Notes: Between the 1920's and the 1970's, the Catskill Mountains in New York were known variously as the Borscht Belt, the Jewish Alps, and the Sour Cream Sierras, because of the density of hotels and resorts there that catered to Jewish summer guests, most of them Eastern European immigrants and their descendants. In the Catskills, guests could find kosher food and Yiddish-language programming, and were assured of welcome at a time when they were often barred from gentile establishments. In time more affordable airfare meant that New Yorkers could travel farther away for their vacations, and increasing acceptance and assimilation of American Jews decreased demand for Jewish-specific hotels. Although the largest and most famous resorts, including The Concord and Grossinger's, managed to hold on until the eighties, by the mid sixties more modest venues attracted only a shrinking, aging clientele. Today, the Catskills persist in cultural memory as the cradle of Jewish-American comedy.
"Ah. Mr. Solo, welcome back. You've gotten rather lucky and landed yourself an additional summer vacation, as it were. Dr. Roger Zimmermann requires our protection." A slide clicked into place on the automatic projector, displaying the image of an elderly man in a white coat. A wholly unnecessary image—Napoleon had seen that very man a minimum of every six months for the past several years—albeit from a different angle, one that largely offered a view up the nostrils and along the underside of the chin.
"Indeed. An unfortunate business. We have reason to believe he's been identified to THRUSH, and on the eve of his retirement, too."
"Why hasn't he retired then, sir? Wouldn't it be best if he were deprogrammed as soon as possible?"
"That's the trouble. Dr. Zimmermann has been a part of this organization for quite a long time now. When he joined, the appropriate preconditioning procedures hadn't yet been developed. Add to that the fact that we'd have to modify almost fifty years worth of memory storage, and the medical personnel assure me the results would be catastrophic. No, we'll have to retire Zimmermann some other way. And, in the meantime, the doctor is finishing out his accumulated leave at some resort or other." He pushed a glossy brochure across the table.
"You'll be on your way first thing. The junior agent originally assigned to this detail has gotten himself injured and Mr. Kuryakin will be needing your support."
Napoleon sat up a little straighter, "Injured? I wasn't informed of any altercation. Is…?"
Waverly cut him off, "Don't fret. Mr. Feinstein merely had an unfortunate encounter with a diving board. He will however, need to remain immobilized until his back stops spasming, apparently, and is thus of no use to anyone at the moment."
Napoleon leafed through the brochure. It advertised lakeside views and certified kosher meals. "Understood sir, but, with all due respect, what is Illya doing there?"
"Do pay attention Mr. Solo," Napoleon glanced down at the file on the table in front of him, hoping to dodge his superior's admonishing gaze, "Mr. Kuryakin and Mr. Feinstein have been protecting Dr. Zimmermann."
"Yes, I understand that, sir," Solo ventured. "But, um, I'm afraid you may have gotten the wrong end of things, you see… just because they call it the Borscht Belt… Well, at a place like this Illya might um," he brought a hand up and waved it vaguely around his face and hair, "stand out somewhat?"
"Mr. Solo, I assure you I am not so ignorant as you seem to believe. Mr. Kuryakin has the requisite linguistic background, he is eminently qualified for this assignment, and furthermore," here Waverly flipped his copy of the file closed, letting Napoleon feel the weight of his unstated dismissal, "Mr. Kuryakin volunteered."
Within two hours Napoleon was on his way. He had stopped in the infirmary on his way out, and interviewed the supine junior agent, Dan Feinstein. The young man had had little to offer, besides shamefaced apologies at leaving Napoleon's partner in the lurch as a result of his imprudent attempt at the triple summersault. It seemed that Dr. Zimmermann was so far having a perfectly pleasant vacation.
The drive up to the Catskills was, in any case, perfectly pleasant, the air growing cooler and fresher as Solo sped away from the boiling asphalt and hot-garbage fug of the New York City summer.
He arrived, some three hours later, at a neatly painted, lodge-style resort, overlooking a glistening lake. Any attempt by the scenery to create an atmosphere of rustic quietude was quickly and satisfyingly undermined by the speed with which a valet appeared to take his car, a bellhop, his bags, and a waiter, his cocktail order. Napoleon smiled; while it didn't pay to judge on first appearances, this was shaping up to be a very desirable assignment indeed. No wonder his partner had volunteered himself for it; Napoleon had long since realized that Illya was less immune to material indulgence than he pretended to be.
Following his bags, Napoleon made his way to the front desk, where a uniformed young woman was fielding multiple telephone calls. She flashed Napoleon a bright smile, and held up a single finger in the universal signal for 'one moment please.'
