The Gratuitously Action-Packed Opening Gambit Affair

Fandom: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Category: gen

Rating: G

Word Count:


Airports could sometimes be quite beautiful, Illya Kuryakin reflected as he sat staring out the small window next to his seat, waiting for the other passengers to disembark. It had just rained, and the sun was glowing defiantly through the pouting clouds; everything was slick and shiny and new-looking. The maze of the city, glimpsed over and beyond the sprawling arms of the airport terminal, was a landscape in monochrome struck here and there by golden shafts of light like fingers from heaven. Even the busy New York air was less acrid. A weary traveler might regard the crowds and chaos with a baleful eye, but to him — at least today — it was a welcome sight. It had been too long since he’d been home.

As he had no connection to make, he waited patiently for the airplane to empty before he raised himself out of his seat. His only luggage was a single satchel that he had held in his lap through the flight. He slipped the long strap over his shoulder and made his way unhurriedly toward the exit.

The flight attendants were waiting with smiles and goodbyes. He let his face soften to return the pleasantries, turning his body to knife through the narrow opening the girls left for him to pass through. It was too bad he was on assignment… and a good thing that Napoleon wasn’t with him. He felt slim fingers slip something into his pocket as he slid through the gauntlet of twill and tantalizing perfume.

After the first bend in the exit ramp, he cautiously inspected his pocket, but it was nothing more perilous than a phone number on a cocktail napkin. By the shade of the lipstick seal, he deduced that it was probably an innocent invitation — Chantilly Pink was not a color that Thrush-femme fatale would wear. Still — better safe than sorry — with a touch of regret he let the napkin slip from his fingers through a crack in the ramp, where if the thing started smoking or blew up, no one would be overly inconvenienced. Not before, however, he committed to memory the exchange and numbers, of course. Just in case.

He walked on, letting his bemusement fade as he focused his attention on his surroundings. The boarding ramp was close and cramped as a cattle chute. A good place for an ambush or an attempt to divert him before he reached the terminal. But nothing leaped out or dropped on him or sprang up from the floor. He passed easily into the waiting area among the clusters of people greeting their friends who had just arrived.

Pausing to untwist the strap of his satchel, he covertly scanned the room. No suspicious characters working on empty cups of coffee, no janitors sweeping the same spot on the floor, no nervous newspaper readers smoking in the corners. Disturbingly unthreatening.

This trip had been a milk-run so far — but Kuryakin had no illusions that Thrush was going to let him get back to Uncle without some antics. And since their attempts in Copenhagen and Reykjavik had failed, the New York airport was the next most likely venue for more of their kind of fun. But so far, he could see nothing untoward or doubtful.

He resettled the strap of his satchel and smoothed the fabric of his coat before he turned to make his way out of the terminal. He still had to get to Uncle headquarters, and there was a lot of territory to cover still — plenty of nooks and crannies where Thrush could spring their surprises.

Near the door of the terminal entrance he spotted the man. His back was to Kuryakin because he was talking to a very pretty girl, but he could still be recognized by the fine cut of his suit and his carefully groomed hair. Kuryakin hadn’t expected to see him here; already on the alert, Kuryakin felt an extra surge of adrenaline begin to course through his limbs. His hand wandered toward his left side.

“Easy there, Illya. Can’t a fellow show up to give an old friend a ride home from the airport?” The man spoke to Kuryakin, but his eyes never left the face of the lovely girl.

“A conditioned response, Napoleon.” Illya stepped up to him and permitted an anemic smile. “Somehow when I see you, I just associate it with trouble.”

“Glad to see you, too, Illya.” Solo had not looked at his friend yet; his eyes were following the girl as she swayed away. She turned and blew him a kiss.

The Russian rolled his eyes and said, long suffering, “I can hardly wait till the shooting starts.”

Solo turned his smile on him. “Come on. Uncle Alex wants us to bring him his bottle of milk before it goes sour.” As he spoke, six strange men charged through a security entrance, their faces hard and their hands full of heat.

“I hope he likes his milk warm,” Illya said grimly as he gripped the butt of his gun with his right hand, still holstered under his left arm. His free hand moved protectively to the bulk of the satchel hanging at his side.

Solo drew his weapon, but kept it under his coat. “This way!” They broke and ran toward the baggage claim area, hoping the number of witnesses would discourage their unfriendly reception committee.

There were several people in the area, waiting around the carousel as the bags and suitcases tumbled down from the conveyor belt. Their presence, however, did not seem to concern the men chasing the Uncle agents. They charged in boldly, waving their pistols. A woman saw them and began to scream, dropping her packages. The others began scrambling for the other exit.

