With a further twist of Illya’s arm, Reuter propelled him across the empty corridor until he struck the opposite wall. “I did once. Your partner destroyed her,” he hissed, his mouth close to the agent’s ear. “And now I will destroy everything of importance to the great Napoleon Solo, starting with you.”
Illya yawned. “That sounds exhausting. Might I have a catnap first?”
“Oh, you’ll sleep, Kuryakin. You’ll sleep forever.”
“Even better. I could use a nice, long rest.”
Illya closed his eyes and began to croon Ochi Chernye. Reuter’s arm snaked toward the holstered Special.
“Need a hand there, young fella?”
At the sound of the wheezing, emphysemic voice, Reuter snapped his head up. His reaching hand dropped to his side. “No,” he replied curtly, as the white-haired man shuffled toward them. “My friend has simply had too much to drink.”
“Too much to drink,” Reuter repeated loudly. Illya’s exclamation of protest ended in a pained grunt as his arm was twisted harder.
The old man surveyed the blond with a rheumy eye. “Turrible thing, demon rum.” He raised his umbrella and, tottering slightly, gave it an admonitory shake. “Never should’ve repealed Prohibition.”
“Don’t worry about me, Little Father,” Illya said, briefly opening one eye. “I’ll sleep it off.” He resumed his singing.
The old man continued toward them unsteadily, pulling a hearing aid from his pocket. He adjusted the dials. “Reckon I know that tune. My wife’s got a music box that plays it.”
“If you’ll excuse us, I’ll see that my friend gets to his bed.” Reuter jerked Illya’s shoulder. The agent flopped back against him, his head lolling drowsily.
The old man prodded Illya with his umbrella. “Ya ask me, he’d be better off with a plunge in a rain barrel.”
“A swim? I would love one.” Illya canted his gaze back toward Reuter. “To the swimming pool, Gustav, and don’t spare the horses.”
“Furriners, huh? Shoulda guessed.” The old man swung the umbrella’s tip from one face to the other, shaking his head.
Reuter ran his eyes over the old man appraisingly. “How interesting. Advanced age and impaired hearing must inhibit the effects.” He reached for the Special. “Too bad I can’t bring you in for further study.”
“I return your sentiments.” A puff of smoke burst from the umbrella’s tip. Reuter’s dark eyes rolled back, and he slumped to the ground. Unbalanced by his sudden release, Illya pitched forward into the old man’s arms.
He was caught in a firm grasp. “Steady now, Mr. Kuryakin. You’ll feel more like yourself soon enough.”
Illya raised his face. “Mr. Waverly?” He frowned. “We forgot to get you a hot dog.”
Waverly set Illya on his feet. “Really? What a pity. A frankfurter would have been most appetizing.” He shook his head, then adjusted the dials on the hearing aid once more. “Mr. Dennell advised me that this contraption would provide only limited protection. We had best retreat to a safer distance.”
“We’re not going swimming?”
Waverly clapped Illya on the shoulder. “Of course, if you’d like. But we must hurry.”
Illya took a few meandering steps. “On second thought, I’ll nap first.” His knees buckled.
Waverly grabbed one of Illya’s arms and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Ho-ho. Completely zig-zag, are we? Not to worry. You’ll feel better once you hit the water. I might have a swim myself.”
He hauled the somnolent agent down the corridor. As they turned the corner, his own steps faltered. “Perhaps a nap would be best.”
A bell dinged, and the elevator doors beside them slid open. “Quickly. In here.”
“Mlle. Le Chien.” Waverly bowed slightly, then staggered as Illya’s weight shifted. “Your dossier photos do not do you justice.”
“This is no time for gallantry.” She stepped from the elevator and patted at his jacket urgently.
“What are you doing?”
“Something I will regret, no doubt.” She pulled the hearing aid from his pocket and turned the dials to maximum.
Waverly blinked rapidly. “Thank you, young lady.”
Angelique took Illya’s other arm and helped them into the elevator. “It would have to be the Russian.” She tossed his head from her shoulder with a disdainful shrug.
The elevator shuddered to life. When the indicator showed two floors of descent, Illya woke with a start. “You,” he spat, thrusting away Angelique’s supporting arm.
She pursed her lips and tutted disapprovingly. “No stamina at all. I knew it.”
Illya maligned her ancestry with a stream of Russian invectives.
“Now, now, Mr. Kuryakin.” Turning aside politely, Waverly unbuttoned his collar and tugged the mask away from his neck. “Mlle. Le Chien came to our rescue.”
“Only after deserting us.”
Angelique smoothed her platinum hair. “Reuter had activated another device. I could sense it.”
“A likely story,” Illya sneered.
“It’s true. I suddenly found myself thinking how likable you are.” She tapped the end of his nose. “That’s how I knew something was terribly wrong. So I left.”
Illya wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “You could have alerted us.”
She shrugged. “It was too late. You didn’t stand a chance.”
“But you did?”
“Of course. My mind is as well disciplined as my body. Just ask Napoleon.”
With a exhalation of disgust, Illya turned to his Chief. Waverly’s familiar face had emerged from its disguise. “And how did you come to be here, Sir?”
“We have my wife to thank for that. I awoke to her call on my private line. My conversation was rather high-spirited, not at all the type I would indulge in at the office. Realizing something was wrong, she induced me to return home early and explore my—ahem—romantic sentiments further.”
Angelique smiled. “I would like to meet your wife. I think she and I would have much in common.”
Illya’s brow furrowed in offense. Waverly chuckled and replied, “I think so as well. You both have a surfeit of beauty, charm, and intelligence.”
The elevator arrived on the ground floor. As they exited, Waverly continued, “Once outside, of course, I regained my faculties. In my haste, however, I had left without means communication or identification.”
“Lucky for us, I was home recovering from a root canal.” George Dennell greeted them with a lopsided grin, one cheek noticeably swollen. “Boy, I was sure surprised when Mr. Waverly showed up at my door.” His smile fell. “Where are the others?”
“Still up there,” Waverly replied grimly, handing the hearing aid to George. “This did not stay the effects as long as we hoped. I’m afraid it would be no match against the device in Headquarters.”
George pried off the back and frowned at the transistors. “If only I could get into the lab, I know I could boost it.”
“May I see it?” Illya asked.
“Sure thing.” George handed it over. “You’ll notice it works on the principle—”
“Do you feel that?” Angelique said sharply.
Illya looked up, his eyes widening. “Giddiness.”
Angelique backed away. “Once again, gentlemen, I must bid you adieu.”
The stairwell door opened. Illya jammed in the earpieces and turned on the hearing aid.
Unopposed by the cadre of UNCLE agents, Reuter stepped into the lobby.