(The story is posted in two parts due to LJ size constraints. This is Part Two.
To read Part One GO HERE)
Illya woke to find himself on a stone floor. His wrists were encased in thick manacles, attached by chains to spikes hammered into the wall. He had been stripped down to his boxers, and now he shivered in the chill of the room. His partner lay beside him, unconscious.
Napoleon, he tried to say, wake up, but no sound came out.
“No need to whisper, Mr. Kuryakin,” a voice observed with a touch of humor. “We're all friends here.”
That voice! Illya opened his mouth to answer, and gasped at the searing pain in his throat. Poison? His eyes widened in sudden panic.
“Calm yourself, Mr. Kuryakin. It's merely the drug wearing off. You'll be able to speak clearly in a moment.”
Illya took a deep breath. The burning sensation faded. “Bar-boz-zi,” he rasped.
“See now? It's feeling much better, isn't it?” The innkeeper stepped into view, holding a THRUSH revolver. He looked taller somehow, and harder.
“What -- happened -- your accent?” His tongue felt thick, useless.
“Ah, yes, the accent. Such a clever deception. No one ever suspects the humble peasant.”
Illya blinked, trying to focus, but the paralyzing effects of the drug in his system made it impossible. His head felt as though it would explode. “Why --?”
“Why am I doing this?" Barbozzi roared with laughter. "The money, of course! Do you think I want to stay in this miserable backwater forever, catering to the whims of ignorant tourists? Bowing and scraping like a servant?” His smile was harsh, predatory. “THRUSH is paying me an obscene amount of money to deliver UNCLE agents into their care, and I am happy to sell my services to them.”
Illya was honestly shocked. “Mr. Waverly -- s-saved your daughter's life!”
“Twenty-three years ago! I've more than repaid the debt, and now THRUSH has made me a better offer. Why, your capture alone has netted me fifty-thousand American dollars, for which I am profoundly grateful.” He chuckled. “Don't feel too badly, Mr. Kuryakin -- the other agents misjudged me, too. They overlooked the bumbling old paesano, just as you and Mr. Solo did.”
“I don't suppose there is...room for negotiation?” Illya gasped, hoping to buy time. His eyes watered from the effort, but he was beginning to make out the wavering shape of his captor.
“Too late for that, Mr. Kuryakin. A team of THRUSH interrogators will be arriving in the morning to question you and Mr. Solo. Suffice it to say, the experience won't be anything to write home about."
“You really are a cold-blooded bastard, aren't you, Barbozzi?” He tried to sit up, but his body refused to obey him. He lost his balance and fell, smashing his cheek against the stone floor.
The innkeepers smile was chilling. “Don't take it personally, Mr. Kuryakin. It's just business." He placed a candle into a niche high in the wall. "Now, if you will excuse me --”
Illya's chin lifted; it was all the movement he could manage. “No.”
“I will not excuse you,” he spat. “I will not excuse...your greed, nor your disloyalty to the good and honorable man who saved your daughter's life. You are a foolish little fish, Luca Barbozzi, swimming in a large and very dangerous ocean. The sharks will make a meal of you before long.”
Barbozzi's face contorted in rage. “How dare you!” He backhanded Illya, a stunning blow. Illya's head snapped back, striking the floor with a sickening crack. For an instant, he thought he might pass out.
The innkeeper brushed a fleck of dust from his cloak. "I will leave you to your insolence, signore. My daughter and I have tickets for the opera this evening, and I don't want to miss the overture. It's Donizetti's Belisario, and Leyla Gencer is singing the role of Antonina. " He took an old-fashioned skeleton key from his pocket, and opened the thick iron door.
“Buona sera," he grinned amiably. "Luca, he hopes you sleep good.”
The door slammed shut, enshrouding them in darkness.
“Bozhe moy, Napoleon, wake up! Razbudit!” Illya shouted until he was hoarse. “We have to get out of here! Pazhaluista, wake up!”
At last, the senior agent's eyes opened. “Jesus! Don't -- shout.”
Illya sighed in relief.
“The cellar of the hotel.” He noted the dilated pupils, the shallow breath sounds. “Are you alright?”
Napoleon nodded. “Lucrezia must -- have drugged me somehow. You, too?”
