised of his own role, and had sent him a great deal of background information both about notable preachers, but more importantly, about Huey Logue, the preacher-loving Governor of Louisiana. Laurence’s contacts in the media had given him his entrée; a preacher and the millionaire owner of a string of radio stations across Kentucky, but little known in Louisiana, who went by the name of Jimmy ‘Kudzu’ Palin. UNCLE had dug deep, discovering a hidden, unsavoury past which ensured Palin’s cooperation and disappearance for the time Napoleon hoped it would take to find the truth of what was happening in the Governor’s mansion in Louisiana.

‘Emanuel, I have a favour to ask you’ he began tentatively. Laurence twisted round slightly, the car slowing as his house came into view.

‘Miss Kitty will be honoured to accompany you on your visit to Baton Rouge’ he replied. ‘Just treat her like the lady she most surely is, understand?’

xxxxxxx

The two youngest Laurence girls were clustered together on the front porch as they pulled up, the oldest girl standing slightly behind, affecting disinterest in their obvious excitement, but, to Napoleon’s eyes, showing every sign of anticipation of someone’s arrival.   As he drew closer, he could see that whoever they were excited about, it wasn’t him. The smallest girl, Benny, stamped her foot a little and turned to the eldest sister, a look of fury on her little face, whilst Dominique, the middle sister said ‘you ain’t him’ rather loudly to Napoleon as he stopped in front of them.

‘I’m very disappointed in you girls’ Laurence said, drawing up besides Napoleon. ‘Mr Solo has come all this way and you show him such rudeness. Now, say howdy do and welcome him to our home.’

Françoise Laurence immediately stepped forward.

Bienvenue, Monsieur Solo; nous sommes très très desolées . . . .

‘Don’t be’ Napoleon said, smiling at the ferocious look on Benedicte’s face. ‘I think the main attraction will be along shortly; in the meantime, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with the supporting artiste.’ There was a sudden yelp from Dominique, who had wandered off and perched herself on the end of the porch railing looking out along the street towards Charles. The other two ran towards her, Dominique shouting ‘il est ici, il est ici!’ in a loud, husky voice whilst Benedicte danced a kind of delighted bunny hop before rushing back past Napoleon and her father and down the stairs to the gate, which clanged shut behind her as she ran into the street.

‘Benny!’ Murielle Laurence shouted from the open front door as they all heard a scream and then a kind of sob coming from further down the road. Napoleon dropped his case, running down the stairs and out of the gate ahead of the others. He could see the Russian, knelt down on the pavement, the little girl stuck to his body rather like a koala bear to its mother, except that her hands seemed to be softly smacking his head in a gentle, rhythmic manner. Napoleon slowed his pace, arriving to hear what sounded like an abject apology coming from his partner to the now slightly calmer little girl.

‘I’m very sorry, it had to be done, Benny. I don’t like it either, but it’ll grow soon, you’ll see.’

‘You naughty.’

‘So a lot of people tell me.’

Illya stood up, the little girl still attached. ‘She doesn’t like my haircut’ he said, starting to walk back slowly, as the two other girls ran up, jostling between them, Dominique squeezing her hand into Illya’s free one.

‘Benny liked his old hair’ Françoise said knowingly, expecting Napoleon to understand.

‘Really? Well, there’s no accounting for taste’ Napoleon mused, giving his partner a sideways glance. It was true, the haircut, he could see straightaway, was definitely not of the Russian’s choosing. He glanced down at his clothes, the cut of them, together with the neat cropped hairstyle contriving to suggest ‘French’ rather than ‘American’ to even the most inexperienced eye.

Murielle and Emanuel Laurence were waiting back at the front door when they returned, Murielle having satisfied herself that nothing calamitous had happened to her little girl.

‘Lordy, Benedicte Laurence, you made a mighty noise out there on account of nothing’ she started as Illya gently lowered the little girl to the floor.

‘Oh, I wouldn’t say it was nothing’ he said rather gently. ‘She just shows a rather more intuitive understanding of the sacrifices required by an agent in the field than most people’ he continued, directing a cutting look towards his partner. Napoleon rolled his eyes, sure in the knowledge that things were returning to their normal position in the UNCLE universe.

After Illya had assured all three girls of his undivided attention later in the afternoon, they followed their mother out into the garden, leaving the men in Laurence’s study. Food had been set out for them on a small console table at the side of the room, the agents taking their plates and sitting round a low table, upon which the plan of the Arachne building was laid out ready.

As Laurence opened the safe at the back of the room, Illya murmured, ‘So, I trust you dealt appropriately with my admirers at Langley?’ Napoleon smiled grimly, knowing that Illya knew he would not repeat the crass negativity of some of the opinions vented there.

‘They’re largely in support, except your special friend Bradley Mitchell of course; but in any case, your position is secure with UNCLE, you know that.’ Illya nodded, but not before Napoleon had seen a fleeting look of something resembling worry sweep across the Russian’s face.

Laurence returned with the usual yellow UNCLE file marked ‘Arachne’ under the familiar logo stamped on the cover. Napoleon observed immediately that it was slim; despite Emil’s careful observations over several months, there was little to report, apart from some copies of letters thanking the foundation for their generous support in a variety of worthy causes, and a selection of images on a large sheet, labelled ‘staff’. It was a kind of family tree, Andrew Arceneaux’s face appearing at the top, then other people spread beneath him until the branches reached their roots, where Emil’s face stared out from the bottom line.

‘Nobody of any real interest here’ Laurence said, pushing copies of the sheet to the other two men; ‘’cept Mr Arceneaux, of course. He has a couple of assistants’ he continued, pointing to two men’s faces below Arceneaux’s, ‘and of course, the lovely Miss Vivienne.’ Illya reached inside his suit jacket and withdrew some rather thick framed glasses, the name of the Parisian optician startlingly memorable to him, almost as startling as the fact that they seemed to be his exact prescription.

‘Mm. Claude Chabrol’ Emanuel said, looking up from his study of the faces and nodding at Illya’s glasses.

‘Claude who?’ Napoleon replied, sighing at the knowledge that a lecture would soon issue from his partner’s lips.

‘Chabrol, Napoleon, the film critic turned director?’ Illya said, in the usual wearisome voice he favoured for lecturing his partner. ‘He’s getting to be a seminal figure in the French ‘nouvelle vague’ movement, but personally speaking, I think his best work is yet to come.’ Laurence, who knew Napoleon’s lack of interest in foreign films well, burst in,

‘Yeah, I liked ‘les cousins’ but ‘les bonnes femmes’ was a step up, if you take my point.’

‘Well, wake me up when it’s all over, boys’ Napoleon interjected, yawning.   ‘I’ll settle for a side of popcorn, a blonde and ‘The Magnificent Seven’ over your new wave cinema every time.’

