“Now why did Buddy have to run into this area?” Wendell sighed, dangling his gun loosely in frustration.
Harry replied, “Well, he never has made it easy on us. Why should this time be any different? But it is ironic.”
“Yeah, he couldn’t have known that this was the territory of a rival mob.”
“Let’s just hope that we find him before they find us.”
“Too late, gentlemen. Ah ah, drop those guns before you turn around; you’re outnumbered.”
Both of Devere’s men sighed and complied, and then turned to face their three captors, one of whom carefully retrieved the fallen guns.
“That way. Move.”
They were prodded into the building, down the stairs, and into a basement that resembled a dungeon more than anything else.
“Have you ever considered lighting this place?” wondered Harry.
Wendell nodded. “And you’ve got room for a nice pool table over there.”
“Shut up. Into the cell, both of you.”
A different voice said, “Now we’d like to dispose of you right away, but you’ve come at an inconvenient time, so we’ll wait ‘til we get back. But I look forward to knocking off two of Devere’s finest.”
“Meanwhile, you two and our other prisoner can entertain each other.”
“Other prisoner?” Wendell and Harry glanced around, and could barely make out someone else slumped dejectedly in the cell.
As they approached, the head rose, and Devere’s two hit-men beheld a very familiar and terrified face.
“Oh no no no!!!” Buddy Overstreet murmured and came to his feet. He attempted to back away, as if that could possibly do him any good while trapped in a cell with them. “And I thought things couldn’t get any worse! Leave me alone, please!!”
Wendell and Harry grinned at each other, savoring the latest irony.
Wendell said, “Relax, kid, sit back down; we don’t even have our guns.”
Hardly daring to believe that he could be safe with them, Buddy slid slowly back down onto the bunk. His two unwanted companions seated themselves resignedly on the other two bunks.
“They…took your guns?”
“Sure. They’d’ve been pretty stupid not to.”
“And…you’re not…you won’t…? I mean….”
“Spit it out, kid,” urged Wendell, not unkindly.
“You wouldn’t…kill me with your bare hands???” Buddy squirmed almost as if fearful of giving them ideas that they might otherwise not imagine.
“Not our style,” said Harry. “You lucked out, for now.”
Buddy’s sigh of relief seemed to take a full minute, and he sagged deeper onto the bunk.
They smiled mildly at him.
“Who are these people?” he asked shakily.
“What do they want with me??”
“Probably just that you were trespassing. Now us: that’s a different story.”
“What’ll they do with me?”
“Same thing they’ll do with us.”
“Oh jeez, I can probably guess, can’t I? Same thing you’d do to me if you had your guns?”
“This is a nightmare.” When they offered no reply, he asked quietly, “Since we’re stuck here together, can I ask you two something?”
“Sure, kid,” invited Wendell.
Buddy hesitated. “You…don’t really want to kill me, …do you?”
“Not particularly. I mean, it’s nothing personal,” assured Wendell.
“It’s just orders,” agreed Harry.
“Sometimes, …it seems like you even…like me…a little. I mean, the few times that we’ve actually managed to…exchange a few words like this, without me running and you shooting, you’ve even…seemed kind of friendly to me.”
“We have no reason not to be,” said Wendell. “And yeah, your innocence is kind of cute; we don’t see that sort of thing often. Plus, I guess we feel sorry for you.”
“There’s no reason to be cruel to you. And we know you didn’t ask for this. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” added Harry.
“Boy, was I ever! And all because I went to that stupid Turkish bath! Would you believe, that was my first time in one? I only went in there to relax, because a friend told me it would do me good, and that I was too high-strung. Can you imagine? I was supposed to go in there to get less nervous!”
Both listeners laughed good-naturedly.
“We’re not laughing at you, kid,” Wendell reassured him.
“Oh believe me, I know, it’s funny in a sad sort of way! And so ironic!”
Harry put in, “Almost as ironic as you stumbling onto this place.”
“Oh brother! This might be a classic example of ‘out of the frying pan; into the fire’.” After a moment, he lowered his gaze. “Are you scared?” he asked softly.
“No. We’re used to this.”
“We’ve been in tougher scrapes.”
Buddy shook his head. “Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I never get used to it. No matter how many times you two corner me, or something else like this happens, I panic and get all-fluttery inside!”
“That’s understandable; you’re not a professional like us. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”
Buddy nodded slightly and forced a faint smile. “Umm, just in case we somehow get out of this, can’t you just tell Mr. Devere that I’ll never tell on you guys, ever? Can’t you just ask him to let me go?? Please???”
“You know we can’t do that,” Wendell responded gently.
Buddy gave forth another long sigh. “I guess I should’ve known better.”
Harry shook his head. “You had to ask. We’d’ve been surprised if you hadn’t.”
After a few moments of silence, Harry turned to Wendell. “You think we’ve waited long enough?”
“Yeah, wherever they were off to in such a hurry, they’d’ve left by now.”
“Long enough for what?” Buddy was bewildered.
“Long enough to escape,” Wendell told him matter-of-factly, as Harry retrieved an implement from his shoe.
“Stay where you are,” advised Wendell, as Harry applied something that Buddy couldn’t see at the base of the bars. “It won’t make much of an explosion, but you wouldn’t want to get too close to it.”
“Explosion?!!! Are you two spies, on top of being mobsters??!”
“You pick up a few tricks along the way.”
Harry backed up hastily, and there was an abrupt kaboom; bars fell away with a clang.
Wendell rose and addressed Buddy, “Come on.”
Buddy stared from one to the other. “You can’t be serious!”
“You don’t want to stay here,” remarked Harry.
“But I can’t go with you, either! You’ll kill me!!” His voice squeaked.
“So will they.”
“Look,” Wendell told him, “they will absolutely kill you; they don’t know whether you were spying on them or not, and they can’t take the chance that you might’ve seen or heard something. We still don’t have our guns, and we may or may not come across them on our way out of here. With us, you have a chance, and no matter what happens, at least we’ll be kind to you. With them, you have no chance, and they might just decide to try to find out how much you know before they dispose of you.”
Anguish and indecision etched his face until, almost in tears, Buddy Overstreet reluctantly followed Harry and Wendell.
As the three escapees emerged from the basement, Buddy’s eyes darted in search of Wendell’s and Harry’s guns even more frantically than the eyes of the guns’ owners, but there were none to be found.
Harry murmured, “They wouldn’t’ve just left them out in the open.”
Wendell muttered, “No, they couldn’t’ve made it that easy, and we don’t have time to search.”
It was then that Wendell caught sight of Buddy’s tremendous relief at the absence of the hit-men’s guns.
Wendell gave him a reproving look. “You might just wish we had found them, before this is all over.”
The younger fellow shook his head vigorously. “No! You’d shoot me!!!”