“A paralytic. I cannot move my legs.”
Napoleon took a long, unsteady breath, and groaned as the room tilted crazily out of kilter. “How long was I out?”
“Over an hour. Barbozzi and the daughter are gone. A concert at La Fenice.”
“That gives us roughly an hour to figure a way out of here.”
“Agreed.” Illya looked down at his boxers, and sighed. “They didn't leave us much to work with, did they?”
“Not even an aspirin, and God knows I could use one right now.”
They examined their surroundings, barely visible in candle's weak glow. Plaster walls. No windows. A few barred air vents set into the lower portion of the wall. A wine rack filled with dusty bottles. A set of tiny wine tasting glasses and a corkscrew atop a battered table. A bowl of discarded corks.
“Another wine cellar,” Illya observed dismally. “All things considered, I think I prefer the canal.”
The hint of a smile crossed Napoleon's lips. “All things considered, tovarisch, I'm inclined to agree with you. Now then, what say we find a way to get these chains off, before --”
A siren began to wail.
Napoleon and Illya exchanged uneasy glances. “The acqua alta.”
They counted. One. Two. Three --
“-- four alarms,” Napoleon said, and felt a chill run down his spine.
“And we are in a basement.”
“How much time do we have?”
Illya glanced at the doorjamb, then at the exposed air vents. Water was already beginning to gush through, pooling on the stone floor. “Not much. Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes.” he sighed. “I told you Venice was bad for my health.”
The water began to rise.
They pulled at the chains with all their strength, but the spikes held fast. The manacles around their wrists were tightly fitted as well, allowing no room for movement of any kind. “Houdini could not escape from these,” Illya remarked dismally.
The water rushed in. It soaked through their thin boxers, raising goosebumps on their bare skin and setting their teeth to chattering.
"Barbozzi will have to come back for us," Napoleon said. THRUSH will kill him if the merchandise drowns."
Illya shook his head. "The water is rising too fast. Even with a boat, he will not arrive in time."
Napoleon sighed, as though he had expected the answer. "So, we're on our own."
“How are your legs, tovarisch? Any feeling yet?”
“Some,” he gasped. In truth, they burned as though they were on fire. "Why?"
“Any chance you can reach that corkscrew? I'm too far away. Maybe we can use it to pick the locks on these manacles.”
Illya assessed the distance. “Perhaps.” He stretched out his body, and nearly cried out from the pain. His muscles trembled from the residual effects of the drug, shoulders and wrists protesting as they strained against the confines of the manacles. He stretched until he thought his arms would rip out of their sockets. It wasn't far enough.
He pulled at the chains, gritting his teeth against the pain, claiming an inch of ground, and then another. His wrists became slick with blood. Finally, Illya felt his toes make contact with the end of the corkscrew.
“Da.” He closed his toes around the handle, and lifted the precious implement with desperate care. It took what seemed an eternity, and several times he nearly dropped it, but eventually he was able to bring the corkscrew to within reach of his fingers.
Napoleon exhaled. “Looks like all that gymnastics training is finally paying off.”
The bottom row of wine bottles was underwater now.
Illya twisted his body, and guided the end of the corkscrew into the lock. Sweat broke out on his brow as he concentrated, working the tip of the tool back and forth over the tumblers. His tongue licked parched lips. Once, it fell from his numbed fingers, and he lost time searching for it in the turgid water. At last, he heard the final tumbler click and, with a snap, the lock gave way. He slid the manacles from his bloodied wrists, and turned to work on Napoleon's restraints. The second lock proved a good deal more challenging than the first, but finally it too gave way. Napoleon was free.
Okay,” he said, rubbing his wrists to restore circulation, “let's get out of here.”
The water was waist-deep now, and icy cold.
They splashed their way along the chamber walls, searching for a way out, but found nothing. “These walls are several inches thick,” Illya said. “It would take hours to break through.”
“We don't have hours." Napoleon rapped the iron door. The sound echoed dully in the small chamber. "Maybe we can disassemble the door hinges.”
Illya shook his head. “They are on the other side of the door. The ceiling --?”
“Worth a try.”
He dragged himself onto Napoleon's shoulders and inspected the roof of the chamber.
