The Shooting (Flash Fiction)

Copyright ©2005 Vicky Loebel
This is a work of fanfiction, intended to be shared freely with all who enjoy. No revenue has been generated from this story and no fee may be charged for it. All material not belonging to the Man From U.N.C.L.E. franchise is copyright Vicky Loebel. Please respect the hard work of authors everywhere and include this copyright notice in any distribution.

The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether
you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.
-P. G. Wodehouse

In a room, in a loft, above the southeast corner of a rumbling factory, three men were scheduled to die. Illya Kuryakin drew a wintery breath and lowered binoculars, flattening himself into a position of ease along unheated floorboards, noting and dismissing the telltale odors of old fabric, cedar, and dust that permeated his place of concealment. From across the street, a mechanical throb communicated itself down through the factory, along the bones of the earth, and up to the attic. Like heartbeats, marking the last seconds of doomed men, the vibrations tugged at his rifle.

But these were not men. They were targets. Targets that must be acquired with the utmost precision, despite the sun in his eyes, for though the range was short—barely 100 meters—the risk would mount, geometrically, as the second and third shot pitted his reaction times against those of terrified men.

“Hurry up,” he snapped, tracking the sound of a magazine slipping into a rifle that marked his companion’s slow progress. They needed to be quick, before the warmth of their long climb up apartment stairs dissipated into the attic. Before the sun slanting through the loft’s skylights dropped too low to show what he must do. Illya unfolded a bipod and slid his own rifle tip through the floor-level window in front of him, checking the sight, placing his palm along the stock with one finger next to the trigger, snuffling gently to remove any temptation to sneeze. He had a good angle—firing slightly down into the loft—to make up for the glare.

A large mass dropped silently onto its belly beside him. Paul Matthews, placing a second, larger rifle between them as he simultaneously raised binoculars, wiggled forward, and peered toward the loft. “Right-o.” The Australian voice came between hard breaths. It was followed by a crunch of glass and a soft expletive as Paul’s elbow shattered the small pane Illya had pried from the window. So much for completing this job without leaving a trace.

Paul brushed glass shards away, not bothering to apologize. “You still want all five shots, yourself?”

“Yes.” Illya shifted into final position. Paul, nominally on medical leave, shouldn’t really have been here. Illya had pitied the man his woeful confinement to headquarters, but the last thing he was going to do was hand Paul a gun. “I have to wait for each man to drop, in any event.”

He felt Matthews’ shrug. “Well, it’s your party.” Then Paul was quiet and Illya forgot him. Forgot the cold, the urgency, and the fact he held three lives in his hands. Forgot even to breathe, as the space between himself and his target collapsed into nothing. This was the part of a shooting he loved, the point at which man, art, and technique crystallized into one instant of focus.

His fingertip moved. One. He waited only for the barrel’s slight recoil before acquiring the second mark. Two. And then the third. This last shot was trickier; he needed the first two men to fall out of his line of fire. Three.

Paul’s, “Good,” merged into the soft echo of the rifle’s silenced report.

Illya leaned sideways and exchanged rifles with Paul. Two quick shots—easy now, with no men in the way—sent explosive charges deep into the loft. The flash and bang were accompanied by a gentle pulse that reached across the street to nudge the cold attic. They were followed by thin wisps of smoke.

Illya stripped his rifle stock and silencer and passed the pieces to Paul, who added them to the false encyclopedias in his false encyclopedia case. A quick grin flashed between them as Illya scrambled to his feet. They’d been here only five minutes, but already he was stiff with cold. Paul passed a flask and Illya sipped vodka gratefully, raising his binoculars and watching with satisfaction as smoke and employees began trickling out of the factory.

Perfect. It wasn’t a real fire—U.N.C.L.E. hadn’t quite descended to arson—but his smoke bombs guaranteed confusion for a good twenty minutes. He took another sip of vodka and returned the flask. A siren broke the traffic noise and wavered on thin winter air. For them? In New York, one never could tell.

An alarm sounded. The trickle of workers leaving the factory became a small, steady stream.

“Better go,” Paul said, and Illya had to agree. But one last thing caught his attention. A Checker Cab, stopping just outside the entrance that lead to the loft.

Illya turned and followed Paul through a trap-door to the stairs from the attic. Six stories down—the one person they met glanced at Paul’s encyclopedia case and ducked through a door—and a quick exit onto the street brought them again within sight of the factory. Things were bustling now, the sidewalk crowding with employees and gawkers as a fire truck squeezed into view a few streets away. Beside it all, at the southeast corner of the property, another door swung open and three men stepped into view. They glanced around nervously, spotted the empty taxi, and then made their way through the crowd to the cab at a pace that began as a nonchalant saunter ended up at a dead run.

Illya shook his head and slid behind the wheel of the car, warming the engine while Paul locked the case in the trunk. The car creaked as Paul settled into the passenger seat.

“Home, James,” Paul said, rather inexplicably. The smirk on his face, however, was all too easy to read.

Illya made a right turn that took them away from the worst of the traffic, engaging in silent debate. It seemed wrong to encourage Paul, but on the other hand, the man had been through two very hard weeks. He let a note of surprise creep into his voice. “You ordered a taxi?”

“Too right.” Paul snickered like a man who’s suppressed mirth a very long time. “Can’t leave New York’s Finest to wander the streets, all unprotected.”

“I suppose not,” Illya agreed, admitting secretly it had been a nice touch.

“Innocent creatures, policemen.” Paul wasn’t done. “They might get lost, or hit by a car.”

“Or even,” Illya’s mouth quirked up, “picked up by Thrush.”

“Worse yet, by U.N.C.L.E. Where they’d be exposed to a worse fate than being dangled from a pipe while you shoot through their ropes.”

Illya sighed and prepared for a dose of Paul’s wit.

“You might invite them home and cook them a dinner.”