LOCATING THE KEY
A sequel to Something Quite Different.
Illya undertakes his undercover assignment.
An established relationship story.
Written: May 2015. Word count: 4,065.
Napoleon sat in the office he shared with Illya reading a file. Suddenly he heard a noise; it sounded as if someone was kicking or thumping the door. Frowning he stood up, strode to the door and opened it. A second later he caught and steadied Illya who had apparently been in the process of hitting the door again and was somewhat off-balance.
"About time too!" Illya muttered, letting Napoleon steady him for a moment. "Here, make yourself useful and take some of these." He nodded at the pile of books he held.
Swiftly Napoleon took the pile of books from Illya's hands and took them into their office; Illya rearranged the bags he had under each arm and followed him inside. Napoleon put the now teetering pile of books down on Illya's desk and swiftly turned them into two piles as Illya put the various bags on the floor and sank down into his chair and leaned back.
"They were heavy," he said, "and more awkward than I thought they would be."
Napoleon sat on the edge of Illya's desk and began to look at the books; all of them were to do with knitting. Some were for beginners, some for those at an intermediate level, some for advanced knitters, there was a knitting bible, a very large book on the history of knitting, a book purely about various knitting stitches and finally a couple of books of patterns. Even for Illya who always immersed himself totally in any new subject, it was an impressive array of books. There were also far more than could technically be taken out on one ticket.
He raised an eyebrow. "How come they allowed you to take so many out, Illya? What did you do seduce the librarian?"
Illya gave him a saccharine-sweet smile and narrowed his eyes. "That, my friend, is your style, not mine. No, I merely used my skills of persuasion; I explained that I was working on a very important project and needed to do extensive research. Of course it helps that I am well known at the library, unlike some people I could mention, and am known as someone who takes care of books and returns them on time - well usually on time. It is somewhat difficult to return books when you are not actually in the state, let alone the city."
"That's my Illya," Napoleon said, which earned him a flat stare.
Then to his partial surprise Illya shrugged, gave him a genuine, fairly intimate smile and said softly, "Well that statement is at least accurate. Now, I believe someone promised to buy me dinner."
"I have to finish reading this file. It won't take me long, we can go as soon as I've finished. What's in the bags, by the way?"
To his surprise Illya's cheeks actually colored a little and he glanced away from Napoleon before shrugging looking back at him and saying, his tone was somewhat defiant and it certainly dared Napoleon to laugh, "Wool, knitting needles, a couple of patterns, a row counter, scissors, needles for sewing garments together, a tape measure, and a few other things associated with the art of knitting."
"Oh," Napoleon said. "So you are going to teach yourself to knit?"
Illya rolled his eyes and shot Napoleon his patented 'why do I have an idiot for a partner'? look; it was the look he employed at least once a day. "If I am to work in a wool shop, Napoleon, I have to be able to knit, do I not? How else will I be able to give advice if I cannot actually knit?"
"Um. Well, I just thought . . . So what are you planning on knitting?"
"I have not completely decided yet. Most books recommend you start with something simple, like a scarf or a blanket for a baby. However, if I am to convince the lady for whom Mr. Waverly wishes me to work to employ me, I believe I should be somewhat more advanced in the art of knitting. So I believe I might knit you a sweater."
Napoleon was surprised. "A sweater? For me?" He was absurdly pleased.
"Yes - you make it with wool. I will knit you a sweater which you will wear, will you not?" Illya stared hard at him.
Napoleon nodded quickly. "Of course I'll wear it, Illya." He knew his tone made it clear quite how touched he was.
The hard look faded, to be replaced with a soft one and Illya smiled once more in his fairly intimate way. "I shall begin when we get home after dinner."
"Oh, but I thought . . ." Napoleon trailed off as Illya flashed him a look which made him swallow hard and wonder if he dared to close the gap between them, pull Illya to his feet and kiss him, despite their 'no fraternizing while at work' pledge. After all, Illya had allowed him to kiss him earlier in the day.
"I do not intend to spend the entire evening on it, Napoleon. There will be plenty of time for other - activities, shall we say. Now finish reading your file while I obtain a couple of boxes to put the books in; they will be easier to carry that way."
Napoleon swallowed hard and returned to his desk and quickly finished reading the file.
"There really are some things you do extremely well," Illya said in a sultry tone. He tipped his head back on the pillow and offered Napoleon his mouth. His lips were already kiss swollen from the intense kisses Napoleon had bestowed on him. However, Napoleon was always more than happy to kiss him.
