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The Rockford Files - Ginger Townsend & Lou Trevino - #99 - Writer's Choice - Part 1

Title: The Men Who Knew Too Much, Part 1
Fandom: The Rockford Files (specifically, The Queen of Peru episode)/The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (TV version)
Characters: Ginger Townsend, Lou Trevino, Mike Trevino, Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin; OCs
Prompt: Table 3, Prompt #99 - Writer's Choice: The Noose
Word Count: 6,284
Rating: T/PG-13
Warnings/Spoilers: Intense situations; basically The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955 version), with a few alterations.
Summary: While on a trip to New York over the 4th of July holiday weekend, Ginger is given vital information about an upcoming murder and Mike is abducted to keep him and Lou quiet.


By Lucky_Ladybug


It was still Ginger and Lou’s policy that any time they were on a business trip to New York, they would stay with Lou’s parents. When they had to attend a business meeting in New York over the 4th of July weekend, they mutually decided to invite Mike to come with them. Then they could all spend the holiday with Mr. and Mrs. Trevino and Mike wouldn’t have to be left behind in Los Angeles.

“It’s always somewhat odd, celebrating this holiday,” Ginger remarked on the plane.

“Yeah, I guess it would be hard for you,” Lou mused.

“Really, Ginger?” Mike blinked. “You’re an American citizen, aren’t you?”

“But I never gave up my English citizenship,” Ginger reminded him. “And regardless, since I am English, I have a different perspective on the holiday.” He folded his arms. “Britons don’t generally understand the lengths Americans go to in patriotism. You will typically only see England’s flag flying in front of homes during sports events or particular days such as the Queen’s birthday.”

“I remember that.” Mike crossed his arms on top of the vacant seat in front of him and leaned forward. “But what about the Revolutionary War in general? Do you figure the colonists shouldn’t have rose up against the British?”

Ginger grunted. “I don’t know. Some part of me feels they were ungrateful. The other part recognizes that there were some bloody unfair taxations imposed upon them. I can’t blame them for being angry about that.”

Lou had to smile. Ginger had always absolutely hated paying taxes.

“But you’re going to celebrate with us, aren’t you?” Mike asked.

“I always have,” Ginger pointed out.

They all started and looked up as a shadow passed across them and a strange man sat down in the vacant seat next to Mike. “Forgive me for my intrusion, but your conversation was so interesting that I had to listen in,” he smiled. “My name is Barlow Jacobson.”

“Oh, hi,” Mike greeted. “I’m Mike Trevino. That’s my brother Lou and his best friend Ginger Townsend.”

“You and Lou sound like you’re from New York,” Barlow observed, looking from Mike to Lou. “This will be my first visit. If you have any recommendations of places I should see, I would greatly appreciate it.”

“The Statue of Liberty is tops,” Lou said. “And the Empire State Building. But there’s all kinds of places for people with all kinds of interests. It’s hard to know what to recommend when we don’t know what you like.”

“I’m fascinated by just about everything in a city like that,” Barlow said. “Isn’t there a famous concert hall?”

“Carnegie,” Lou supplied. “It’s pretty impressive, yeah.”

“And you’re all going to New York to celebrate Independence Day in style?” Barlow said enthusiastically.

“We’re going on business,” Ginger spoke up. “And to celebrate the holiday with Lou and Michael’s parents.”

“How nice,” Barlow smiled. “Where do they live?”

“In Brooklyn.” Lou exchanged a look with Ginger. From Ginger’s expression, he was growing wary of the questions. Lou was more inclined to believe that Barlow was simply curious and friendly, but after they had seen so many strange things through the years, he realized there was always a chance that it was otherwise.

“Why are you going to New York?” Ginger queried, hoping to determine whether his suspicions were founded or not.

“Just to see how the big city celebrates Independence Day,” Barlow said grandly. “I’ve never seen anything other than my little town’s shindig, and while it’s always amazing, I figured a place like New York would make it even more incredible.”

“But you’re going to celebrate alone?” Mike frowned. “That doesn’t sound like much fun.”

“It can be, if approached the right way,” Barlow replied. “Hey, you know, you and your brother sure live far away from New York and your parents!”

