hypatia_66 (hypatia_66) wrote in section7mfu,
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Never apologise, never explain (Once upon a time challenge. 10 Feb 2018. Envy)

"Don’t talk to any strange men on the way.”
“If I followed that injunction, I’d never speak to you.”
“Nor I to you, my friend.”


ooo0000ooo

With the confidence of any wealthy international jet-setter, Napoleon Solo strode into the lobby of the Monte Carlo hotel in the heart of the resort. Behind him, struggling under the weight of four suitcases was his partner, who was in the guise of his personal valet.

oo000oo

DM. Nap Tomb. (2).jpg
“What the hell have you put in these cases?” he demanded, dropping them on the floor of the hotel room. Napoleon grinned at his anything-but-servile partner, who added viciously, “and why has Mr Waverly permitted the huge cost of this enormous room?”

“Half of what’s in those cases is yours – well, a third, anyway – and there’s a nice little bed for you over there.”

“It’s ten, twenty, times what we’re usually allowed to claim for.” Illya moved to the window to look out over the harbour. “Just look!” he said angrily, “all this money, and spent on what? Alcohol, women, gambling, yachts – not on anything worthwhile…”

“There’s nothing wrong with wine women and song, even for a little Bolshevik,” put in Napoleon as Illya drew breath.

“I said nothing about music – at least that would be culture.” He glanced at the cases again, and, reverting to his initial grievance, said, “Not even a third. Only that small one is mine.”

“Well, you don’t have to dress up and play the millionaire. Be reasonable.”

Growled mutterings greeted this, and then, “I take it you can unpack your own cases – we aren’t in public now.”

“Sure. Why don’t you relax and have a drink – watch the world go by from the window.”

“I’m going to take a shower – what are you going to do?”

“I think I’ll go out now and see if I can spot our contact.”

“Well, don’t talk to any strange men on the way.”

“Is that what your mother told you?”

“I believe it’s what all mothers tell their daughters. But it applies to wayward sons, too.”

“If I followed that injunction, I’d never speak to you.”

Illya actually laughed at that, “Nor I to you, my friend,” and set off towards the bathroom. He stopped at the door and said, “Do you have a ball of string on you?”

“Why?”

“In case I can’t find my way back.”

oo000oo
Perfectly content to enjoy this sybaritic lifestyle, Napoleon strolled along the harbour front, idly watching the yachts at their moorings, and more particularly the young women lying on board, sunning themselves.

His contact had suggested a casual meeting somewhere in the area, so he kept half an eye open for him.

“Napoleon! My dear old thing, how are you?” came a rich, fruity, English voice. “Enjoying the sun, sea and, no doubt … the female sex?”

“Well, only sun and sea, at the moment, Barty. How about you?”

“What do you think?”

They walked along like old friends, which they were, emulating the arrogance of the idle rich, which they weren’t.

“Seen any unusual bird movements?” Napoleon said, looking up at the sky.

“There are some very dodgy movements of capital. People trying to avoid the new French taxes – it’s not quite the tax haven it was three or four years ago. And, it’s magpies as much as songbirds stashing it away.”

“Not songbirds?”

“Well, one of course. But everyone’s working on a system to evade taxation.”

“It’s only the French who have to pay, isn’t it?”

“Who make up the majority of the population, old boy, and it includes exporting-companies, who aren’t pleased at all.”

“I don’t know why France bothers – it’s a tiny population here, it can’t make any difference to France’s state coffers, surely?”

“Depends which other slightly-larger states are involved. Always a problem with tax havens – every country has one somewhere, thinking it means they have control over the flow of money, but in the end all a tax haven does is take money away from where it should go. Think Cayman Islands, Virgin
Islands, Channel Islands – all in competition to drain money from the economies of other countries.”


“This sounds like a much bigger problem than UNCLE usually gets involved with. So, what are we doing here?”

“Looking for the Godfather, didn’t Alexander say?”

“Not in so many words. He just said ‘Go and find out what’s happening in Monte.’ And gave us an unusually generous expense account.”

“Us? Who are you with?”

“My partner, Illya Kuryakin. He’s acting being my valet at the moment.”

“Don’t know the man. Heard of him, though – doesn’t sound the valet type.”

“He isn’t. He just looks as if he could be.”

“Like a pansy, you mean?”

“He can act camp quite well, it’s a treat to watch.”

