(Posted in two parts due to LJ format constraints. Just follow the link to Part 2)
The Rome Olympiad Affair
Rome, Italy – Wednesday, August 24, 1960.
Illya stepped off the BOAC jet, shielding his eyes against the blazing Roman sun. He smiled and waved along with the rest of the British Olympic team, using the opportunity to scan the large and enthusiastic crowd for signs of THRUSH.
"Bloody hell!” hissed Jaspar Endicott, Illya's teammate in the four-by-two-hundred free, “it's like a sauna out here. You'd think the powers-that-be would have considered the temperatures when they designed our uniforms. I mean really -- wool! Five minutes in this heat and I'm positively sopping!” He tugged miserably at his tie.
Illya glanced without enthusiasm at the navy blue blazer and grey wool slacks that constituted the team uniform. “It could be worse,” he shrugged.
“I'll bite -- how?”
He gestured toward the marching band standing at attention on the shimmering tarmac. As if on cue the musicians, red-faced and sweating, segued into an earnest -- if slightly off-key -- version of God Save the Queen. Their epaulettes swayed like suspension bridges as they played, the candy-colored plumes atop their helmets bobbing comically in time to the music. The sousaphone player, a plump, dyspeptic fellow, looked on the verge of passing out.
Endicott groaned. “Good Lord, I see what you mean.”
At a signal from their IOC liaison, the athletes descended the stairs to the tarmac, where they shook hands with the Mayor of Rome and accepted bouquets of flowers from a group of freshly scrubbed schoolchildren. When it was Illya's turn, a child of five or six stepped forward, bowing, and handed him a nosegay of red and white carnations tied with a green ribbon. “Bienvenuto a Roma, signore. Buona fortuna.”
“Grazie, mio piccolo amico,” Illya replied solemnly. “Avrò bisogno.”
The child grinned in relief, his duty discharged, and stepped gratefully back into line.
The athletes made their way toward the terminal, flanked by the chanting, cheering crowd. Illya continued to scan his surroundings, alert for any sign of trouble. It was unlikely that the enemy would choose to strike here, but still, it never hurt to be --
There! those two security officers! Illya's eyes narrowed. THRUSH, by the look of them. Not the brainless goons the Hierarchy usually sent, either. Senior agents. Judging by the bulges under their jackets, the pair was exceedingly well-armed, and looked as though they meant business.
He picked out another THRUSH hiding among the crush of journalists covering the team's arrival. This one was attempting to masquerade as a photographer, but the fool had forgotten to take the lens cap off his camera -- an oversight that marked the man as careless. Not long for this life, Illya thought wryly.
As they neared the entrance to the terminal, he spotted two more THRUSH disguised as baggage handlers. Under their coveralls they, too, were armed to the teeth.
Illya sighed. It looked like UNCLE's fears were justified -- THRUSH was planning mischief here at the Games.
“Quite a jolly welcome!” Endicott shouted over the din. “Couldn't you just die?”
Glancing back at the five THRUSH agents, Illya acknowledged that it was, indeed, quite a welcome. He fervently hoped to avoid the dying part.
The Olympic Village was a sprawling complex of modern apartments situated on the banks of the Tiber River, overlooking the Stadio Olimpico. Nearly eight-thousand athletes, the cream of the crop from eighty-four nations, would call the Village home for the next two weeks.
Illya and his teammates endured the lengthy IOC registration process with typical British fortitude. When it was over, the men hauled their luggage up the four flights of stairs to their assigned rooms. The women's team was herded onto another bus, this one consigned to transport them across the Via Veneto to separate, Females Only facilities -- an attempt by the IOC organizers to minimize inappropriate fraternization of the sexes during the Games.
“As if mere distance could keep us apart!” Jaspar Endicott remarked cheerfully. “I vote we go and visit our dear, cloistered Sisters In Sport -- in case they're bored, I mean. Or in need of liberating. Who's with me? Bennett? Finchley?”
“I'm in,” Tommy Bennett declared, slipping on his loafers. “There's this cute little gymnast on the Canadian Team --”
Illya shook his head. “You chaps go ahead,” he declared in a perfect upper-crust British accent. “I want to unpack and have a bit of a nap before supper.”