Ginger folded his arms. Barlow was being very vague about himself and now he was trying to turn the conversation topic back to them. That did nothing to alleviate Ginger’s concerns.

“A lot of people live far away from the rest of their families,” Lou said. From his tone of voice, now he was uncertain too.

“That’s true,” Barlow conceded. “But it’s just not right. Families used to always live close together. It’s still that way in some parts of the world.” He looked to Ginger. “What about your family? Don’t they miss you when you’re gallivanting around with these two?”

“They are my family,” Ginger said flatly.

“Oh.” Barlow blinked. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean any offense. I’m just surprised, is all.”

“Ginger and me have lived together for over twenty years,” Lou said. “We’re gonna keep doing that for as long as we’re both alive.”

“Well, I wish you all the best,” Barlow said. “More than twenty years, you say? That’s better, even, than a lot of romantic couples. You must have a really strong friendship.”

“We do,” said Ginger.

“Come to think of it, didn’t I hear the name Ginger in connection with some big diamond theft several years back?” Barlow mused.

“That is possible,” Ginger said noncommittally.

“Of course! All three of you were involved.” Barlow looked around at the group. “And now you’re free, just going home to your family.”

“We’ve been free for a while,” Lou frowned. “You sure hear a lot in that small town.”

“And yet not the entire story,” Ginger mused. “Curious.”

Barlow shrugged. “I guess only part of the story comes through to those little small-town papers.” He looked Ginger and Lou up and down. “You’re sure doing well for ex-cons. How in the world does any honest living let you live like this?”

“We were lucky,” Ginger said coolly. “We are living honestly, unlike how your insinuation makes it sound.”

That brought a wince. “Hey, I’m really sorry,” said Barlow. “That did come out pretty bad, didn’t it.”

“Yes,” Ginger said matter-of-factly.

“I was just impressed, really,” Barlow tried to say. “I really didn’t mean that how it sounded.”

“It’s okay,” Lou sighed. “But yeah, we have the jobs we had before we got arrested. They were building up a new company branch and they wanted us to help out because we’ve had so much experience. They pitched the idea to the warden and he liked it and finally convinced the prison board to let us go early if we’d take the jobs and go straight.” Ordinarily he wouldn’t have wanted to tell more about themselves when he and Ginger were already suspicious, but after this odd misunderstanding he wanted to be sure that their position was clear.

“Well, that’s certainly amazing,” Barlow declared. “They must be a very forgiving company.”

“Moreso than some,” Ginger acknowledged. “Naturally things aren’t perfect there, but we’re better off than we would be anywhere else.”

“I should think so! What kind of work do you do?” Barlow asked.

“Graphics design.” Ginger continued to watch him with wariness.

“So . . . what’s that?” Barlow looked awkward and embarrassed. “Animation or something?”

“Something like that,” Lou said. “It’s virtual reality, video games, computer programs, that kind of thing.”

“That’s great!” Barlow grinned. “Hey, do you have things like government contracts for some of that stuff?”

“Some of it.” Ginger fixed him with a hard look. “Why do you ask?”

Barlow just shrugged and didn’t even flinch, as many had done under that gaze. “Oh, I just wondered,” he said airily. “I know the government’s interested in stuff like that virtual reality. I guess it’s pretty useful, even though it seems awfully far-out and science-fictiony to me.”

“By now it’s science-fact.” Ginger folded his arms.

“It sure is.” Barlow started to get up. “Well, I think I’ve bothered you good people long enough. Maybe we’ll meet up in New York while we’re all there.”

“Perhaps.” Ginger watched him closely. “New York is a very large city, so it’s unlikely.”

“That’s true.” Barlow grinned. “I guess I’m still not used to the idea of such a huge place. I’ll see you all later.” With that he weaved his way around the seats and vanished from the first-class area.

“That was odd,” Ginger immediately proclaimed.

“No kidding.” Lou frowned. “I was okay with him at first, but then it just started getting weird and kind of rude. He was seriously trying to pump us for information.”

“Are you sure?” Mike blinked. “I thought he was just a country guy who probably didn’t know much.”