Wendell shook his own head in turn. “Right now we wouldn’t waste our time shooting you; we’d be shooting at them instead. Now, come on!”
Buddy had another question, but they left him no opportunity to ask it, as they dragged him out of the building and onto the grounds.
“There!” Harry whispered hoarsely, and dove behind some bushes.
“Down!” Wendell virtually tackled Buddy, and the pair landed next to Harry.
“I’m confused!” Buddy whispered ever-so-softly when the two showed no sign of rising immediately.
“About what?” Wendell responded, as he slid off of Buddy.
“You said they went somewhere. How could you shoot at them, even if you’d found your guns, when they’re not even here??”
Harry favored him with a long, measuring look. “You really are naïve, aren’t you?”
Buddy looked hurt.
Wendell explained patiently, “They won’t have all gone; they’ll have left some guards to patrol the grounds. Harry saw one; that’s why we’re down here in the bushes.”
Buddy’s eyes grew wide with more than just general surprise, and Wendell guessed the reason for the expression of absolute horror.
“You were thinking of just bolting off on your own, weren’t you? Getting away from us? Kid, right now your best chance is sticking with us.”
Buddy swallowed hard, and nodded mutely.
Wendell gave him a reassuring pat on the back.
“Why…are you trying so hard to save me??”
Wendell suppressed a smile. “We don’t want them to get you, all right? They don’t know you. They wouldn’t be decent about it like we would be.”
“Thanks.” Buddy was awed.
“Now!” Harry hissed, and the three were up and running.
No sooner were they off of the enemy grounds, than all three saw the approach, in the distance, of a long black limousine.
Buddy gasped dramatically. Then he turned in desperation to his companions, knowing that if they decided to restrain him, he didn’t stand a chance of getting away from them. Tears emerged spontaneously.
“No! Don’t!!!! Please, don’t!!!”
The two hit-men exchanged looks.
“It’s Mr. D. all right,” mumbled Wendell.
“He’s going to demand, first thing, whether we found Overstreet,” replied Harry.
They shared another long look.
Then, Wendell said, “Yeah. Too bad we didn’t find him.”
Both turned their eyes toward Buddy.
“Get out of here,” ordered Harry.
But Wendell stuck a warning finger in his face. “Only once. Next time we meet, we’ll be after you again.”
“Move,” instructed Harry.
Wendell said, “Run, Buddy. Run.”
Buddy had had a fine, peaceful summer selling ice cream from a small stand on the dock. Peaceful, that is, until mid-August, when he saw the black limousine circling like a vulture.
Certain that he must have been spotted at last by Devere’s gang, he dashed from his stand. Hoping that his white serving-jacket might allow him to pass as a server aboard ship, he sneaked up the gangway onto the nearest of the large cruise-ships waiting to depart, thinking that this would have to be the fastest that he would have ever put distance between him and his would-be killers.
Meanwhile, in his limo, Mr. Devere was growing impatient with his driver’s inability to find a parking-space. He had had a stress-filled summer, what with his people’s repeated failure to report even a tentative sighting of Overstreet.
“Just stop anywhere, and let us out! At the rate you’re going, our ship will leave without us, and I really need this vacation!”
Recognizing the ominous tone, the driver hit the brakes a bit too abruptly, jolting everyone. Cursing, Devere barreled out, Wendell and Harry right behind him.
Sunbathing on the deck the next day, Devere remarked to his men on either side of him, “I really feel naked without my gun on me.”
“Me, too, Mr. D. But there would just be no way to hide one in our trunks,” commented Wendell pragmatically.
“Well, speaking of hiding, did you hide them well in our rooms, Harry?”
“Sure, boss. Under our underwear. No one’s going to search under someone else’s underwear.”
Fortunately for Buddy, he’d managed to conceal himself right around the corner from them and listened. He knew full well that he absolutely could not parade around the deck serving drinks and snacks for two weeks without his pursuers seeing him. However frightening the thought, he had to find some way of more permanently disarming them.
Two days later, heart thumping frantically, he gingerly approached Wendell and Harry after Mr. Devere had called it a day and gone back to his room.
“Hi,” he said timidly.
Startled by the familiar voice, Wendell sat up abruptly in his deck chair, and yanked off his sunglasses. “What the devil are you doing here?”
“Are you crazy?” demanded Harry, who had done the same.
Now also in simple bathing trunks, having placed himself “off duty,” Buddy shyly sank into the chair between them that had been formerly occupied by their boss. As briefly as possible, he explained the circumstances which had put him on the same ship with them.
“So, in trying to run from us, you ended up running to us,” Wendell marveled, shaking his head.
“So why show yourself to us now?” demanded Harry. “You know what we have to do.”
“You’re not armed. And you told me you won’t kill me bare-handedly. And I’m hoping you’ll help me dodge Mr. Devere.”
“Whoa, whoa,” ordered Wendell. “We helped you one time. But we told you that would be the only time. Those were extenuating circumstances.”
“Besides,” pointed out Harry, “we’re not armed this minute. But we are armed.”
Buddy’s panic rose. He honestly didn’t know just how angry they would be when he told them what he’d done. “Umm, no, you’re not,” he faltered. “I followed you to your rooms yesterday, to learn where they were. As a server here, I had the chance to snitch a passkey. I…stole your guns, and last night, I threw them overboard.” He cringed, half-expecting violent blows.
The hit-men stared.
Wendell exclaimed, “The boss is going to kill you!”
“With what?” Buddy deadpanned.
Harry was shaking his head. “It’s going to drive Mr. D. nuts to have you right here, and not be able to do anything about you! So much for his relaxing vacation! Which he needs! And so do we,” he muttered as an afterthought.
“So you mustn’t let him see me.”
“Now just one minute! Hiding you from Mr. D. is not exactly in our job description!” Harry fumed.
Wendell agreed, but pointed out, “No, but helping him calm down from all of his recent stress, is.”
Harry was still shaking his head in disbelief. “You threw away our guns! How did you even get the nerve to touch them at all?”
“It was harder than you can ever imagine.”
“Knowing you, I can believe that.”
Wendell said almost pensively, “We sure have trouble hanging onto our guns around you lately, kid.”
“Sorry.” Though he knew how shallow his apology was, since they had to know that he was not one bit sorry that their weapons were gone. To change the subject, Buddy inquired, “Why didn’t you guys bring Junior along?”
Harry responded impatiently, “I repeat, this was supposed to be Mr. D.’s vacation from stress, and Junior is a source of it. Every time the boss looks at Junior, he feels like he failed somehow.”
“What’s Junior’s mom like?”
“We never met her.”
Buddy blinked. “Isn’t she…still around?”
“No. Rumor is, the boss blamed her for how Junior turned out, and got rid of her.”
