The Rainbow Affair
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. #13 The Rainbow Affair by David McDaniel 1967
How Napoleon and Illya Toured Soho,
and Two Other Gentlemen Debated at Length.
(snipped pages 31-37)
Welcome back to the land of the living,” he greeted the Russian wryly. “We’ve been packed away somewhere, and I think it’s somebody’s basement. A rat ran across my feet a minute or so ago.”
“I hope you kicked him.”
“Certainly not. If we treat him nicely, maybe he’ll come back and chew through our ropes. I’ve heard of it happening.”
“I’d prefer to get out without any help from your furry friends, Napoleon.” Illya squirmed around a little, checking his bonds. “As near as I can tell, we haven’t even been disarmed - just temporarily incapacitated.”
“It all looks as if either Johnnie Rainbow has decided to get us off his trail, or Scotland Yard has developed a new method of dealing with troublemakers. Can you think of anyone else we’ve offended recently?”
“How much of a tip did you leave at the restaurant?”
“Twenty percent - my usual. They never objected before.”
“Well, whoever it was certainly knows their ropes. These won’t even budge. In fact, I can hardly shift around without nearly pulling my thumbs out of their sockets. It’s an East Indian type of binding, which was what led me to think of the restaurant. Knowing your propensity for making enemies...” Illya broke off suddenly. “What was that?”
Before Napoleon could phrase a suitable reply, he heard the same sound. A faint scraping in the wall to their left. A moment later a section of paneling slid back and a tiny slender Oriental girl slipped out, followed a moment later by a tall gaunt Englishman in a trench coat. The girl spoke swiftly in a whisper. “See? They are here as I said.”
The Englishman hurried to them and bent over. Napoleon started to speak. “I have several obvious questions to ask...”
“Sorry, old chap. No time. This young lady has placed her life in our hands by bringing me to you; we mustn’t trifle with it. The fellow who had you brought here is a fiend in human shape - make no mistake. When he finds you gone, all the furies will be set loose.”
The girl knelt daintily to help him loosen the ropes. In the dim light, Napoleon could see that her eyes were a startling shade of violet such as he had never seen before. “My master plays an intricate game, and you both are but pieces. You were to be used to bargain with a group that seeks his wisdom.”
“Who is your master, anyway?” asked Illya as his hands came free.
Her hand came to her mouth in a peculiar gesture. “I dare not speak his name,” she said fearfully.
The lean Englishman helped Napoleon to his feet. “Don’t ask too many questions, chaps. Where ignorance is bliss, and so on. Her master may not be as well known these days as the people you’re after, but he’s every bit as dangerous in his own way. Now, come on. We’ll head out the way we came in. And keep silent, as you value your lives!”
The dim yellow beam of a pocket torch led them through a narrow, foul-smelling maze of tunnels, which eventually brought them out where the Thames lapped, black and oily under the city-lit overcast, at slime-crusted pilings and crumbling masonry. “Afraid you’ll have to make your way home from here. I must get this little lady to a place of safety, if there is such in this world.”
“No time to talk now. Telephone me tomorrow - WHitehall 9213. I know what you’re after, and I think I can help you find it. Cheerio.” And the blackness swallowed him up.
The two U.N.C.L.E. agents stood looking at other in the dark for several seconds, until Napoleon said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m not especially crazy about the smell around here. What do you say we head for home?”
“Sounds reasonable. Maybe we can stop off for a bite to eat on the way. It’s been several hours since we ate, and I’m hungry again.”
“Fine. One thing - let’s not talk about anything that happened tonight until we’ve had time to think about it.”
Illya nodded thoughtfully, and followed his partner up the chipped cement stairs to the street above.
How MI-5 Spoke Condescendingly of Its Rival,
and Took an Opposing Stand On the Main Topic.
Napoleon replaced the telephone with a puzzled look on his face.
“Did you reach our friend from last night?” Illya asked after a moment when no comment was volunteered.
“Yes,” said Napoleon, “I did. I’m still not sure who he is, but he told me to go to a friend of his in the Foreign Office if we were interested in some quasi-official co-operation on the problem of Johnnie Rainbow.”
“Somebody in MI-5, apparently. He wasn’t about to spell out the name for me; I got the impression he expected me to know who he was talking about. Very strange...”
“MI-5? What business would military intelligence have with a bank robber?”
Solo shrugged. “What business do we have with a bank robber, since you ask. There seem to be more aspects to this mess than anyone suspected. Personally, I’m beginning to doubt if we’ll ever untangle all of them.”
“I’d be satisfied to untangle just one or two of them and go home,” said Illya. “This whole operation feels wrong to me.”