“That is what he wanted us to think,” Ginger insisted. “Did you honestly find it normal for him to keep quizzing about the honesty of our jobs or if we took government contracts?”

“Well . . .” Mike shifted in his seat. “I guess that was kind of weird. But I just chalked it up to how open the people seem to be in small towns.”

“It could be something harmless like that,” Lou said. “I don’t know, though. . . . I just got a different vibe from it.”

“I certainly did.” Ginger narrowed his eyes, staring in the direction Barlow had vanished to. “There are many people on this airplane. Why did he choose us? Were we truly that fascinating over everyone else?”

“And how did he even hear us?” Lou pointed out. “He wasn’t sitting anywhere near us!”

Mike slumped back. “I didn’t even think about that,” he confessed.

Ginger nodded. “We were deliberately sought out and we will find out why eventually. And I highly doubt any of us will like the reason.”

Lou groaned, rubbing his forehead. “Can’t we ever just have a normal trip anywhere?!”

“No,” Ginger answered flatly.

Mike bit his lip. “Maybe the 4th will be nice anyway.”

“Let’s hope so,” Lou said fervently. “Especially since Mom and Dad are counting on a nice time with us.”
****

The rest of the flight passed in peace. By the time they landed at JFK International Airport, Mike had all but forgotten the bizarre conversation and Lou had pushed it to the back of his mind. Ginger had not, but even as he tried to stay alert while they all disembarked, the crowd soon overwhelmed him and it was all he could do to push his way through to the baggage merry-go-round. When someone grabbed hold of his arm, he tensed.

“It’s me,” Lou assured him. “I didn’t want to get separated.”

Ginger started to relax. “Good. Where’s Michael?”

Lou came alongside and looked around with a frown. “I don’t see him right now. Maybe he’s already with our luggage.”

The crowd started to disperse as they moved deeper into the airport. As Ginger headed forward in determination, casting his gaze about for Mike, someone suddenly stumbled into his path and grabbed at his coat in desperation.

“What are you doing?!” Ginger demanded. He tried to steady the person so as not to be dragged to the floor with him.

The man looked up with bleary eyes; it was Barlow. He leaned in close, his voice barely a raspy whisper. “Poison. Take a message . . . to U.N.C.L.E. . . .” His voice fell even more as he delivered the message into Ginger’s ear. Standing at his side, Lou was staring with his mouth open in shock.

His final task accomplished, Barlow went heavily limp in Ginger’s arms, nearly sending them both to the floor in spite of Ginger’s efforts. Ginger only barely managed to brace himself and lower the body to the floor without losing his balance. Near him, a woman saw the scene and gaped in horror. “What’s wrong with him?!”

“He said he was poisoned,” Ginger barked. “Get the police!” He leaned over Barlow, checking for life as the woman scurried off to place the call.

Lou knelt down beside Ginger in shock. “What the heck?! Poisoned?! Ginger, what did he say to you?”

Ginger shook his head. “This isn’t the place to talk about it. There’s too many people. I’ll tell you later.”

Lou accepted that. “Is he dead?”

“It would seem so,” Ginger growled.

“Lou! Ginger!”

Both men turned as a confused Mike ran over to them, luggage in both hands and under each arm.

“Oh man. Mike, I didn’t mean for you to bring everything by yourself!” Lou exclaimed. He stood, reaching to take his suitcase from his brother.

“That’s okay. I got there first and thought I’d better just get everything so there wouldn’t be any mix-ups . . .” Mike trailed off, staring as Ginger went back to work on Barlow. “What happened?!”

“We don’t really know,” Lou said helplessly. “He came stumbling over to Ginger and said he’d been poisoned.”

“That’s awful!” Mike gaped.

“And it means we likely were under deliberate scrutiny,” Ginger growled. “This man wasn’t at all what he seemed to be.”

Lou ran a hand through his hair. “Now it looks like he’s dead. When the police come, we’re gonna need to talk to them.”

“And after that, we will have to speak with U.N.C.L.E.,” Ginger muttered.

“Huh?” Lou blinked down at him. “Oh wow.”