With the usual supercilious groan , Illya returned to staring at the staff pictures. For some reason, the face of Vivienne Cant, Arceneaux’s secretary, seemed to ring a bell somewhere deep inside him. He put his finger near her photograph and turned to Napoleon.

‘Do we know her?’ Napoleon stared at the picture and shrugged. She was certainly not his idea of what a secretary should look like, despite the fact that their own secretary, Carole, shared this woman’s piercing, aggressive expression. She looked about forty, her brown hair looking as if it had been set in concrete and her winged glasses completing her ‘take no prisoners’ appearance.

‘Nope. Well, I don’t know her, but that doesn’t mean to say she hasn’t had the pleasure of your company at some point’ Napoleon added, as Illya frowned and pursed his lips at the woman above his finger.

‘Oh well, I suppose it will come to me at some point’ he said eventually, putting down the sheet.

‘She’s English’ Laurence said simply, ‘which leads me to think that she might have been provided by the fellas at Central for Mr Arceneaux’s delectation.   Perhaps you came across her when you worked there. Emil says she has an unpleasant tongue.’ Illya shrugged his shoulders, keeping Vivienne Cant’s image in his sight.

‘Perhaps, but for the moment, I can’t remember where’ he said, diverting his gaze to the plans spread out on the table. They studied them for a while, working out which rooms might be most fruitful in terms of information, bearing in mind the limited time they would have.

‘Emil will be starting his shift at eight o’clock’ Laurence said, as Illya made notes on a pad he had helpfully provided. ‘He will soon get to know if anyone is in residence above, and if they are, whether they are planning to go out or not. If they decide on a night in, we are in trouble, but I have the feeling that Senator Chauvin is not planning on sampling Miss Vangie’s home cooking anytime soon.’

‘Not the home loving type then?’ Napoleon said.

‘To the electorate, sure. But we get the distinct impression that all that stuff is purely for show, including, I regret to say, his marriage to Miss Evangeline.’ Illya frowned, the image of the girl in the club coming back to him, her dark eyes signalling something which didn’t seem to accord with her role as the wife of a possible THRUSH conspirator.

‘I saw her again’ he said suddenly, ‘last night.’

‘What do you mean ‘again?’’ Napoleon replied, sitting back in his chair while Laurence handed round the obligatory glasses of iced tea.

‘You couldn’t be reached yesterday; no doubt your fellow Americans at Langley were responsible’ Illya began rather sharply. ‘I went out running yesterday morning, and I saw her in the apartment above the Arachne offices. Emanuel knows, I told him at least’ he added, not meaning to sound as absurdly petulant as he obviously did from the look on Napoleon’s face. ‘Later, after I had endured this’ he said, touching his hair, I decided to take a look in the Cathedral near Emil’s apartment. She was there again, Napoleon, in a side chapel, handing over what looked like some kind of document to a priest. It all looked so, well, covert, at least to me at any rate.’

Napoleon glanced across at Laurence, but the other man was silent, an almost invisible presence in the room as the Russian talked. Napoleon was also quiet for a moment, feeling the agitation of his partner and getting the strong sense that the story wasn’t over from the rather flushed look on Kuryakin’s face.

‘Last night, when we got to the club where Emil goes regularly, while I was in the men’s room, they all turned up; Arceneaux and his wife, Chauvin and Miss Houghton. Emil and I separated and I was able to watch them for a while. The other three didn’t see me, but Miss Houghton did. I’m sure she remembered me from that morning . . .’

‘And you’re worried that she’ll tell her charming friends all about you?’. Napoleon smiled, albeit it a little grimly. His partner was being honest and following correct procedures, but he couldn’t help thinking that there was something almost irrational in the way he spoke about her.

‘Illya, just think about this logically’ Napoleon said eventually, speaking softly and choosing his words with care. ‘What has she to tell them? That she saw a scruffy looking, long-haired young man out of her bedroom window, who later turned up at a club she just happened to be in with a change of clothes and a haircut?’ He gave his partner one of his customary looks, but Emanuel Laurence, watching the two men from the silence of his chair, could see very clearly that within that look there dwelt the deepest of respect and affection for his Russian comrade. Kuryakin nodded imperceptibly and lowered his eyelids, signalling his acceptance of his partner’s wisdom.

‘Our main concern now is that if they do go out, that they stay out for long enough’ Napoleon said. ‘Otherwise, you might find your fourth meeting a little tricky to explain at your interview tomorrow.’ Illya grinned ruefully, the atmosphere lightening again as they bent over the plans together. As he had in the UNCLE offices a day earlier, Illya traced his finger through the rooms, his head slightly to the side as he stared at their layout.

‘I can’t really see anywhere’ he said, looking up, ‘that they might hide anything of real value, unless of course it’s all being stored in Napoleonville somewhere and shipped directly to Europe from there.’

‘There is a safe’ Laurence said, ‘Emil has checked it, but there is nothing of real consequence there, and it’d be a waste of time opening it again if you’re in a hurry. Besides, that’d be too obvious, to my line of thinking. Knowing the THRUSH boys as we do, they will no doubt be demanding every last detail of their pet project to be recorded in some way for sending back to Central, and then, coming the other way, there must be some bit fat line of dirty money coming in from somewhere and being washed clean too before it’s given out to all those very grateful citizens.’

Napoleon scratched his head and sat back, thinking through all the usual routes THRUSH used for the transport and laundering of money.

‘What bank do they use?’ he said, as he noticed Illya doodling some kind of scientific equation on the pad to his side.

‘The good old Bank of America, ‘course’ Emanuel answered, raising his eyebrows. Nothing but the best for these fellas.’

‘Which has extensive contacts in Europe and offshore accounts’ Napoleon mused, Kuryakin’s jottings now competing for attention with his thoughts about Arachne’s financial dealings. ‘Now, no doubt someone in the bank has come over to Arachne’s way of thinking and is being very cooperative, but I still think they’ll need a large corporation to move the money in.’

‘Someone like the Dupré Corporation?’ Laurence said, nodding his head. Napoleon locked his hands behind his head and looked at the ceiling fan, now whirring gently above them.

‘Oh yes indeedy’ he murmured slowly. He sat up, a slightly irritated look on his face. ‘What are you doing?’ he said. Illya, suddenly realising he was being addressed stopped writing the now endless looking figures with which he was covering the page.

‘Oh, it’s just an idea I had for a new explosive that was less noisy than the one we use now’ he said innocently, smiling at his work. ‘It’s sort of more ‘boof’ than ‘boom’ if you take my meaning.’ He looked up at both men now staring at him, his face reminding Napoleon of a schoolboy with a new chemistry set. ‘I’m sorry’ he continued affably, ‘I usually leave these kinds of discussions to Napoleon; he’s very good at money.’

