Word count: 1145
Napoleon sat in the unmarked police car and stared at Down the Rabbit Hole. It was hard to believe just two nights ago, they had been preparing to send Illya and Kevin into Vickrey’s lair. Now it was infiltrated with UNCLE agents and undercover cops and most of the regulars didn’t have a clue.
Grigory fastened the last buckle of the bulletproof vest and adjusted the fit. Illya stood a few feet away, on guard lest they be taken by surprise. He could hear his partner talking quietly behind him.
“There. As long as they don’t go for your head, you should be fine,” Napoleon said, patting Grigory on the shoulder.
“Hardly reassuring, I’m afraid.” Grigory’s Russian accent was back.
“I meant to ask you,” Napoleon paused, glancing around. “How did you come to know Illya?”
“Do you think he’d ever been the only Russian to be recruited by a world agency?”
“But back then…”
Grigory held up a hand. “I’m sorry, my friend, but to tell you that would shorten your life considerable and, apparently, I am the only expendable one here.”
Illya turned at that. “You’re not--”
“Wrong word, perhaps. My English used to be better.” Grigory pulled on his shirt and then a jacket. “However, tovarisch, you are assigning me more credit than I’m worth. Vickrey would be putting his whole operation at risk coming after me.”
“Not you, Napoleon. When you helped him escape, you, in effect, thumbed your nose at your THRUSH master.” Illya resumed his watch. “Perhaps you have come to know him as a kind and loving boss, but he tried to kill my partner twice.”
Napoleon’s communicator chirped and Grigory cocked his head.
“We are ready for our white rabbit, Napoleon.”
Napoleon nodded. “Let’s make sure he’s not late for this important date.” He capped the communicator. “How are you doing, Grigory? Feeling okay?”
“I suppose I should be feeling valiant and stalwart. Instead I just want to cry like a little girl and hide my face in my mother’s skirts.”
“I will wish you good luck, then. And be careful.” Napoleon watched the agent climb from the car.
Grigory paused to check his weapon. “This aren’t real bullets?”
“Sleepers. Just in case you clip one of our guys by mistake,” Illya said quietly as they started walking to the club.
“You still don’t trust me, Illyusha.” There was a sad smile on his lips as Illya slowly shook his
Grigory looked back over his shoulder at the police car and Napoleon raised a hand in a wave. “At least tell me that the two of you have discussed more important items about which restaurant to have dinner at.”
“Yes, we have had that conversation and much more. I suppose I have you to thank for it.”
“Then I will die a happy man.”
“You won’t die at all if I have anything to say about it.” Illya unholstered his weapon and reached to open the front door.
There was a sudden shout and both men turned. There was a flash and Grigory went flying through the air. Illya didn’t stop to think about anything except his duty. He shot, even without aiming and there was a cry and something… someone toppled from the neighboring building.
Illya immediately took refuge behind a garbage pail and looked over to where Grigory lay in a crumpled heap. He was about to go to him when he caught movement from the corner of his eye.
It was Vickrey or what passed as Vickrey these days, Illya supposed. He really didn’t resemble the photos of the villain. Mercury poison had taken its pound of flesh from him. The man ran to the police car, rifle in hand and unloaded his weapon into the vehicle.
“He’s dead!” Vickrey screamed as he took a few steps from the care. “I’m free! I’m free! I have killed the caterpillar!” The man began a macabre dance as a barrage of gunfire tore into him.
“Stop,” Illya shouted, but it was far too late. UNCLE had wanted Vickrey alive. There was no chance of that now. He ran to the police car, his heart pounding from adrenaline and fear. Pulling open the door, he shouted, “Napoleon!”
The back of the car was empty and Illya simply stared.
“Something wrong, my Red Queen?” Napoleon purred and Illya spun, his fist back.
“That’s a good way to get a fist in the face, Napoleon.” Illya lowered his fist, his expression relieved. “How did you--?”
“All eyes were on you and Grigory, so I took the opportunity to slip out and change vehicles.” He looked down at Vickrey and shook his head as he toed the body. “Poor bastard. Say what you will, he was a worthy opponent.”
“Tell that to the men and women he sold into white slavery.” Illya felt no remorse for the THRUSH agent. “We are better off without him.”
“It’s just a shame he had to take poor Grigory with him.”
“Poor Grig… I forgot.” Illya turned and ran back to where Grigory had fallen, but there was nothing there, except a bullet-riddled vest. “He’s… gone,” Illya shouted back to Napoleon.
“Dead?” Napoleon started to move in Illya’s direction as police officers clustered around Vickrey’s body.
“No, gone gone.” Illya picked up the vest, then tossed it over onto a trashcan. “I wonder if we will ever know who he really was.” He joined Napoleon, still shaking his head in disbelief.
“He told me he’d have to kill me if he said anything.”
“Has to be the GRU then. They love saying stuff like that.”
“Or maybe he was just a spook.” Napoleon grinned as Illya made a face.
“Hey, this guy is still alive,” an officer shouted as he knelt by Vickrey’s side. “Some call an ambulance.”
“Will wonders ever cease?” Napoleon murmured, making a face. “If anyone deserves to die, it’s him.”
“I took the liberty of replacing everyone’s bullets with sleepers, just to be safe. Vickrey is worth more to us alive than dead.”
“If we ever get him. There are at least a dozen countries calling for his blood.”
“Cancel the ambulance,” the same cop ordered. “He’s gone.”
“What? That’s impossible.” Illya knelt to examine Vickrey, feeling for a pulse in his neck and wrist. He shook his head slowly. “Maybe the combination of the mercury with the sleepers was too much.”
“At least we don’t have to worry about him getting out on a technicality.” Napoleon adjusted his jacket. “Let’s go see what else we can find. Maybe we can chop off a few heads along the way.”
Illya grinned at that. "The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax. Of cabbages and kings.”
“And whether pigs have wings. Let’s go."