Mike cringed. “It sounds like you could be tied up for a long time, Lou.” He shifted nervously. “I didn’t see or hear anything. Do you think it would be too terrible if I didn’t stick around to talk to the police? Mom and Dad are expecting us to come soon now, and I kind of wondered if maybe I should go on ahead.”

Lou exchanged a look with Ginger. “If the airport isn’t locked down, Mike, maybe you should,” he said at last. “I don’t know, though; maybe they’d want you to tell what you remember of the conversation on the plane.”

Mike frowned, “But you and Ginger probably don’t remember anything more than I do. I don’t like to think of Mom and Dad worrying. You know that even if one of us calls and explains, they’ll keep worrying until we’re all home. If at least one of us is there, maybe they won’t have to worry as much.”

“That’s true.” Lou looked back to Ginger, overwhelmed and harried with the bizarre situation. “Okay, Mike. Why don’t you find out if you can leave and then go if you can. The police can always get a statement from you later.”

Noticeable relief spread over Mike’s features. “Thanks, Lou. Hopefully you and Ginger won’t have to be gone too long.”

“Hopefully not.” Ginger glanced up. “You might as well leave our luggage here, particularly since you don’t know if you can leave.”

“Okay, if you’re sure,” Mike said slowly.

“We’re sure,” Lou said firmly. “But thanks, Mike.”

Mike nodded and set down Ginger’s suitcase before hurrying off with his own. “See you soon!” he called over his shoulder.

“Not bloody likely,” Ginger muttered.
****

The police certainly had many questions. But when two U.N.C.L.E. agents arrived, flashed their badges, and announced that they were taking over the investigation, the police were quick to accept that and set about trying to restore order to the chaotic scene.

Lou was relieved that he and Ginger had both had dealings with the agents before. Hopefully that would mean that it wouldn’t be hard for them to believe that Ginger and Lou were telling the truth about what had happened. The last thing they needed was to be accused of poisoning the man themselves.

Ginger stood by, watching as the dark-haired agent came and knelt next to the body with a deep frown. “He was one of yours, I take it,” he said.

“Yes, I’m afraid so.” The spy examined Barlow for a moment and then stood, looking to Ginger with piercing eyes. “What did he tell you?”

“What makes you think he told me anything, Mr. Solo?” Ginger returned in complete calmness.

“Barlow was an agent to the bitter end. He wouldn’t allow himself to die without passing on some important information to someone, and you were the last person he spoke to.”

“A former jewel thief. Hardly a reliable source.”

Napoleon Solo glanced around at the crowds. “He came here looking for three suspicious men who were supposed to be traveling together on the flight. He must have decided you were not the men he was after and that you were trustworthy. Perhaps we can find a private room where we can talk further.”

Ginger nodded. “That would be preferable.”

“There should be a room over here,” the blond agent announced, moving towards a particular series of doors against the wall.

It was while they were following Illya Kuryakin that Ginger’s phone rang. Frowning, he took it out and looked at the unfamiliar number.

“Oh, this is a great time for a phone call,” Lou exclaimed. “Maybe you’d better forget it.”

“I would, only I never receive calls from telemarketers,” Ginger replied. “You know there are a select few people what have this number.” He glanced to the U.N.C.L.E. agents. “You’ll have to forgive me; I had better take this.”

“Of course,” Napoleon consented as he half-turned to look back.

Ginger pressed the button and brought the phone up to his ear. “Hello?”

The voice on the other end chilled his blood with its cruel, cold words. “Mr. Townsend, I would think twice about sharing your knowledge with U.N.C.L.E.”

“Why should I?” Ginger snapped.

“Because we have your best friend’s brother. He never made it to their parents’ home.”

Ginger stopped walking and went stiff. Bewildered, Lou came to a halt as well and stared at him. Napoleon and Illya, sensing something wasn’t right, paused at the door and did not go in.

“How can I believe you?” Ginger asked. His tone was dark and filled with ice. Lou knew it well; he was boiling under the surface.

There was a slight pause and a growled mutter to say something into the phone. Then, “Ginger?”