“All right, never mind that. Listen, Napoleon, this is just the beginning of something that might get out of hand in time. Just now, though, someone’s trying to set up an incorporated company in this tiny state that doesn’t even have the requisite office space available for a small business, let alone the headquarters of an international company. Someone with links to other countries that have tax havens – the US, Germany, Luxembourg, Great Britain … so it could be anyone.”

“If what you say is happening, there must be several Godfathers.”

“Yes, but this one is building up a stash of money – not to spend on yachts, or fast women and cars, but for the purposes of holding the world to ransom. For buying an arsenal of dangerous weapons – or even the wherewithal to make them.”

“And he’s here.”

“Yes. And I think I’m beginning to home in on the bugger.”

“Homing pigeon versus songbird, in fact. Tell me more.”

oo000oo
Illya was dozing in his chair by the window when someone knocked at the door. It was a chambermaid who, not immediately hearing any voice denying her, entered with a bowl of flowers.

“What’s that for?” said Illya, sitting up and startling her into a flustered apology. She’d forgotten to bring a flower arrangement to this room earlier, she said. He waved a forgiving hand and stood up to stretch. The maid scuttled away with a repeated apology, and he turned to look out of the window. He could see his partner and another man looking at the yachts, talking and pointing like any other visitor might. It was a good act.

He looked at his watch, and heard his stomach rumble. “Come on, Napoleon, I’m starving,” he muttered, then, remembering he couldn’t accompany Napoleon anywhere for a meal, he picked up the phone and ordered some food from room service.

He was happily engaged in demolishing the result when Napoleon returned.

“Did it have to be garlic?” he said.

“What’s wrong with it? I like escargots à la bourguignonne.”

“So do I, but not in the room I’m going to sleep in.”

“The window’s open. The smell will have gone by the time you go to bed.” From outside on the small balcony came sounds of voices and a light breeze from the sea. They stood together looking over the rail.

“I saw Barty and this is quite a big deal – want to hear about it?”

“I’m all ears.”

Napoleon looked around and back into the room. “Where did the flowers come from?”

“The maid brought them earlier. Apparently, everyone gets some – she’d missed this room.”

Napoleon walked to the table and examined the bowl and its contents. “Were you feeling particularly sleepy when she brought them?” he said, raising an eyebrow. To Illya’s consternation, he removed a small object from a flower stem and handed it to his partner, who went out onto the balcony and trod on it.

“She did wake me up,” he confessed sheepishly, “I didn’t think anything of it. It was just flowers. Sorry.”

“Never apologise, never explain,” Napoleon said sententiously. “I won’t tell.” Illya had taken months to get over it the last time Napoleon had betrayed one of his rare failures to Waverly.

“You checked the room for other bugs?”

“Yes, of course, before you brought the bags in. There were two.”

“Oh, maybe that’s why we got the flowers.”

“Mm. I wonder who was behind it – was it because it’s us, or because they bug everyone?”

“If it was because it’s us, they might now know the name of the contact,” Illya said, shamefaced, “…and that we know something. We were outside the room, but quite close to the flowers.”

“Well, it should be OK to talk now.”

After sharing the substance of Barty’s theory with Illya, Napoleon relayed the information to New York, together with the fact that they had belatedly discovered a bug which might have led to their British colleague’s cover being compromised. Waverly wasn’t impressed.

“How did you come to miss it?” he wanted to know.

“It was very well hidden – inside a flower.”

There was a contemptuous snort from the other end. “You’d better warn your contact,” he said and closed the connection.

“I’ve arranged to have dinner with him,” said Napoleon. “Can you provide back-up – out of sight, of course?”

“Of course… Sir.” And Illya pulled a face.

“One day, the wind will change and you’ll stay like that. Didn’t your mother tell you?”

oo000oo
The two agents, British and American, met at an exclusive restaurant and accepted a table in a corner from which both could face outwards. Napoleon picked up the slender glass vase and sniffed the flower – it was only a flower – and explained quietly what had happened in the hotel room.

“Your partner a bit lackadaisical?”

“Just woken from a deep sleep, I think – he isn’t usually as unthinking as that.”

“If you say so, old man, but I hope you gave him a bollocking.”

“Didn’t need to. He can beat himself up quite effectively.”

It was a lengthy meal, and very enjoyable, despite their needing to keep an especially keen eye on fellow patrons and other activity around them. They were settling to coffee and cognac when Barty observed a small, slight figure approaching.

