Illya Kuryakin glanced around the bland concrete box of an office. Early realist architecture. Not the glass and steel spectacle of the Navy’s showpiece, and none of the occasional surprising beauty of the converted palaces.
He handed his ID to the girl at the front desk. Common papers, not the gold UNCLE card. No need to generate gossip when he was only paying a social call on an old friend.
She glanced at it lightly, handing it back without comment as she turned to the intercom. “General Kosov - you have a visitor. A Illya Kuryakin?”
A flicker caught Illya’s eye. The double fixture overhead. One of the light bulbs was burning out. Poor maintenance, No, Illya corrected himself. The room was clean enough, so likely it was that no new light bulbs were to be had. This was not the privileged enclave of the Leningrad Admiralty. Just an unremarkable workplace for one more apparently unremarkable officer.
If they only knew.
But then, even in the new State not all men were rewarded as their inner talents might deserve. At least - not immediately.
Eventually, all deeds were properly repaid. Fate was... just.
“Kuryakin?” The answering voice on the intercom was echoed only seconds later by the same voice calling, far louder, from the back doorway.
“Illya Nickovetch!” General Kosov rushed out, clasping the slighter blond man by the shoulders. “Such a delight! What brings you to Moscow?”
Illya raised one eyebrow. “Aeroflot, of course.”
That brought a belly laugh, as the graying man in uniform pressed Illya back towards his office. “So don’t tell me. All you important agents with you secrets don't talk to a poor regular navy officer.”
“Sorry, Pitor Ivanovich, but...”
“No, NO.” Another, lower chuckle. “I understand. Better for us all. So - if you can not tell me what brings you to Moscow, can you at least say what brings you to my office?”
Illya spun lightly out of his grip, turning back to snatch a large box form it’s concealment behind the receptionists desk. “Better to ask what *I* bring.”
Illya hefted the unmarked package, stepping through the open door to set it gently on the cluttered metal desk inside. It settled with a slight but audible clink.
General Kosov flipped open the untied top and pulled out a in a purple bag.
Sliding put the elaborate bottle, he held it eagerly up to the faint overhead light, gazing with knowledgeable appreciation at the glints in the amber fluid.
“Illya. This is the good stuff. Where did you find it? Or should I not ask that as well?”
Illya settled gracefully into one of the hard metal chairs. “No secret. I brought it in my luggage - from Scotland.”
Kosov set the bottle down, sliding open a file cabinet and pulling out two glasses. “And you got it past customs?”
“Diplomatic pouch. I am international now.”
“And enjoying the privileges.”
Illya stifled a chuckle - none to successfully. “All men have their failings, Comrade General.”
Kosov filled one glass within centimeters of the top, taking a sip before he reached for the other glass. “Wonderful stuff. I didn't even think you drank Scotch.”
“I don't.” Illya slid his hand over the second glass. “ I will have some of your vodka. Good vodka is impossible to get in New York.”
The older man reached back into the filing cabinet, producing a large bottle to fill the second class. “Still fiercely proletariat.”
“So my partner complains.” Illya took a shallow sip of the clear liquid. “Ah, that is excellent. I have missed this.”
Kosov dropped into his own chair. “Well, you should have no problem taking back a case or two. Not if you have this to trade.”
“I will keep that in mind.” Illya lifted his glass. “To the service? Shall we drink to that?”
“To the Navy.” Kosov answered, “And to your service as well.”
Illya drained half the glass, putting it down on the desk to be refilled.
Kosov did likewise, topping both glasses before he continued. “Can you at least tell me how long you will be staying? Kata will want to cook up a dinner, if you have time.”
“Just the one day. Perhaps two. ” Illya raised his glass again, waiting for his companion to drink before he continued. “I flew from Lisbon this morning on a special assignment, and I will have little cause to stay once it is done.”
“So important.” The General again topped up their glasses. Did you ever think, Illya, when I sponsored you to the GRU that we would come to this? Me a General, and you a so-important spy?”
“When you sponsored me, I was simply glad to be *off* of that boat.” Illya laughed, then turned serious. “No, Pitor Ivanovich, if they had told me how high we two would rise, and in what service, I would have denied it.” Illya again raised his glass. “But we do what we do.”
“And you can not say what you do.”
“Actually, in this case I can.”
Illya reached across the desk, topping up the other man’s drink before raising his own.”
“Truly?” Kosov answered the silent toast.
“I have here on special assignment. A man named Mandor. He was second in command of THRUSH until about a year ago. He was killed last week in Lisbon. Internal power struggle.” Illya waved off the details. “ But of course, you would not have heard of that? Quite a loss for THRUSH. And perhaps for UNCLE. But...” Illya took another sip. “Before he died he .... gave us names.”
The General leaned forward. “Significant names?”
“Very. This very morning UNCLE arrested Percival Mendon - the head of THRUSH London.”
“Mendon?” Kosov made a show of rubbing his chin. “Isn't he...?
“Minister for Finance. “
“Well then.” Kosov spoke heartily. “That is good news. You are to be congratulated.”
“Good news for UNCLE.” Illya nodded, again raising his glass. “The information did not exactly endear UNCLE to Mendon's party. Nasty scandal for the Conservatives.”
“You are the one who knows the British.” Kosov took another deep drink, then refilled his glass. “But these do not sound like class allies.”
Illya leaned back, as if in consideration. “It should help the Labor party.”
“So... you look on the bright side.” Kosov raised his glass. “ You are being a good socialist, Illya Nickovetch.”
“My partner complains of that as well.”
“And you have his men too.” Kosov pressed, refuting Illya’s questioning look with “You did use the plural.”
“Most observant.” Illya conceded. “I should not have been so careless around an old teacher. But no - the other name he gave us was.... Moscow.”
“Moscow.” The glass dropped from Kosov’s suddenly numb fingers. “He did not...?”
“I regret that he did.” Illya stood, wiping his glass carefully before setting it back into the file drawer. “Matters should be painless. Much like a sudden stroke. Or so our lab assured me.” He picked up the fallen glass, wiping it also. “And it will look like a misfortune with back market goods. A sad weakness in a general officer, but forgivable.”
Kosov gasped, shaking slightly, but could no longer speak.
Illya lowered the stricken body back to the desk, wrapping one hand gently around the lethal glass.
“I am sorry Pitor Ivanovich. If your name were revealed, the Navy would be discredited. Kata would be disgraced. It is truly better this way.”
With a final faint salute, he rose and silently left the room.