Ginger swore under his breath. Michael’s voice was slurred. He was either drugged or hurt or both. “Where are you?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” was the mumbled reply. “I’m sorry, Ginger . . . I really messed things up bad. I should’ve just stayed and waited with you and Lou for the police. . . .”

“This was all carefully planned,” Ginger retorted. “It would have happened anyway.” He glanced to Lou before continuing, “How are you?”

“I . . . I’m okay, Ginger. Really. Tell Lou not to worry. I’ll be fine. I . . .” Suddenly there was the sound of something striking flesh and a sharp cry.

“Hello?!” Ginger barked.

The cruel voice from before got back on the line. “Think about it, Mr. Townsend. Keep quiet about what you know or else we start sending Mr. Trevino’s brother back to you in pieces.”

Ginger managed to snarl a curse at him as the conversation disconnected.

By now Lou was thoroughly distraught. “Ginger, what the heck?! Who was that?! What’s going on?!”

Illya turned the knob of the empty room. “We had best come in here as originally planned so we can talk.” He looked back to Ginger with warnings in his eyes. “We must have the information you received from our agent!”

Ginger shoved the phone back in his pocket. “No,” he said then. “It isn’t my decision to make.” He looked to Lou. “It’s yours. The git on the phone told me they have Michael.” Lou went sheet-white. “I spoke to Michael to be sure. It was definitely he and not a recording.”

Lou fell back, his heart gathering speed. Suddenly his world was spiraling out of control. “Oh no. Oh God, no. . . . Mike. . . .”

Ginger looked back to Napoleon and Illya. “They will murder and mutilate Michael if anything is said. I have no right to make that decision.”

Illya’s eyes narrowed. “We still must have that information. We cannot give in to criminal threats!” He looked to Ginger. “And unless you told Mr. Trevino, you are the only one who knows what Agent Jacobson said.”

“He was very weak and the airport was crowded and noisy,” Ginger said evenly. “I couldn’t make it out.”

Napoleon frowned. “You realize that you will both be accessories to a murder if the assassination is carried out.”

“And what about if my brother is killed?!” Lou burst out. “Won’t we be accessories to that if we just let it happen?!”

“U.N.C.L.E. will do everything in its power to find your brother in time, Mr. Trevino,” Illya said.

“Not good enough.” Lou clenched a fist. “That’s no guarantee. If these people are desperate enough to knock off somebody that they’ll grab some innocent guy off the street as leverage, you know they mean business! Of course I don’t want anybody to get killed, but my brother comes before some stranger! Isn’t there a way we can save them both?!”

“All I can promise you is that we’ll try,” Napoleon said with some sadness and regret. He could understand Lou’s anguish. Somehow he couldn’t bring himself to ply the man with false hopes and lies. Sometimes things did go wrong. Sometimes the innocents could not be saved.

Illya looked to Napoleon, frowning, wondering what to do. He could intimidate some more, but Napoleon was the senior agent. It was his call.

Lou drew a deep, shaking breath. “I don’t want Ginger to go to jail, either,” he said at last. “He doesn’t deserve that just because he’s trying to protect Mike. I really don’t know what the guy said, so I don’t see how I could be an accessory. But Ginger would be, by your standards.” He ran a hand through his hair. “And I can’t bind him to that.” He looked to Ginger. “It is your decision, Buddy.”

Ginger frowned, looking to Lou. He could see in Lou’s eyes that he had absolute confidence that Ginger would make the right choice. And Ginger knew he would.

“I will not sacrifice Michael,” Ginger insisted. “There is still time before the assassination attempt is to take place. Give us that time to try to find Michael on our own. If we cannot, we will give you the information you want.”

Napoleon gripped his communicator pen, looking to Illya before he spoke again. “It’s foolish to try on your own. Still, we know you’ve had some success catching criminals in the past. And I know what it’s like to have a loved one in peril. It’s an unfair thing we’re asking you to do.” He hesitated. “What you want of me isn’t my decision to make; I will have to contact Mr. Waverly. But if he agrees, you will have your time to try.”

Lou tried to relax. “Thank you,” he rasped.

Napoleon nodded and stepped into the room to place the call. Illya remained outside to make sure Ginger and Lou didn’t try to escape before the decision was reached.