"Yes, I appreciate that Mrs. Fish, but I don't see what interest the resort could possibly have in 'fixing' the game tiles. I can't even begin to imagine how anyone would begin to do a thing like that. If you're having an unlucky run, why not take a break and enjoy one of our other amenities? There's an aerobics class starting at the pool in twenty minutes, or… Yes, you did mention that your cousin's brother-in-law is a professor of statistics, but"
Napoleon met the woman's eyes. She remained admirably composed. "Alright, you go ahead and call him, then. Take care."
Setting down the phone, Dotty, as her nametag proclaimed her, turned towards Napoleon. "Alright then, how can I help you?"
"I should have a reservation, name of Silver."
"Welcome, Mr. Silver," she flipped through a tidy Filofax on the desk, "we have you in Cabin 6, joining a Dr. Zimmermann and a Mr. Coen, is that correct?" Napoleon answered in the affirmative.
"Excellent, I can page them on the intercom, if you'd like to let them know you're here." She tapped a few buttons on her phone and a soft buzz came through the receiver. "Roger Zimmermann, your…" She paused, looking inquiringly at Solo,
"…nephew has arrived."
She waited a moment. "No answer, that's not unusual. There are so many activities throughout the day that everyone here is very busy." She thought for a moment. "If your cousin's the man I think he is, then I'm certain," she tapped a varnished nail against the telephone's plastic casing, "he's in the game room. Your uncle's probably with him; I'm sure you can catch them there before dinner. It's just down that way."
Napoleon followed a faint hubbub down the hall, until it grew louder and clarified into voices, some cheerful, others decidedly less so, accompanied by the shuffle of cards, the click of tiles and the rattle of dice. High above, ceiling fans whirred, pushing cool air around over a half dozen felted card tables, a corner bar, and some twenty-odd people. The crowd looked to be mostly composed of the older set.
Napoleon prided himself on his ability to spot Illya through any disguise: sheik, soldier, or snowman. Now though, his partner wasn't making things particularly difficult. Except for the false name in the hotel ledger, in fact, Illya didn't seem to be taking any great pains to conceal his identity. From across the room, he looked the same as he always did, only slightly tanned from his weeks of resort living. Seated at a table near the bar, his blond hair was especially striking amongst the huddle of greying heads and thinning pates, dotted with the occasional small skullcap.
As Napoleon worked his way across the room, a great groan rose up from the table. The little knot of heads loosened as people sat back in their chairs, talking amongst themselves. Illya stood, nodded to the assembled, and a moment later, stood in front of Napoleon. They shook hands.
"I see you managed not to get too badly lost."
"Hardy har har. Don't make me regret coming all this way just to babysit you."
"Never. Besides, you're not babysitting me. We are babysitting Dr. Zimmermann, together."
"Ah, right. And how is our dear uncle?" Napoleon ventured a look at the man. Wearing a brightly patterned golf shirt and sipping something that looked like a Bloody Mary, Roger Zimmermann appeared to be feeling no pain.
"I'm beginning to wonder if anyone even knows that he's here. We've been perfectly fine. Aside from poor Dan, of course." Illya shrugged.
Just then, an old man came up behind them. He leaned in close to Napoleon's ear, as though imparting some confidence. "Buddy, let me warn ya," Napoleon raised his eyebrows at Illya—he'd been here inside of ten minutes and they'd already found an informant, "about this guy right here." The man laughed loudly, thumping Illya around the back. "I'm telling you, this little momzer's cleaned me right out at mahjongg. Watch out if you know what's good for you!"
The old man went away, laughing, in the direction of the bar. "Really, mahjongg?" Solo eyed his partner critically.
"This is not an inexpensive establishment. If this assignment is as much of a waste of time as it appears, then Mr. Waverly will be grateful if I'm able to recoup at least a fraction of our expenses."
"So all this time I've been working, and you've been up here playing games."
"Oh, it hasn't been all fun and games," Illya seemed unable to decide whether to grin or grimace, "they've already press-ganged me into judging two beauty contests and a talent show."
Napoleon took the rest of the afternoon to unpack, settling his summer suits, and a rather kicky new bathing ensemble, into a closet of the two-bedroom bungalow they shared with the good doctor. The lakefront cabin was cool and airy, purporting to offer all the privacy of home, just steps away from all the amenities of a world-class resort. It was also, Napoleon confirmed, free of electronic eyes and ears, for the moment at least.