“Killed his own wife?!!”
“We don’t know for sure,” Wendell said matter-of-factly.
Buddy shivered. “Oh, that man scares me!”
“More than we do?” Wendell quirked a grin.
“No,” Buddy answered hastily, bringing at least a slight chuckle from both men.
“So,” asked Harry, “you found and threw out all four of our guns, uh?”
Buddy’s heart nearly stopped. “Three!” he blurted without thinking.
Harry’s grin was diabolical.
“No!!! Oh, please, let there not be a spare!!”
Wendell’s soft laughter drew his gaze, and Wendell admitted gently, “He’s just messing with you.”
Buddy collapsed in the lounger, and murmured, “Oh please don’t do that again.”
Harry’s laugh was harsher than made Buddy comfortable. He winced.
“Settle down,” Wendell soothed. “You’re safe, for now.”
“Unless we figure out something,” Harry added vaguely, ominously.
Buddy tried to ignore that. “Meantime, can we figure out where to hide me? You two know him better than anyone: where on ship would Mr. Devere never go??”
“Hey, hey,” said Harry. “It’s not our job to hide you. Furthermore, just because we won’t kill you with our bare hands – unless Mr. D. gives us a direct order to – doesn’t mean that he won’t kill you with his bare hands!”
Wendell added, “And then if the boss does decide you’ll be rubbed-out bare-handedly by him or us, you’ll wish we still had our guns; any other method would hurt more than just being shot.”
Thoroughly unnerved at that, Buddy rose. “I have to go.”
“Come on, we were just picking on you. No big deal.”
“You don’t have to go, kid.”
“Actually, I really do. I’ve got to get to work.”
“But you don’t really work here. You told us.”
“No, but I pretend to work here. And I’ve got to keep up the pretense. I’ve learned before in these situations: if I pretend to work in a place, I have to really work, or else the foreman or whoever will start asking people: ‘What’s with that new guy? What’s his name?? Why does he take so many breaks?’ He asks questions until I get into trouble, and have to answer them or get ‘fired.’ Whereas, if I work like some kind of eager beaver, everybody leaves me alone, and I can get away with faking it.”
Harry stared at him. “There must be some logic in there somewhere, but it escapes me.”
Wendell shrugged. “People want to leave you alone as long as you appear to be doing your job.”
“That’s about it. And everybody assumes that he should already know who I am, and is embarrassed to ask about me. So, as long as I work hard, no one wants to ask.”
“Clever. I guess.”
“Anyhow, since I’d better get going, and I’m supposedly a server…umm…can I get you anything??”
“I guess not,” said Wendell.
“Uh, wait a minute. How about a gin-and-tonic?” said Harry.
“Make that two.” Wendell raised a finger, as if he needed to get Buddy’s attention.
“Yes sir.” Buddy actually gave them a grin before he left to get their drinks.
Buddy Overstreet was lying on the ground with Wendell and Harry squatting on each side of him.
“Wendell?” the victim begged. “Do you believe there’s anything…you know…after…?”
“You mean, life after death? I don’t know. No one knows. No, no, Buddy, look at me. Concentrate on me, and on my voice.”
“Oh, don’t send me away from here, please! It’s so…forever!”
“I must admit, I’ve never heard it put quite that way before. Now, look at me. Keep your eyes on me.”
“What’s Harry doing???”
“Never mind Harry. Forget about Harry. Just pay attention to me.”
“But what’s he up to behind me???” Buddy looked, saw, and yelled, “Ahhhh!!!!”
“Damnit, Buddy,” fussed Harry. “We’re trying to make it easier on you. Now, just look at Wendell.” Harry no longer bothered to conceal the gun, not seeing any point in doing so, now that Buddy had seen it.
“Don’t let it hurt!” Buddy whimpered.
“You won’t feel a thing,” Wendell soothed. “Cooperate with us. Come on now, just focus on me.” He cupped Buddy’s face in both hands.
There was a horrible sound. It rocked the world. Buddy sat up in bed, screamed, and panted hard for quite a while.
“May I ask you two another question?” he posed while in Devere’s abandoned chaise longue the next day.
“Shoot,” deadpanned Harry.
Buddy cast him an unappreciative look.
Wendell stifled a laugh.
Buddy proceeded, “If he did order you to kill me bare-handedly, what would you do? I mean, how would you do it?”
Harry stared at him. “What brought that on?”
“Humor me. I had a nightmare last night. What would you – or he – do?”
Harry acquiesced, “We could strangle you, …break your neck….”
Wendell joined in enthusiastically, “We could knock you over the head with something and toss you overboard….”
“I get the idea.” Buddy slumped sadly.
“What’s wrong, kid?”
“I’d hoped that the question would catch you off-guard, that you wouldn’t have a ready-answer….”
“Oh. And we were just too darned ready for you, for your own good. Or for your comfort-level.”
“Something like that.”
“Just because we don’t choose to, doesn’t mean that we can’t….”
“I get it.”
“What was that about a nightmare?” prompted Wendell.
He told them.
Wendell softened. “I like that. You saw me as the sweetie, the comforter.”
“And you saw me as the heavy. Nice,” commented a less-than-thrilled Harry.
“Sorry. I can’t help it.”
“And that’s the worst part,” responded Harry.
Now, Buddy was aiming a gun at them, and shaking so hard that he needed both hands to keep from dropping it.
Wendell was gesturing as he spoke, “Put it down. You don’t know how to handle a gun.”
Contradictorily, Harry ordered, “Give it to me.”
“No,” Buddy cried. “You’ll shoot me!!”
“You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I’m keeping you from shooting me! I know what you’ll do if you get it!! Now, stay away from me!!”
Wendell said calmly, “All right. We’re standing still. Now, what are you going to do? You can’t hold a gun on us, and run away at the same time.”
“I don’t know, but I’m not going to let you shoot me!!”
Harry asked placidly, “Do you intend to shoot us?”
“N…not if I don’t have to. Stay back! I don’t want to hurt anybody! Least of all you; for some strange reason I like you guys! I just won’t let you kill me!!!”
He reported this nightmare as well, in the late afternoon, after Mr. Devere’s usual departure.
“You keep coming back to us. Curious,” Wendell commented.
“You’re the only people I know here. And now….”
Harry finished for him, “And now that the ‘snake’ has lost its ‘venom,’ you like to hang out with us.”
“Do you want me to go?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Wendell put in, “But if Mr. D. catches you here with us, we’ll all three have a lot of explaining to do.”
“I’d better leave.”
“No, you don’t have to. He’s unlikely to surface again until dinner, once he’s gone in for the afternoon.”
