Napoleon Solo ducked behind a crate and let his spent clip drop from his pistol. He grabbed another from his pocket and shoved it into place. He spotted Illya taking refuge behind another shipping container and signaled to him.
A breathless moment later and they were together.
“I can’t believe all this falderal over a pet.” Napoleon took a moment to shake the circulation back into his hand. “I can’t understand stealing anything, much less an animal.”
“I can’t believe the king is willing to start a civil war because of it. His daughter didn’t even seem that upset that her dog was missing,” Illya said. “I have a feeling there’s something being left out of the equation.”
“We’re being played?”
“Like an international violin.” There was noise from the corridor and Illya raised his hand. It faded. “I mean, it’s just a dog.”
“What if it had been a cat?”
Illya grinned and massaged his gun hand. “That would be different.”
“This was her first pet. I would have walked through Hell and back for mine.”
“She was just this old mutt. Dad used to say her father was a cad and her mother was willing. I loved her, though.”
Illya smiled. “What was her name?”
Napoleon cleared his throat and looked into the distance. “Chunky Barkie Beans.” Illya grinned at that and Napoleon frowned. “Cut me some slack. I was only four when I named her.”
“So what did you call her?”
“Beanie, mostly, although Puddles would have been a good answer, too. She never really grasped the concept of house training.”
“But she had the sweetest temperament and her eyes were so kind. We grew up together. She nursed me through illness, injuries and even a broken heart or two. It broke my heart when Dad had to have her put to sleep. Mom said that it was the first time she’d ever seen him cry.”
“Where were you?” Illya sobered at the remark. He turned his attention back to his weapon.
“Korea. It was funny. I didn’t know about it until weeks later, but I remember feeling something off that day. You know, like there was something important happening and I was missing it. Somehow, though, the North Korean didn’t care and kept me really busy. It wasn’t until I got my letter from home that I knew what had happened.”
“And you?” Illya’s question was so soft, Napoleon only half heard it.
“Completely lost it. Swore I’d never own another animal for as long as I lived. It even hurt more than when I lost my wife.” For a moment, Napoleon was very still, then he added, “I was good to that oath, at least until you came along.” He nudged Illya. “What about you? What was your first pet?”
“Actually, it’s Ekaterina.”
“That ball of spit and fire?” Napoleon remembered getting chased out of Illya’s apartment once by the cat. He didn’t know what he’d done, but whatever it was, she’s wasn’t cutting him any slack.”
“Only with you. With me, she is loving and kind.”
Napoleon’s brow furrowed. “Doesn’t Ekaterina mean pure? That baby maker?”
“I never said she wasn’t without her weaknesses.” Illya said. “And I’ve taken care of that. No more kittens after this batch. I am having a hard time letting go of them. I guess once I saw how lovely it was to have a pet, I didn’t want to be without.”
“Wait, are you telling me you never had a pet before her?”
“Back home, we had animals, of course, but nothing I would describe as a pet. We barely had enough food for us. The cats stayed out in the barn and kept the rodent population down and we never owned a dog. Then when I was in school at school…” Illya drifted off and Napoleon watched him closely.
“What about in school?” he urged after it became clear Illya wasn’t going to say anything on his own.
Illya smiled slightly. “There was a little kitten I rescued from a pack of boys. They were torturing it and I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.”
“Illya to the rescue. What happened?”
“I got the beating of my life, but I saved the kitten.” My landlady found him and nursed us both back to health. She called the kitten, Samantha, after her daughter who had died of Spanish Flu.”
“Despite my heroic attempt, Sam never warmed up to me or any man that I know of. She ended up with my landlady.”
Napoleon held up a silencing hand as voices returned. They listened as the troops talked while smoking their cigarettes.
“Any sign of them?”
“No, I suspect they are long gone. The King just wanted them here as witnesses to the dognapping.”
“So what do we do with the dog?”
“I guess take it out to the country and let it go. Or we could shoot it. His Majesty didn’t say.”
“All of this because of a sagging economy.”
“Hey, war is big business. He feels this is the only way for us to get out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves.”
“You mean the hole he dug. I didn’t get a 24-carat gold statue dedicated to my benevolence.”
“I agree. Let’s go deal with the dog.”
The voices faded and Napoleon looked disgusted. “Looks like you were right.”
“Unfortunately. I would have much preferred to have been wrong. So, now what?”
“Well, you know how UNCLE is all about protecting the innocent.”
“And I don’t remember anywhere it gave a leg count for an Innocent. Could be two--”
“Could be four,” Illya finished. “While I’m not wild about dogs, I completely agree.”
“Let’s go do that voodoo that you do so well.” Napoleon checked his weapon one last time.
“And at least it’s a girl dog,” Illya said with a grin. “And after Angelique, you have plenty of practice dealing with b--”
“Don’t go there, son.”
With that, they were off to whatever fate awaited them.