Dinner was excellent, brisket and chicken and stuffed cabbage and golden-brown potato dumplings and kasha served with farfalle pasta. Delicious, but heavy. Napoleon was, as usual, mildly gob-smacked by the amount that his partner managed to put away. Uncanny or no, Illya's appetite certainly met with the approval of his coterie of little old ladies. When they had all sat down at the start of the meal, Napoleon had assumed that they were drawn to Dr. Zimmermann, who was, after all, a gracefully aged widower, recently retired from a respectable profession.
He'd forgotten to take into account his partner's near gravitational pull on elderly women. They crowded around him, speaking over each other in rapid, affectionate Yiddish. From his German and Russian, Napoleon felt he should have been able to pick up the thread of the conversation, but all he could figure was that his partner was being addressed by a series of increasingly cozy diminutives, and that he was periodically encouraged to eat. Chuckling, Napoleon took a sip of his coffee- no cream; that was an annoyance he'd have to learn to put up with— and wished he could order a martini on duty. Well, maybe he could have one, just to blend in.
After dinner, martini in hand, Napoleon lounged against the thick, wooden railing, enjoying the cool breeze on the back of this neck. In appreciation of the gentle weather, the hotel ballroom had been opened to the sun porch, and couples danced in and out of the fairy-lit hall.
A woman settled against the rail beside him. Early thirties, dark blue sundress, dark hair, rouge, lipstick. She proffered a pack of Marlboros. When he declined, she shrugged, took a cigarette, and dropped the others back into the red leather depths of her purse.
"You don't mind, do you?" She asked, turning to Napoleon.
"Not at all," he said, "besides, if I did I could always walk away."
"Oh please don't do that. Not before we're introduced at least." She smiled and held out her hand. "I'm Sarah Smith. It's your first weekend up isn't it? I don't think I've seen you around."
"Nathan Silver," he accepted her hand. "You're right, I just came up from the city today. Haven't gone to a resort for the season since I was a child, hard to take the time away from the office."
"I'm so pleased to meet you, Mr. Silver." Sarah laughed. "I need some new friends. I've just been divorced, you see, and all I have are married friends. 'Come to the Catskills,' they said, 'it's just what you need.' but as soon as we got here they all ran off to play couples shuffleboard or whatever, and I've been wasting away." She laughed again. "Why this summer, after all these years?"
"Well, I'm here with my uncle. We don't generally run in the same crowd, but my aunt passed on this year, and my cousins and I figured he shouldn't be on his own."
"That's kind of you. Who's your uncle?"
"Oh, uh, Roger Zimmermann, Dr. Roger Zimmermann… DDS," he added, with a deprecating shrug.
"Oh, Rodge!" Sarah brightened, "he used to play golf with my father-in-law. Lovely man. Dr. Zimmermann, that is, not Herb's dad." Her expression slid momentarily towards disgust and her eyes drifted over the dance floor. "So this summer's breakout mah-jongg champion must be your cousin, right? The blond?"
Why did women always want to talk to him about Illya? Napoleon supposed he couldn't blame them.
"Between you and me, nobody can figure why he spends all his time kibitzing with the alte-kockers. I can assure you there are plenty of girls who'll be glad to get to know him once he gets bored listening to the same stories about the Old Country over and over. I mean, it's a mitzvah, but a person can only take so much."
Napoleon reached over to light her cigarette. "Careful young lady, when they were our age they used to walk to school, uphill both ways, in the snow."
Sarah took a draw of smoke, fixed him momentarily with what seemed like a slightly odd look. Napoleon was struck with the passing feeling that he'd somehow put his foot in his mouth.
She smoked in silence for a few moments. "Now, Mr. Silver, it occurs to me that if you haven't been here since you were a child, you may not know about all the exciting things an adult can do on vacation in the Catskills."
"Could be. I guess you'll have to teach me." She stubbed out her cigarette, he held out his hand, and they drifted onto the dance floor.
The next morning Napoleon woke in the pre-dawn. He decided to let his partner sleep—cushy assignment or no, Illya had been without back-up for something like twenty-four hours, and constant alertness took its toll. Moving quietly, Napoleon laced up his tennis shoes and slipped out to jog the perimeter. The grounds were almost perfectly quiet in the early morning. A young man pushed a mower back and forth, making his steady way along the sloping lawn. Besides him, nothing moved. If there were any sinister plots afoot, they weren't making themselves obvious.
Heading back towards the bungalow, Napoleon spotted a figure standing on the dock. He slowed to a walk and crept forward, footsteps silent, hand on his weapon. As the figure turned towards the light of the rising sun, it revealed itself to be Dr. Zimmermann. The doctor raised a hand in greeting, and, as Napoleon joined him at the dock, resumed his study of the sunrise.