“Who’s the little blond coming this way?” he said, “Your pretty partner, I suspect.”

Napoleon looked up. “Well yes, it’s Illya, but don’t let him hear you call him that,” he said. “He’s more dangerous than he looks.”

Illya stopped at their table and bowed slightly to each man. “Mr Solo,” he said, “The yacht you asked me to look out for has arrived in harbour.”

He hadn’t done anything of the kind, but if Illya was suspicious, it needed to be followed up. “It is? Ah.” Napoleon glanced at Barty. “Care to join me when I pay our friends a visit?”

“Certainly, old chap. Leave your boy to pay the bill.” Barty caught a flash of blue flame, which he ignored as he shouldered past the smaller man.

“Not too pleased with us, I’m afraid,” Napoleon said quietly.

“Not surprising. Listen, it’s the big yacht at the other end of the harbour, by the wall. I think it’s bringing in some kind of contraband and they don’t want to be observed doing it.”

“Thanks. Would you mind paying our bill? Catch us up later.” Napoleon handed some of the contents of his wallet to Illya, together with a slightly apologetic smile.

Illya stood looking, with utter shock, at the enormous sum of money he was holding. He beckoned a waiter and then discovered that it wasn’t enough. His own wallet considerably lightened, he left to follow his partner and Barty back to the harbour.

He had to run to catch up, but slowed down some yards behind them and then kept a casual distance, and himself in shadow where possible in this brightly lit arena.

There was a slight mist tonight, but despite that, someone was letting off fireworks. The people around were all looking up. Illya’s colleagues had moved ahead; he could no longer see them. He walked more quickly, occasionally glancing up at the sky like everyone else, and as he rounded the corner of the marina, he saw Napoleon and Barty climbing down the steps to the walkway.

Illya ran down the nearer steps and, affecting an interest in the names of the yachts berthed there, gradually caught up as they approached the huge ocean-going vessel berthed alongside the harbour wall. Like several other yachts round about, it was brightly lit for an on-board party, and jet-setters with drinks in hand leaned over its rails. In the darkness under its bows, however, Illya spotted dark figures loading a smaller boat.

He caught up with the other men and brushing past Napoleon, muttered “Boat under bows. Need a diversion!” And he danced forward, arms partly outstretched, as if about to greet someone nearby.

Barty raised his eyebrows. “Is this him acting the pansy or his normal behaviour?”

“Acting,” Napoleon said, a little shortly.

“It’s legal in Britain, now, of course, but the French don’t like nancy-boys.”

Napoleon, his own sex-life notwithstanding, had no particular gripe about homosexuality. His colleague’s intolerance seemed overly emphatic. It was irritating, but usefully provoking.

“Illya needs a diversion - I’m going to hit you, as if we’re quarrelling,” he warned the other man, and punched him lightly on the jaw. They were in full view of the people on the yacht, who shouted encouragement as a tussle ensued.

Illya had got round to the bows and strolled past casually as if making his way to the end of the harbour wall. The boat was full of boxes wrapped in oilskin, with only one man guarding it. Other activity around it appeared to have ceased, and when Illya turned to come back, he observed the guard straining to see the fight that was going on just out of sight. He never knew what hit him. Illya was quickly in the boat, cutting into a corner of one of the boxes. From it he pulled out a handful of what it contained and wasn’t completely surprised to find that it was currency notes of several countries in large denominations, worth thousands, maybe millions.

Putting it back, he disguised his depredations by concealing the damaged box behind another and jumped back onto the quay. He then bent over his victim and slapped him to bring him round.

The man gaped up at him and sat up rubbing his head. “What happened?” he said.

“I don’t know, m’sieur. I was looking at the view, and when I came back I found you like this. Should I call someone for you?”

“No – thank you, my friend.” Then he looked around at his cargo and looked concerned. “Someone has interfered with the cargo. Did you see anyone?”

“No, I didn’t see anything – it’s dark under here.”

“Will you stand guard for a little moment?”

“Of course.”

Other men came, and questioned Illya, who, shrugging and talking quickly and a little hysterically, seemed convincing enough, and they let him go.

He made off and found his partner and Barty, no longer fighting but surrounded by a small group of concerned people, all talking. He strolled past, looking curiously at them and went to watch from the higher level. The two men straightened their clothes, and reluctantly shook hands to a little applause from the onlookers, and walked away, seeming embarrassed.