Laurence burst out laughing, and sat back. ‘Well, you’re quite a team, I can see that now’ he said, getting up. ‘And yes, Mr Solo here is a smooth operator in this whole field, a skill which may become extremely useful before this little adventure is over.’ He stared down at the calculations and shook his head. ‘Man, what is in your head?’ he asked, grinning at Illya before they were all diverted to a soft but insistent knocking on the door. Murielle’s head appeared, the rest of her obviously keeping back the remainder of the family behind the door.

‘You finished yet? I am having the devil’s own job keeping these girls back.’ Illya sighed and got up, folding the calculations carefully and sliding them inside his jacket inside pocket.

‘I’m coming. We’re going into the garden to play some sort of game they have organised there, and then I am on bedtime reading duties, I think. We’ll catch up at dinner if there’s anything you think I need to know before tonight.’ He squeezed himself through the door to the obvious delight of those behind it, appearing a short time later in the garden wearing some shorts and a lurid looking t-shirt.

Napoleon and Laurence watched the antics of the group for a while before turning back to a quieter reflection of the file and the plan on the table.

‘Make sure he understands there is to be no sign whatsoever that anyone was in those offices come tomorrow morning’ Laurence said, shuffling the papers together. ‘If they think anything has been disturbed, then they’ll start looking a little harder to see who’s responsible.’

‘Don’t worry’ Napoleon replied. ‘Both Illya and I understand who and what is at risk here.’ He turned round again, raising his eyebrows briefly at his partner now giving Benedicte piggy backs round the garden. ‘He may look like an overgrown teenager but as far as I’m concerned, he’s the real deal. I have to say he’s the best partner I’ve ever had and the only one I’m intending to have for a very long time to come.’

 

CHAPTER TEN

The telephone signalled to Evangeline Houghton by a faint, solitary click that the conversation taking place in the adjoining room had just ended, but just as she breathed in, readying herself for her fiancee’s inevitable entry to her bedroom, it rang again, this time more insistently. She sat down facing the mirror of the dressing table opposite her bed, staring at herself with distaste.

Since her engagement to Chauvin had been announced, he, or rather his assistants, had been grooming her for what they told her would be her eventual role.

‘First lady of the State of Louisiana, and then, after that, who knows?’ Peggy Dubois, the woman appointed as her ‘secretary’ trotted out like a mantra on every occasion they were together, Evangeline becoming sickened by her sycophantic attentions towards Chauvin, who obviously admired Peggy’s immaculate appearance and the fake little laugh she adopted whenever he said anything which she considered remotely amusing.

She turned and grabbed the small bag lying on her bed, carefully unzipping a tiny compartment within it and drawing out a small, rather battered photograph. On the back was written, ‘Loyola 1958’ and then the words, ‘look at you!’ followed by a single capital letter B. Turning the paper, she followed the directions. The woman posing happily in front of what she remembered was her sorority building seemed to bear only a passing resemblance to the one looking down at her image. Her hair was loose, hanging down her back free, a thick fringe turned under slightly into a fat roll on her forehead, above the laughing eyes and the wide, happy grin. She was wearing one of those new look skirts which suited her small waist and ballooned out to her knees, a pale off the shoulder jumper completing the ensemble. The girl in the photo looked as if she was ready to leap up and start dancing, her whole body language shouted out her energy and her joy at merely being alive.

Evangeline turned the photo over again and slowly traced her little finger round the capital letter on the back. A cold, sad feeling seeped into her, the happiness of the girl reduced by the memory of her loss. She was quick enough to hide the little photograph away before the door had opened and an altogether different man stood over her.

‘What are you doing?’ Evangeline put the little bag onto the dressing table, sitting down and staring in the mirror as she opened a lipstick and started to apply it to her lips, inwardly cringing at the sharp pink colour which had been chosen for her.

‘Getting ready of course, darling’ she said airily, putting down the lipstick and turning round. ‘Will I do?’ Chauvin came across and stood behind her, not being able to hide the fact that his image was the one he stared at, rather than the woman sitting beside him. Without commenting, he placed his hand on her bare arm, the fingers closing on the smooth flesh. Evangeline flinched slightly, as a hard, fake smile came to his lips.

‘Perfectly. Shall we go?’ As he stared at her in the mirror, she was suddenly reminded of another face staring up at her that morning. The man she had looked down on was, in some ways, the antithesis of the man who stood beside her.   Slight, a little scruffy looking, not trying to impress, yet the wild golden hair and the pale eyes had impressed her, intrigued her even. Seeing him again in that club had been all the more startling then; the hair shorn, the smart clothes and above all, his serious looking, intense expression had suggested someone altogether different. She shrugged imperceptibly at the thought of him, returning her focus to her fiancée and the task she had promised herself she would see to its final completion, whatever the cost.

The night duty guard was standing by the car at the side entrance, opening the door for her as they came through the gate and giving her one of his charming smiles as she slid in to the back seat. Despite the fact that he worked for them, Evangeline couldn’t help liking him and wishing that he was in truth a better man than he must be. She sat there, watching Chauvin talking to him in the dismissive, contemptuous way he did with anyone who he didn’t need to impress, before he came round to the other side and got in, the chauffeur immediately pulling away from the pavement and heading towards town.

She already knew that the evening was destined to be another of those she labelled ‘political and tedious’ in her head. Now that Chauvin had been elected a Junior Senator, the round of parties and political events had not ceased, a clear indication that her fiancée and his supporters had much higher aspirations.

‘I’m meeting with my advisors after the dinner’ Chauvin began, as they slowed in a line of traffic heading towards the centre of town. ‘Charles will bring you back if you tire of conversing with the ladies’ he added, Evangeline noting that he was once again glancing at himself in the driver’s mirror at the front of the car. She smiled and nodded in the passive way she had adopted ever since their engagement had been announced.

‘I may just do that’ she said, ‘seeing that we had such a late night yesterday’. Chauvin turned slightly and smiled, the same smile she had seen plastered onto his lips during the days before the election and which would almost certainly be there as soon as the car door opened. She turned away from him and stared out of the window, a sudden longing for another sight of the blond stranger filling her thoughts until finally the car slowed and the door swung open.

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

Napoleon unconsciously ran his hand across his hair and then glanced at his watch. The house had lapsed into a comfortable silence, the living room to the side of him illuminated by the gentle glow of several large lamps and in the background, the dull roar of the central fan contributing to the cool calm atmosphere of the place. He glanced at the stairs, hearing the imperceptible click of an upstairs door and then seeing Kuryakin gliding down the stairs towards him as Laurence came out of the living room door.

‘You can enjoy a quiet stroll from here. I’ll let Emil know you’re on the way’ Laurence said, glancing at Illya as he slid up beside them. Like Napoleon, he was wearing dark clothes, but not the customary black which might make either of them look more suspicious than they wanted people to think them.