The sun was well past the horizon, casting red and yellow beams over the surface of the lake, when Zimmermann finally spoke.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Sure," Napoleon assented, rising out of a toe-touch.
"I know we could do all this with less fuss back in the city. You could shut me away somewhere for a while and you boys could get back to saving the world. If I'd realized how many Section II's I'd be monopolizing… I told Alexander it would look suspicious if I didn't show up, but for the honest truth, I think I just hoped I could come back here one more time."
The old man took a deep breath, "Shirley and I used to come here every summer, take a little cottage. We could relax out here in a way we couldn't anyplace else. What with my position, and her practice, work always came first, for both of us. You know how that is, I'm sure." He glanced at Napoleon.
"Not that we regretted it, but there's never enough time, is there? We found each other late, you know, Shirley and I. She used to say she was lucky to find a man with all his teeth left, plus a few of some other people's," the dentist laughed softly at the old joke.
"That's it though, you find someone, and you treasure them, and 'poof!' there go the years! I suppose I don't have to explain mortality to you though." He shook his head, "not with the way you all live, poor things."
Napoleon wasn't used to being an object of pity, certainly not by his dentist, who, in his professional capacity, was general regarded as skilled, but unsympathetic. He chose to settle into an Adirondack chair and let the moment pass. Zimmermann sat beside him, picked a fishing pole up from the dock, methodically baited the line, and cast off.
They sat in silence, companionable until it was broken by a sharp voice.
"There you are!" Napoleon recognized that tone, I'm-relieved-but-I'm-going-to-pretend-to-be-irritated, one of his partner's specialties. An apparently irate Illya Kuryakin stalked up behind them, "Come on, we'll miss breakfast."
Upon entering the dining room they were immediately approached by a diminutive old woman, brandishing a newspaper. Napoleon tensed—the little woman didn't appear to be a likely threat, but sometimes that was just the trick. The woman made a beeline for their table, thrust the paper down, and began speaking excitedly in Yiddish, jabbing a finger alternately at the dense, block-lettered script and at Illya's face.
He caught her hand about an inch from his cheek and set it, with surprising gentleness, down on the table. The woman hovered impatiently as Illya unfolded his reading glasses, settled them on his nose, and perused the paper. He nodded, looked back up at their guest, and said something in a low, calm voice. She responded, loudly, he responded even more loudly, and soon a blazing argument was underway. Napoleon sat uneasily as people at the surrounding tables glanced their way. He was poised for conflict, but the other diners merely rolled their eyes and returned their attention to their cups of coffee. Zimmermann chuckled and stood, leaning over Napoleon on his way up, "that's just Minnie, don't mind her. They do this every morning. You want anything from the buffet?"
Minnie eventually stormed off, gathering up her papers and shaking her head, but somehow, Napoleon thought, looking pleased.
"Care to share what that was all about?"
The only political opinions Napoleon had ever managed to worm out of his partner were carefully disguised as jokes, or maybe they were jokes, disguised as political opinions. He looked at the elderly woman, now collecting sugar-cubes from a tea service on the other side of the room, with something like envy.
Breakfast was followed by bocce, was followed by badminton, was followed by lunch, was followed by cocktails, was followed by dinner. Napoleon stayed on the alert for birdies of the non-shuttlecock variety, but everywhere they went, Dr. Zimmermann met only with friends. They stayed up for a late night comedy show, though Napoleon had to admit that he found most of the jokes rather bleak. A litany of loveless marriages, terminal diagnoses and imminent bankruptcies. Still, Dr. Zimmermann chuckled obligingly after each joke, so he supposed they must be funny, if you liked that kind of thing. Napoleon was reminded of something Illya had once told him, 'comedy is the gadfly on the corpse of tragedy.' However much he and the comic may have been in philosophical accord though, Illya wasn't paying him much attention. In fact, Napoleon couldn't be certain his partner wasn't discretely napping in his seat.
Having seen Zimmermann safely to bed, Napoleon was sitting in the bungalow's small kitchenette when he heard a faint rustling. Rising slowly, he extended his communicator and raised Illya, without shifting his eyes from the window. "There's something outside. Stay with Zimmermann, I'm going around."
Napoleon eased the front door open, mentally thanking the resort staff for their exemplary maintenance work on the hinges. Slipping silently off the porch, he crept around the side of the cabin, pressing close to the stucco wall. Sure enough, he could make out a figure crouched in the bushes. He stepped forward and raised his weapon to the man's back. It was loaded with tranquilizer rounds, but their intruder didn't have to know that, "stand up, slowly, with your hands in the air. Then turn around to face me."