Solo swerved toward the panicking woman, shoving her down behind the carousel just as the first gunshot cracked echoingly in the large room. He aimed and fired his Uncle Special; the silenced weapon made no more noise than a muffled cough, and the gunman crumpled and sprawled to the ground, tripping the two men running behind him. The others dodged around the men and spread out. One shouted, “There! The one with the bag — Kuryakin! Stop him!”

Kuryakin ducked behind the other side of the conveyor belt. He grasped the satchel by the strap and held it up. “Is this what you’re after?” He swung it round sharply and let it fly toward the carousel. It landed lightly on the belt, moving speedily toward Napoleon. He launched himself into the midst of the three men trying to recover their feet and guns.

Solo hooked the bag with one hand while shooting at the men trying to flank him. One of them jerked and spun away, but his two companions came on, guns blazing.

The woman he had pushed down to safety was now clinging to his leg, crying loudly. Thus inhibited, Solo was unable to run for the exit with the prize. “Madam, please!” He was forced to grab her and dive onto the conveyor to avoid the next barrage of bullets. He rolled over and returned fire as he was swept past. One thug dropped his gun and fell. The woman fainted. The other broke and ran for the exit.

Kuryakin was in the middle of a three-way fistfight, catching two punches for every one he dealt out, but showing no sign of giving up. He grabbed one man around the neck and swung his legs up into a kick which made the man catching the blow whirl around like a dervish; blood spattered on the neat white stucco walls.

The third man had backed off while his companions were falling, picking up one of the guns littering the ground. He would have a clear shot at Illya as he was struggling with the remaining man.

Solo rolled off the conveyor to lend his help, scattering abandoned luggage, and realized that the satchel was no longer on his shoulder. He looked back and saw that the strap had broken, caught on the edge of the carousel. Trusting Illya to handle himself, he ran back and grabbed the bag. The broken strap was caught in the conveyor belt. He yanked hard. The strap broke.

Lifting his legs up and over the head of the man he was grappling with, Kuryakin forced the larger man to fall backward to avoid a broken neck. The wily agent held on, maintaining the pressure across the man’s throat until his struggles ceased and he collapsed. Kuryakin shoved him aside to avoid being pinned beneath the weight of the larger man.

The remaining thug was waiting for this; he raised his gun. Kuryakin saw him in that same moment, saw the dirty pleasure in his eyes, and knew that he was going to shoot. The man couldn’t possibly miss, if he was even a half-competent marksman. He threw himself to one side in a desperate maneuver; his fatalistic philosophies did not extend to passivity in the face of likely death.

A brown object flew through the air and struck the arm of the gunman just as he squeezed the trigger. The gun barked and the bullet ricocheted off the mechanism of the carousel. Illya came out of his roll and dove behind the machine as Solo gave him cover fire.

But the gunman had lost interest in shooting Kuryakin; he had realized what had spoiled his shot: Solo had thrown a piece of luggage at him — a satchel! He grabbed at the prize by its strap and began to run, firing over his shoulder to keep the Uncle agents’ heads down.

Kuryakin rose as if to give chase, but had to duck quickly to dodge a wild shot. He sat down on the floor behind the carousel, next to Solo, and together they listened as the sounds of the man’s footsteps faded into a rising chorus of police sirens.

Illya let his head fall back against the machine and breathed. “They bought it,” he exclaimed with wonder.

“Well, he did, anyway.” Napoleon was reloading his Special. “And I’m glad he did when he did… I was almost out of mercy bullets. But whether Thrush buys our little decoy or not—we shall see.”

Illya was examining his jacket. There was a hole just under his armpit; he frowned at the finger he had poked through it as he said, “It will take them some time before they realize they’ve been duped, but now we will be able to reach headquarters.”

“Why, Illya!” Napoleon observed largely, “when did you become such an optimist?”

“Sometime between the time that the gun went off and the moment that I didn’t die,” came the dry reply. “Let us go before we wind up having to make long and passionate declarations to the constabulary regarding our activities.”

“Good idea. We’ll let Section Five round up our sleeping playmates and handle the local police. Here.” Solo thrust something toward Kuryakin.

It was his courier satchel. “Napoleon!” Kuryakin juggled it a little, his surprise nearly causing him to drop it. “I thought you threw this at the Thrush!”

“Oh dear… there were a lot of bags on the carousel,” Solo sounded apologetic, but there was a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “I must have given him the wrong one. Does it matter? There’s nothing in there but a black turtleneck and spare pair of socks.”

“Did you have to break the strap? This is my favorite grip.”

“Don’t get too attached… we still may have to let Thrush steal it before we get back to headquarters.”

“You are a disingenuous fellow, Napoleon.”

“Thank you. I try. Shall we?”

They walked calmly toward the exit, melting into the gawking crowd and slipping past the blue uniforms with ease.




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