“You know,” Buddy said pensively, “In one nightmare, you asked me, ‘Kid, what do you want? What do you need from us?’ And I replied, ‘I need hope.’ So, you said, ‘And you think we can provide it?’ And then, Wendell, you made a very rude sound.”
“Well, kid, think what you’re asking: you’re asking a hit-man to provide you with answers. The big answers. And I just don’t have them. And neither does Harry.”
They had him in the limo, with his head in Devere’s lap, Wendell and Harry sitting across from the two, both aiming guns at his head.
“Wait ‘til we pull over somewhere,” Devere instructed. “Or he’ll spatter my suit.”
Buddy gazed up at him pleadingly. “Not if you don’t hurt me! Please, don’t hurt me!!” He reached out and seized one hit-man’s free hand. “Wendell, help me! Help me, please!! Don’t do this!!!”
“Whew, that one was rough!” he told his two friends/enemies the next day. “I could say that one was really murder, but then you’d laugh too much.”
They both crooked smiles at him, but on the basis of what he’d just said, let it go at that.
“What in the name of…?!” roared Mr. Devere, who’d just reappeared.
“Mr. D!” exclaimed Wendell. “I thought you’d gone in for a nap!”
“I had! But I had trouble falling asleep, so I decided to read, and then realized I’d forgotten and left my book out here. Overstreet! What the hell are you doing on the ship, and what the hell are you doing in my chair?! With my men?!!”
Buddy nearly fell over himself vacating Devere’s seat, and motioned exaggeratedly for the boss to resume it. “I can explain, sir, standing up; honest I can!” he hastened, almost nonsensically.
As briefly as possible, he “briefed” what even he’d begun to think of as “the boss.”
Having ordered “the kid” out of his chair, Devere at first sat down to listen. That is, until Buddy got to the part about having disposed of their guns. Then, the boss came out of his chair like a launching rocket.
Frantic, Buddy backpedaled without looking where he was going. He backed into the deck rail, and his momentum was such that he nearly lost his balance. Fortunately, the height of the rail prevented him from falling overboard, but it didn’t prevent him from panicking, pinwheeling his arms, and yelling, “Whoa!”
Instantly, Devere’s expression was fiendish. Wendell and Harry couldn’t help but read his obvious thoughts, and both responded with crooked grins. Buddy realized the obvious, too, glanced over his shoulder at the terrible distance down to the water, and then back up at their generally unsympathetic faces.
“N…no!” he babbled. “You can’t! There would be witnesses! And I’d scream and they’d hear me! They’d rescue me and arrest you!”
“True enough,” Devere admitted placidly, “by day. But by night would be another matter. Most people would be in the dining room, or on the dance-floor, or in the shops, or even asleep. And you’d be difficult to spot in the water in the dark.”
“I…hide at night,” he stammered.
“Where?” Devere evidently felt that it was worth a try.
But, though Buddy was naïve, he was far from stupid, and merely mumbled, “Somewhere.”
Unsurprised, Devere nodded, and slowly sat back down in his lounger.
Much more slowly, Buddy came away from the railing, closer to the men, but not too close. He steeled himself, and asked, “Anyway, sir, do you like gin-and-tonic?”
Devere blinked. “What an odd question.”
Wendell explained, “He’s offering to get us drinks. He’s playing at being a server here.”
“Oh, I see. Yes, Overstreet, a gin-and-tonic would be fine.”
“Coming right up, sir.”
“Make it four.”
Buddy hesitated, then muttered, “Yes sir.”
By the time that he’d returned with the tray full of glasses, he’d found the courage to ask, “Are you expecting a fourth, sir?”
“Yes, Overstreet, you. Sit down.”
With visible trepidation, after handing out three of the drinks, Buddy complied, taking a seat on the other side of Wendell.
Devere clarified, “The remaining drink is for you, Overstreet.”
“But, I can’t….”
“You’re not really on duty, so skip it. What’re they going to do? Fire you??”
“But I’m not….”
“Used to drinking? Try it.”
“You’re hoping I’ll get looped, and say something stupid, aren’t you, sir?”
Devere grinned an unsavory grin. “Can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?”
Buddy gave a nervous look to a slightly sympathetic Wendell. But then, obediently, he sipped at his drink, and promptly made a face.
Wendell asked good-naturedly, “Too strong for you, kid?”
Buddy met his eyes intently. “Yes. Like you.”
Wendell rewarded him with a softened smile.
“Drink up, my boy,” urged Devere. “You’ll get used to it.”
“I’ll bet you say the same thing to Junior.”
That brought him an irked look from Devere, and a glare from Harry. Uncomfortably, Buddy took a longer swig. It made him shudder.
“It burns all the way down,” he commented.
“That warmth is supposed to feel good,” Wendell told him.
“It…doesn’t, but…maybe I just have to get used to it.”
“That’s the spirit,” encouraged Devere.
Harry inquired, “So, you say you’ve worked on that dock all summer?”
“Yes. Until I saw your limo.”
“And then you fled onto this very ship.”
“You poor kid,” said Wendell, trying not to be amused.
“Yeah, I’ve gotten into some of the darnedest messes, running from you guys.”
“We recall a few,” Harry agreed. “Tell Mr. D. about your nightmares.”
“Nightmares?” prompted the boss.
“Yes sir,” admitted Buddy. “I’ve had three of them: one each, three different nights.” He recited each one again.
Devere observed him speculatively. “You seem to see Wendell as a softie.”
The latter looked wounded.
Buddy hastened to defend him. “N…no, just…somehow maybe less cruel than the rest of you.”
“Oh, I see.” Devere maintained a straight face. “Did you cry out in your sleep after each one?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, did you awaken those around you?”
Buddy stared. “You’re trying to find out whether anyone else was around me, whether I was alone or not.”
Devere didn’t bother to smother his grin.
Morosely, Buddy requested, “Sir, if you do happen to catch me alone at night, please don’t throw me in the water alive. I don’t want to drown, or…feel the sharks tear me apart.” He shivered hard.
Devere nodded. “We’ll kill you first.”
“Thanks. I guess.”
“We don’t want you to scream, and draw attention.”
Buddy sagged. “Um, yeah, thanks.” His tone was slightly sarcastic. Then he concluded blandly, “Listen, I’d better go.” He rose, and staggered slightly. “Uh oh!”
“Steady, kid,” said Wendell.
“How do you guys drink that stuff, and…then walk??”
“We’re used to it.”
That evening, as Devere and company shared a table in the main dining room of the ship, they were flabbergasted to see who their waiter was.
“May I take your orders, sirs?” Buddy’s voice was all a-tremor.
Harry asked the obvious question, “What’re you doing serving in here??”
“I…have to work a double-shift today. I’m being punished. I…got in trouble.”
Wendell guessed, “Because of us?”