He settled down next to his partner, adjusted his embrace and put his mouth on Illya's and began to kiss him. Illya made a rare, low noise of pleasure, pressed himself against Napoleon and parted his lips, his invitation was clear; Napoleon accepted it eagerly. As he slipped his tongue into Illya's mouth, he let one of his hand travel down Illya's body until it found the beginnings of Illya's erection; he wrapped his hand around it and began to stroke Illya as he loved to be stroked.
Illya gasped softly and took his mouth from Napoleon's and looked at him. "Again?" he murmured.
Napoleon nodded. "Yes, Lusha, again."
Illya gave him a genuinely sweet smile; it wasn't one Napoleon saw often. "Yes, there are indeed things you do extremely well." Once more Illya offered Napoleon his mouth, as Napoleon stroked him to climax.
"I'm really not entirely sure, Mr. Collins," the lady who owned the knitting store said to Illya. Her tone, like the look she was giving him, was dubious. "Do you know anything about knitting and wool?"
Illya nodded. "Yes. My grandmother taught me to knit at a very young age and since then it has been an interest of mine. I know a great deal about wool and stitches. May I show you what I am currently working on?"
Her face brightened. "Yes, do."
Illya pulled the half-finished front of the jumper he was knitting for Napoleon out of his bag and handed it to Mrs. Wilson. He fully expected it to impress her and believed it would do the trick and that she would give him the job as her assistant. Even he had to admit he was rather pleased with it, especially as it was a fairly intricate, detailed pattern.
He had found that knitting came easily and naturally to him; following patterns was just like following a scientific experiment, as long as you took it step by step, it came easily. The hardest part had been casting on. That had taken him a considerable amount of time and multiple attempts as he swore in Russian and Napoleon sat quietly and watched him over the top of the newspaper he had been pretending to read. More than once he had given serious consideration to giving up. However, the thought firstly of having to admit to Napoleon that there was something he could not do, as well as having to explain to Mr. Waverly that he had failed, had encouraged him to continue trying, and suddenly the stitches were on the needle and he was whizzing through the first couple of rows.
"This is excellent, Mr. Collins," Mrs. Wilson said.
Illya smiled, forced his cheeks to color slightly and said. "Thank you, Mrs. Wilson, and please call me Nicholas."
She smiled. "You're English, aren't you?"
Illya nodded. "Yes." They had decided, given how polite Americans thought English people were, as well as how quaint they thought their accent was, that portraying himself as an English young man studying in America, might tip the scales in his favor when it came to being offered the job.
"I've always wanted to go to England," she said, her tone was a little wistful. "Where exactly are you from?"
"Cambridge," Illya said. After all, it wasn't a total lie; he had spent a few years at Cambridge university.
"I've heard that's a beautiful city."
Illya nodded. "Yes, it is."
"I tell you what, I'll put the kettle on and we can have a pot of tea and a nice chat about knitting and England, and then we'll see how you get on in the store this afternoon. I think my customers will like you; it'll be nice to have someone young around the place. Would you like that, Nicholas?"
Illya nodded. "Yes, thank you, Mrs. Wilson."
She looked at him. "So polite. But do call me Martha. I don't believe in standing on ceremony. Now I'll just go and put the kettle on."
Illya had to his amusement and surprise thoroughly enjoyed his first four days working in the wool store - it certainly beat being kidnapped, tied up, tortured, shot at, punched and threatened with death. For the most part his job had been very easy and effortless, although he had shifted an awful lot of boxes as part of the reorganization Martha had decided to do.
Well, actually, the idea that they reorganize had been his idea; within half a day of working in the store he had decided it was rather illogically laid out. Thus, he had carefully raised the subject and had managed to do so in a way which led to Martha actually believing it had been her idea to reorganize the place. He hadn't realized, until they started to move things around, quite how heavy a box of wool could be.
Other than that he had helped customers choose wool and patterns; he had given advice on colors and had been asked more than once which color he thought went better with which. That part of his job actually amused him greatly as matching colors or even caring about them wasn't something he had ever given any real thought to. Black went with pretty much everything, especially black or white. However, it appeared despite his inexperience he actually had quite a knack for knowing what went with what, as well as what would suit a particular customer. Napoleon, when he told him about it, had found it hilarious. He had found it so hilarious that Illya had threatened to make him sleep on the couch if he didn't stop laughing.
He even helped people who had got into difficulties with their knitting and found himself at one point undoing several inches of knitting simply to correct a fault which the knitter had failed to notice until quite some time after she had caused it. He had to admit that side of knitting really held no appeal to him; it was rather demoralizing to undo hard work.