"Oh god, Mr. Kaplewicz!" The kid's voice shook, and he really was just a kid, maybe twenty, tops. Napoleon thought he might have seen him by the pool, earlier that day. A lifeguard. "I swear I was just… I won't… Jesus, man, please don't shoot me."
"I'm not Mr. Kaplewicz."
"I'm not. Do you want to tell me who you are and what you were doing lurking under my window on such a lovely night?"
The boy blushed so deeply Napoleon could see it in the moonlight. "Well, if you're not Mr. Kaplewicz, then I don't suppose Mrs. Kaplewicz is in there, waiting for me? She said her husband would be at the show till late, and I should come by…I guess I got the cabin wrong." The boy shuffled his feet in the dirt. Napoleon looked him over. It wasn't a particularly strong story, but he could see that the kid wasn't armed, and he was awfully young. There was no real evidence, not anything soild enough for them to detain him, at least. He sighed, the least he could do was put a little fear of god into him, then keep a close eye on him for the remainder of their stay.
"No, Mrs. Kaplewicz is not inside. Now run along before I decide to tell her husband all about this little chat of ours."
He stood outside and watched the boy jet off. The window opened and Illya's head popped out.
"Pretty story, don't you think? Summer fling?"
"Actually," said Illya, "I'm inclined to believe him."
"Really? If you'd asked me yesterday I'd never have put you down as the trusting type."
"Ah, but you see, I possess one very important piece of information that you, my friend, do not."
"Oh, and what is that?
"I," Illya winced, "have met Frieda Kaplewicz."
Despite the eventful night, Napoleon woke before dawn the next morning. Senses instantly alert, it didn't take long to locate the cause. Dr. Zimmermann stood in the doorway. Although, Napoleon noticed, he kept most of the door between himself and the two agents, perhaps concerned that they might wake up shooting. "Up and at 'em, boys! The fish won't wait!"
Half an hour later, they were sitting in a rowboat, on the far shore of the lake. To Zimmermann's credit, the old man had rowed the whole way, overriding Napoleon's half-hearted offer of assistance and demonstrating a heretofore-unsuspected strength. The fish, however, failed to make their scheduled appearance. Dragonflies zipped and dove in miniature dogfights overhead. Silence lay over the lake.
With a loud 'twack' a golf ball came hurtling out of the air and landed in the bottom of the boat. THRUSH was certainly underestimating them these days, as if anyone would fall for the old exploding golf ball trick more than once. Napoleon picked up the ball and threw it as far as he could into the water. Another ball came screaming out of the heavens. Illya shouted, "Jump!" and then chill, greenish water closed over their heads.
When they surfaced a moment later, Dr. Zimmermann, chest deep in floating scum, was laughing, something clenched in one hand. Illya stared at him in alarm, "Doctor, that is a bomb. Toss it very gently, as far away as possible."
Zimmermann shook his head and held out the ball, displaying a small pair of initials scratched into the side. "Good old Burt Siegler, he never could drive straight."
When they tried to get back into the boat, it dutifully capsized. Attempting a scramble up the bank, Illya failed to gain purchase, and skidding back into the water, splashed the others with fresh mud. Cold ooze squelched under Napoleon's sodden boat shoes. It was going to be a long slog back to dry land.
Napoleon hauled himself up onto the dock, coughing and sputtering his way through a deep patch. His partner had escorted Zimmerman to shore, and the dentist gladly accepted a towel from a perplexed lifeguard. Illya plucked a strand of duckweed from his hair and glared at it with disgust, then sneezed. "We," declared Dr. Zimmermann, "need a shvitz."
The bathing facilities at the resort appeared to be slightly upscale of the charmingly seedy establishments that Illya frequented in the city, Napoleon observed, noting the spotless cleanliness of the white tiling and the fact that they hadn't been made to surrender their wallets and wristwatches as collateral on entry.
After their misadventure in the lake, the warm steam, scented with eucalyptus and a hint of something else, felt sublime. Napoleon leaned back into the smooth bench, closing his eyes. His other senses remained fully alert; it didn't do to forget when one was on the job. He heard his partner offer the doctor a beating with a bundle of oak branches.
Zimmermann declined— a wise decision, Napoleon privately thought; given the way their morning had gone, it was likely Illya just wanted an excuse to hit someone.