“A nap?” Endicott's jaw dropped. “You do realize this is the Olympics, don't you, Davey? A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You didn't come all the way to Rome just to sleep, did you?”
“Of course not. I came to win a medal, preferably a gold one. Practice begins at six A.M. tomorrow morning, and the competition starts the day after that. I want to be well rested.”
“Oh, for heaven's sake, Finchley! You can sleep when you're dead. Come on, it'll be fun.”
Endicott grabbed his camera. “Well, I'm certainly not going to waste the opportunity,” he crowed cheerfully. “Come on, Tommy, let's see if some of the other fellows are keen to join us.”
Amid much back-slapping and raucous commentary, the men departed.
The moment Illya was alone, he began a painstaking search of their quarters, upending cots, peeling back the carpet and rifling through his roommates' belongings. Twenty minutes later, he was satisfied that Jaspar and Tommy were exactly who they claimed to be, and that there were no listening devices, hidden cameras or booby traps lurking in the bedding or concealed beneath the floorboards, waiting to spoil his afternoon. He stretched out upon the narrow bed and assembled his cigarette case communicator. “Open Channel D, overseas, London, scramble.
“Beldon here,” the voice responded. “What have you to report, Mr. Kuryakin?”
“I have arrived in Rome, sir. Unfortunately, so has THRUSH. They are here in numbers, and definitely up to something.”
A pause. “Are you sure, Mr. Kuryakin? Perhaps they're merely spectators in town to enjoy the Games.” In the background, a woman giggled.
Illya bit back an impatient retort. “Sir, there were five THRUSH waiting for me at the airport -- all well-armed, including two senior agents. I do not think they are here to visit the Vatican.”
“Did they approach you? Threaten you in any way?”
“No sir. They seemed content to observe.”
“Hmm.” Another pause. “Their purpose?”
“Unknown as yet.”
The sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass. “Yes, well, I suppose you're right to be concerned, Mr. Kuryakin. Continue to observe the situation, and keep me informed of your progress. You are to do nothing -- I repeat, nothing -- without a direct order from me. Is that clear?”
Illya sighed. “Yes sir.”
“We have agents in place at each of the venues in case you run into trouble. Use the code phrase “'Do you have a 1957 Sputnik pin to trade?' to identify yourself. The response is 'Those are very rare. Can I interest you in a vintage pin from the '36 Games?'”
Illya committed the phrases to memory. “Is there anything else I should be doing, sir?”
Beldon's roaring laugh rumbled across the airwaves. “Patience, Mr. Kuryakin. All in good time. I guarantee that when THRUSH makes its move, you'll be the first to hear about it. Beldon, out.”
“That,” Illya muttered to his silent communicator, “is precisely what I am afraid of.”
As night fell, Illya began his reconnaissance of the city, familiarizing himself with the locations and access points leading to and from the various venues.
His own event, the four-by-two-hundred meter freestyle relay, would be held at the nearby Stadio del Nuoto -- the Aquatic Stadium. Practices would be at the training pool in the Foro Italico, the faux Roman sports palace built by Benito Mussolini. Within a five mile radius were a dozen other venues, including the Stadio Olimpico (track and field events), the Basilica of Maxentius (wrestling), and the Caracalla Baths (gymnastics). Then there were the outdoor events -- the sailing competition, which would be held in the Bay of Naples, the crew events, located at Lake Albano, and the shooting competition being staged at the Cesano Infantry School, an hour's drive north of the city. He wondered how UNCLE would ever be able to monitor them all.
As he wandered down the Via delle Tre Fontane, he spied one of his UNCLE contacts descending the wide marble staircase of the Palazzo dei Congressi. Stepping back into the shadow of a nearby building, Illya watched the man look left, and then right. He consulted a crumpled map, and turned toward the Via Tintoretto.
“Scusi, signore, do you have a 1957 Sputnik pin to trade?”
Napoleon Solo looked up in surprise; his eyes lit with recognition. “Those are very rare,” he recited. “Would you be interested in a vintage pin from the '36 Games?”
“Only if it comes with better code phrases.”