The store was fairly busy and given Martha's age, he put her to be in her late seventies if not her early eighties and although she was fit and healthy and quite spry, she did tire fairly easily, he could see why she needed an assistant. He just hoped that when he had to leave that she would be able to find someone else. He made a mental note to ask Mr. Waverly if maybe Mrs. Waverly might know of someone suitable to take his place. However, despite being fairly busy, they weren't constantly rushed off their feet and both spent the time when they weren't helping or serving customers knitting. He had completed the front of the jumper and was now onto the back. Once again he had had some trouble casting on, but Martha had seen him and showed him a far better way, saying she had learned it from her grandmother.
Yes, he was enjoying his time. The only two downsides were that he found he actually missed spending his days or at least parts of his days with Napoleon, and so far there had not been any sign of Thrush activity. He actually began to wonder if for once Mr. Waverly's 'trusted source' had been incorrect. He suggested as much one evening to Napoleon as he lay in his arms following Napoleon once again proving there were some things at which he excelled. Napoleon, however, had repeated the person had never been wrong.
He reached the end of the row he was currently knitting just as the door chime jingled. He put his knitting down and turned to the door. He was slightly surprised to see a man had come in; they did have a handful of regular male customers or men who came in with their wives. However, Illya had not seen this particular man before.
"May I help you, sir?" he asked in his politest, most English tone.
"Is Mrs. Wilson around?" the man asked.
"Yes. I can fetch her or maybe I could help you, to save disturbing her."
"I have some knitting patterns I want to sell. They were my wife's," the man said, then added his tone soft, "she died. She would have wanted other people to get as much pleasure from the patterns as she got. Someone told me Mrs. Wilson buys patterns; they're in good condition. You'd barely know they'd been used."
Illya decided against offering his condolences; they would sound like nothing more than mere words. He hadn't known the lady; he didn't believe in being trite. Maybe if the man had paused after 'she died', he would have said something. However, as he had continued to speak, it now seemed too late.
Instead he decided to do something practical. "I'll fetch, Mrs. Wilson," he said.
Illya nodded and hurried off.
He returned with Mrs. Wilson and moved a polite distance away to allow them to carry out their transaction. Mrs. Wilson seemed delighted with the patterns, especially as apparently several of them were rather rare and they certainly were in excellent condition. The man hadn't been lying when he had said it would be hard to know they had actually been used.
When the man had left the store, thanking both Martha and Illya, Illya rejoined Martha and together they looked at the patterns. "Do you get a lot of secondhand patterns?" he asked.
"Well, not a lot. I never used to buy or sell them. However, over the years some of my regular customers started to comment on how expensive new patterns were and also how difficult it was to find something they liked. As you'll have seen I have a mainly fairly elderly clientele, they want to knit something classic. I had a considerable number of old patterns which I had knitted so I decided to see if they would sell. They did and then one day a good friend of mine asked me if I might be interested in buying her rather large collection - she had just had a new granddaughter and between you and me she needed the money badly. So I said yes and it began from there. These are really in excellent condition; I thought I kept my patterns in near pristine condition, but these are better than that. I really would not have believed most of them had been used."
Illya smiled. "Shall I make the tea or shall I put the patterns away for you?"
"You make the tea, Nicholas dear. It won't take me more than a minute to put them away. I always file them by their number. You'll be surprised how many people actually ask for a pattern by its number; although actually, come to think of it, that's a fairly recent thing." And with that she gathered the patterns and wandered over to the shelves where they kept the secondhand patterns.
Two days later Illya had just started on the first sleeve of Napoleon's sweater when the door jangled and a man, another man Illya had never seen before, came in. He strode over to the counter and even before Illya could offer to help him said in a brisk tone, "Do you happen to have the Chevy knitting pattern 1295, please? Secondhand, if possible," he added.
"I will check, sir," Illya said, and went over to the relevant shelf. It took him no more than a few seconds to discover they did indeed have that particular pattern. He took it back to the counter and then, because it seemed natural to do so, he opened the pattern. He noticed it wasn't pristine; annotations had been made in a few places, it looked as if someone had made a correction to the pattern.
He looked at the man. "I am afraid this pattern has been written on," he said.
The man looked at it and shrugged. "It's only in a few places. I'll take it anyway. Thank you. How much is it?" Illya told him and he handed over the money, thanked Illya again and left the store.
Illya watched him go and frowned. The pattern had been one the other unknown man had sold Martha just two days ago and Martha had commented on how pristine most of the patterns had been. Was it just a coincidence that another strange man would come into the store two days later and not only want a particular pattern, but also one which had been annotated?
He knew Martha was due to have afternoon tea with an old friend of hers, something else which Illya's presence in the shop helped with as it meant they could go during the mid-afternoon without Martha having to close the store. He decided when Martha had gone out that he would examine the secondhand patterns.