Reminiscing about shvitz-bords in the old country, Zimmermann launched into a recitation of some amusing boyhood incident, and his and Illya's laughter echoed eerily in the empty, tiled chamber. Napoleon was glad to hear it. Zimmermann could certainly have been in a far worse mood, given the loss of their dignity and his fishing rods. Then again, he was an UNCLE dentist—an appointment with a surly Section II agent probably inspired much more aggravation than an unexpected dunking or two.
Napoleon breathed deeply, hoping to chase the chill out of his lungs and to identify the mysterious fragrance. It was not unpleasant, but he found it irritatingly familiar. He knew he'd smelled it before, but exactly where skittered around the edge of his conscious mind. He was beginning to get slightly light-headed; maybe he'd been in the sauna too long. He opened his eyes to steady himself and turned to his partner, "It's a little close in here, isn't it?"
"Napoleon," Illya scoffed, "that is precisely the objective."
A moment passed, the only sounds the gentle lapping of water in the pool outside and the hiss of steam through the pipes.
"Actually," said Illya, his face taking on a strange expression, "you may have a point." With that his eyes rolled back and he collapsed back into the bench.
Napoleon burst into action. Wrapping his towel over his mouth and nose, he extended a hand into the fog that seemed suddenly thicker all around him, seeking the doctor. A dark shape loomed at the door, indistinct, but definitely too tall to be Zimmermann. It came closer, moving slowly. Napoleon could hear its breathing, oddly distorted as though…as though it were wearing a gas mask.
The world rose in swirling grey around him and Napoleon found he had slid to the floor. He knew his gun was nearby, but he didn't dare fire it in such an enclosed space with such poor visibility. Unseeing, his fingers scrabbled across the slick surface. Reaching for anything solid, they closed around something rough and flexible. Napoleon surged upwards, flailing his arm as hard as he could in the direction of the rasping breaths.
"Ow! Hey!" Napoleon was rewarded with a muffled shout as the thin oak branches snapped fiercely across the intruder. His triumph, however, was short-lived, and as he fell, thick mist drifted up to meet him.
Napoleon woke in darkness. He felt the bite of metal cuffs around his wrists. He was lying on a hard, flat surface, most likely a concrete floor, judging by the coolness that seeped into his bare skin. This was bad, but wasn't the first time he'd come to handcuffed and stripped, and with any luck, it wouldn't be the last. Wait, not stripped, he remembered, they'd shed their own clothes before entering the steam room. The steam room where they had been so neatly trapped- it was nice of them to have made things so easy for their captors.
With a groan, he pushed himself to his feet and reached out for the walls. He made his way around the perimeter of what was obviously some kind of storeroom. Finding no light switch, he was periodically tripped up by folded chaise lounges, broken beach umbrellas, and, eventually, something that let out a soft "ugh," on impact. Definitely Illya, Napoleon recognized his partner's half-conscious sound of displeasure. At Napoleon's feet, Illya scrabbled into a defensive crouch, evidently aware of having been trodden on.
"Relax, it's only me. The hospitality here has taken a sudden turn for the worse."
Illya grasped Napoleon's hand and hauled himself into a standing position. "Indeed, I have half a mind to complain to the management."
Together, they completed their exploration of the room. It was not large and, despite its dubious riches, contained nothing that could help them attain the other side of the door, apparently padlocked from the outside. Of Dr. Zimmermann, there was no sign.
After about an hour of unsuccessful effort, they settled down to wait on a stack of mildewed seat cushions. Not long after there came the sound of nearby footsteps. The two agents sprang to their feet and took up positions, one on either side of the door. There was none of the telltale scraping of a key in the lock. Instead, there was a slow fizzle followed by a sharp pop. The door swung open, letting in a sudden shock of light. Napoleon stood blinking at the figure in the doorway: Dr. Roger Zimmermann, stark naked, and smiling widely with a newly checkered grin. "Come on!" He fished in his mouth for a moment and drew out a thin metal pick. Chuckling to himself, he quickly dispensed with both agents' cuffs. "Poor fool, whoever locked us down here, they didn't realize what it takes to go up against an UNCLE dentist."
They followed Zimmermann out into a narrow hallway, illuminated by hanging bulbs. "I came to in that room there," the doctor tipped his chin towards a door across the hall, "those three are empty storage—it took me a bit of searching to find you two. I haven't come across anyone else, captor or captive, and I'm fairly certain we're still on the resort premises. Nothing I've seen seems purpose built, or even very well prepared. Here, there's a freight elevator this way."