Buddy nodded. “Another server saw and heard Mr. Devere yell at me to get out of his chair. And then later, my immediate supervisor saw me sitting and drinking with you guys.”
“But you’re not even getting paid,” Wendell marveled.
“But they think I am.”
“Overstreet,” began Devere, “I asked around, and found out that you servers have a barracks, all your own. So, do you sleep in a bunk in the barracks, or do you curl up in a corner on a floor somewhere?”
Buddy deflated. “Sir, I’d have to be really stupid to answer that.”
The boss tried again. “What time do you get off duty tonight?”
“A long time from now!”
Devere settled back in his seat for a lengthy wait. “We’ll stick around ‘til then. We have nowhere else to go tonight.” His expression was smug.
Buddy sagged in despair. “Sirs, may I please take your orders??”
Approximately two hours later, Devere motioned Buddy over to say, “Another round of drinks, my boy; we’re really enjoying ourselves, after such an excellent repast. And, by the way, we asked another server what time this shift ends. We’ll be waiting to escort you ‘home’ at midnight.” His gaze was intense.
Buddy gulped and choked, and then hastened away to fetch their next round.
Midnight found Buddy Overstreet trying to crawl toward the exit from under one deserted table to another. Unfortunately, Devere’s gang, being the only other people still in the dining room, easily spotted him.
Abruptly, Buddy’s arm was gripped by Wendell, who “helped” him to his feet. The intended victim opened his mouth to yell, but silenced himself instantly when he saw the steak-knife that Harry brandished toward his midsection.
“You wanted it painless, and there’s no way this will be,” hissed Harry. “Now, keep quiet and don’t make me use it.”
“Let’s take a walk.” Devere gestured.
Buddy’s panic grew exponentially as he saw where they were leading him: to their own adjoining staterooms. Devere unlocked the door, and Wendell propelled him into the room. Terrified and unsteady, Buddy stumbled to the floor.
As the three dangerous men entered after him and secured the door, Buddy pleaded, “Okay, I obeyed, now please don’t use the knife! You promised not to be cruel!”
“We won’t, since we didn’t have to.” Harry deposited it into a drawer, and then casually approached.
Frantically, Buddy scrambled backward on his feet and on the heels of his hands.
“Take it easy,” Harry said. “Answer a question.”
Buddy nodded eagerly, desperate to please, and to stall.
“When you threw our guns overboard, you took quite a risk that someone would catch you with them between here and the ocean. So, how did you deal with that? Or did you just get very lucky?”
His voice was shaking almost too hard to be understood. “In a laundry bag.”
“You took them out of here in a laundry bag,” Harry mused.
Thinking that he could see where this was going, Buddy hastened, “But I won’t fit into one!”
“No, that’s true.” Harry failed to conceal his amusement.
“And now I might as well answer your other question, too,” he directed at Mr. Devere. “Yes, I was sleeping in the barracks, but since you found out about them tonight, I’d made up my mind not to do so again!”
“Obviously, that matter is no longer relevant,” Devere stated.
“You’re babbling,” Wendell said gently, and squatted down in front of Buddy where he huddled on the floor.
“I’m scared!” He barely stifled a sob.
“I know,” Wendell replied softly.
“What’re you going to do??!”
As kindly as he possibly could, Wendell responded, “I think you know.”
“No no, I mean…!”
“You mean, how, specifically.”
“Yes, please! Tell me before you do it!”
Devere remarked, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so frightened before.”
“Please, I need to be prepared!”
“I don’t know!!” Buddy moaned miserably.
Wendell glanced up at Harry, who was just then circling behind Buddy, automatically drawing the victim’s desperate gaze from Wendell’s face up to the dangerous man walking around behind him.
“No, now look at me,” Wendell soothed. “We’re going to do just like in your first nightmare: I’m going to keep your attention on me, and Harry’s going to be very quick.”
“But what’s he going to do??!!”
“You honestly want to know?”
Harry told him, “We decided that it would be quickest and kindest to hit you in the back of the head with a large heavy object. At the very least, it will knock you out instantly. If I need to deliver an additional blow, I’ll do it promptly. Don’t worry; we won’t let you wake up in pain.”
Tremors shuddered throughout Buddy as Harry elaborated.
“It doesn’t look to me like you’re better off knowing,” commented Devere.
“Now keep your eyes on me,” coaxed Wendell. He cupped the terrified face with gentle hands. “No, don’t try to turn to look at Harry.”
“But I don’t know when!!!”
“That’s the idea. Now come on. Let us help make it easiest on you.”
A loud knock sounded on the door.
Buddy yelped, and then blubbered, “I thought that was it!! But, but I’m still here!!!”
Wendell shushed him.
Devere called sharply, “Who is it?”
Quick as lightning, Harry was relaxing in a chair, no heavy implement in hand. Buddy’s head whipped around to stare at him, aghast, as Wendell’s grip on the younger man’s face faltered in his own distraction. Devere opened the door.
A man entered, and Buddy immediately recognized his “supervisor.”
“There you are!” the new arrival fumed at his “employee.” “Bothering these gentlemen again! I told you to leave them alone! I could hardly believe it when I saw you leave the dining room with them, so I followed; and sure enough, here you are!”
Devere and his two henchmen hesitated.
Suddenly inspired, Buddy blathered, “No, you see, Mr. Devere here is my long lost uncle! I came onto this ship in the hope of finding him!”
“Well then, what are you doing on the floor?”
“Oh! Why, I’m just hugging my long lost beloved cousin Wendell, here!” Buddy vividly demonstrated, nearly toppling the unprepared Wendell in the process.
The supervisor turned to Devere. “In that case, sir, I’m sorry for the intrusion. I had understood from one witness that you had ordered this young man out of your deck chair, and I had taken that to mean that he was annoying you.”
Buddy blurted, “Oh that’s just my dear uncle’s way of teasing me!”
Once more the supervisor’s attention was on his “employee.” “One final matter, young man: given these apparent problems, I researched you in our files and, interestingly enough, you’re not in there.”
Buddy feigned embarrassment. “Sorry, sir, I’m not really an employee at all; I was faking it, in order to find my…family, here.”
“Oh. But then, that’s a bit awkward; I certainly can’t return you to the employees’ barracks.”
“That’s all right. I’ll be disembarking with my…relatives.”
Reluctantly, his no-longer-a-boss replied, “Very well. But I’ll be sure to see you off in order to make certain that you really do leave. No more hitching free passages, even if you do, at least fairly well, work for your keep.” Turning to Mr. Devere, he finished, “Goodnight, sir. Sorry to disturb.” He left.
Devere, Wendell, and Harry stared at Buddy.