‘Got everything?’ Napoleon said, frowning at the canvas satchel Illya was in the process of slinging over his shoulder. He nodded; his hairstyle and the shadows of the evening making him appear a lot younger and more innocent than his partner knew he really was. Without speaking, Laurence opened the door and they passed out of the house into the evening, still, to Illya’s mind, suffocatingly warm for the time of day. They strolled in silence until they reached St Charles, Illya pointing silently towards distant houses as they crossed into the ‘neutral ground’ as Emanuel Laurence had called it, and then onto the other side of the wide road.

‘I can’t help but think that there is something there we can’t see on the plans’ Illya said at last, not altering his rather rambling gait as they strolled under the trees.

‘Something not obvious to Terrebonne or anyone looking round the building it seems’ Napoleon added, stopping for a moment to light a cigarette by the wall of a darkened mansion, and ignoring the sigh of his partner as he replaced his cigarette case in his jacket. ‘Yes, well I’ll give up soon, but it’s useful to add to the appearance of a pleasant night stroll’ he pleaded, inhaling deeply while pondering Illya’s last statement.

‘We only have a short window to do this, and remember; it has to be left as we found it’ Napoleon continued, his amiable expression hiding the seriousness of what they were discussing to any passers-by, not that there seemed to be many. As they continued on by the series of grand mansions down the street, only a few seemed illuminated; the majority either, like the Arachne Foundation, offices which were unoccupied, or else private residences where the owners had either chosen to go out or taken an early night. Napoleon looked down as he stubbed his cigarette out. Kuryakin was wearing a very expensive looking pair of slip-on black leather shoes, not his usual choice, but that could be said for his whole appearance, Napoleon thought, with a wry smile. Illya noticed his expression and frowned, as they stood momentarily looking across the side street at the largely darkened Arachne house.

‘I’m grateful to Professor Martin for my wardrobe, but was it necessary for all my clothes to be removed?’ he complained, shrugging his shoulders a little in the dark, rather elegant cotton jacket he was wearing. Napoleon glanced at him again, but not before he had noticed a deep shadow pass across the window immediately to the side of the door facing them across the street.

‘I think you should be more grateful and I think I should congratulate our colleagues in the South for achieving what we in New York have signally failed to do in the past couple of years’ Napoleon replied, ignoring Illya’s glare and directing his gaze towards the wrought iron gate opposite. They crossed the road in the same slow manner, but as they turned in front of the gate, and Napoleon drew out his cigarette case to strike another match, Illya leaned against the gate, and finding it open, disappeared inside. With a quick glance up and down the street, Napoleon threw down the match and followed, the gate clanging gently behind him and locking with a slight click.

The main door was entirely blank, but on the adjacent wall a small, tasteful sign had been affixed, indicating the name of the organisation and the office hours. The logo, a rather modern interpretation of a spider’s web, was forged in thin pieces of metal underneath, a capital A stuck in the web rather like a strange insect caught by an unseen predator. Something about it made Illya shiver slightly, despite the temperature.

The light above the doorway remained off, giving them the cover of shadows as the door opened silently and they slipped inside. Emil Terrebonne stood invisibly in the corridor’s gloom, his dark uniform embellished with a smaller, embroidered version of the web logo outside, the A standing out in gold on the red web behind.

‘Glad you could make it’ he rumbled deeply, walking before them into a large, open plan room with a long, curved desk taking up the space, a group of comfortable looking sofas and large coffee tables filling the area in front of one of the large windows fronting St Charles Avenue. The conversion of the house had obviously been carried out with taste and considerable expense, at least if this room were anything to go by. Two doors lead from the room, one to the corridor which Illya remembered from the plans led across the house, and one to the intersecting corridor running from the front to the back.

Emil shook Napoleon’s hand and nodded to Illya before leading them out again into the corridor and through a door almost immediately opposite. Some of the back rooms, as Illya remembered from the plans had been divided, this one split between what was a security room and beyond it a kitchen looking out into the garden at the back of the house. It was immediately obvious that the security in the building was highly sophisticated, a series of monitors alerting anyone watching to any activity in every part of the building and grounds. Beneath each monitor a small port held what Illya imagined was some kind of recording device.

‘Neat little things’ Terrebonne said, as usual divining Kuryakin’s thoughts. He pressed a button at the side of the port immediately causing a tiny tape to shoot out. ‘They use these so as to make it easy to keep a check on things’ he said, pulling the tape out and giving it to Illya. ‘They’re mighty interested in comins’ and goins’, see, and they don’t wanna sift through those big tapes, so they change these every day.’ Illya stared at the tape. It was tiny, smaller even than some of the prototype tapes the girls in the typing pool were starting to use.

‘So, how are we going to avoid not starring on the Sunday night show?’ he asked, handing back the tape to Emil. The big man grinned, patting his jacket pocket.

‘’Cause old Emil here has made some nice little copies, courtesy of UNCLE. The main thing was to imprint the date on here, see’ he continued, showing Illya a tiny date stamp on the plastic of the tape spool, ‘and then I just ran it through the other night, no problem.’ Illya glanced at Napoleon, who grinned and said, ‘Smart guy’ before glancing back at the bank of monitors behind him.

‘Are these the only ones?’ he said after a moment, turning back and looking round the room. Illya and Emil looked at him, the Russian’s face suddenly revealing his understanding of his partner’s train of thought.

‘You think there could be a secret room?’ he said, beginning to look about him.

‘Well if there is one, judging from all this, I can’t believe they won’t have some sort of surveillance set up for their dirtiest little secret’ Napoleon replied, opening a few cupboards underneath the monitors.

Illya stood back from the monitors, taking in the range of their surveillance. There were two rows with five monitors on each row. On each monitor the screen was divided, giving the watcher the possibility of seeing twenty different areas at once. Illya stared at the screens, ticking off the rooms in his mind, including, he realised with distaste, even the bedroom where Evangeline Houghton would be sleeping later. He suddenly leaned forward slightly and then tapped Emil on the arm.

‘Now why would you want to stare at that?’ They all looked in the direction his finger pointed to. One side of the split screen showed the corridor leading to the back of the house, the light from something outside streaming along its length. On the other side, only a plain white wall was in view of the camera. ‘Now why,’ Illya repeated, ‘would one want to keep a small part of the garage wall under surveillance?’ Napoleon leaned forward, screwing up his eyes in concentration.

‘Smart Russian’ he said, straightening. Methinks that Emil here should keep a close eye on that screen for the next few minutes while we take a tour of the premises.’ Emil somehow managed to squeeze himself into a leather chair with castors by the side of the desk, which he spun round to face the other two agents.