“It appears to be carved from a single block of stone,” Illya replied, sliding back into the churning water. “We cannot escape that way.”
They were forced to swim now. Dozens of wine bottles, liberated from their shelves, floated about the chamber. Discarded corks bobbed like fishing lures in the swirling current. “I can't believe they stored their good wine down here,” Napoleon sighed. “What a waste.”
Illya eyed the swiftly rising water. “I am far more worried about the waste of two good lives.”
The flood waters continued to rise, cresting the top of the iron door.
"Illya,” Napoleon said suddenly, “a hotel wine cellar would need a service door for deliveries, wouldn't it?”
“We checked. There was no --”
“A service door for deliveries by boat! Deliveries from the canal! This is Venice, remember? Everything is tied to the canal.”
“There are no doors,” Illya repeated patiently. “We looked.”
“We were looking too high up. The service door would have to be lower down, close to the canal, to allow for the boat to unload its cargo. A door --”
“-- built a hundred years ago, before the city began to sink so quickly!” Illya's eyes lit with comprehension. “The stairs to the hotel, the ones leading up from the canal -- Napoleon, they were new!”
“-- to replace the old set, which was underwater!”
They dove, frantically searching the base of the walls for any sort of opening, surfacing only when their lungs were ready to burst. The water level had nearly reached the ceiling. Soon, the entire chamber would be submerged. Time was running out.
Napoleon surfaced, coughing and gasping. “Found it!” he cried. “It's been plastered over.”
They thrust their faces into the remaining air pocket, sucking in great gulps of precious oxygen. “We will only have one chance,” Illya said quietly.
Napoleon nodded. “Let's make it count.”
They dove deep, and Illya saw what they had missed before -- the telltale rectangular edges of cracking plaster. They kicked with all their might, pummeling the spot again and again, as their lungs screamed for oxygen and their strength waned. Above them, the candle flickered and went out.
Suddenly the old door gave way and, with a great gushing sound, they were propelled into the canal. They surfaced underneath the hotel dock, gasping and sputtering, covered in garbage and surrounded by bottles of vintage wine.
Passers-by gathered on the opposite shore, gawking at the sight of two grown men swimming in the canal in their underwear. “Pazzi Americani,” they laughed, as though that explained everything. Shaking their heads, they reached down to pull the lunatics out of the filthy water.
Napoleon seized a bottle of red wine as it floated by. “Brunello di Montalcino 1962. A very good year.”
Illya sneezed. “What did I tell you, Napoleon? Venice is terrible for my health.” He sneezed again.
“Gesundheit,” Napoleon replied, “but you did say you preferred the canal.”
Alexander Waverly lifted the china teacup to his lips, and sipped the soothing Oolong blend. Across the room, Napoleon poured himself another cup of coffee, and selected a Danish from the tray on the table. Illya buried his nose in a tissue and blew.
“Well, gentlemen,” The Old Man said, “thanks to you, not only have we captured Luca Barbozzi and his daughter -- we also managed to intercept the team of THRUSH interrogators as they arrived at the hotel. Our legal department will see to it that the guilty parties are locked away for a very long time.”
“That's good news,” Napoleon replied. “I only wish we could have saved the lives of the five agents.”
“Indeed.” Waverly turned expectantly toward Illya. “Mr. Kuryakin, you haven't said much about the Affair since your return.”
Illya's eyes were tired and bloodshot, his cheeks rosy with fever. “I am very glad to be done with Venice,” he answered.
Illya hesitated. “It troubles me, sir, the ease with which Barbozzi justified his actions. He has you to thank for his daughter's life, and yet --”
“-- and yet he betrayed us.” Waverly sighed, and drained his cup. “I confess, Mr. Kuryakin, it troubles me, too. Luca Barbozzi sold his soul to THRUSH for thirty pieces of silver, and five good men are dead because of his treachery.” He gazed into the empty cup as though, like some arcane riddle, the answer lay in the dregs. “Human nature at its very worst, I suppose. Greed is a powerful motivator.”
“So is honor,” Illya declared firmly.
After a moment, The Old Man smiled. “Yes, Mr. Kuryakin, and thank Heaven for that.”