They moved quickly, Napoleon in front of the doctor and Illya behind. Soon, they were rewarded with the sight of an elevator. As they approached it, however, the door slid open. A man stepped out, brandishing a pistol. Napoleon was briefly gratified to see a livid welt standing out across the young man's forehead, but ultimately chagrin won out when he recognized their young prowler from the night before. "Freeze," cried the kid, stepping out of the elevator, "I'll shoot."
Just then, Napoleon heard a distressing sound from behind him. The doctor seemed to be choking; he slid out from behind Solo, leaning against the wall and gasping for breath. Illya stepped forward, fury in his eyes, "How long were we unconscious?"
The THRUSH, having, Napoleon supposed, expected to be the one doing the interrogating, was momentarily thrown. He looked down at his watch, "Um, it's going on midnight now, so…" Napoleon saw his chance and seized it. While the lifeguard was focused on his wristwatch, he leapt at the guard and wrested the gun from his hands, then caught him around the neck and held him, gun barrel firm in his back.
Zimmermann collapsed. Illya rushed forward to catch him, guiding the old man to the cement floor. "You idiot!" he cried, glaring at the guard, who paled, "he needs his heart medication every three hours. On top of the effects of your knockout gas," he shook his head, "he's eighty years old, didn't you think for even a moment?" Illya knelt over the doctor, feeling for a pulse.
"Tilt his head back! You have to keep the airway clear," cried the guard.
"Keep quiet." Illya snapped.
The boy hung his head, and mumbled, either to himself or to Napoleon, Napoleon wasn't sure, "I did have to take the whole lifeguard training thing, you know." Napoleon prodded him with the barrel of his gun, "do you have our communicators?" The man shook his head, no. "Anything?" Keeping the gun in place, Napoleon did his best to pat down his captive. Finally, he came upon a walkie-talkie.
"Let's trade." Illya tossed Napoleon the handcuffs he'd held onto since their liberation, and deftly caught the walkie-talkie. He fiddled frantically with the knobs while Napoleon secured their prisoner.
Something caught on the walkie-talkie and a woman's voice came through, faint and staticky, "Upper-New-York, Catskills, Line for Emergencies only. Over. How may I assist? Over."
"Operation Lazarus, reporting in. Over. Situation under control. Over. Requesting medical evacuation. Over."
Illya let the voice on the radio talk him through cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but Napoleon could see that it wasn't working. He couldn't quite believe that this was what it had come to. After everything Dr. Zimmermann had done, that he should die on this cold floor in such a ridiculous tragedy of errors.
The medical team arrived astonishingly quickly, lead by a young woman paramedic, pretty, with a short Afro. A strangely familiar young woman paramedic. Nina Henderson, he was sure of it. But she was a technician in the UNCLE NYC infirmary, cross-trained with Section III; how could she have gotten out to the Catskills so quickly? She joined Illya by Dr. Zimmermann's chest, unwound her stethoscope, listened for a minute, and shook her head, sadly. Napoleon could only watch the scene, hating to feel so helpless. Then he noticed, over the paramedic's shoulder, Illya was mouthing something at him, "Let him go."
"What?" Napoleon mouthed back, daring a sideways glance at his captive, who seemed, by now, to have very little fight left in him.
"Let. Him. Go." Illya mouthed again, emphatically. He raised a finger to his lips; a half-moment later he appeared to be sitting with a hand pressed tightly over his mouth, as if trying not to cry.
When the paramedics pushed past with Dr. Zimmermann's body on their gurney, Napoleon pretended to stumble, and dropped the weapon. Reaching to catch it, he also lost his hold on his captive. The young man slipped past, dashed into the elevator, awkwardly thumbed the 'door close' button with cuffed hands, and vanished. When the lift appeared again, he was long gone.
"Want to ride along in the ambulance?" asked Agent Henderson. Then she stopped and looked at them for a moment. "Oh, for fuck's sake." She dug through her medical kit and pulled out two additional shock blankets, "make yourselves decent."
Secure in the back of the ambulance, they pulled on extra EMS uniforms while Henderson filled a syringe. She injected it into a vein in Dr. Zimmermann's inner arm, then brought her lips close to the old man's ear and spoke gently and clearly, "Excellent work, doctor. This should keep you nice and dead until we get to the hospital. Just stay relaxed, you're doing fine."
Napoleon looked on, grinding his teeth; he'd known there was something fishy about this whole extraction. "Henderson, what's going on, where are we going?"