They came up the steps next to where Illya was leaning on the rail. Turning his back, Napoleon stopped to straighten his jacket and tie again and Illya said quietly, “Big currency smuggling operation. Call the police.” And walked away.

Under the pretext of brushing down his friend, Napoleon made a call for back-up and police attendance.

It arrived very quickly, and the yacht, its occupants, the smaller boat and the contraband were taken into custody. Napoleon and Barty watched closely as the various brightly-dressed party-goers were led past them.

“Your man there?” asked Napoleon.

“No. This looks like a coincidence. I think know the owner of this yacht. He’s a Greek shipping magnate – nothing to do with my chap.”

“Oh, well. One down…”

“Where’s your little blond?”

“He’ll be somewhere near.”

oo000oo
They walked away from the marina into a less brightly lit area, and Illya silently emerged from concealment in front of them.

“The man’s like a cat,” Barty remarked. “Hey you, boy,” he called.

Illya turned menacingly, “Are you talking to me?” he said in French. Barty held up his hands in mock surrender.

“That wasn’t the right one, boy,” he said, in English.

“Worth getting, though.” Illya replied, still in French. “I report what I see, and I haven’t yet seen any sign of yours.”

He turned to Napoleon, and spoke in fractured English. “I return, m’sieur, after one hour maybe?” He sketched a bow in their general direction. “À toute à l’heure, mes deux milords.”

“See you later, my man,” Napoleon replied, smiling to himself at Illya’s rage, and watched as Illya seemed to disappear.

“Touchy feller,” Barty commented. “Quite good at the vanishing act, though. Make a good Jeeves.”

He and Napoleon walked away in a different direction, more towards the bright lights, where Barty had picked up, and lost, his trail. They went into several bars, drank too many cocktails, listened, but heard nothing of interest. They were walking back towards the marina and Napoleon’s hotel, when Illya started up from where he had been half-leaning, half-sitting in a doorway.

“Napoleon,” he gasped, and fell against him.

“Hey!” Putting an arm around him, Napoleon turned Illya’s face to the light. There was blood on his forehead. “Are you OK?”

“I think I’ve found what you’re looking for,” he said. “Come.”

Still groggy from the head wound, he started to lead them away, but had to stop to lean against a wall. “Take his other arm, Barty,” said Napoleon. Barty took an arm over his shoulders and put his own round Illya’s waist and between them they supported him while they walked and listened to his story.

“Not coming in by sea, here,” he said. “Train line from Ventimiglia. It comes in originally from where it’s dropped on the coast near Genoa. They cache it in the tunnels and bring it out after the trains stop.”

Barty stopped. “Ah, that explains something I didn’t grasp – they kept mentioning ‘la ligne’. If they’d said ‘voie’, I’d have got it. What makes you think it’s to do with our Thrush man?”

“I followed you round all those bars, and watched someone else doing the same thing. Only Thrush people are likely to recognise or be interested in any of us, I thought, so when he left, I followed him. He led me here and I listened in while he and some others were discussing the best way to get the stuff in.”

Barty looked slightly annoyed. “How come you didn’t spot your partner?” he said to Napoleon.

“Or the other guy, Barty. We slipped up there, too. But Illya’s like a cat, as you said yourself. If he doesn’t want to be seen, you won’t see him.”

If he was surprised by this unusual encomium, Illya didn’t show it and appeared to ignore it as merely an interruption.

“The old line is ideal,” he continued. “There’s less than two miles of it in Monaco, but they can carry it into Monte Carlo along the course of the old railway. I’ll show you where.”

Now slipping out from under their combined support, he led them, just a little unsteadily, down to the former main station, and from there along the formerly busy rail track to the rocky coast beyond. “This is where to watch,” he said. “I saw one load come through. I think they must distribute it from the old station. I was watching from closer, and nearly got caught when someone turned a torch in my direction. I got this bump slipping on the rocks. Down here is better. There are places to hide.”

Napoleon turned to Barty. “You think this is the gang you’re looking for? Our songbirds?”

“Could well be. Genoa would be a good place to make such drops – long coastline, lots of little bays. The conversation I heard definitely mentioned a line when they talked about moving the stuff. I took it to be a human chain.” He laughed. “Hell of a long way to bring it if they’re on foot.”