‘Try that room there’ he said, jabbing a finger at a small room in almost total darkness on one of the monitors. ‘It’s this side of the corridor, the next one over, name on the door says ‘Education’. There’s somethin’ about that room that ain’t quite right’ he added, staring at the screen again as if it would confirm his suspicions. Illya drew out a small version of the plan they had studied at Laurence’s house, the room Emil had mentioned clearly marked. Looking at the plan, it was virtually in the centre of the house, a perfect square, or so it seemed. He stuffed the paper back in his jacket and pushed open the door. As he entered the corridor, Napoleon heard the unmistakeable click of the tape recorder under the monitor showing the Russian, now opening the door into the room opposite. With a further nod to Emil, he followed him out.

Illya had put on a lamp in the room by the time he arrived. Being in the centre of the house, the room was windowless, giving it a stuffy, claustrophobic feeling. They stood there for a few moments, both agents taking in the expensive, but largely uninteresting office furniture in the room, its only feature being three narrow, but extremely long framed pictures on one wall. Napoleon retrieved a small torch from his jacket pocket and shined it on one of the pictures, aware of his partner coming up behind him.

‘Go on, tell me all about them’ he said, slightly wearily as Illya leaned on the wall beside one of the frames.

‘They’re weavings, as are most of the works of art in this place, if you’d noticed from the reception room’ he began, ‘which fits in nicely with the Arachne theme I suppose. These are by Marti Vincenç, a Mallorcan weaver, based on the traditional Mallorcan cloth called roba de llengues he finished, smiling a little at Napoleon’s expression.

‘And how did you know that?’ Napoleon said, pursing his lips. Illya waved something in front of his face before turning and staring at the weaving nearest him.

‘I read it in this’ he said, allowing Napoleon to snatch the brochure out of his hand. ‘It was in the Reception area.’ As Napoleon sighed, Illya continued to stare at the weaving, before stepping back and staring at the whole wall.

‘What is it?’ Illya said nothing, suddenly going out into the corridor and, from the sound of it, entering the room next door. He walked past Napoleon and into the room immediately to his left, which was connected to the education room by a set of double doors. After a few minutes he returned, a triumphant look on his face.

‘What’s in next door, the Bayeux Tapestry?’ Napoleon asked rather acidly.

‘Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Napoleon. Try the Typing pool room next door. It’s somewhere you’re used to being in, after all’ Illya replied waspishly, before going up to the weavings again. ‘Then come back and go into that room there.’

‘Care to give me a hint of what I’m supposed to be looking at?’ Illya glanced round, the look of a school teacher whose pupil refuses to understand all over his face.

‘Compare the first typists’ room with this one. Go’ Illya ordered, starting to gently prod the left hand weaving with his finger. ‘Then look at the wall line between this room and that one.’ Napoleon shrugged and walked out, picking his way along the corridor and then turning left into the next room. It was twice the size of the room they had been standing in, but divided into two equal parts by another, similar set of double doors. He stood for a short while in the first room, trying not to be distracted by the thought of long legs and red lipstick that these places always induced in him. He came back, ignoring Illya who was now prodding the right hand weaving, and walked into the room to his left.

At first he looked through the handsome French windows at the back of the house into the garden, a very well-tended and almost tropical looking affair, lit up faintly by a row of garden lights placed along the edge of the immaculate borders either side of the unnaturally green lawn in the centre. It was only when he turned that it hit him. He stood for a moment before wrenching open the double doors and running into the other room.

‘It’s there. There’s a void’ he said, his finger pointing at the wall with the three weavings on it.

‘Well done’ Illya said without turning round. ‘Now the only problem is actually finding our way in without blowing the wall down.’ He stepped back from the weavings, a slightly frustrated sigh issuing from his lips. Napoleon pulled out a chair and sat down, the large clock over the door alerting him to the fact that time was passing. He picked up the brochure, a guide to an exhibition that had recently been staged at the University. On the second page the Vincenç weavings were shown. He pulled over the lamp and studied them, before leaping up to his feet and coming over to the wall. All three were abstract interpretations using the flame design of the original Mallorcan fabric in a creative, exciting way.

‘Look, these aren’t those’ he said to his partner’s mystified face, as he stabbed at the brochure and then indicated the left and right weavings. Illya did what Napoleon expected him to do, patting his jacket and bringing out the Claude Chabrol glasses he had been supplied with. A slow smile came to his face.

‘Smart American’ he murmured, before, tracing his finger along a line of one weaving he stabbed at the dark centred whorl it created. There was a slight give but then nothing else. Napoleon could feel his partner’s disappointment as if it had been wiped over him.

‘Just a minute.’ He glanced at the brochure again and then walked over to the right hand weaving. In the top right hand corner, a tongue of woven flame extended outwards, almost licking the frame. Napoleon reached up and pressed the red tip of the flame. Instantly, the middle weaving swung upwards on a pivot, catching Illya a glancing blow on the temple as he shot to the side to avoid it.

дерьмо!’ he muttered, clutching his hand to his head and staggering up, blood oozing through his fingers. Napoleon dragged out a handkerchief and forced his partner back onto the chair he’d been sitting on, Kuryakin’s gaze now fixed on the upturned weaving.

‘Hold still. We don’t want a little trail of blood to let our webby friends know we’ve been calling, now do we? He extracted Illya’s fingers from his head, carefully lifting up the cloth to check the extent of the wound. Although it was small, the cut was quite deep, and the bleeding profuse, the wound extending from Illya’s forehead into his hair, which was now soaked with blood round the wound. Suddenly the door swung open.

‘You boys need a little doctoring?’ Emil’s massive form towered above, a small metal case in his hand. He shoved Napoleon gently out of the way, raising his eyebrows at the upturned weaving as he put the case down on the desk behind Illya’s head.

‘Give him the camera, you ain’t going nowhere for the next few minutes’ Emil ordered kindly, looping the shoulder bag over Kuryakin’s head and handing it to Napoleon. ‘You can get in there when I’ve cleaned you up, OK?’ Napoleon grinned at the Russian’s gritted teeth and downcast eyes, and turned towards the beckoning wall. ‘By the way’ Emil growled, without looking up from his concentrated cleaning of Illya’s head, ‘that wall just disappeared and gave me a nice picture of whatever’s in there.’

With a quick glance back at his partner, now reluctantly submitting to Emil’s ministrations, Napoleon shouldered the bag and stepped through the opening. As he had worked out, the void was small, no more than the depth of a large coffee table, but fairly long, enabling a filing cabinet to be placed at one end. He decided to let Illya tackle that, seeing that the Russian had brought along a number of interesting looking items which he was sure would aid him to access its secrets.

Along the wall facing him there was a wide shelf, extending for at least a metre in length. A series of boxes were neatly stacked three deep, with a single stamp on the side of each. ‘Gamma, delta, epsilon’ Napoleon read, the Greek letters easy enough for someone whose Greek was even as basic as Napoleon’s. He lifted one of the boxes down gently onto a lower shelf like table and shook it slightly, not daring to open its heavily taped sides until he had seen exactly what the Russian’s bag of tricks could accomplish. There was the unmistakeable sound of glass inside the box, a number of glass containers rather than one, Napoleon thought.