Buddy whispered, “You see? I didn’t tell on you. I told you I never would, and I didn’t. I kept my promise. But, please, now you mustn’t kill me! He’ll be looking for me to depart with you. If he doesn’t see me, he’ll know to ask you about me.”
All three were still staring.
“He’s right,” Harry said resignedly. “We can’t kill him.”
Devere gave Harry a short, annoyed nod, looked back at Buddy, and said, “Your dear uncle??”
Wendell spoke similarly, “Your beloved cousin??”
Buddy forced a sheepish grin and shrugged.
Devere commented, “We don’t have an extra bed.”
Buddy smiled wider. “Mr. Devere, sir, I’m so happy to be alive, I don’t care if I sleep on the floor!”
Harry remarked, “In a way, you saved yourself in a manner similar to the one in your second nightmare: you’re holding a figurative weapon, that manager, over our heads to see to it that we can’t do away with you.”
Wendell grinned slightly. “All we need now is your third nightmare.”
“Not soon, I hope!” responded Buddy with a slight shiver.
“You never know.” A ghost of Devere’s former diabolical look returned. “After we all disembark together….” He purposefully left the thought unfinished.
Buddy tried to keep his expression neutral, but Wendell divined, “You’ll find a way to slip away and run.”
On the cot that Wendell had generously had the management add to his room, Buddy cried out and sat up, panting. Wendell slid from his own bed and went to him.
Still struggling to catch his breath, Buddy nodded.
Wendell sat down beside him, and soothed, “Now, now, it was just a dream.” He patted a shaking shoulder.
“But with more danger of coming true than the typical person’s nightmare.”
The hit-man nodded acquiescence at that.
Just then, Harry and Devere entered from their own adjoining rooms.
The boss asked irritably, “Let me guess: a nightmare about us?”
Buddy and Wendell both nodded.
Slightly grumpily, Devere demanded, “Well, we’re all awake now, so let’s hear it.”
“Sorry, sir,” Buddy whispered timidly, feeling chastised for awakening the men.
The boss shrugged fatalistically, and gestured for him to go on with it.
Buddy complied. “Harry, you remember that knife that you threatened me with last night?”
The addressed nodded and grinned. “Did I stab you?”
“No. You were going to slit my throat. And Wendell was holding me down for you.”
“Aw,” Wendell tsked. But to Devere, he added, “See, Mr. D., I’m not such a softie.”
Unimpressed, the boss corrected, “But you weren’t the one with the knife.”
Wendell sagged slightly, but then reassured the still-trembling Buddy, “But really, as we’ve told you, we wouldn’t do it that kind of way. We have no need to be that nasty about it.”
“Thanks.” His voice still quivered. To Devere, he said, “I am really sorry, sir, to wake you. And you were right before: in every nightmare that I had in the barracks, I yelled and woke the other servers. I’m sure they’re glad I’m gone.”
“Hm, joy. Their loss is our gain,” he muttered somewhat sarcastically, and wandered back toward his own room and bed.
“Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s not really angry,” Wendell soothed.
“Neither am I,” commented Harry. “In fact, maybe now I’ll go back to sleep, and dream the same thing,” he added hopefully, with a diabolical grin.
Buddy rewarded Harry with his desired wince, and Harry retreated to his own room, chuckling.
“Don’t listen to him, either. He’s mostly just teasing you,” Wendell assured him.
“Mostly??” Buddy questioned doubtfully.
“Mostly,” he confirmed.
“That’s…very reassuring. I think.”
Wendell gave him a gentle, sympathetic smile, and squeezed his shoulder. “Try to go back to sleep.”
The next afternoon saw Buddy Overstreet lounging with his “family” on deck chairs. All agreed that he should stick with the three men during the day as well, because Buddy’s former “supervisor” managed to come by rather often and launch quizzical glances their way. He clearly suspected something not quite right about the four men’s situation, but just as obviously lacked sufficient information to even make a guess.
By mid-afternoon, Buddy announced, “I’m hot! I’m thinking about a dip in the pool. Anybody interested?”
“Nope. I’m relaxing,” murmured Devere.
“Maybe,” said Wendell, considering the idea.
Devere paid no attention, but Harry and Wendell watched Buddy wander over to the deep end of the swimming pool. They grinned as he dipped in a toe and jerked back shivering. They exchanged winks as he stood there indecisively. Still unseen by Devere or Buddy, the two sneaked up on their quarry and gleefully pushed him in, laughing aloud. Just as Buddy came up sputtering, Wendell and Harry dove into the water on either side of him, splashing him liberally just as he tried to draw a breath. As soon as they surfaced, Harry enthusiastically grabbed Buddy by the shoulders and shoved him under the water again. He held him under briefly.
Wendell cautioned, “Don’t get carried away.”
“I’m not. Here, I’ll help pull him up.” So saying, Harry drew Buddy up to breathe.
Buddy came up choking. “For crying out loud!” he gasped when he could finally speak. “Are you two trying to kill me?!” Then he looked horribly embarrassed and self-conscious. “Uh, that didn’t come out right.”
Wendell and Harry couldn’t help but laugh at the unintentional irony.
Then, the three noticed Devere standing over them with arms folded, shaking his head. “Did I bring two adults on this trip with me, or two big kids?”
“Sorry, Mr. D.,” apologized Wendell. “We couldn’t resist. But we didn’t think you were even interested in the pool.”
“With all of the racket you three were making, how could I not notice? Anyway, now that I’m up, I think I’ll stroll to the other end and wade a bit. Incidentally, no one is going to splash or dunk me. Is that understood?”
“Perfectly, sir,” agreed Harry seriously. Wendell nodded agreement.
Buddy was still wiping his nose and rubbing his eyes, but he mumbled, “I never would’ve dared, sir.”
True to their word, all three left the boss in peace. But within the hour, Buddy was accosting Wendell and Harry with a water pistol that he’d found in the pool. Now, he was grinning, and they were feigning annoyance.
Buddy couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as he squirted and “threatened” them with it. “Now how ironic is this??” he teased somewhat more boldly than was customary for him.
Wendell smiled in appreciation of the kid’s increased daring. But then his smile turned somewhat wicked. “Now, we told you in that one dream of yours that you don’t know how to handle a gun.” So saying, he and Harry both lunged, and wrestled it away from Buddy, turning it on him. Buddy yelped but laughed in equal portions as he sought to retreat.
Watching from the other end of the pool, Devere shook his head and rolled his eyes.
The entire second week of their vacation proceeded much the same way, with the rough-housing becoming increasingly comfortable and natural, and with the conversations following suit.
It wasn’t until the last night at dinner that Buddy’s uneasiness returned.
“What’s going to happen tomorrow?” he asked softly as they sat around the table.
“We’re going to disembark,” Devere answered blandly.
“I mean…after that?”