Napoleon laughed. “Yeah, sometimes the guys in Cryptography can be pretty corny.” He held out his hand. “Napoleon Solo. We met in London last year.”*
“Illya nodded. “Yes, I remember.” He took Napoleon's hand, found it warm and firm.
“Good to see a friendly face for a change. I've been tracking a couple of THRUSH couriers for the better part of an afternoon. I swear, they're coming out of the woodwork for these Games.”
“THRUSH does seem to be everywhere. I counted five agents at the airport this morning. Mr. Beldon does not seem unduly concerned by their presence, but --”
“-- but that's a lot of THRUSH for just your average reconnaissance.” Napoleon glanced around the crowded piazza. “Listen, I haven't eaten a thing since breakfast. Why don't we find someplace where we can sit down and grab a bite? We can compare notes while we eat.”
Illya's belly rumbled at the thought of food. “I never refuse an offer of sustenance,” he replied cheerfully.
They found a cozy trattoria off the Via Marghera, and chose an outside table under the pergola. They ordered iced Campari, garnished with a wedge of fresh lemon, while they perused the menu. Illya decided on the fettuccini, which the waiter promised would be served al dente; Napoleon, the mussels fra diavolo.
“We should probably get our cover stories straight,” Napoleon suggested once the waiter had gone, “in case we run into somebody we know.”
“Of course. My passport lists me as David Finchley of Kingston-Upon-Hull, an alternate on the British Swim Team,”
“Nice accent,” Napoleon chuckled. “Although I'm a bit surprised your superiors didn't make use of your gymnastics training for this mission.”
“I am too well known in Soviet gymnastics circles -- someone would have recognized me before very long. As a swimmer, I can remain anonymous.” He sipped his Campari, enjoying the bitter taste of the pomegranates. “And you?”
“Charlie Cooper of Des Moines, Iowa, a pole vault coach for the U.S. Track and Field Team. I competed in the pole vault in college, so the role isn't too much of a stretch.”
Illya filed the information away. “Do we know anything regarding the nature of the threat?”
“Only that it involves the testing of some new type of weaponry.”
He looked up sharply. “Another doomsday device?”
“Let's hope not. With so many tourists crowding into Rome for the Games, I shudder to think of how many innocent people might be hurt.”
Their entrees arrived just then -- steaming bowls of pasta, and mussels simmering in a fragrant, spicy sauce. The waiter uncorked a bottle of chianti to accompany the dishes, and set it on the table along with two glasses. The agents nodded their thanks, and proceeded to attack their meals with gusto. The pasta was every bit as good as the waiter had promised, and Napoleon's mussels were exquisitely fresh and tender.
“On a lighter topic,” Napoleon inquired between bites, “what's it like, working in the London Office? Quite a change from Cambridge, I imagine.”
“I have learned a great deal in my year there. Sir Winston runs a tight ship.”
“That he does. And Harry Beldon? He mentors the new agents for Sir Winston, doesn't he?”
Illya hesitated. “I -- have no complaints.”
Napoleon's eyebrows rose. “That's not exactly a ringing endorsement,” he replied carefully.
“Forgive me. If you'd rather not discuss it --”
“No, it is all right,” he sighed. “It is merely that I find his rampant self-indulgence rather distasteful. And he tends to micromanage every mission. However, the man is undeniably brilliant, and no one knows more about Eastern Europe than he does. There are rumors that he will be tapped to take over the Berlin desk, now that Oppenheimer is retiring.”
“Yes, I'd heard that, too.”
They finished their meals, and lingered awhile over the wine, watching the throngs of revelers strolling by. The cobbled streets were jammed with tourists, and the atmosphere was a festive one. If it wasn't for the threat of imminent catastrophe, it would have been a beautiful night.
“We should start heading back,” Napoleon said at last. “We don't want to miss curfew, and I've still got a report to file with Mr. Waverly.”
They wandered back along the Via Flaminia, and parted at the edge of the Tiber, judging it unwise to be seen entering the Olympic Village together.
“Buona notte,” Napoleon called as he crossed the Corso di Francia. “Get some rest. And try and stay out of trouble.”
“Where is the fun in that?” Illya replied, smiling.