‘What’s that?’ He turned round, his torch lighting up his partner in the narrow entrance to the void. He forced back a smile at the large bandage now swathing Kuryakin’s head, his hair poking out vertically on top like straw bursting out of a scarecrow.

‘Mm, that’s rather spoiled your previously smart appearance a little’ Napoleon said, thrusting the box in Illya’s direction. The Russian took it, his expression revealing that his thoughts were going along the same lines as Napoleon’s.

‘It’s only until we get home’ he said, before shaking it again and adding ‘phials of some sort?’

‘Possibly’ Solo replied, swinging his torch back over the other boxes. ‘Lots of them, all labelled.’ Illya frowned and peered at the Greek letters.

‘The packaging looks a little tricky, but I may have something’ he said, brightening.   He delved into the satchel, now open on the narrow table, and fetched out a narrow cylindrical syringe like object. ‘This dissolves the glue enough to see inside, but you can replace the tape and the glue will re-set like magic’ he said happily, staring fondly at the little syringe.

‘Oh good’ Napoleon said. ‘Just make sure you don’t get any of it on anything, OK?’ Illya looked up, noticing the filing cabinet. Putting down the syringe, he rooted about in the satchel again, this time bringing out another small syringe. ‘I think you could manage this’ he said without irony, handing it to Napoleon.

‘So what do I do, dissolve the filing cabinet and then wait for it to re-build itself?’ Illya gave him one of his arch looks that women seemed to find so attractive and then continued.

‘Very amusing. Just stick the point into the lock and press the syringe. It will make a copy of the internal space, and then if you turn it, the cabinet should open. Understand?’

‘Perfectly.’ For the next five minutes they both silently attended to their tasks, both aware of Emil in the outer room returning it to the place it had been before the accident. Illya did not need to look up to know that Napoleon had easily accomplished his task and was now reading and photographing anything he judged to be of importance.  His own task proved to be more difficult, but after a few tricky moments, he was able to loosen the tape without damaging it and lift the box lid off.

Inside, as they had guessed, lay several layers of glass phials, tiny amounts of white powder in each. On the side of each phial a similar Greek letter was stamped, this one the ‘gamma’ box. There was no time to compare the box with others or to extract a phial; somehow they would have to discover by some other means exactly what these drugs were and who they were being used on. He carefully replaced the lid and adjusted the tape, putting the box back at the bottom of the four piled onto the shelf, before clearing up his tools and coming over to Napoleon.

‘Anything?’

‘I think so, but we’ll need to look at these a little more closely to know what they mean.’ Illya looked at his watch as Emil came to the doorway, effectively blocking out any light from the room outside.

‘Y’all need to leave soon’ he said quietly. Word is from the Rooseveldt that Miss Vangie is on her way home.’ Illya looked up, hoping that his expression would not betray him.

‘Napoleon, give me some of those files, I have another camera. We haven’t got time to look in the other drawers, more’s the pity, but usually the top drawer is the most revealing, don’t you think?’ Napoleon nodded, smiling and handing over a file.

‘I think they might be of interest’ he said, turning back to his own work. Illya moved back quickly to the satchel and retrieved the other camera, hastily opening the file at the same time. The outer cover was, like all of the other files, given the name ‘Miranda’. On this file, however, under the heading there was another name; Cottonwood.   Illya frowned at it, but for the moment, nothing came to mind, and he flipped the page over. The rest of the file was subdivided into three sections, again the Greek letters heading each section. At the top of each section a date was written, suggesting that regular updates were being made. And below that, rows of faces, each man or woman staring into the camera, their name carefully recorded underneath. They reminded Illya of some kind of American Yearbook but of the distorted variety. There was something about the eyes in these people that made him uneasy.  

He ran his finger over the names; American sounding names largely, the faces betraying a range of racial backgrounds. He began to photograph them, turning the pages swiftly and mechanically until suddenly he stopped and looked up. On the fifth page in, in the gamma section, a face had been crossed out, a line drawn across it in a way that signalled something far worse than a thin black line would normally suggest. Illya peered down at the name.

‘Now why are you crossed out, Buford Landry?’ he murmured.

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

Evangeline picked up her bag as the car came to a halt outside the garage. The chauffeur waited patiently for her to haul herself out before shutting the door with a heavy clunk behind her. He went to escort her to the door, but she stopped and put her hand on his arm.

‘It’s fine, Charles; just put the car in the garage and go on home. Emil will see me in.’ The chauffeur, a small man who had assumed the role in the evening now that Emil was doing more night duty, looked a little perturbed at her idea.

‘Well, I don’t know . . . ‘

‘It’s fine; as I told you, Emil will assist me.’ He sniffed a little, before turning away from her and getting into the car. She watched him back it into the garage and then lock up, glancing back at her standing there as he walked away down Charles in the direction of the tramcar stop.

Evangeline glanced up at the house, noticing that there seemed to be a few lights on in places which were normally dark at this time of night. Shrugging, she opened the gate by the garage and entered the garden. It was an unnecessary route, but it had become a favourite place, away from all that was going on in that house; away from him. She leaned against one of the dense, dark magnolia trees and stared up at the house. Edward Chauvin had left her alone since the engagement, something that surprised her a little and relieved her a lot. The wedding was set for next spring, a matter of months away, the time she hoped it would take to discover what lay beneath his success and the true reason for her beloved Buford’s disappearance.

She kicked off her shoes, enjoying the texture of the rough grass and the heady smell of the trees in the night air. A sound from the back of the house made her shrink instinctively into the shadows of the magnolias, her black dress helping her to blend into the darkness of the garden. She saw Emil coming out of the French windows leading from the office kitchen, and she stepped forward a little, until with a start she realised he was not alone.

There were two others, both men, and both shorter and slighter than the heavy set guard. The first one, a dark haired man with classically handsome features turned to Emil and whispered something, before starting along the garden path. A moment later, he was followed by another man, this one made more obvious by the large white bandage wound round his head. He turned, and it was all she could do to stop herself crying out with surprise as he passed by her. Up close she could see the startling colour of his eyes and that same, serious expression making him look so ruthless and yet so vulnerable.

When they had gone she turned towards the bark of the tree and laid her head on its rough exterior. Even with her eyes closed his image was in her head; the soft hair, his brilliant eyes and that serious, enduring expression. She had wished to see him again, had hoped it would happen. Now it had come to pass, and for the life of her, she could not imagine why this man should be in this house at this time.

Slowly, after putting on her shoes again, she retraced her steps out of the garden, and when she had made sure that there was no-one at all on the street, she walked up to the door very slowly and rang the bell .