Although Lou didn’t really want to talk with a third party hearing everything, he didn’t feel he could stay quiet, either. “Thanks,” he said quietly to Ginger.

Ginger nodded. “I said that Michael is my family. I couldn’t mean it if I would be willing to sell him out.”

Lou smiled, but there was sadness and worry in his eyes. “We’ve gotta find him,” he moaned. “Somehow we’ve just gotta!”

“And we’re going to,” Ginger vowed with steel determination.

Napoleon came back after several eternal minutes. “Mr. Waverly has agreed,” he reported. “But only under the conditions you outlined. If you decide you need our help before the time is up, don’t hesitate to call us.”

“Thanks,” Lou said again. “And thank Mr. Waverly.” He grabbed Ginger’s wrist. “Let’s hurry and go. We probably don’t have much time, do we?”

“We do not,” Ginger admitted. But he refused to say more until they were alone again and had looked all over their belongings to make certain they were not being bugged.

“Okay, we’re safe,” Lou exclaimed. “What’s going on, Ginger?! What do you know?”

“What I was told is that it will happen tonight at Carnegie Hall,” Ginger told him. “Jacobson didn’t know the time, but I suppose that would be the time of some event there. We’ll have to look into that.

“I was also told that the criminals are running some sort of front with Albert Temple here in New York. That was it.”

“Albert Temple? Who the heck is that?!” Lou threw his hands in the air.

“It could be a person or a place,” Ginger pointed out. “We will have to examine both possibilities. Meanwhile, what are you going to tell your parents?”

A sick look spread over Lou’s features. “I don’t know,” he moaned. “I can’t tell them the truth, not yet. They’d wanna bring in the police and maybe that’d finish Mike off for sure! Maybe I can say that we have to stop in at the company and Mike ran into an old friend.”

Ginger folded his arms. “And what if we aren’t able to . . .”

“No!” Lou interrupted, harshly. “No, we are not going to talk about that! We are going to get Mike back safe. That’s all there is to it!”

Ginger sighed. Lou wasn’t ready to even consider the horrifying alternative. Ginger certainly couldn’t fault him; he would feel the same if it was Lou who had been taken.

“. . . We should rent a car and look up Albert Temple in both the White and Yellow Pages,” he said instead. “I will drive. You determine what to say to your parents.”

Lou gave Ginger a grateful look. “Thanks,” he said quietly.

Ginger nodded.
****

Within thirty minutes, Ginger and Lou had their car and the listings for Albert Temple in New York. As Ginger maneuvered out of the airport, Lou called home and tried to pretend that things were fine. “I’m sorry about the delay, Mom, but I promise we’ll all be home tonight,” Ginger heard him say.

Ginger gripped the steering wheel, praying that was true.

“Okay,” Lou said as he hung up. “So there’s a guy called Albert Temple in the Bronx. He’s . . . a taxidermist.” He made a face. “I don’t get why anyone would wanna have dead bodies staring at them all over their house. Or why anyone would wanna make them.”

Ginger grunted. “This taxidermist shop could be a front. What about the place?”

“It’s some kind of New Age spiritual hub.” Lou sighed. “Mike would probably be pretty interested in it under other circumstances.” He looked over the address and read it aloud. “That’s closer to where we are right now.”

“We’ll go there first,” Ginger decided, not bothering to wonder why a New Age establishment would pick such a name as the Albert Temple.

With a combination of Lou’s directions and the GPS, Ginger got them to the New Age temple while making good time with New York traffic. He parked across the street, frowning at the edifice.

“It looks impressive enough, especially with those sphinx statues out front,” Lou blinked. “It reminds me of a Masonic temple or something.”

“It’s a good thing it isn’t one or we’d need to be Freemasons to get in,” Ginger remarked.

They both got out of the car, Lou clenching his fists as they walked across the street. “You know, if this is the place, it’s really sick to make up a religious thing as a front for crime!” he spat.

“They wouldn’t be the first,” Ginger said.

He paused as they neared the doors. “Alright. Now, we’re both going to go in. If either of us sees anything suspicious, one will leave to ring U.N.C.L.E. while the other remains behind to keep watch.”