“Shh,” whispered Illya. They crouched down beside him and waited. There was a faint squeak of wheels, and the crunch of feet on gravel.

As the little convoy passed, the UNCLE agents ducked right down and remained unmoving for long minutes until total silence fell. Then they called for the waiting back-up to meet the smugglers at the recently-closed former station in Monte Carlo, and asked for others to explore the railway route to the border with Italy, and beyond to Genoa. When they reported to Waverly in New York, he sent a message to his colleagues in Rome, who alerted the Italian coastguard.

His agents, meanwhile, lurking in the dark by an old monégasque railway line, stood up and prepared to move. Napoleon tucked his hand under Illya’s arm, slightly concerned about his continuing grogginess. “Are you OK?” he whispered.

“I’m fine, just a little dizzy. Not quite concussed or I couldn’t talk. I don’t need support. I’ll be OK in a while.”

“I think we should keep off this track,” Napoleon now whispered. “We might find ourselves caught between two deliveries.”

“We can get to the old station a different way,” said Illya.

oo000oo
Napoleon had got ahead and Illya was swaying a little, when Barty walking beside him put an arm round him. “You seem to need a strong arm,” he said, squeezing gently. Illya flinched away. “I’m fine,” he said, “I don’t need help.”

“Relax, my little friend.”

“Please let go. I can walk perfectly well.”

“Will you be spending the night with Napoleon? Or has he found someone else to share it with?”

“We are sharing a room.”

“But not a bed, I assume – we’re talking about Napoleon – but he might want to be private. And such a pretty boy might want company… a sailor, perhaps, or …?”

Illya twisted away. “I do not require company of any kind.”

He walked a little faster to catch up with Napoleon, but Barty’s hand stayed under his arm. He shook it off finally when Napoleon stopped to look round.

“Shouldn’t you go back and get that bump cleaned up, Illya?” he said, seeing a strained expression on his partner’s face.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Illya grunted, scowling.

They were now close to the old station and could see flashing lights and a lot of activity. “They’re crazy!” said Napoleon, and he and Barty ran down to find the officer in charge. They showed IDs and said urgently, “There’ll be others on their way – turn off the lights and keep everyone quiet.” The officer looked annoyed for a moment, and then gave an order for silence.

There were other UNCLE agents there, Barty’s people, who captured the unsuspecting smugglers as they arrived, and were preparing to take them away for interrogation. It seemed that everything was under control.

oo000oo
“We have caught his lackeys – and only some of them. The Godfather isn’t going to be caught in a fishing expedition like this one.” Barty was abrupt.

It was very late. The three men sat in a bar drinking wine and talking. Illya’s white wine was diluted with soda water, a trick he had learned in Berlin to maintain sobriety – his head ached. He remained quietly detached as Napoleon and Barty talked.

Napoleon got up to attend to a call of nature, leaving Illya and Barty in an uncomfortable silence. It was Illya who broke it.

“Do you have any idea of the identity of this Godfather?” he said, diffidently.

“I think he’s American, of possibly German extraction, but more than that, no.”

“Where did you pick up the trail?”

“Geneva. Switzerland is a good place to keep money out of sight.”

“But not a tax haven, as such. After this, maybe he’ll move his operation elsewhere.”

“More than likely, Illya. My guess, for what it’s worth, is Macau. He needs a base from which to plan a weapons facility. Where better than from an island off mainland China?”

“Doesn’t it depend on who he wants to threaten? Wouldn’t somewhere like Panama be better?”

“We need to pick up his trail again, can’t just play guessing games. But where to start?” Barty paused and then looked him in the face and said, “By the way, I’m sorry if I offended you earlier – I thought, with you behaving like that, you might be …”

“Never apologise, never explain,” Illya said quickly. “I know what you thought, and I’m not offended, but – can I suggest that – maybe you should come out of the closet?”

Napoleon came back at this point and observed that the tension between his two friends had not diminished. If anything, it was worse.

“Let’s call it a day, shall we?” he said, hopefully. “Sleep on it and see what we can come up with tomorrow.” Sometimes antagonism could produce quite worthwhile results. But it looked like a vain hope.
oo000oo

Note: with apologies to anyone who knows Monte Carlo. I’ve only been under it in a train, but there are town maps and a history of its railway line.
Tags: gen, illya, napoleon, once upon a time
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