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

By day, the Arachne offices seemed more innocent, the shadows of the corridors and the dark secrets of the hidden room merely an illusion that had been dreamt up by a too fertile imagination on a hot, sleepless night. Illya moved slightly on the rather comfortable sofa by the window in the reception area, forcing himself not to touch the wound on his head. Murielle Laurence had been waiting for him when he returned, obviously primed by Emil as to the nature of his accident.

‘I was a nurse before my marriage’ she had said reassuringly, as he had sat in the kitchen staring at a small tray of sterilised implements on the table by his side. She had been kind to him, managing not to remove any more of his hair and replacing the large bandage with a very neat row of stitches and a very small dressing.

He glanced at the desk surreptitiously. A young woman in a similar uniform to the one he’d seen Emil wearing caught his eye and smiled, causing Illya to look down immediately at the shoes which his partner had so admired and which had been presented to him in a gleaming state by Françoise earlier that morning.

Monsieur Guerin?’ He looked up, at first mildly entertained by the English voice mangling the French language with its drawling long vowel sounds, his initial amusement quickly dispelled by a dawning, and horrified recognition of the woman who stood in front of him.

He should have remembered her name easily. Vivienne Cant. He could hear her in his head, a younger, but not particularly prettier version of the woman staring at him now, without the spectacles but still bearing the same, supercilious expression he remembered so well. ‘I don’t have anything to do with physicists; they tend to be awfully boring in and out of bed.’ She had been in her second undergraduate year at Girton, reading Pharmacology as he recalled. He had been forced to the party by David Kaplan, his fellow physicist telling him it would do him good to meet somebody other than his fellow physicists. There had been a group of girls from that college, but Viv, as she called herself then, seemed to be at the centre of them somehow, the queen bee in the hive.

He remembered Kaplan introducing him, and her smirk at his name. ‘Sounds like someone out of a spy novel’ she had said to the assembled group of women admirers, a comment which now seemed frighteningly ironic considering the circumstances. He looked down again, just as he had on their first meeting, an awkward innocent caught in the gaze of an experienced predator, like a fly in a web.

Oui’ he stammered, snatching his briefcase from the chair, relieved when she instantly spun on her heel and began to walk towards the open door to their side, expecting him to follow, as she had always done. Illya breathed out deeply and did exactly that, not missing the girl at the desk, whose previous cheerful smile had been instantly replaced by a rather furtively fearful expression as they passed.

His thorough study of the plans told him that they were now passing through Miss Cant’s office and heading for that of Mr Arceneaux. He allowed himself the ghost of a smile, even after the anxiety caused by seeing Vivienne Cant again, at who should be conducting the interview. He could recite by memory what was in his briefcase, the history and qualifications of a man whom UNCLE hoped would appear attractive to another man with serious political ambitions. Vivienne Cant turned slightly and motioned him to another chair near her desk, this time rather more upright and uncomfortable than the previous one, before continuing into the adjoining room and shutting the door.

Illya glanced round, staring at himself in the mirror above the fireplace. He prayed that his name and appearance, the hair and clothes, even the glasses were different enough to prevent any memories being stirred in the next room. He was sure that Arceneaux’s involvement with THRUSH had not been a long one, but as to Miss Cant, that was a different matter.

Monsieur Guerin, entrée’ an American, but altogether more expert accent spoke. The elegance of the voice was matched by its owner. Andrew Arceneaux stood in the doorway of the room, his long fingers stroking the doorknob by his side. He was wearing a suit Napoleon would have been proud to have owned, his hair, as dark as Illya’s partner’s, expertly cut and controlled in the way Solo admired and Illya tried hard to avoid. He smiled, the sort of smile that indicated interest in the object of the smile, and then turned, Illya once again obligingly following.

He felt an almost heady sense of relief that Vivienne Cant had disappeared, leaving the two men he expected to see, Arceneaux now sitting at his large, handsome desk and Chauvin standing slightly behind it, the same slightly bored, narcissistic expression on his face that Illya had noticed in the jazz club. He had expected, even hoped that Edward Chauvin might be there, confirming UNCLE’s expectation that the man being interviewed might be of interest to them both. Of Evangeline Houghton however, there was no sign.

He had finally admitted to Napoleon that morning that he was convinced she had been in the garden as they had hurriedly exited the night before.

‘She was in the shadow of those giant magnolia trees’ he began as Napoleon paused between slices of omelette. ‘I didn’t see her, but her perfume, I could smell something I recognised.’ Napoleon put down his fork, an expression of both amusement and slight anxiety mixing together on his face.

‘Magnolia is highly scented, and besides, I didn’t think women’s perfumes were high on your memorable smells list.’ Illya had pursed his lips and sipped his coffee before adding, ‘it wasn’t the magnolias. It was Calèche.’ Ignoring Napoleon’s drawn together eyebrows he continued, quietly, ‘the same perfume as Marion uses.’

He didn’t miss Napoleon’s indrawn breath or the ‘Oh God’ he muttered, preferring to wait patiently for his partner’s verdict. Napoleon continued eating until the omelette had been finished and he put down his knife and fork.

‘A common sense approach would dictate that you withdraw from the interview, but I kind of feel that common sense is not going to win out here’ he said finally, picking up his cup of coffee. ‘Just be aware that she may not be who you think she is.’ Afterwards Illya was to reflect many times on the truth of his partner’s statement, but then he just nodded.

‘I will try’ he murmured, almost to himself.

‘Monsieur Guerin, may I introduce Mr Edward Chauvin, whose name I imagine you’ve come across in your studies’ Arceneaux began, flipping open a file and dragging what looked like a yellow legal pad towards him. ‘When we’ve finished, perhaps we can persuade Senator Chauvin’s fiancée to tell you something about the library at Napoleonville, seeing that she works there at the moment’ he added, glancing at Chauvin and making it abundantly clear to Illya in the way men like him did, that she was not to be included in the men’s discussions.

‘Thank you’ Illya replied, changing his accent a little to accommodate a slight struggle to pronounce the sound ‘th’ in the hope that the other men would realise he needed to improve his linguistic skills.

‘So, Gabriel’ Arceneaux said, assuming a familiarity that any Frenchman would be amazed by, ‘perhaps you’d like to explain what you think you have to offer our Foundation?’

Illya could see from the beginning that they were interested in what was in the file, in the potential of the man portrayed there. It was essential now that he should live up to the persona UNCLE had created for him on paper.

As he talked, he could see Arceneaux making the sort of notes lawyers made, detailed and meticulous, whilst Chauvin appeared to be finding it difficult to concentrate. He had drawn up a chair by the desk and grabbed another pad, but, from where Illya was sitting, it was quite easy to see that the lists he was making seemed concerned mainly with himself and his appearance.

After more consideration, Illya had decided that this man, Gabriel Guerin, was of the type he had labelled ‘bourgeois elite’ during his time at the Sorbonne. Like this fictional man, they were often from military families, usually with extreme right-wing views and possessing an arrogant superiority about themselves Kuryakin found offensive and patronising. It proved worryingly easy to slip into the role now, outlining his qualifications in political science and history and his need to complete his studies before he returned to France and a career in politics, if it were possible to find a party which would reflect his views on society and how it should be managed, he added, cringing inwardly at the thought of what kind of political party that might mean.