Wendell gave him a rueful grin. “You’re going to try to run, and we’re going to try to restrain you.”
“I think I already knew that part.” Buddy sighed. “It’s going to seem so odd to think of you guys as the enemy again.”
“We feel it, too,” admitted Harry. “But you know that none of us has a choice.”
“Well, you do,” Devere told him. “You can just surrender and meekly accompany us.”
Buddy met his eyes. “I really don’t think I want to do that, sir.”
Even Devere looked slightly sympathetic at that innocent wording.
“Umm, if you do get me in your limo, …do you have a spare gun in there?”
“Oh yes!” Devere said assuredly.
“Oh no!” Buddy said automatically. He sighed, but admitted, “Well, as you said before, maybe it’s just as well: kinder and quicker that way.” But he couldn’t help but leak a few tears.
Wendell patted his hand where it lay on the table. “Take it easy.”
The kid’s ever-vigilant former “supervisor” noticed and approached. “Aren’t you still happy to be back with your family?” he inquired suspiciously.
Buddy covered quickly, “I didn’t know Aunt Agatha died. They just told me.”
The supervisor grunted pseudo-sympathetically and left, still apparently unsatisfied.
Devere’s brows had risen. “Aunt Agatha???”
Buddy produced an elaborate shrug.
“You come up with quick plausible explanations well,” Harry admitted.
“I get a lot of practice, in my constant running and hiding.” Thus reminded, he asked Devere, “But like in that one nightmare, you won’t want me to spatter your suit??”
“No,” the boss agreed. “We won’t shoot you in the limo. We’ll take you someplace deserted.”
Buddy shrank in on himself. “I’ll probably cry on you guys the whole way there.”
“We know,” Wendell said gently. “We’ll comfort you as best we can.”
Buddy met his eyes, and knew that he meant it.
True to his word, the suspicious supervisor was on hand to see them off together, and to be sure that Buddy actually left the ship. The four filed down the gangplank with Devere in the lead, Wendell next, Buddy third, and Harry last. Buddy’s eyes searched wildly as he tried to decide whether he should try to dart right or left as soon as they reached the bottom. He needn’t have bothered. Two security agents, clearly summoned by the astute supervisor, met the quad at the bottom of the ramp.
“Buddy Overstreet,” said one of the agents.
It wasn’t exactly a question, but somehow, Buddy felt compelled to respond with a confused, “Yes?”
“Come with us, please.” The man flashed an official-looking badge.
“Why? What…??” Buddy mumbled as he saw Devere turn crimson, in anticipation of the potential thwarting of his plans.
“Just come with us.”
“Am I under arrest?”
The agent surreptitiously pushed his right hand under his left jacket-pocket, just far enough to reveal a gun.
Buddy hastily raised his hands. “Yeah! Okay!” But to Wendell, he mouthed a perhaps-ridiculous, “Help???!”
With a minute shake of his head, Wendell dismissed the possibility.
Buddy was led away in handcuffs, glancing desperately over his shoulder in bizarre pleading to his former would-be assassins. The Devere-gang looked on in helpless annoyance and perplexity.
“Who are you people?!” Buddy demanded, not for the first time.
“We told you. We are the U.N.C.L.E.”
“United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.”
“Wait a minute! I think I have heard of you. Don’t you battle some bunch of international bad guys called T.H.R.U.S.H.? But what has that got to do with me???”
“Generally we do,” replied Napoleon Solo. “But we also stamp out evildoers in other places, and for the current mission, our focus is American organized crime, also known as the Syndicate.” He watched the young man’s eyes shift uncomfortably.
Illya Kuryakin took over, “You do know that that’s what you’ve gotten yourself mixed-up with, don’t you??”
“I’m innocent!” Buddy declared forcefully.
“We haven’t implied otherwise,” responded the blond agent. “However, you can perform a valuable service for your country.”
“So I’m not under arrest?”
“Well, that depends,” said the brunette.
“That sounds like blackmail,” Buddy accused boldly.
“Well, you did sneak onto a cruise-ship on which you failed to pay for your passage.”
“But I also did work for my keep.”
“Still, highly irregular, to say the least. Let’s just say that the cruise-line’s officials are rather perplexed.”
“But why did their security turn me over to you guys???”
Solo didn’t answer that directly, but simply stated, “We’ve been trying to eliminate the Devere-gang for quite some time.”
“And you want to use me to do it!” Buddy retorted with undisguised bitterness.
“Well, they have been trying to kill you for – what – nearly a year, now?”
“How can you possibly know that???”
Solo gave the naïve young man a come-come-you-can’t-be-that-innocent look.
“What if I refuse to help you?”
Kuryakin gave him a look of absolute incredulity. “Let me understand: do you like being chased, with death as the penalty for being caught?”
“No, but….” Buddy appeared to be completely miserable.
“But what?” prompted the blond agent.
“But, …in a crazy sort of way, they’ve been kind to me.”
Solo’s skeptical eyebrow crept skyward.
Kuryakin spoke up, “Kind? While threatening to kill you?? Just how is that accomplished???”
Buddy gazed at the floor. “They promised to be merciful and quick, and not to make me suffer.”
“Oh they did, did they?” queried Solo. He didn’t say, “Oh whoopee,” but Buddy could clearly hear it in his tone.
“Yes!” Buddy came back at him almost viciously. “A promise that they’ll undoubtedly withdraw, if I betray them! And I wouldn’t blame them if they did!”
Both U. N.C.L.E. agents observed him, disbelievingly.
“Look, they didn’t have to make me such a promise. But they chose to, in response to my fright. They’ve even admitted that they sort of like me, and that it’s a shame that I know too much.”
“A shame?” Kuryakin echoed, somewhat derisively.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be a coward, and constantly afraid!” Buddy challenged. “It’s awful! But they’ve promised to be decent about it, and they’ve even comforted me when I’ve expressed my fears, and they’ve even consoled me after nightmares! Now how many killers would do that for their intended victims??”
“Nightmares? They’ve been nearby while you’ve slept??”
“As a matter of fact, yes! On the ship, when I was exposed as a non-employee, Mr. Devere and Wendell and Harry let me move in with them, into their suites. Wendell even had a cot delivered for me, into his room.”
Solo’s eyes and mouth were wide with astonishment, as he scratched his head.
“They let me have dinner with them, at their table, in the main dining room every night after that. We even sunbathed together, the four of us, on deck during the day. And Wendell and Harry and I actually played together in the swimming pool, while Mr. Devere teased us for being a bunch of kids.”
Kuryakin was continually shaking his head in utter bafflement. “What stopped them from killing you, all of that time???”
“They…didn’t have their guns.”
“And just how did you get that lucky?”
“I…stole them, and threw them overboard.”
Both U.N.C.L.E. agents blinked at him.