“And just how are we gonna find anything suspicious?” Lou frowned. “It’s not gonna be out where everyone can see unless all the members are crooks!”

“And that may be the case, for all we know,” Ginger said. “Just be careful and try to act casual.”

“That’s easier for you to pull off than me,” Lou said. He decided that it would probably be best if Ginger led this venture.

Ginger felt the same. He hauled open the heavy door and stepped into a lobby decorated with assorted symbols such as a smiling sun and moon. The scents of various types of incense filled the space, while two white candles burned on an altar near the back of the room.

“Why do I feel like I just stepped into a health store?” Lou muttered.

Ginger didn’t crack a smirk. Instead he walked very deliberately to the receptionist as she stepped out to greet them. “Evening,” he said smoothly. “Is your establishment open to private tours?”

“Why, yes,” she smiled. “Are you gentlemen interested in joining our order?”

“We don’t know anything about your order,” Ginger said. “We have our own religions, but we’re curious.”

“Well, I’ll be happy to take you on a tour,” the receptionist said. “My name is Glory.”

On impulse, Ginger opted not to give his right name. Realizing the wisdom in that decision, Lou followed suit. If this was the front they were looking for, their real names would tip off the criminals immediately. Of course, their physical appearances would soon do that as well, but wrong names might buy them a slight bit more time.

Ginger stayed very attentive and alert as the tour began. He wasn’t sure what they were looking for, but he hoped he would know once they found it. Lou tried to focus on what the woman was saying about combining techniques and guidelines of several Eastern religions, but his mind kept wandering to thoughts of Mike.

It was Lou who spotted it first. He nudged Ginger, then pointed to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles keychain under a small white table against a wall in the hallway. Ginger looked, his eyes narrowing only barely perceptibly. They both recognized it; it was a small figure keychain of Michelangelo that Mike often had with him. His keys were not on the ring, but to Lou it was too much of a coincidence that it wouldn’t be Mike’s keychain.

Ginger concurred. He deliberately let his own keys fall under the table. “Blast,” he muttered, scooping up the Turtle along with his keys. “I’m sorry,” he said to Glory as she turned to look. “I’m always dropping things.”

“That’s alright,” Glory said with a smile that Lou was sure was fake. “Let’s keep going, shall we?”

“By all means,” Ginger said smoothly.

Lou’s stomach was turning somersaults. Hopefully the removal of the keys meant that Mike was okay and he had deliberately taken off the keys and dropped the keychain to signal Lou and Ginger that he was there. Now they needed U.N.C.L.E.’s help to storm the place, but how would they get the message out? He couldn’t excuse himself from the tour so easily, and getting himself “lost” along the way could prove more foolhardy than helpful. Maybe, he hoped, the venture was almost over and he could make up an excuse then.

The rest of the tour proceeded without anything else out of place being discovered. By the time it concluded back in the lobby, Ginger had already devised a plan for Lou to follow.

“Thank you for that tour and your time explaining your order to us,” he said with the charm and smile that had caused quite a few of the company secretaries and clients to swoon. “It’s all quite fascinating.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Lou chimed in. “There’s always something new and different to see in New York.”

“You’re both quite welcome,” Glory said with that same seemingly fake smile. “Do you think you’ll join us for our weekly gathering tomorrow?”

“We may just do that,” Ginger said. He reached into his pocket. “Blast, I must have dropped my cell phone here somewhere.” Looking to Lou, he continued, “You go on ahead and bring the car around. I won’t be a minute; it can’t be that far back.”

“Okay,” Lou said without missing a beat. Now he was grateful for more reasons than one that Ginger had faked dropping his keys. It made this excuse seem all the more plausible.

“My, you really do drop things,” Glory observed as Lou quickly slipped out the front doors.

“Unfortunately,” Ginger said. “I’m sure it’s down this corridor. I don’t want to trouble you any further while I look for it.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all,” Glory answered. Clearly, she was not going to leave Ginger to wander alone in the temple. But that was alright; Ginger just had to keep her occupied until Lou placed the call and got back inside with the U.N.C.L.E. agents.