‘I need to spend a little longer studying the impact of French colonialism on this area’ he continued, and in particular the role of Bonaparte of course.’

‘Of course’ Arceneaux replied with a sarcastic note to his voice. ‘And you need to finance your studies with some paid occupation’.

‘Bien sur; c’est necessaire’ Illya replied seriously, breaking into French just to reinforce his role a little. ‘My father insists that I support myself, he thinks it is, how do you say . . .’

‘Character building?’ Arceneaux replied, staring at Chauvin who had now made a little more effort to appear at least moderately interested in what was happening.

Precisement. There are too many people both here and in France who, I am afraid, are leeches on society, do you not agree, Monsieur?’ he added, allowing a little contempt to colour his voice.

‘Oh I do, I most certainly do, Gabriel’ Arceneaux said, a rather oily smirk lighting his face a little.   He looked down at the file again, and underlined something on the top page.

‘I see that your mother is American and so you have a green card’ he said, not looking up, ‘which is rather fortunate.’ He sat back in his chair, ignoring Chauvin, giving Illya a rather intense stare for a few moments, before writing something else down on the pad. At last, after another few moments, he suddenly put down the pen and whispered something into Chauvin’s ear, before turning back to Illya.

‘Your qualifications are exceptional and Professor Martin seems to think highly of you, so, subject to a few checks by this organisation, I would like to offer you funding for the remainder of your studies in Lousiana’ he began, Illya responding positively enough to his offer to elicit a wan smile from Chauvin’s face. ‘Of course we expect you to work during the summer months at the library at Napoleonville, a rather apt choice of location, considering your subject, no?’

Illya smiled a little, wondering what was coming next, as he was sure something was from Arceneaux’s whole tone and the note he had just passed Chauvin, who seemed to come to life suddenly after receiving it.

‘We have a little political experiment taking place in that town’ Chauvin began, growing in confidence as he spoke. ‘If at the end of your studies you’d be interested in staying around, there could be a possibility of being involved in what we have established at Napoleonville being rolled out to other areas of the state’ he finished, a rather self-satisfied look on his face. Arceneaux indicated by his own expression that Chauvin’s explanation had gone far enough.

‘Forgive me for asking, but what kind of ‘political experiment’ do you mean?’ Illya asked, frowning. Arceneaux smiled again, and picked up the phone.

‘Vivienne. Could you find Miss Evangeline and tell her that we have her new assistant here for her to meet?’ He put down the phone and stood up. ‘Come to Napoleonville, Gabriel, and we’ll introduce you to the folks down there. I have the feeling that you’re going to fit in just fine.’

Illya stood up as the door opened. For some reason he didn’t quite understand, the girl in front of him seemed more shocked than he expected she would be. Evangeline’s normally rather pale complexion reddened dramatically and she glanced downwards, unwilling to look him in the face. He noticed her hands suddenly clench and then relax as with what looked like a supreme effort, she turned towards her fiancé and gave him a warm smile before turning back to Illya.

‘Vangie, this is Gabriel Guerin all the way from Paris, France’ Chauvin began rather predictably. ‘Why don’t you take him in the garden and tell him about the library while Andy and I do some work?’ Evangeline sighed almost imperceptibly and smiled at Illya.

‘Of course, I’d be delighted’ she said, her voice’s southern lilt eliciting a smile from Illya he couldn’t control and which he was sure she noticed before he resumed his previous rather dour expression.

‘We’ll be in touch in the next few days’ Arceneaux added as Illya followed Evangeline out of the door, nearly bumping into Miss Cant as they went.

The three of them watched the figures in the garden for a few moments, before Vivienne Cant sat down in the chair Illya had been using, pulling it up towards the desk. Arceneaux stuffed the notes he had made into the file and handed them to her.

‘Type these up and then make the usual enquiries’ he said rather brusquely, his eyes continuing to follow the two outside. ‘He seems ideal, but with this project, we can’t afford to take any risks whatsoever. Vivienne Cant looked up at him before following his gaze.

‘He seems familiar’ she said, ‘but from where I haven’t a clue as yet. But I will; eventually I will’ she added, a hard stare settling on her features as she took the file and left the room.

 

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

All the time she was talking Illya knew that deep down she was thinking other thoughts, deep thoughts that for now she wouldn’t, couldn’t express. He could see it on her face, the outward cheerfulness he had seen her adopt when she spoke to Chauvin, masking the inward feelings of distrust and fear. It was too early for him to even think of revealing his identity, if that moment would ever come, he thought rather bitterly. For now, he had to be Guerin and wait to see how much she would reveal.

‘I’m afraid there’ll be lots of rather physical work involved to begin with’ she had begun, describing the new children’s library to him in great detail. ‘You know, putting up bookcases, shelving the books etcetera.’

‘I am accustomed to physical labour’ he had said rather pompously, dreading what she would think. ‘Besides, my aim is to improve my spoken English as well as to support myself over the summer’ he had added, risking a small smile. He was aware of her gaze whilst he was talking, her eyes taking in his face including the injury. After a few more minutes of contemplation, he was rewarded for his patience.

‘Did you run past here the other morning’ she asked, keeping her eyes firmly on him, ‘only I’m sure I saw someone just like you stop in front here, except,’ she added, smiling rather warmly, ‘your hair was a lot longer, sort of wild looking.’

It was impossible not to respond to her, but Illya, his partner’s voice resonating within him, forced down a smile and answered rather formerly,

‘Yes, it was me. I am sorry you saw me like that; my parents would be very shocked if they knew how I looked, but I’ve had a lot of work to complete.’ He touched his head and continued, ‘this is as it should be, I am sure.’

She continued to stare at him, her eyes beginning to make him feel that she knew who he was already.

‘Are you?’ she murmured, the word ‘pity’ following almost imperceptibly. They gazed at each other for what felt like a long time before she suddenly blinked and looked towards the house. Illya could see Chauvin at one of the French windows, one finger gently tapping the watch on his other wrist. Evangeline started forward, a look of definite disappointment quickly covered by the expression he had already noticed she seemed to keep for her fiancée.

‘Well, I’ll see you in Napoleonville’ she said.

‘I hope so, Mademoiselle.’

She watched him go out of the garden gate and disappear towards Charles. As she turned towards the house, the image of him crouching down that first morning came back, the first time she had seen him. The man who had just stood in front of her already felt like an entirely different person.

‘That was the real you, whoever you are’ she murmured as she crossed the lawn, ‘not him.’ She paused before the door to the central corridor, aware that Vivienne Cant was staring at her from the other end. Pursing her lips, she opened the door and went in.