He discovered several other patterns had small annotations on them. The letters and numbers all matched with knitting terms and it simply looked as if the original owner of the pattern had found a mistake in the pattern and had thus corrected it. However, Illya wasn't convinced; he had a feeling it wasn't that simple. That feeling increased when, just before he was closing up for the day, another strange man appeared and bought another of the annotated patterns.
"I think it has something to do with some of the secondhand patters, Mrs. Wilson sells," Illya said, finally taking his mouth from Napoleon's and moving back a little in his embrace.
"You think what has something to do with the patterns?"
Illya rolled his eyes and moved away from Napoleon to pour himself a glass of vodka and Napoleon a glass of whiskey. "Thrush's nefarious activities." He brought the drinks back and allowed Napoleon to tug him down next to him on the couch. "I believe the annotations on the patterns are not corrections at all, but some kind of code. I believe they are giving instructions to Thrush agents."
"It sounds a somewhat complicated way of giving instructions," Napoleon said, putting his arm around Illya and tugging him towards him a little more.
Illya allowed himself to be tugged. "Maybe, but also in one way quite simple and difficult to trace. Someone sells an annotated pattern to Mrs. Wilson and a few days later someone else buys it. What could be simpler?"
Napoleon frowned. "But what if someone else in the meantime bought the pattern?"
Illya shrugged. "They tend to be patterns that would not appeal to a vast amount of people; at least not to the people who frequent our store. And even if someone else did buy it, the annotations would not mean anything to them. Indeed, I think most people would dismiss them totally and just assume the previous owner had simply used the pattern to scribble something down on. No, the more I think about it, the surer I am. There are still four patterns which have been annotated; I fully expect they will be sold during the next two days."
"I'll have a word with Mr. Waverly in the morning and put your suggestion to him. Now how about we take our drinks into the bedroom; I'm feeling in need of a lie down."
Illya smiled. "Why not?" he said. Yes, he did miss spending his days with Napoleon.
The patterns were indeed sold during the next two days - but not before Illya had taken copies of them. The codes were cracked with amazing speed by U.N.C.L.E.'s experts who rather than take the plaudits of having done a stellar job, merely said they thought Thrush was getting sloppy or lazy or even lax.
The day after the codes had been cracked, a new batch of annotated patterns were sold to Martha. Illya again copied the patterns, handed them to Napoleon who stopped by the store and later, during his lunch break, collected a new set of patterns which had been annotated by U.N.C.L.E. They caught the Thrush operatives later that very day.
"I am going to miss you, Nicholas, I'm sorry, Illya," Martha said.
"I am going to miss you too, Martha and the store," Illya said; he meant his words; he really was going to miss Martha and the store. Although he was also looking forward to getting back to spending his days with Napoleon, even if those days did involve being kidnapped, tied up, tortured, shot at, punched and threatened with death. "However, tomorrow another young man will be with you. He is the grandson of a good friend of my boss's wife. He will come and be your new assistant and I am sure he will be a good employee. Mrs. Waverly praises him highly."
"That's very kind of you, Illya. Do you mind if I ask a question?" she looked a little worried.
"Of course I do not mind."
"Is he really who he says he is? Or is he another spy? Is that what you call yourself?"
Illya laughed. "It will suffice. However, no. He genuinely is a college student who is looking to earn a little extra money. Do not worry he will not suddenly have to leave you. I am sure you will like him."
Martha sighed. "I'm sure I will; if your boss's wife likes him, then he must be a nice young man. I do hope I'll see you again from time to time."
Illya nodded. "Yes. I will stop by. Besides, I still have to show you the completed sweater. Once I have finished the neck and sewed it together I will come and show it to you."
She beamed. "That would be lovely, dear. Thank you. Well, goodbye for now, Illya." She moved towards him and lightly kissed his cheek.
"Goodbye, Martha," Illya said. "And if you ever need . . . Well, anything you think I might be able to help you with, please do not hesitate to call me."
She smiled. "Thank you. You take now. I'm sure your job is dangerous."
"Not all the time. But yes, I will take care. Goodbye, Martha." Illya took her hand and brought it to his mouth and kissed it, before turning on his heel and leaving the store.
"It's wonderful, Illya. Did you really knit this yourself?" Napoleon asked, as he turned the sweater over in his hands.
Illya smiled. "Yes, Napoleon, I did. And you will wear it. But," he added, stopping Napoleon as he was about to put it on, "not now." He moved towards Napoleon, pulled the sweater from his hands and dropped it onto the chair before pulling Napoleon's head down and kissing him.
Feedback is always appreciated
Go to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Fiction Page
Go to Home Page