“Well, thank you,” Ginger said as he made a show of starting down the hall and looking in every place where a phone could conceivably drop. “I appreciate the second pair of eyes.”

While they searched, he listened carefully for any strange sounds behind the doors that had not been opened on the tour. He spoke loudly when approaching each one, in the hopes that Mike would hear him and find some way to react if he was behind one of them.

And that was exactly what happened. “Ginger!” he heard from behind a door on the second floor stair landing. “Ginger, is that you?! Are you out there?! What about Lou?!”

Glory jumped a mile. “What?” she gasped. “Ginger? Lou? Those aren’t the names you gave!”

Without answering either her or Mike, Ginger threw himself at the door. When it didn’t weaken or give, he looked to Glory with cold eyes. “It’s not illegal to introduce yourself by a different name. But abduction and conspiracy to commit murder are highly frowned upon.”

Glory blanched. “I didn’t know about any of that!” she insisted. “I wasn’t involved! They brought him! They wanted to use him to manipulate his brother and another man!”

“Who are they?” Ginger demanded.

The door flew open before Glory had a chance to reply. “Enough talk,” a man Ginger remembered from the flight snarled. He advanced with a gun in hand. Behind him, two other men were holding tightly onto Mike’s arms to either keep him from running away or to simply keep him standing. Mike stumbled and swayed, clearly still not fully operating under his own power.

Ginger responded by lunging and twisting the man’s gun arm before he had a chance to react. With a horrified gasp of pain, he let go of the weapon and Ginger pulled it to him.

“Let Michael go,” he ordered. The gun clicked as he switched off the safety.

A second man emerged from a door to the side. Ginger elbowed him sharply in the abdomen, causing him to double over in anguish.

Mike gave a shaky smile. “This is probably the first time I’ve watched you fight and not been creeped out,” he said.

Again Ginger brought the gun to one of the people holding Mike captive. This time, instead of delivering another verbal warning, he simply fired just to the side of the man’s head. All of them flinched, including Mike.

“Okay, okay! We’ll let him go!” the man yelped. But Mike could see the spark of cruelty in his eyes as he saw something Ginger did not.

“Ginger,” he choked out, even as the second man holding him drove a needle into his arm. “Ginger, look out. . . .”

Ginger started to turn, but not quite in time. The first man brought down another gun, connecting it with the back of Ginger’s head. The British man collapsed in a heap right at the edge of the stairs. To both Mike’s and Glory’s horror, the assailant immediately bent down and pushed him off the landing, sending him tumbling to the first floor below. He crashed on his stomach, his coat sailing unceremoniously on top of him.

Even if the drugs were not numbing his ability to move, Mike was sure that he would not have stayed standing under the strain of being forced to watch. “Ginger!” He crashed to his knees, his arms still being viciously held by the thugs.

Glory looked almost faint. Then it passed and she ran forward, about to fly down the stairs to Ginger’s side. “You’ve killed him!” she cried in both horror and anger. “He was just trying to save this man you’ve taken and you’ve killed him in cold blood!”

“There’s no blood,” the attacker sneered. “And whether he’s dead or not doesn’t mean a thing to me. The only important thing is that the other guy must be calling for help. We’re clearing out of here now.” He pointed his new gun at Glory. “And you’re coming with us.”

With little choice, Glory trembled and ran her hand over the railing as she slowly walked over to the group. Mike, still on his knees, just stared in shock and partially drug-induced tears. “Ginger . . .”

“On your feet,” barked the second of the two men gripping his arms. Together they prodded and forced Mike to stand. He stumbled, still reeling from what he had seen.

“I won’t believe he’s dead,” he whispered under his breath. “He’s going to be okay. Lou too.” But he swallowed hard. Their luck would run out sometime. Maybe Ginger’s had now. The thought of him being killed while trying to save Mike was more than Mike could bear right then. He succumbed to the drug, fully slipping into an altered state of consciousness.

“We’ll go out the back way,” the first man directed. “We’ll be long gone before any cops or Feds arrive.”

Helpless, Glory turned to look back at the stairs. She whispered a prayer under her breath before following the group towards the other exit.
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