“And that’s another thing!” Buddy pointed out, “They could’ve punished me for that! In any number of vicious, cruel ways! But they didn’t!”
Solo and Kuryakin exchanged perplexed expressions.
“And one time, many months ago, Wendell and Harry even rescued me from a rival Syndicate gang, and then let me go, instead of turning me over to Mr. Devere,” he added quietly, almost reverently.
His two listeners shrugged, baffled, at each other.
After a beat, Solo suggested, “All of that is unusual, and impressive, I admit, but is constant running interspersed with frequent close-calls the way that you want to spend the rest of your life?”
Kuryakin chimed in, “Wouldn’t you rather have a nice normal life where you can settle down and raise a family, unhampered by pursuers?”
“Well, yes. That would be more the way that I’d planned,” Buddy confessed.
“Then help us, and we’ll help you. We’ll free you from your living nightmare.”
Buddy hesitated, and then said, “Even if I went along with this, and I don’t say that I do, you wouldn’t kill Mr. Devere and Wendell and Harry, would you???”
“You don’t want your potential killers killed?” Kuryakin restated in amazement, once more shaking his head.
“Not if we could possibly avoid it, no,” assured Solo hastily. “Our intention would be to arrest them.”
“For how long? I mean, how long would you keep them locked up?”
“We can’t possibly predict that,” Solo admitted. “There are too many variables.”
“Well, here’s my concern,” established Buddy. “If it’s too long, I don’t want to do that to them. But if it’s not long enough, I can’t have that life you talk about anyway.”
“I believe that it’s safe to say that it would be long enough for you to find a wife and have your children. Perhaps even your grandchildren. We have a great deal of circumstantial evidence against the Devere gang, but we still need to catch them in the act, in order to cement our case against them,” Kuryakin reassured him. “But now, as to the other, they created their own problem; don’t you agree?”
“I guess.” Buddy sagged despondently. “I…don’t want them to hate me.”
“That’s a risk that you may have to just accept.”
“But…I…like…them. Well, sort of.”
Solo and Kuryakin simply waited.
Somewhat exasperated, Buddy asked, “Well, even if you talked me into this, and I make no guarantees, what would you want me to do??”
“Set them up,” said Solo succinctly.
“Write Devere a nice letter,” Kuryakin elaborated. “In your own words and your handwriting, of course. Tell him that you’re tired of this life of running, and that you want to surrender. Tell him that you’ll meet him and his hit-men in a specific location; we’ll choose it for you. Remind him that he and his men promised to be merciful and quick; he’d expect that renewed request from you. Admit that you’re feeling hopeless, and ready to take them up on it, if only they’ll take pity on you; that sort of thing.”
“Take advantage of their semi-trust and faith in my sincerity, you mean?” Buddy challenged bitterly.
“That’s right,” was his guilt-free reply.
“And then you guys meet them there instead of me?”
“No, you’ll still meet them, so that they won’t get suspicious. But we’ll be there, in force. You’ll have plenty of protection.”
“Oh great, and then I’ll have to face them with my betrayal, and see the fury in their faces.”
“The alternative is a lifetime of running.”
“I’ll think about it,” Buddy murmured morosely.
It took Buddy Overstreet days to decide to write that letter. And then more days to actually write it. Plus a day-and-a-half to decide to let the U.N.C.L.E. agents send it.
He had never in his life felt as nervous and miserably guilty as he did the day that their “master plan” went into effect. Sure enough, Buddy faced Devere, Wendell, and Harry, and confessed to feeling helplessness and hopelessness, faking it like a pro, right up until the time that the four expert U.N.C.L.E. agents emerged from the surrounding wilderness to take the Devere-gang into custody.
Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, whom he’d already met, plus Mark Slate (with the adorable British accent, Buddy had declared) and April Dancer (how did such a pretty lady decide to put her life in danger, Buddy had wondered).
As soon as Devere and his two companions realized and condemned their traitor for setting them up, Buddy extended his profound apologies for what they no doubt considered his worst-ever deed, his extreme guilt at having let them down, his anguished pleas for them to understand and forgive, and his desperate wish that they would still treat him mercifully if the situation should again reverse.
And then, seven T.H.R.U.S.H. agents, complete with blue jumpsuits and their jaunty little bird-embossed caps, burst out from concealment around and behind the U.N.C.L.E. agents.
“Ambush!” called Solo in warning.
Buddy Overstreet turned, bounded away like a crazed ungulate, and dove into the nearest thick underbrush, as per long practice.
As U.N.C.L.E.s and T.H.R.U.S.H.es turned their weapons upon each other, Devere, Wendell, and Harry fled opportunistically, and followed Buddy into the same thick bushes. The three landed all around him.
Buddy muttered fretfully, “And to think that I used to like playing ‘hide and seek’ when I was a child!”
“Overstreet!!” condemned Devere, enraged.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry; please forgive me!” he babbled in despair at his long-time pursuers. “They made me do this!!”
“Now how in the name of sense could they have made you do it?!!” Devere severely demanded.
“They kept going on and on about how I could have a normal peaceful life, with a wife and kids! They kept at me and at me, until I gave in!! Oh please don’t do anything sadistic to me!!!”
“That’s what you would deserve!” fumed Devere relentlessly.
“I’d like to carve you up with that knife I had aboard ship!” Harry declared viciously.
Even Wendell suggested harshly, “We should shoot you in the gut. Nice, slow, agonizing death.”
“Mercy, no, please!!!” he blurted, with his hands together in supplication. “Look, Mr. Devere, I wouldn’t blame you if you and your men decided to torture me to death, but for whatever it’s worth, I beg you not to!! If all else fails, please try to chalk it up to understandable, inevitable insanity, owing to a weird lifestyle of frantic panic that I’ve had for the last year!!!”
Wendell’s eyes narrowed, trying but still failing to feel pity for the long-term victim.
“Yes, okay, maybe I do deserve it! But I’m begging you to choose not to do it to me anyway! Just as you already always have, all along. I still like you guys, and I hope that you still like me.”
Three pairs of eyes still appeared relentlessly unyielding.
“I’m pleading with you!! Oh no, look out!!” Buddy pointed frantically just past Devere.
“Do you really expect me to fall for that, Overstreet?!” Devere insisted crossly.
But simultaneously, Harry had drawn his gun, and now fired it directly over his boss’ head.
In the time that it took Devere to shout “What the hell??!!” at Harry, the liberally-bleeding T.H.R.U.S.H. agent tumbled forward onto Devere, and splattered blood all over his fancy, timelessly-classic suit.
“Mr. D., are you all right?” demanded a worried Wendell.
Seizing the moment as always, due to much practice, Buddy Overstreet leaped up and ran. And ran. And ran.
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