She looked up at him, seemingly surprised at the harshness of his tone. "Everything's going perfectly to plan, Mr. Solo. Dr. Zimmermann is stable and we're en route to Duchess County Hospital, where a Geoffrey Donner, age seventy-eight, died peacefully in his sleep," she glanced at her watch, "about twelve hours ago, and without any next of kin, or, for the moment, any death certificate."
"I see." He turned his gaze to Illya, "and that's why you wanted me to let our fledgling THRUSH go? So he can spread the word about your little illusion."
From the corner of his eye, Napoleon could see Henderson, shifting up into her seat next to the driver and quietly closing the glass divider between the cab and the box.
Illya's expression was puzzled, but well on its way to annoyed. "Of course, that was the whole point. You're not telling me you'd rather keep your petty captive than secure the doctor his retirement?"
"Ah, so that was the plan, have Zimmermann offer himself as bait, pantomime his death using a drug concealed in, let me guess…his tooth, and leave me in the dark so that I give a convincing performance, was that it? Who's idea was it? Waverly's? Yours?"
Illya met Napoleon's eyes, and Napoleon was unsurprised to see anger there. "The initial idea was Dr. Zimmermann's, actually. But you were never supposed to be a part of this mission. Dan knew the whole plot. Waverly told me he had briefed you. I thought that meant he'd told you everything."
Napoleon had to accept that. Waverly treated them all like chessmen, on occasion. It had been hard though, watching Zimmermann die, knowing he could do nothing to stop it.
Illya seemed to sense his mood. "I'm sorry."
Napoleon sighed, "Don't be." He attempted a smile, "There's not anything else you 'aren't' keeping from me, is there?"
Illya looked down at Dr. Zimmermann, "no, of course not."
It was the wee small hours before Napoleon and Illya made it back to the resort, determined to catch a few hours' sleep before the drive back to Manhattan.
That had been the plan, at least. Napoleon lay awake, listening to the soft, summer-night sounds outside the bungalow—the gentle trilling of crickets, distant, tinny, music from someone's end of season shebang. And inside the bungalow, his partner's breathing, a body shifting in bed, springs creaking in faint protest. Not asleep then either, good.
"Hey, Illya," he, he pitched his voice softly, "you're Jewish, aren't you?"
Napoleon could feel the ripple in the quiet, as though he'd pitched a stone into the space between their two twin beds. Then, a rustling as Illya turned to face him in the darkness. "Yes," he paused, "My mother was…yes."
"You've never mentioned it."
"It's not as though it was a secret. I mean, today was hardly the first time you've seen my—"
Napoleon cut him off, embarrassed not so much by the direction of their conversation as by this further evidence of his uncharacteristic failures of perception, "There's no need to be crude. Besides, we both know there are plenty of reasons for a gentleman to, ah, doff his cap."
A long pause, perhaps his partner was digesting this poetical image.
"Not where I'm from, there aren't." Then, "It never came up. What would it have mattered?"
"Well, I would have stopped twitting you about being a godless atheist."
"I am a godless atheist. Perhaps you know of some other kind?"
"Oh." Napoleon supposed he had walked into that.
When Illya spoke again he sounded slightly repentant. "Honestly, it never occurred to me to tell anyone. We were never very. When I was a child it was not exactly a desirable thing to be. And then after... It's not been a particularly important part of who I am."
"And yet, you asked for this assignment?"
"I did. The food suits me."
Napoleon could hear Illya's shrug against the sheets, eloquent even in the darkness. "…And I suppose I was curious."
"And what did you find?"
"The guests here, they're very…American."
Napoleon chuckled, "But?"
"but also somewhat familiar. There are things that they've helped me remember. I'm glad that we came."
By tomorrow, the news would have spread of Dr. Zimmermann's 'death.' And that would cast a pall over things for the remaining guests, a pall over the summer that, itself, was already dying away.
Napoleon smiled to himself. In spite of everything, he was glad they'd come as well, glad that Illya had found something of what he needed here, and glad that he had deciphered just a little bit more of his partner's closely guarded history. As Napoleon drifted into sleep, Illya's voice cut across the darkness one more time: "Before you congratulate yourself too hardily on your detective instincts, Napoleon, you should know that I would have come for the blintzes alone."
And the rest was crickets.
Yinglish Glossary (in order of appearance)
Momzer – bastard, originally a Hebrew legal term, in American usage this means everything that 'bastard' does
Kibitzing – from kibitz, to chat
Alte kockers – disrespectful way to refer to older people, lit. 'old shitters'
Mitzvah – one of the 613 Biblical commandments, in common usage, a mitzvah can be any good deed
Shvitz – sweat; Shvitz-bord – sweat bath, steam bath