“You’re just being Slavic. We’re trained and equipped to fight crime on an international scale, and if two million pounds isn’t an international sum of money, I don’t know what is. I can name several small countries you could practically buy on the open market for that amount in ready cash.”
“Spare me the justifications. If Mr. Waverly assigns me to write traffic tickets in Tierra del Fuego, I’ll do it, even if I don’t understand why.”
“Good fellow,” said Napoleon reassuringly. “There are times when unquestioning obedience is still a virtue. Come on - let’s pop over to this address our anonymous rescuer gave me, and see whether it puts us any closer to the end of the Rainbow and a two-million-pound pot of gold.”
“Address? I thought you said we were going to the Foreign Office. That’s in Whitehall.”
“I know. But this individual isn’t. Apparently he prefers to work out of his own flat, which is about a quarter of a mile away, overlooking St. James’ Park, if I interpret this address correctly.”
Illya shook his head. “Anonymity seems to be a passion with these people.” he said.
“Remember, they first came up with the idea of giving their secret agents numbers rather than code names. Double-Ought-What’shisname, for example.”
“Well, let’s hope we don’t run into him. We seem bound to encounter everyone else engaged in the never-ending fight against crime.”
Napoleon smiled as he slipped into his coat, for the May wind was likely to be chilly, and picked up the umbrella he had purchased the previous day. Slinging it jauntily over his arm, he preceded his somewhat dour partner out the door.
Saint James’ Park was a fine fresh green lawn in the early afternoon sunshine, still sparkling from the morning’s sprinkle. The air was clean and crisp, and all London seemed to have been sluiced free of smoke and haze. The two agents mounted the steps of a stately house standing shoulder-braced between a pair of identical brownstones, and touched a bell beneath one of four speaking tubes. A moment later a voice filtered out, asking the obvious.
“Mister Solo and Mister Kuryakin, from New York. I believe we are expected.”
Though the exact phraseology was not quite clear, the voice seemed to invite them in, and a second or two later the lock on the door to their left chattered as the electrical latch operated.
A flight of carpeted steps led them up to a dimly lit landing, where they could distinguish three figures apparently finishing a conversation. At the top Napoleon looked around a little uneasily, wondering just who they were there to see.
He hoped it was the girl, a sleek aristocratic redhead who gave him a single, direct, slightly insolent glance and proceeded to ignore him; but she seemed to be with the elegantly, almost foppishly dressed gentleman who was already settling a bowler above his broad British face with mathematical precision. He gave Solo and Illya a warm and sincere smile as he did so, speaking to the third man.
“You may as well spare the introductions, old man. I doubt that we shall be meeting these chaps again.”
“I shouldn’t be too sure,” said the other, a short, spare man with bright eyes and a lined face. “You have a great deal in common, you know.”
“That may be,” said the girl, “but I’m not sure I’d care to find out how much.” She gave Napoleon a longer, appraising look.
“Stop tempting Mr. Solo, you little minx,” said the small man, chidingly. “He’s here on business, and you must be off on yours.” He made little shooing motions with his hands, and the couple turned with a cheerful “Good afternoon” floating behind them.
The small man led the way to the front room, where a small fireplace held ashes reminiscent of the previous evening’s chill. Their host indicated two chairs and took a third himself, speaking as he sat.
“I must apologize for all the secrecy,” he said, “But this Rainbow business has gotten completely out of hand, and we’re officially bound up in red tape. Legally, I can’t do a thing to help you, because legally I don’t know a bit about what’s going on.”
“That puts you on a level with us,” said Illya. “I must admit to being more than a little confused by all these goings on. The only people who don’t act like criminals are Scotland Yard, and they deny everything. Is there anything you can tell us, and if not, what are we doing here?”
Their host laughed delightedly, leaning back in his chair. “Of course, of course,” he said. “I imagine this all seems like a game of blind man’s bluff by now - well, in a way it is. But I’ve been wanting to get in touch with you since I heard you were coming over after the Rainbow gang. Something has to be done, and quickly. Scotland Yard won’t, and I can’t. My people aren’t equipped or empowered to work inside the country, except for a few - the couple you just met, for example. Well, not both of them, actually. The man is one of our top professionals; the woman is a talented amateur.”
“Amateur what?” asked Napoleon suspiciously.
“Practically everything,” said the small man with a chuckle. “She’s tried everything else, succeeding superbly at all of it, and now she’s taking a shot at the wider reaches of counter-intelligence. But that’s not what you’re supposed to be interested in. Did you come here to chase girls or Rainbows?”
(snipped pages 45-48)
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