It’s a fact: secret agents tend to live dangerously, even when they aren’t on operational duty. If it isn’t alcohol or women, it’s fast cars and a bad diet.
The canteen did its best to offer a range of good and nutritious food, cooked in interesting ways to tempt the most juvenile, or merely jaded, appetite – but there were still those who stuck to the kind of thing that their mothers wouldn’t have approved of. Of course, alcohol wasn’t served, so how agents behaved around that was their own affair.
As for women and cars, love-hate affairs was the best description, really, and two agents in particular epitomised the likely response of a top agent to either.
Illya’s addiction to fast cars was as notorious as Napoleon’s was to fast women. The new gull-winged car, however, had some very tiresome foibles which Illya did his best to counter – rather as Napoleon did with Angelique’s even more tiresome ways. And if they weren’t very careful, either might be the death of them.
The car was not only highly identifiable, but it had light bodywork, which was liable to respond to outside influences – like a gentle breeze, Illya said angrily once, when it was blown into the path of a huge truck in the opposite carriageway. His quick manoeuvring averted catastrophe on that occasion, but even his phlegmatic heart missed several beats afterwards. Napoleon had had his hands over his eyes, merely hoping for a merciful death.
On the other hand, Angelique was entirely untrustworthy – at least in Illya’s estimation. He could forgive the car; it was just a machine; but Angelique’s underlying treachery was the product of free will. Napoleon, in contrast to Illya’s unrelenting mistrust of her, relied on mutual affection to temper any tendency on her part to betray him.
After a time, Illya came to really hate the car, but it was longer before Napoleon came to realise that Angelique was just as likely to be blown off course – in her case, not by a breeze, but by the wings of a passing Thrush.
“I’m not taking that car to pick up a secret dossier. It’s asking for trouble,” Illya snapped. “Sorry, sir, it’s the only one available. All the others are out.” The garage mechanic blinked at the look Mr Kuryakin gave him, and as he reported to friends later, his pulse shot up to what felt like 300 beats a minute in sheer fright.
He watched the car disappear in a blast of Russian rage and exhaust fumes, and had to sit down for a few minutes to recover.
“You OK, Bill?” said a friendly voice, emerging from a returning vehicle.
“Oh, Mr Solo, is that you? Yes, I’ll be OK in a minute. Just seen Mr Kuryakin off in the …”
“Oh dear, not our favourite car? Well, take it easy, his bark is worse than his bite.”
“It wasn’t a bark, it was a look.”
“Ah, he can look a little fierce,” Napoleon agreed, his own softer, brown eyes smiling at the mechanic. “Maybe you’ll be off duty by the time he gets back – you can be sure his temper won’t have improved.”
Bill responded to this with a shudder, and Napoleon left him to put the car away.
Illya hadn’t returned by the time Bill went off duty, nor even by the time Napoleon left. As he had a date with Angelique, he decided it was just as well, and made an uncondemned getaway. Illya always knew.
She was waiting for him at the bar in the restaurant, and smiled guilelessly as he approached. Unsurprisingly wary, but undeterred and smiling equally guilelessly, he joined her in a cocktail.
Conversation turned, as so often lately, to his partner. He sometimes wondered whether Angelique had developed an unnatural (for her) attachment to him. Hatred could often, so the romances always said, be turned into its opposite. He wasn’t perturbed; he didn’t think it would be reciprocated.
“Where have you left your pretty little friend?” she purred.
“Don’t let Illya hear you call him that,” Napoleon said (unerringly identifying him from this description). “Anyway, I haven’t seen him today.”
“Doesn’t he follow you to watch your back?”
“No, he doesn’t. And why do you want to know?”
“Just wondered. I thought I saw that funny little blue car in an accident this afternoon, that’s all.” She watched like a snake with its prey, as he anxiously walked away, his communicator to his lips, before coming back to quickly finish his cocktail and say goodbye.
When he came to in his car, he realised three things. He had passed out before starting the engine; Illya was right about Angelique; and he didn’t know where Illya was. He felt very sick from whatever she had laced his cocktail with, and made another call.
Illya was missing, and so was the car – and Angelique too, by now, but he cared rather less about that. Returning to headquarters, Napoleon was met with the news that there had indeed been an accident; Illya was held to blame for causing it and was languishing in custody.
“I had nothing to do with it,” he insisted, when Napoleon came to find him. He had no obvious signs of serious damage, just a bruise on his forehead and a black eye, which Napoleon stepped back to admire. “It was a Thrush car – I recognised the driver. He came out of nowhere and forced me into the path of the other vehicle.”
“Did you see anything else – anyone else?”
“Just that b…lovely… Angelique, distracting the driver of the vehicle I went into… He could have avoided me, but she was posing there, like she does. Waiting, as if she knew I was coming that way.” He shivered with disgust. “That woman is poison, Napoleon.”
“I know. But you’re all right, aren’t you?”
“I’m always all right, you know that. The car’s a wreck – that’s one good thing.”